Cissy Brady-Rogers
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Tag: pay attention

Clinical psychologist William Sheldon wrote that “Deeper and more fundamental then sexuality, deeper than the craving for social power, deeper even that the desire for possessions, there is a more generalized and more universal craving in our human make-up. It is a craving for right direction – for orientation. ” For youth and young adults, that orientation is about developing a solid sense of who they are, forming an identity that enables them to use their lives to create a better world for everyone.

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As I viewed Darryl Robert’s latest documentary America The Beautiful 3: The sexualization of our youth on Sunday night identity development was on my mind. The first two America the Beautiful films explored America’s obsession with beauty and body size. All three documentaries draw attention to the exploitation of basic human insecurities by commercial industries. Sex, slim bodies and beauty sell products from hamburgers to pharmaceuticals. Picture vibrant, slim, well dressed,  youthful looking middle aged couples in commercials for Viagra!

We want to be beautiful or handsome. It’s a basic human longing. We want to “look good.” Even before mirrors and photography people engaged in beauty enhancing techniques based on cultural norms. While across cultures the definitions of what is attractive vary, it seems that throughout history how one looks factors into identity development.

As a “chubby” child and early adolescent, I escaped the beauty, weight and sex traps by opting out of the game. I knew the rules: fat is not attractive. So rather than even trying to play the game, I mostly sat on the sidelines and played support crew for my more beautiful friends who were on the field. That isn’t to say I wasn’t deeply ashamed of my appearance – at least my body size. But I learned that my identity needed to develop from something other than how I looked.

Fast forward 40 years and I am grateful for the psychological insulation my fat provided. I learned that looking good (whatever that means) isn’t as important as being a good, kind, genuine person. I learned that being sexy was actually quite risky as I watched my “more attractive” friends suffer the slings and arrows of adolescent love games. Not to mention a few that ended up choosing to abort unwanted babies when they’d “forgotten” to use protection or the one who ended up marrying the father, moving to Oregon and becoming a teenage wife and mother.

Before I get on too much of a downer here, let me come back to what initiated this blog. My friend Chris Kresbach, who works in the film industry and knows all too well how messed up our cultural norms about beauty, weight and sexuality are, posted this video on Facebook today. It’s a wonderful tongue-in-cheek take on women, beauty and body image. All of which, along with sexuality, are central to the essential human need to know who we are. But they aren’t everything. We must find ways to love and enjoy our physicality and work with the inevitable challenges and changes, but not allow appearance to define us.

Let’s be at the forefront of reminding ourselves and each other about what is most important in life. Perhaps sharing this video with your friends would be a fun and simple way to do that!

Offered with my prayer that you will find ways to love and enjoy your body,  just as you are today!

Our guest blogger today is Vivian Mabuni. She is the author of Warrior in Pink: A Story of Cancer, Community and the God Who Comforts. October also marks five years since she finished active treatment for breast cancer. Thanks be to God! I’m delighted to be part of the ever growing fellowship of women (and a few men) living vibrant and purposeful lives post-breast cancer. Though not a club any of us would have signed up for, I must say we are a very remarkable group and I’m delighted to share a bit of her story today.

Warrior In Pink

From Warrior in Pink by Vivian Mubani

When I finally made it home, I headed straight to our bedroom. I lay on the bed, pulled the covers over me, and closed my eyes. I tried to rest, but my mind couldn’t settle. My prayer in the food court about letting people in came to mind. I found myself at the same crossroads of deciding whether to muster up self-sufficient strength and go all Christian Rambo—just me and Jesus—or take the braver route to open my heart and let people into my fear. My Asian heritage and cultural value of “don’t rock the boat” or “the nail that sticks out gets hammered down” amplified my struggle of not wanting to bother people with my problems. I saw this dynamic played out over and over with my family and my Asian friends. One friend tweaked her back so badly she could barely walk. We had planned to have people over for a luncheon. I suggested we order out for pizza so she could rest.

“Oh no, it’s okay. I’ll be fine.”

“No, seriously, we can cancel the whole thing or have someone bring the food. You can barely move!”

But instead of letting others help, I watched her push through the pain, and she hosted a small army in her house with a smile on her face. It was dishonorable and shameful to put people out or bring attention to themselves. I imagined the Asian Martha Stewart had similar thoughts. She ended up deciding against burdening others with her emotional struggles. I did not want my story to end like hers.

Transparency is the willingness to share about difficulties one has undergone after the fact. Vulnerability is sharing difficulties raw, in real-time, without the lesson-learned end of the story. I was comfort- able with transparency. Mostly.

Vulnerability? Not so much.

–Excerpt from chapter 1: we, us (x5) Warrior In Pink

The excerpt I (Vivian) share here reveals a common struggle among people—the idea of not wanting to inconvenience others, our tendency to isolate when faced with difficulties, the myth that “Just me and Jesus is enough.” For Christian women, and Asian American women leaders in particular, the tendency to be the strong one is underscored because of learned faith and cultural values.

My strong encouragement for all of us is YES, lean into God, but also let others in.

After my cancer battle I read the Bible with new lenses. Verses I thought were familiar became more meaningful after experiencing true community.

“Therefore, since WE have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding US, let US also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles US, and let US run with endurance the race that is set before US.” (Hebrews 12:1 NASB)

God designed you and me to live in close intimate connection with Him and with others. Learning to trust Him and to trust others is a worthwhile lifelong endeavor.

How are you doing in the area of vulnerability?

Vivian Mabuni

Thank you Vivian for sharing your life and words of encouragement with us today. May God continue to use you to empower and support others in deepening intimacy with God and each other.

Vivian and her husband Darrin work with Epic Movement, the Asian American ministry of Cru. Vivian is a mom of three kids and a cancer survivor. She is part of a group of women writers called the Redbud Writers Guild. She blogs regularly. Warrior in Pink was published in April and is her first book. If you like what you read here, please pick up a Kindle or paper copy of your own. I just downloaded mine!

Subscribe to Vivian’s blog for regular words of wisdom and encouragement.

I returned home from two weeks in Ireland longing for more regular communion with open spaces, rivers, dirt, grass, trees, birds, wind, rain, clouds, rocks, cows, sheep, goats, bugs and the great outdoors. Spiritual director Christine Valters Paintner calls earth the “original monastery” – a place set apart to deepen our connection to God.

Climbing the 600 steps to top of Skellig

Throughout time contemplatives of all sorts have nurtured their spirits through communion with the earth. Previously uninhabited deserts and islands removed from ordinary life were natural sanctuaries. In the 6th century Christians built a monastic community atop Skellig Michael island off the coast of Ireland – one of the sacred places we visited during our trip. The 600 steps we climbed were just one of three paths the monks who inhabited the island between the 6th and 12th centuries built to navigate the steep climb from the Atlantic Ocean to their stone slab home 600 feet above.

Stone dwelling huts atop Skellig

In the 10th century St. Bernard of Clairvaux wrote that the natural world is our greatest teacher: “Believe me as one who has experience, you will find much more among the woods then ever you will among books. Woods and stones will teach you what you can never hear from any master.”

On Monday morning one of my soul friends and I took a walk in Pasadena’s Arroyo Seco (Spanish for “dry gulch”). Best known as the home of the Rose Bowl, the Arroyo’s trails, native plants and wildlife remind me that even though I’m far from the green, moist, cool motherland that made my soul sing and skin ever-so-happy, I can still find ways to nourish my connection to nature. The desert beauty of the Arroyo held us as we shared our hearts with each other.

Afterward we wrote poems using an exercise from Poemcrazy: Freeing Your Life with Words. Spontaneous and birthed by intuition rather than efforts to write “good” poetry, we painted pictures of God’s work in our innermost beings. I wrote about my Irish roots while her poem perfectly captured the essence of our conversation in the Arroyo. Stunningly beautiful and rich with meaning, I asked her if I could share it here. It reminds me that sacred places aren’t just beautiful for what we can seen, but for how they give birth to the unseen ancient wisdom that we can only hear if we make space to listen.

Disrobe

The wide expanse of sky
echoes your own heart’s desire
and you glimpse for
a clear moment
the wings of your own soul soaring.

It is time to stop
tinkering with borrowed dreams
that you wear like an
Ill-fitting dress
stiff-collared, pleated skirt
your arms limited
by taffeta sleeves.

It is time to shed the layers
and slip into
your own luminous skin.

Tentatively, at first,
you begin to disrobe.

Cantankerous voices mutter
your behavior is offensive,
oblique. As you persist
in your unraveling
of thread and fiber,
buttons and lace
the rumble turns
to shouting
Should!
Must!
Don’t!
Do!
Angry venom bubbles over.
Poison eyes, clenched fists.

But you are fully naked now,
not a shred of the old dress left.
the voices are lost
in the rush of wind,
and you realize
you are flying.

A poem by Stephanie Jenkins, Labor Day 2014

Stephanie didn’t set out to be wise or compose a great poem. Yet when she first read this to me, it went deep into my soul. Reminiscent of Mary Oliver, I think it’s a masterpiece! Thank you Stephanie for allowing me to share it here.

Atop Skellig Michael with Little Skellig in background

Nature and creative expression are powerful sources of grace in our lives, yet can feel frivolous amidst all the ordinary demands of life. I pray that you may find what nourishes you and be fiercely committed to making time and space for those things. Even if it means walking in a dry gulch instead of on an Emerald Isle. Maybe you’ll discover you can fly!

I smashed the tender pad of my pinkie finger between the dumbbell and it’s home on the the rack during a workout last week. It was only 5 pounds. But squished between two pieces of metal, my poor pinkie didn’t have chance. It hurt like crazy for a few moments. A blood blister quickly formed–my body’s way of saying “Hey! Watch out. Don’t be so mindless.”

Mindlessness, also described as “spacing out,” “daydreaming,” or being “absent minded,” is a default setting we fall into as a way to conserve energy, avoid unpleasant thoughts and feelings, or soothe ourselves. Shut off from direct experience of our body and sensory capacities, we lose track of where we are and what is happening in the moment. Mindlessness can also result when attempting to multitask. How many times have burnt or cut yourself in the kitchen because you were trying to keep track of too many things at one time? Even something small, like the conversation I was having while putting the dumbbell back, can distract us enough to lead to injuries.

To further bring home the “pay attention to what you are doing” message, just the day before my friend Sally talked about how mindlessness contributed to falling and breaking her elbow: “I wasn’t paying attention as I walked down the stairs.”

Sally Evans - I want to be like her when I grow up!

A paragon of health in her 70’s, she spoke about how it drove home the importance of mindfulness, especially as we age and our bones become more fragile. Earlier in the week I’d learned about a former student who is bringing mindfulness to the Southern California Railroad company where he works. As we know from stories of railroad accidents, when a 200 ton locomotive is involved, one mindless move can be devastating.

Sally broke her elbow walking down stairs she’d traversed hundreds of time. I pinched my finger doing a task I’ve done hundreds, if not thousands of times over the past 30 years. Coincidentally, earlier in the workout my trainer pointed out that most gym injuries take place in the transition into and out of exercises, not during the actual working phase! The same is true in yoga. My shoulder injury 2 1/2 years ago came during a transition from one pose to another.

Mindfulness is being where you are, doing what you’re doing–mind and body together in time, space and activity. Research indicates immense mental and emotional benefits, including stress reduction, decreased emotional reactivity and increased ability to focus attention. Whether it’s in the gym, at work, in the kitchen or anywhere else, mindfulness is good medicine!

For more on mindfulness check out my past blog or visit the website of UCLA Mindsight Institute founder Dan Siegel who offers free MP3s of simple practices. It will be good for your health.

This morning at the end of our strength training workout at Fitness Revolution Pasadena, we took several minutes to just lay and our backs and breath deeply into our diaphragms. Our trainer Joseph says it’s a great way to release the muscles of the spine and prevent back pain. Then we took 5 minutes to stretch. It felt so good to lengthen and soften into the stretches.

As we stretched, I flashed back to Tuesday’s workout when we didn’t have time to stretch. I missed those five minutes a lot. And, my stiff low back and hips later in the day reminded me of the importance of lengthening and softening my muscles at the end of a workout.

Last night at the Long Live LA video screening we viewed a series of health videos by Ann Kaneko. 

Qigong Series: STIFF by Ann Kaneko from Freewaves on Vimeo.

I love the simple message of “Stiff”. It validated my instinct to rub my tense muscles and frequently shift and move my body into new positions.

Sometimes it feels awkward in public situations to stretch or move around a lot, but when my body cries out for attention, I’ve learned it’s better to respond sooner than later. Delaying attention to seemingly small needs for a stretch, a deep breath, a drink of water or to use the restroom isn’t good for my body.

Love your body today. Take a few minutes to practice belly breathing or stretch. Your body will appreciate it.

A humorous personal opinion piece from the NY Times reminds me why everybody needs to take personal responsibility for finding our own unique blueprint for optimal health.

Apparently, kale and other cruciferous vegetables must be avoided by people with hypothyroidism. These “super foods” that health gurus juice, powder, and encourage us to eat in mass quantities may actually be making some people sick. Wrap your head around that!

And those fruit and veggie juices you drink because of all the nutrients they deliver? When it comes to your oral health, you may as well drink cola and eat chocolate because to your teeth, sugar is sugar!

I’m not going to stop eating my cruciferous veggies and I don’t juice. I like my food as close to nature as God made it. No point in throwing out all that good fiber and having a mess to clean up. I prefer to just eat my fruits and veggies whole. But, that’s me. Some of my best friends swear by their juicing routines.

The next time you see someone touting their latest wonder remedy for whatever ails you, remember that you must be your own health expert. Know yourself. Know your body. And listen to your gut.

There are many well intentioned so-called “professionals” offering services, products and plans that aren’t regulated by any governing authority. The detox programs,  vitamins, supplements, and other regimens they offer may have value, but can also be ill-advised for some people.

Be a wise consumer. Know your own health profile. Listen to your body and trust yourself first of all!

I woke up today feeling unmotivated to get out of bed, uninspired by the day ahead of me, pondering what it would be like “if only…” I got up anyway.

As I made my tea and prepared breakfast, I looked out the window at the clear blue, crisp Southern California morning, heard the sparrows chirping and the doves cooing and decided to change my attitude. Just because I woke up feeling discouraged doesn’t mean I need to spend the rest of the day there.

Legend wants to know: What will you choose today?

Attitude is largely a matter of choice–especially for those without psychological conditions. But even those who suffer from mood disorders benefit from learning to shift their focus from what feels most natural (discouragement, sadness, suffering) towards something more life-giving. Our attitude impacts everyone around us, including our pets. When I’m in a grumpy mood, my dogs stay away. When I’m lighthearted they draw near. Same with my husband. The energy I communicate through my attitude changes the way others experience me and will reinforce whatever state I’m in.

Thoughts and feelings come and go. To a large extent we don’t have a lot of choice about the content that appears on the screen of mental awareness. But we do have choices about what we will do with what shows up.

Attention is the mental process that enables us to selectively concentrate on one thing to the exclusion of others. It is like a spotlight energizing whatever it shines upon. Deficits in attentional capacity contribute to all sorts of psychological, academic, occupational and life problems. It’s an essential skill for navigating the details of daily life, managing resources like time and money, and making health behavior changes. Without a strong capacity to focus attention on what is life-giving, we are prone to dysregulation of all sorts.

The apostle Paul knew about the power of choice and attention regulation. From a Roman prison he wrote these words of encouragement to his brothers and sisters in Christ who lived in the city of Philippi: “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence or anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” Powerful words from a man in prison. Like Nelson Mandela and other inspirational leaders throughout history, Paul didn’t let feelings evoked by unpleasant circumstances dictate his mood. He chose to set his mind on something bigger than his own miserable condition–specifically his faith in the God who radically interrupted his previous life as a persecutor of the Christian communities and called him to serve the very people whom he’d previously sought to destroy.

Twenty years ago I wanted desperately to do what Paul wrote about, but didn’t have the mental muscles to do so. I’d read biblical instructions telling me to choose to think differently, but couldn’t actualize it in my own daily life. I was largely subject to whatever thoughts and feelings rose to the front of my mind. In those days, “uninspired and unmotivated” might have set the tone for my day.

Like many of my brothers and sisters in Christ, I needed more than just good information and the power of the Holy Spirit within me to live out the transformation Paul describes in his letters. I needed mental muscles to access the power of the Spirit and mind of Christ.

The good news is that attention is trainable. Consistent use of mental and spiritual practices that work the aim and sustain part of our brains can strengthen attentional capacity. Over time the effort of intentional exercise of those neuronal pathways leads to what interpersonal neurobiologist Dan Siegel calls “effortlesss traits of living…” which make setting our minds on what is life-giving possible.

Fifteen plus years of exercising my aim and sustain muscles through yoga, centering prayer and mindful awareness of all sorts, have enabled me to practice what Paul wrote about to the Philippians. If I’d stayed in bed with discouragement this morning, I might still be there.  Instead, I chose to get up and into action, to set my mind on what I really want–to be inspired and motivated. That got me moving in the right direction. Then I chose to notice the beauty of the day. That shifted me a few degrees more toward a positive mindset. Then I chose to show up to my blog and share my experience, strength and hope with others. That leaves me feeling inspired and motivated for the day ahead.

If you struggle with choice and attention regulation, instead of suffering through another day of “trying to get focused” or “trying to change your mindset” I encourage you to invest 20 minutes exercising the attentional muscles of your brain through a guided practice. Transformation is possible when you have the mental muscles needed to access the power of the Spirit of life within you.

Join me for weekly Christ-centered yoga classes at Fuller Seminary and Glendale Presbyterian Church or come to my June 21st “Self-Care through Self-Compassion” workshop.

For online resources, Dan Siegel shares downloadable audio practices as well as lots of other resources on his website. His Mindsight book is a wonderful introduction to both theory and practice related to mindful awareness.

My midlife body isn’t what it used to be and I’m okay with that! The stiff joints that greet me when I stand up after being parked for too long in one position remind me to keep moving lest I get stuck in the all too common midlife rut of declining muscle mass and bone density.

My younger self didn’t have this exquisite built-in system to warn me of the dangers of extended sitting. In my thirties and forties I sometimes spent 8 hours or more a day just sitting. I’d get up every 50 minutes between therapy sessions with my clients—a wonderful imposed break unavailable to those stuck at a computer all day. Back then a vigorous 15-30 mile bike ride multiple times a week plus other rigorous exercise helped maintain the hardiness and vitality needed to sustain my work life.

At midlife I find daily, moderate, engaged, but not too strenuous exercise keeps the aches at bay and my muscles strong. When I try to do too much, too quickly, my body protests. Pushing too hard can leave me depleted and sore. Likewise, a few days of sitting too much coupled with lack of exercise also leaves my body voicing discontent.

This week I pulled myself out of bed for two 6 a.m. strength training sessions. My body has been less achy and my energy stronger both days. I’m going to yoga tonight to balance it out with some stretching and hope to get to a spinning class tomorrow.

As with all things related to health and well-being, staying strong through midlife requires you listen to your body and find the optimal combination of activities for your body. No one can do that for you. Your trainer, yoga teacher or fitness professional can make recommendations, but only you can discover what makes you feel your best.

Finally, it’s important to find activities you like. We will keep doing the things that we enjoy.  If exercise is not fun, you need to find something that is. If it’s only about the results—and the process is not enjoyable—then why do it?

If you’re interested in some fun, challenging but sensitive strength training and conditioning support, check out Fitness Revolution Pasadena. My trainer Joseph is a true gem. I’ve adopted him as my little brother (avoiding the truth that I’m old enough to be his mom). I’d love to share him with you.

I wrote the following poem two years ago in response to Joyce Rupp’s Dear Heart Come Home: The Path of Midlife Spirituality. She says that midlife beckons us inward, to our depths where we come home to our “truest Self.” Much of my midlife journey revolves around letting go of the “Self” I thought I was and learning to just be present in each moment as life unfolds.

be faithful to the present moment

Midlife “crises” of all sorts invite us to let go: shed layers of identity along with jobs, relationships and possessions that no longer fit who we are discovering ourselves to be. Divorce, job loss, the proverbial “empty nest”, illness in ourselves or loved ones each become thresholds into the inner life where we discover a more authentic version of who we thought we were.  What appears as a crisis on the front end can become an opportunity if we choose to listen to our lives.

My friend Betsy is doing the hard work of listening to her life and sharing her discoveries through her blog. Her writings inspired me to pull my midlife poem out and share it here. I offer it with the prayer that regardless of your current stage of life, you will allow the obstacles and challenges of your life to become opportunities to deepen your connection to your innermost being–that place where you know you were born from love, made for love and that nothing you do can make your more lovable or less lovable.

Love is our truest Self.

My Midlife Soul – A Response to Joyce Rupp’s Dear Heart Come Home

She told me to toss away the old map.

She said it’s of no use where I’m going.

She says I must learn to travel by the stars that shine in the shadowy places within.

Maps charted by other’s travels no longer suffice.

Broad open roads that lead to a good life, a happy, successful life–now dead ends offering comfort and ease but going nowhere meaningful.

Those routes partially taken–directives for a productive, busy life that belonged to another season–also dead ends now.

The old maps fade as the fires of midlife burn away the dross of the self I thought I was, of the self I grasp backwards to remember, of the self I keep trying to resurrect along with remnants of borrowed dreams.

How will I ever find my way?

A light pierces the thick fog, beckoning me to come and see.

A song whispers of joy amidst suffering, of blessings born of ashes.

I join hands with the One who told me to toss the old maps away.

I will walk deeper into the dark of my night. I will wait for the stars, trust their guidance, and let their light be enough for me.”**

By Cissy Brady-Rogers, January 2012, with thanks to Joyce Rupp

**From Dear Heart Come Home, by Joyce Rupp

When I began practicing yoga a few years after being diagnosed with breast cancer, I didn’t know the research on it’s health benefits, but my gut told me it was good for me.

A study published in the Journal for Clinical Oncology indicates yoga is especially helpful in reducing fatigue associated with breast cancer treatments. After three months of twice a week yoga practice those in the yoga group reported more vitality and better sleep than in the control group which didn’t participate in the classes.

At the six month follow up the yoga group reported about 60% less fatigue than the control group, even though many had stopped practicing after the initial three month trial.

As with all research, correlation doesn’t equal causation. But the current study is one in a growing body of research supporting many physical and psychological benefits from yoga.

If you’re fatigued from cancer treatment or just life in general, consider exploring the potential benefits of yoga. As always, consult with your healthcare provider as to your unique needs and limitations. And remember that all yoga classes are not alike. Do your homework. Find out what studios are in your area, review the class descriptions and look for a beginning level or gentle class to get started.

If you’re in the Pasadena area, my yoga teacher friend Tatiana is offering a four week introduction to yoga series on Sunday afternoons at Mission Street Yoga in South Pasadena. Begins February 9th.

My Wednesday at 6:15 p.m. class meets weekly at Glendale Presbyterian Church.

Hope to see you in yoga sometime soon.