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Archive for the ‘Lessons Learned’ Category

It doesn’t always work the same way twice.  We create rituals.  We set aside time and space.  We plan. We expect. We assume that if we do the “Thing” that worked for us before, it will work again the next time.

Makes sense when you’re following a recipe.  Those things are predictable.  Given the same set of ingredients, the same baking techniques, the same oven temperature, and the same time, you’ll get the same results almost always.  If you don’t, you can track down what changed.  Maybe the humidity level is extra high and that changed how much flour you needed.  Maybe you didn’t actually measure carefully.  Maybe the oven needs repair.  Maybe someone unknowingly peeked under a lid that needed to stay closed.  Whatever the cause, you can normally figure out what went wrong and know what you need to do to fix it.

But what about faith? Spirituality? Your connection with the divine? Your ability to hear what spirit is saying in your life?

As much as we want them to be, those things don’t always follow the same path.  Sometimes our rituals lead us to the place we need to be. Sometimes our practices help us build our relationship with god.

But sometimes they don’t.

And if you’re like me, you’re first assumption is that you’re at fault.  That your connection with spirit was always broken. That once again you’ve failed “the quiet time test.” That a “good Christian” (or whatever you call the people who hold the same beliefs you do) would have received an answer. That you weren’t good enough.

I thought I’d left that old story behind, but I recently found myself right back in the middle of that shame-filled place where I’m never enough.

I’d carved out a space in the middle of my day to sit in silence and stillness and listen to the guided meditation that is part of the Flock’s spiritual practice for January.  I was so excited knowing that we were going to use the same recording as last year.  Those words had been so powerful.  The experience of hearing Boldness as the name of my star to follow for 2012 was one of the most profound spiritual experiences of my life.  I couldn’t wait to repeat that moment.

I’d had a thought a couple of weeks earlier about my word for 2013, but I deliberately held that word at a distance so I could wait for that moment in the meditation when the name of my star landed in the palm of my outstretched hand.

Time carefully arranged.  Feeling peaceful and excited. Ready to listen, I began to play the meditation.  I listened.  I breathed deeply.  I turned the word over in my heart wondering if it was the one.  I waited in stillness, patient.  I reached out and …

Nothing.

Not a single thing.

There was silence. Not the warm, welcoming silence of friendship, peace and contentment, but the cold, dark, lonely silence of abandonment and exclusion.

I had no clue what my word was.  The panic started to rise. I’d done it wrong.

Last year, I was at home, not in the library.  Last year, I’d been laying on my bed in the dim light of dusk, not sitting at a table under fluorescent lights on my lunch break. Last year, I’d done some other planning and thinking before I got to the meditation. This year, I’d waited for just this moment, secure that I would know the answer when I was done.

Having boldness as my word last year was such a catalyst for change in my life. What if I’d screwed it up?  What if I’d failed at this new spiritual practice just like I’ve failed at every spiritual discipline I’ve tried over more than 30 years of trying to be the Christian I thought I was supposed to be?

I tried to pretend it was okay. That it didn’t really matter to me. That I knew there was magic in having a word for my year. The truth is I headed back to work with an underlying sense of panic.

In that moment, in that horrible silence, the right-fit feeling of the spiritual practices that have become so important to me over the last months cracked. My heart was broken. I had failed at this practice too.  I’d done what I thought I was supposed to do and God didn’t show up.  I’d been right before. He wasn’t interested.  I didn’t belong.  I wasn’t beloved.

How quickly our old stories jump out of history and into the forefront of our minds and hearts.  Here, let me just pick all that baggage up again. While I’m at it, let me just grab that extra bag too.  I’ll just bring along a bit more to carry.

Then, I made a choice.

Really who cares if I have a word for 2013 or not?  I don’t actually need a word.  No one whose opinion matters to me is going to judge me for not having a word … or an intention or a resolution or a whatever it is you think you need to have. And if I really want a word, I can pick it for myself.  I don’t have to be “divinely inspired”.  There’s nothing magical about the word.

The good things that came into my life during 2012 didn’t come only because I did it “right” and heard boldness as my word.

They came because I followed the quiet voice inside me that knew what I wanted and what I needed.  The star of boldness was simply a reminder of the path I wanted to be on.

I breathed a sigh of relief.  I put the extra bags back down. I surrendered my need to follow the same path as those around me. I leaned in to accepting that I didn’t have a word and that I didn’t need to have a word in order to be okay, to be enough, to belong.

And as the tension started to dissolve and the panic began to loosen its grip, I heard my heart sing in a quiet whisper.

Soften.

Soften into being who you are, not who you think you are supposed to be.

Soften into who the people around you truly.

Soften into what is.

Soften.

Soften 2013

Seems I needed a different path to find my star’s name this year. I think that might just be the first lesson of soften for 2013.

It wasn’t until I allowed myself to soften that I could hear what my heart needed to say. It wasn’t until I surrendered my ideas of how my spiritual life was supposed to work that I could recognize what spirit had been saying to me since before Christmas.

Boldness? Yes, still that, but soften first.

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It’s become my Monday night ritual … settling in to one of my favourite writing spots with a treat and a beverage close at hand, spending time checking in with my cross-country writing group, then disconnecting for about an hour to write.  Lots of that writing has ended up here in one form or another, but much also never sees light beyond its place on the pages of my notebook.

Tonight feels a little different.  It’s Monday night, I’m settled in to one of my usual spots, and I anticipate catching up with my writing buddies shortly.  The thing that makes it different is that it’s December 17th and today is my birthday.

As he always does every year, my dad asked me if 43 felt any different.  Nope was my not very awake response.  It was truthful.  43 today doesn’t feel any different from 42 yesterday.

But 43 today from 42 a year ago?  That’s a different thing entirely.  It’s not about the my age.  It’s about so much that has changed over the last twelve months. I could never have imagined what this year would bring, but I am grateful for so much.

See Dreams

So here is my year of gratitude.  Much of it has already been shared in this space, but I didn’t always realize at the time how each little change and discovery was going to lead me through the year.  Seems appropriate that this is actually a baker’s dozen.  The list needs to include both Decembers in order to be complete.

  1. December – For recognizing unconditional love and allowing that reality to sink into my soul.  For reminders from unexpected places and shiny people who make the world a better place simply by being in it.
  2. January – For a job that I enjoy, that allows me space outside of work for other creative pursuits, that provides security, and that allowed the purchase of my new car Suzy.  Almost a year later and it still makes me grin when the car payment comes out of my bank account.  She’s a little more fully mine and I love the freedom she brings.
  3. February – For the end of our writing apprenticeship and the beginning of something new. We didn’t want our time together to be over, but it was time for us to take what we’d been learning and keep growing. For inspiration, accountability and challenge to keep writing. For writing buddies who are now dear friends.
  4. March – For choosing to own my story.  It’s not a part of my faith story that I felt I could talk about when I was a youth pastor.  I was ashamed and embarrassed. It made me want to hide.  Telling it was the first step of finding my way to a faith that feels like I can belong, just as I am.
  5. April – For rediscovering my love of writing poetry.  For the faithfulness of long-time friends. For new friends with unexpected things in common. For learning that sharing my writing can be beautiful and healing. For support and encouragement sometimes from surprising sources.
  6. May – For celebrating the wedding of my dear friends Hunter and Chris.  What a privilege it was to be asked to help officiate the wedding ceremony of two of the sweetest people I know.
  7. June – For first glimpses of a spiritual practice that fits. For plans changing at the last minute. For wisdom shared. For learning to sit with my own shit and name it honestly.  For admitting anger at God. For trying and embracing new things despite fear. For discovering that a non-bendy person can do and enjoy yoga.
  8. July – For five magical days spent with a beautiful group of women in Garrison, New York. For our Creative Joy – Flow small group. For a continuing circle of women who will always be a place of coming home no matter how far apart we live. For leaders who shared their hearts, their sorrow and their joy and helped us stretch and bloom in ways we never imagined.
  9. August – For the lessons learned during August Break.  Taking one photo a day seemed like such a trivial exercise, but it helped change the way I see the world.  There is so much beauty in this world but it is so easy to miss out if we’re not deliberately paying attention. Oh, and for new haircuts!
  10. September – For finding a path beyond anger and through hurt. For re-discovering faith in a creator who calls us beloved and invites us to respond in kind. For guides along the path to remind that we’re not pointlessly going around in circles. For spirals of learning that gently allow us to dig deeper with new perspective each time around.
  11. October – For finding comfort in practicing yoga at home.  For learning to be gentle with and accepting of my body exactly as it is.  For yoga teachers who are kind. For discovering the joy of meditation.
  12. November – For a new sense of community found. For friends who draw us out of our comfort zones and help us find new places where we belong. For creative expression of all sorts.
  13. December –  For friends old and new, in person and online. For family, biological and of the heart. For realizing that this year’s birthday greetings resonate differently than they ever have before. I know the spirit of them hasn’t changed, but I can hear them now in a way that I was afraid to trust before. This year they made my heart sing with the joy of being known and loved. You are held so close to my heart.

I am truly blessed and so very grateful.

Notice Love

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It might be the middle of September, but I’ve still been thinking about what I learned during August Break.

chalk art lizard

  1. Taking at least one photograph a day really did change the way I see my world.  I noticed so many things that I might have missed.
  2. Even when I thought I would look silly stopping to take a photo, no one else actually seemed to notice … even when I took photos of the sidewalk.
  3. We’re more alike than we often realize.  When I wondered if anyone else would understand why I thought a moment was worth capturing, there was always someone else who understood.
  4. Paying attention  + savouring the tiny moments = more gratitude.  It’s really that simple.  The more I paid attention and enjoyed each moment, the more grateful I was.
  5. There are fun adventures to be had, day or night.  Those adventures become even more fun when shared with someone you care about.
  6. I can start a project and be consistent until completion.  I’m good at starting, but I can be easily distracted by the new and shiny thing that looks more interesting.  It’s was an amazing realization when I got to the end of August and realized that I had posted every day and had a new photograph almost every day.
  7. When at first you don’t succeed and it’s something you really want, keep trying.  Persistence eventually will pay off.  In this case, I finally got a photo that captured the feeling of a place that I love.
  8. There is beauty in unexpected places.
  9. Committing to something that I want to do doesn’t have to turn into a dreaded should. Even when it’s something I want for me, I’m prone to should-ing myself (“I should go write that blog post”).  Then, that thing that I wanted to do for me, not because anyone else thought I should, becomes something that I will create any and every excuse to avoid. I paid attention to the words I used in my own head.  When I started to say “I should …”, I reminded myself that there were no rules about August Break and I could post or not as I wanted. When I asked myself what I wanted to do, the answer was always a resounding “Post today’s picture!”
  10. I really enjoy photography.  I’d forgotten how much.  I love having the phone on my camera because it’s always in my pocket, but there were times I wished I had a better option available.  I think it’s time to start saving.  I think it might also be time to dig out my dad’s old cameras that are in the closet and buy some film. It lacks the instant gratification of a digital camera, but I always loved the excitement of getting film back from the developer.
  11. If I’m not deliberate about being mindful and paying attention to my world, I can quickly and easily stop paying attention.  I stopped being deliberate about taking a photo a day when September arrived.  I assumed I would easily keep that habit. While I’m more willing to capture a moment that grabs my attention, I haven’t been looking for those moments and I know I’ve missed out.  No judgment, just observation.  I miss how August felt. So while I’m not going to post a picture a day, I am committing to myself that I will continue to take a photograph a day.  I haven’t decided exactly what I’m going to with them yet, but don’t be surprised if posting them becomes a weekly event.
  12. One more reason why I adore Susannah Conway.  Thank you so much for creating another beautiful thing that inspires and makes the world a better place.  I’m already looking forward to August Break 2013 =)

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I live on an island, but it’s so easy to forget how close I am to the ocean.

Tonight, I was reminded.

As I was waiting for my bus, the sun’s rays drew me towards the water.  With no rush to head for home, I skipped my bus, followed my bliss, and headed for the inner harbour.

Shadows beckon

Setting Sun - Victoria Inner Harbour

Victoria Inner Harbour Sunset

Blue Skies as Sunset

Basket Shadows

Sunset Silhouettes and Skies

I couldn’t manage to pick just one picture today =)

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It’s too hot today.  I completely admit to staying in air-conditioned comfort for as much of the day as I possibly could.

Made me think of hot, hazy June days in Garrison, New York.

Creative Joy isn't always comfortable

Experiencing Creative Joy is not always comfortable.

Sometimes the currents are turbulent and messy.

But there is magic to be found.

The same sand that feels so gritty and out of place can turn into the pearl of great value.

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