Eating in a Wide Open Space

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Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing there is a field.  I’ll meet you there.  When the soul lies down in that grass the world is too full to talk about.

-Rumi

The picture above is of a chocolate croissant from Le Quartier bakery here in Omaha.  It is one of my favorite things in the whole world.  Buttery, flaky layers of laminated dough encasing batons of dark chocolate.  With a cup of creamy coffee this makes for one amazing breakfast.  I don’t eat these very often, maybe once a month or so.  But when I do it will be with my full presence and appreciation.  Not an ounce of guilt in sight.

I have learned over the years, particularly through my relationship with food, that my soul prefers the wide open spaces.  Once I start placing restrictions and limitations on what I can and can’t eat, my soul forcefully pushes back.  I’m sure you’ve experienced this in your own life.  As soon as you say, “I’m not eating any more cookies”, all you can think about is cookies.  And the next thing you know you just ate half a box of stale Oreos from the back of the kitchen cupboard, and you don’t even really like Oreos.

Staying in this wide open space has become even more difficult in recent years as it seems everyone is seeking a label for the way they eat:  Paleo, Keto, Vegan, Vegetarian, Gluten-Free, Sugar-Free.  There is always someone somewhere proclaiming that their way of eating is the best way, and they’ve got the science to prove it.  Never before have we as a culture felt so pressured to choose a particular restrictive diet to the exclusion of everything else.  I think there are many reasons for this:  an overwhelming amount of conflicting information about what we should and shouldn’t eat, a lack of a unifying cultural diet that has been passed down from generation to generation (think of the enduring legacy of the French or Italian diet, for example), a lack of fundamental cooking skills, and the desire to be a part of something larger than ourselves and to find an outward identity of sorts through what we eat.

But here is a radical notion:  What if, instead of giving our power away to the “experts” out there trying to tell us what is best, we trusted our own experience with food and let ourselves be intuitively led to the best choices for us?  In his insightful book, No Recipe, Edward Espe Brown says:

“When it comes to eating, we frequently have things backward.  We put a high value on obedience, while putting little value on permission and empowerment….The implicit assumption we often make is that we could never figure out anything for ourselves, so we better do what those who really know tell us.  Although that is sometimes called eating wisely, how wise is it to abandon your capacity to find out?  Do they know you as you know you?  How could they possibly have a formula that matches your uniqueness, your capacity to taste and experience, to explore and play, to enjoy and savor?”

When we eat from a wide open space, from a place of permission and empowerment, we make choices based on how foods taste to us, how we enjoy them and, most importantly, how they make us feel.  This requires us to be present and pay attention while we eat, a difficult task in our modern, fast-paced world.  It may also require that we get into the kitchen and learn some basic cooking techniques so that we can explore and play with food in our own space and on our own terms.  It may very well be that, upon your own experimentation, you find that you feel better when you eat meat, or when you eat a lot of vegetables, or that bread doesn’t agree with you.  The subtle nuances of YOUR diet can be unique, discovered through your own senses, through taste and experience, rather than through a blind adherence to an eating plan that is outside of yourself.  How we eat is yet another facet of our authenticity, an aspect of our lives in which we must align our inner knowing and experience to our outward actions.

We can reframe the way we think about food and eating so that it becomes, first and foremost, an intuitive and intimate act of self-care.  It just takes a little curiosity and a willingness to slow down and pay attention to what you enjoy and how you feel.  We all deserve to be nourished and experience the pleasure of food on our own terms.  Trust that you know more than you think you do.  Give yourself permission to eat in a wide open space.  I will see you there…I’ll be the one eating the chocolate croissant.

Your Hero/Heroine’s Journey: A Journaling Exercise

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You have probably heard the advice, “flip the script” or “change the story”.  When we see our lives as a story in which we are the hero or heroine, it can help us shift our energy and give us an interesting third party perspective on things.  All good stories are about the resolution of drama of some kind.  Situations and problems arise for the characters on the pages and they are dealt with and resolved in a variety of ways.  A story can take many twists and turns along the way before ultimately coming to an ending, be it happy or sad or somewhere in between.

If you were the hero or heroine of YOUR story (which you are, of course), how would you want the drama that you are currently facing to play out?  How do you want to show up in YOUR story?  All heroes and heroines face challenging circumstances and somehow manage to transform or rise above them in some way.  That is what makes them compelling to us.  Really put yourself into that heroic energy.  This is especially important if the drama you are dealing with has left you feeling powerless and victimy.  Yes, things are hard.  But you, my dear hero/heroine, can do hard things.  This is just the beginning…the raw material that makes your story one worth telling.  Choose a situation that you are currently facing and write about it in the third person.  For example, “Kristi came home from running errands this afternoon and realized, much to her dismay, that one of her chickens had escaped into the neighbor’s yard.  Again.”  (True story, by the way). Describe your current drama in exquisite detail.  See yourself in the story.  Know that we are just setting the scene for you to step into your greatness.

Now, with courage, wisdom and grace, describe what happens next on your hero/heroine’s journey.  It might be helpful to consider what someone you greatly admire might do in that same situation.  What would Oprah do if her chickens kept escaping from her yard?  Write the journey from the third person perspective again.  Bravely allow your story to unfold.  See it through to your desired resolution of the drama.  Once again, exquisite detail is helpful here.  In this telling of YOUR story, you are profoundly strong, wise and resilient.  Really let yourself step into that role of hero or heroine.

When you are finished, read through your story start to finish.  Underline parts that resonate with you.  Does it inspire you?  Does it help you see possibilities that you hadn’t before?  What small steps can you take today to move yourself into this heroic energy, to flip the script, to change the story?  Journal briefly about what it means to step into this heroic role in your present life.

Simple Seasonal Pleasures for August

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While the warmth of summer continues, there is an undeniable shift in the air.  Autumn is just around the corner.  The days are noticeably shorter, children go back to school (at least they do where I live), and life starts to settle back into a more grounded routine.

  1. Harness that back-to-school energy and get organized.  My kids go back to school in two short weeks!  As they buy school supplies and get organized for the coming year, I find it’s good for me to do the same:  time to clean out my desk, restock paper and pens, clear out documents I no longer need in my files or on my computer, go through the photos on my phone and back them up or delete what I don’t need, reassess creative projects I’ve been working on.  Back-to-school time should feel like a fresh start for everyone, adults (with our without children) included.
  2. The return of ritual and routine.  Summer is a free-for-all…some lazy days at home, week-long camps, vacations, carpooling kids here and there for summer activities.  Routine is largely out the door for the months of June and July.  While this carefree living has its own appeal, I love settling back in to the school year, welcoming grounding routines and rituals back into our lives.  This is a great time to reconsider your everyday rituals and routines…what is serving you and what isn’t?  Perhaps you need a new morning ritual to get you started off on the right foot (see mine in number 4 below).  Or maybe you don’t like the way you are rushing around just before dinner and want a better routine around preparing your evening meal (me!)  Take a little time to write in your journal about the role that ritual and routine plays in your daily life and how you may want to shift yours in order to better support and care for yourself.
  3. A bike ride or walk with the dogs before dinner.  There are times during June and July when an evening bike ride or stroll isn’t even an option due to the sun and heat.  Now, as the days grow shorter, we can take advantage of the cooler evenings and get out for a little exercise before dinner.
  4. Quiet and solitude.  With the kids back in school, there is a welcome hush that comes over the house around 7:45 a.m. each day.  I love my children dearly, but I also love my solitude.  I plan to soak up these quiet moments first thing in the morning with coffee and my journal on the back porch.  You can keep your early morning workout or jog around the park, as lovely as I’m sure that is.  THIS is my idea of the perfect morning ritual.
  5. More porch time. More coffee, more glasses of wine, more meals on the porch as we wind down the season of outdoor living.
  6. Celebrate Lammas by baking bread.  It’s easy to forget that the grains we eat are grown in the ground and harvested just like corn, squash and tomatoes.  By the time we purchase a bag of flour at the store, it hardly resembles the wheat it once was.  Lammas is an ancient harvest celebration taking place around August 1 that marks the first harvest of grain of the season.  Literally translated as “loaf mass”, people would celebrate Lammas by baking a loaf of bread from the first crop of wheat and bringing it to church as an offering of thanks.   This is such a lovely reminder of the preciousness of the grains we rely on as part of our daily sustenance, and a great excuse to bake a loaf of bread from scratch in your own kitchen this month.
  7. Reread an old favorite.  This month I will reread A Gift From the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh as I do every year around this time.  This summer marks the 20 year anniversary of this book coming into my life.  It’s one of my favorites, and it’s perfect for the month of August as it is a book of meditations written on a summer sojourn to the ocean.  Have you read it?  Do you have a favorite book you enjoy returning to again and again?
  8. Make a batch of homemade ice cream.  We have not had the ice cream maker out all summer.  Better late than never!
  9. Eat as many peaches as is humanly possible.
  10. Listen to the changing sounds in the neighborhood.  Kids walking to and from school, the marching band practicing in the mornings, high school football games on Friday nights.  With school back in session, everything changes, including the sounds around the neighborhood.  What new sounds are you noticing this month?

So much love to you as you make this August uniquely yours with your own simple seasonal pleasures!

 

Two Letters: A Journaling Exercise

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We are continuing our work with unsent letters this week.  This week’s exercise is broken down into 2 parts.  IT IS IMPORTANT THAT YOU COMPLETE PART I IN ITS ENTIRETY BEFORE PROCEEDING TO PART II.  DON’T EVEN READ THE INSTRUCTIONS FOR PART II UNTIL YOU HAVE COMPLETED PART I.

PART I

We will begin by writing two very different letters:

Letter 1:  Our first letter will be to someone in our life who is frustrating us….someone who is maybe driving us a little crazy with their behavior.  In this letter we want to let this person know exactly what it is that they are doing that is annoying us and what we think this person ought to do differently.  Don’t hold back!  Really give them the honest truth about how you feel.  This is for your eyes only so there is no need to spare anyone’s feelings.

Letter 2:  The second letter will be to someone we deeply admire, someone we believe is doing great work in the world.  In this letter we want to let this person know how amazing we think they are.  We want to gush about their stellar qualities and what we so admire about them.  And then we want to take a moment to tell them what we hope they will do next with their considerable energies and talents.

Once you have decided who you want to write to, take out your journal and a pen and write your two letters, spending about 15 minutes on each one.  (SPOILER ALERT:  The impact of this exercise will be greater if you STOP READING NOW AND WRITE YOUR LETTERS BEFORE PROCEEDING TO PART II.)

PART II

Once you have completed your letters, go back and cross out the names of whoever you wrote your letters to and write your name instead.  This is an exercise in recognizing other people as our mirrors:  What frustrates us about other people is often something we are doing ourselves.   As my old therapist used to say, if you can spot it, you’ve got it!  It may be manifesting differently or to a different degree in your own life, but you will most likely see some (or a lot) of yourself in Letter 1 if you read closely.  Take a moment to read through it compassionately and reflect on how you are indeed embodying some if not all of the traits of this person who is frustrating you in some way, shape or form.  This is not meant to be an exercise in judging ourselves or others.  It is meant to help us notice how we can be blind to our own behaviors and how we can use our irritation and frustration with others to reflect on our own life.  We can’t control the actions of others, but we can see in ourselves what we haven’t been seeing and adjust our actions and behavior accordingly.

The same goes for Letter 2:  You would not hold deep admiration for someone if you did not already possess the very qualities you admire.  They may be latent or buried, but they are there.  Let this person be a glimpse of what’s inside you waiting to be revealed.  Pay close attention to what you told this person you were looking forward to them doing next.  Are you giving yourself some kind of instructions here about what you need to do next?

As you compare the two letters side-by-side, notice that you’ve revealed some aspects of yourself that may need some work AND a beautiful vision of what you already are under the surface.  Write a synthesis of the two letters.  What are you being told that it’s time to let go of?  What is it time to step into? What next steps have revealed themselves through this process?

 

 

Recognizing the Voice of Your Intuition on the Page

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In the journaling world, we often refer to the process of listening to the still, small voice inside.  But what does that mean, exactly? Whose voice is this and what does it sound like?

The still, small voice is your intuition.  It’s the quiet whisper of your soul, a part of you that is connected to something greater.  It offers comfort and wisdom.  It offers guidance.  It is both you and beyond you.  When we begin the practice of journaling, we start to see many different aspects of ourself appearing on the page as we write.  Our voice sometime sounds whiny, angry or fearful.  And sometimes we sound joyful or profoundly grateful.  This is the beauty of journaling:  We give all aspects of ourselves a chance to speak.  We simply write down what comes, and we welcome it.  But sometimes the writing process intersects with a moment of transcendence as something profoundly wise or helpful comes through the pen and on to the paper.  How does this intuitive voice stand out, particularly since it is quiet, still and small?

1.   The voice of your intuition is always kind.  It does not judge or berate you.  It does not tell you that you are a lazy good-for-nothing.  It offers unconditional support and encouragement.  Sometimes if I’m trying to access this voice and I’m having trouble, I will ask a question of my inner self and then write a term of endearment as the first word of the response back, something like “Sweetheart…” or “Dear One…” and see where the answer goes from there.  Our intuition is always looking out for us in a loving way.

2.  This inner voice may sound incredibly wise, so much so that when you go back and read over what you wrote you might think, “Did I write that?”  It is a voice that may be almost unrecognizable as your own.  It is both you and beyond you.  Here is an example of something I wrote while journaling that felt like it came from me and beyond me at the same time:

“Someone must be the shining light in the window to guide others home.  Let yourself be that light.  Not the bright sun overhead, but the lamp that quietly illuminates the darkness.  Softening.  Allowing the mystery to exist.  The shadows to lengthen and deepen.  This is the light the world needs now.”

Trust me, I am not this wise on my own.  But as an open and willing participant with something greater I am able to access personalized wisdom like this.  And what a profound gift it is to receive a beautiful, encouraging message from your higher self.  It is reason enough to establish a journaling practice.

3.  Your inner voice may offer advice that is both simple and complex at the same time.  Like the example I offered above, the wisdom that comes forth is often poetic and cryptic in some way while offering very simple instructions.  In this case, the advice as I read it is that by being yourself you help others.  Simple but deeply profound.

4.  The voice of your intuition has a tendency to see the big picture of what is going on, but it only offers a tiny step or two when it comes to what’s next.  Sadly, our inner self is usually not in the business of delivering a detailed road map that will get you from here to there.  It offers love, encouragement and an invitation to trust the larger process and then maybe an inkling of what to do next.

5.  Your inner voice has a strength, certainty and directness to it.  It doesn’t guess, suspect or think maybe this or maybe that, it knows.  Not an arrogant kind of knowing, just a sense of plain and simple truth.

6.  Intuitive wisdom comes with a particular feeling in the body.  If we are paying attention, we notice that our bodies are incredibly fine-tuned instruments, capable of detecting truth and wisdom with subtle physical sensations.  When you are reading through your journal, you may read a sentence and feel a profound sense of relaxation or inner freedom.  Or something you wrote may land in your chest or your gut with a deep and calm sense of knowing.  These sensations are different for everyone, but as a general rule, true intuition feels peaceful and open in the body whereas something that is not true for you feels tight and constricting.  Practice feeling wisdom in your own body:  Write something down that you know is false and see you how feel when you read it.  Carefully note the physical sensations.  Do the same thing with a bit of wisdom that you know to be true for you.  Get to know and trust these feelings as you read through your own writing.

A Letter from Your 80-Year-Old Self: A Journaling Exercise

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In the age of e-mail, texting and social media, a well-crafted, thoughtfully composed letter is rare and beautiful thing.  When we use letter writing as a journaling technique, we are not limited to simply writing letters to other people in the traditional sense.  We can write letters from ourself to ourself from a variety of perspectives:

  1.  A letter from a feeling or emotion that you would like to explore further to your self.  Perhaps you’ve been angry or frustrated lately and you aren’t sure what’s behind it.  You can write a letter from frustration to you, letting your frustration have an opportunity to speak to you, uninterrupted, on the page.
  2. A letter from your younger self to your present day self.  This is a great thing to do if you are feeling like you’re out of touch with what’s fun and joyful in your life.  What did your younger self love to do?  What did s/he want to be when s/he grew up?  Let him or her have a voice and remind you of who you were before you starting caring about what other people thought of you.
  3. Write a letter from your authentic self to your present day self.  Let s/he tell you what his or her dreams and desires are.  Let them show you just how brilliant the essence of you really is.
  4. Write a letter from your older self to your present day self.  Let s/he share the wisdom of their life experience with you.

For today’s exercise, we will write a letter from our 80-year-old self to our present day self.  Take out your journal and a pen.  Sit comfortably and close your eyes.  Let your breathing become slow and steady.  In your mind’s eye, picture your ideal vision of the 80-year-old you.  You are vibrant, healthy and radiant.  Really get a clear image of what you look like.  What are you wearing?  What does your hair look like?  How do you move?  Where are you?  Who are with?  Really flush out all the details.  Now imagine that 80-year-old self sitting down with paper and pen and from a place of deep kindness and compassion, writing you a letter.  S/he has so much wisdom and life experience to share with you, and s/he only has your best interests in mind.  When you are ready, open your eyes and begin writing your letter.  Take as much time as you need, at least 20 or 30 minutes.

Once you have finished, read through your letter, underlining any passages that feel particularly resonant and meaningful.  Thank this future version of you for everything that s/he has shared.

Thoughts for further journaling:

  1.  When we did this in class, everyone had a difficult time finding a mental image of their vibrant 80-year-old self.  I thought this was interesting and perhaps a commentary on the fact that we need more vibrant 80-year-olds here in Omaha, Nebraska as role models for us!  Maybe take a few moments to write out the description of your ideal older self in exquisite detail.  Even sketch them if you are so inclined.  We need inspiring, healthy visions of ourselves so that we have something to strive towards. As we discovered in this exercise, the mind needs a vision that is so real to us that we will step into it with full confidence that what we see is indeed possible.
  2. Use any of the passages you underlined as prompts for further journaling.
  3. Create a list of action items that may be useful in getting you from here to that radiant older self.  Maybe it has to do with nourishing yourself, self-care, movement, tending to relationships, being willing to let things go….your letter will reveal some gentle suggestions for what might be helpful for you.
  4. Check in with this 80-year-old self again!  Write them a letter this time and have them respond to you.  Or do a dialogue with them for something different.

Joy as a Spiritual Practice

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“We must have the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless furnace of this world.”

-Jack Gilbert

As I wrote about seasonal pleasures last month, I heard a voice in my head saying, “This isn’t important.  In light of what the world is going through right now, this sounds trivial…a silly distraction from all of the problems that we collectively face.  How dare you write about this?”  It is easy to feel as though we are not entitled to moments of joy when there is so much that is going wrong, so much that needs fixing, so much suffering all around us.  But perhaps we need simple pleasures more than ever right now, perhaps finding joy in the everyday becomes a spiritual practice in and of itself.  Yes, there is suffering here.  But there is also goodness.  And we can, we must, hold them both at the same time.  If we wait to take joy in the world once things improve, once we feel entitled to it, that opportunity may never come.  Why?  Because, in the words of Krista Tippett,  “we can’t call forth in the world something we don’t embody.”  We practice joy in small, simple ways in our daily lives as a call to ourselves and others to move in the direction of that which we want more of in the world.

Good things come from this practice.  We may feel as though we are filling a well of energy that lies deep within our being.  We may feel more grounded.  We may feel a renewed sense of hope and possibility.  We may remember what is so precious to us about being a human on this planet in the first place.  This is an act of radical self-care, to be sure, but it goes beyond that.  It is the recognition of something sacred, a connection to something ancient and universal, and it is deeply nourishing on a soul level.

From this place of deep nourishment and connection, we become more capable, compassionate humans.  We are more able to be of service to others.  Our well is full and we can see clearly, both the suffering and pain AND the hope and possibility.  You are more than entitled to joy.  You are doing us a great service when you find and celebrate it.  Let us first embody that which we want to call forth.