What Nourishes Your Soul?

 
What Nourishes Your Soul?
 

What Nourishes Your Soul?   

    I just returned from spending ten days experiencing the rugged beauty of Northern California. After four days of leading a training retreat at the Bishop's Ranch Retreat and Conference Center, in Healdsburg (80 miles north of San Francisco), my wife and I took some vacation time to venture a few hundred miles further north to explore on foot  the remote coastline at Shelter Cover and the giant redwood forests in both Jedidiah State Park and Prairie Creek State Park. 

   Hiking is, of course, good for the body, but in my experience, it is even better for the soul. It is the perfect metaphor for the journey of life itself. All that is required is to simply keep putting one foot in front of the other, over and over again. The key in both hiking and life is to take time to stop and become fully present to the beauty that is around you, to feel the breeze, to smell the air, and to listen to the quiet sounds that you might otherwise miss. The journey itself, not the destination, is the most precious part of the experience.  

   Our journeys are always enriched when we are privileged to walk amongst elders. For me this week, this included redwood trees that were between five and seven hundred years old. To be in their presence and wonder about all that they have witnessed, all that they have endured, was a balm for my soul. Silence was the only response to the humility I felt standing before their almost incomprehensible height and breadth.  

   Is it any wonder that so many spiritual traditions contain stories of experiencing God in the wilderness? Whether on a mountaintop, in the desert, by a river or sea, or in the presence of a burning bush, the Sacred has always been experienced in and through nature. Experiencing creation has a way of connecting us with the Creator.  

   I am pretty good about remembering to nourish my body with proper food and rest. I, however, sometimes forget about the importance of nourishing my soul, and so this past week was an important reminder of both what feeds my soul and the importance of doing so.  

   What nourishes your soul and how might you make time for that?


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An Undivided Life

 
An Undivided Life
 

An Undivided Life 

   Many churches this week are celebrating the life of Francis of Assisi, a 12th-century friar, preacher and lover of nature and animals. I had the opportunity to visit his hometown Assisi, Italy last year, and my time there only increased my admiration for this man whose life and teachings continue to inspire the world some eight hundred years after his death. The power of Saint Francis is grounded in the fact that the way he humbly lived is life was so entirely congruent with is beliefs and teachings.

   Parker Palmer, a modern Quaker author, writes about living an "undivided life," a concept that guides all of our Living Compass wellness programs. To live an undivided life is to live like Francis of Assisi, where one's core values and beliefs orients all that one does. Saint Francis summed up what it means to live an undivided life with these words,  "Preach the gospel always, if necessary use words." 

   There is a well-known prayer, supposedly written by this man and thus referred to as the Prayer of St. Francis. For me, it has been an important compass that I've used as a guide for my life for many, many years as have many others. Although there is no concrete proof that he actually wrote this prayer it is entirely congruent with his life and teachings.  

   I close this week's column with this prayer in hopes that it may inspire all of us on our path to living an undivided life.

Lord, make us instruments of your peace. 
Where there is hatred, let us sow love; 
where there is injury, pardon; 
where there is doubt, faith; 
where there is despair, hope; 
where there is darkness, light; 
where there is sadness, joy.
 Grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; 
to be understood as to understand; 
to be loved as to love. 
For it is in giving that we receive; 
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; 
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.


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Healing Takes Time

 
Healing Takes Time
 

Healing Takes Time  

    While I am busy leading a training retreat in Chicago this week, my wife Holly is participating in the "Healing Trauma, Healing Communities Conference" in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Cllck here to learn about the conference). Over 1200 people from across the country are attending this gathering of some of the most nationally renown experts on trauma-informed care. It is encouraging to know that so many people are committed to helping others heal. The research clearly shows that unhealed trauma is a leading cause of many of the physical, emotional, relational, and spiritual health struggles found in Milwaukee, and all of our communities.

    One of the complicating factors of helping people heal from trauma is that people have a high capacity to hide the effects of traumatic experiences, not just for days or weeks, but even for decades. Hiding the injury initially seems like a good strategy of self-protection, but while things may look fine on the outside, the trauma is still being experienced internally. Stress levels may remain high, impacting the person at every level and the painful effects of the injury can, therefore, be triggered at any time.  

    A few years ago I wrote a column about a very minor trauma I experienced that involved having a fish hook embedded in my thumb. While the trauma was insignificant compared to what many others have experienced, the lesson learned from my healing process was profound. I would once again like to share some of the ideas from that column in hopes that they help us all better understand this important topic today.  What follows is an excerpt from my original column.

     It's been a month since the emergency room physician removed the embedded hook, and I have learned a valuable lesson from the healing process.  What has been remarkable is how quickly the surface level of my injury has healed.  The hole in my skin where the hook entered (and exited with the help of the doctor) has completely healed. If you were to look at it, you would not be able to notice that there had been an injury.  The internal healing, however, has been much slower.  I still have a great deal of pain deep within my thumb, and any bumping of it continues to trigger great discomfort.  

     The lesson in this is clear. Just because a person's wound may look healed and completely fine on the outside doesn't mean that the deeper, internal healing process matches the outside appearance.  A person who has experienced a traumatic loss or injury of any kind may appear "fine" shortly after their painful experience.  They may even report that they are "fine" when asked. But we need to be aware that the healing of the deeper wound from their loss will take much longer.  It is also wise to know that any experience that bumps up against this loss will continue to cause discomfort for a long time, perhaps for years, to come. This is why if you ask someone about a loss or trauma that occurred many years ago, you will often find that the emotions related to the initial experience come to the surface quite easily.

     Perhaps you know someone who looks like they are doing "fine" on the outside but is still experiencing a deeper, internal pain on the inside. Maybe that person is even you in some way.  I hope my lesson from my unfortunate tangle with a fish hook in my thumb can serve as a reminder that deeper healing always takes longer than we expect. We are thus wise to be careful and gentle with ourselves and/or others during the healing process, listening deeply and offering compassion and care.


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Make Someone Smile

 
Make Someone Smile
 

Make Someone Smile 

     My wife and I received a forwarded email today that made us smile.

     Here is the backstory on the email.  Our grandsons attend a Montessori school, and the teacher of our almost five-year-old grandson sent his parents an email outlining in great detail how actively he had been engaged in a project at school that day. Without going into all the details, it was quite a complex project that he and a friend were working on, one that required quite a bit of focus and concentration. The teacher was so pleased with what she had observed that she took the time to describe what happened in an email, and sent it to our son and daughter-in-law. They then shared the teacher's correspondence with us, which is what caused our faces to shine with delight earlier today.

    And there were more happy faces to come. As excited grandparents we, of course, shared the story of our grandson's activities with a few others throughout the day. And they smiled, too.

    I am not proud of the fact that I am sometimes far too quick to spread news that is negative.  I know how easy it is to do. So I needed the reminder that arrived in a forwarded email this morning, that it is just as easy to spread positivity as it is negativity. It only took our grandson's teacher a few minutes to write the original email, and our daughter-in-law, less time than that, to pass it on.

   How might you share positivity with others today? 

   Be the reason someone smiles today.


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Storm Predictions and Preparation

 
Storm Predictions and Preparation
 

Storm Predictions and Preparation

     Our nation's attention has been gripped by the predictions surrounding Hurricane Florence this week. As I write this column on Thursday afternoon the storm has not yet made landfall and forecasts as to its intensity, and exact path are still shifting. My heart goes out to the millions of people being affected by this storm. 

     Whenever a major storm occurs, it is common to hear people complain after the event that predictions of the storm were inaccurate.  When the storm's intensity and exact location turns out to be different from what was forecast people find themselves wondering how the experts could have been wrong in their predictions.  I imagine that some of the questions are merely a product of the general stress that people often feel when a storm has disrupted their lives, others because we would like to think we humans can figure everything out. It seems that the weather forecasters are as good as any other target for people to direct their frustrations.

     What I find amusing about people being upset with storm forecasters is that severe storms by their nature are far outside the range of normal conditions. They are therefore inherently difficult to predict.  Behaving in ways that are unpredictable are what make storms, well....storms.  It seems clear that even with all our best technology, nature has a mind of its own.  The benefit of most storm forecasts is not that they are perfect in forecasting the exact details of what will occur, but that they give us a warning. They are meant to provide us with a general warning, so we have time to get prepared for extreme and unsafe conditions.  

     Just this week I, too, found myself in the role of a storm forecaster, and so maybe that is why I am feeling some empathy for those who make their living forecasting the weather.  A colleague was describing a significant change through which she was leading her organization, and together we agreed that storms were on the horizon as this change began, emotional storms related to changing the status quo.  I also had a conversation with a young couple who is about to have their first baby. We talked about the joy and excitement they felt. I thought it was important to remind the new parents as well that there would probably be some storms ahead as this significant change in their current sense of "normal" was sure to feel disruptive and chaotic at times.  As in weather predictions, it is never possible to predict the exact details of the emotional storms that usually accompany significant change, including how severe the storms will be, how much disruption they will cause, and how long they may last.

     Planning to retire?  I predict there will be a storm ahead.  Starting or ending a relationship?  A chance of storms is clearly predicted.  Moving? Starting or leaving a job? A child leaving for a place of their own? A new child in the family? A new initiative at work? If you answered yes to any of these questions, then storms are likely to occur.  

     And as any storm forecaster will tell you, it is essential to be prepared. Some of the wisest advice for preparing is what we heard this week regarding Hurricane Florence-don't minimize the seriousness of what is ahead, don't try to be a hero and go it alone, and know that are many people and organizations that you can turn to for support to help you recover. And if the storm is life-threatening, you may need to evacuate.

    My prayers go out to all whose lives are currently being impacted by any kind of storm. And this week, I especially pray for those who are being affected by Hurricane Florence, along with the first responders and emergency personnel who will be leading the recovery efforts in the weeks and months ahead.  


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