Archive for category: Aha Moments

Addiction and Surprise

07 Nov
November 7, 2015

I felt positively touched this week by a politician with whom I completely disagreed, until he spoke about addiction. A popular Huffington Post video on Facebook of Chris Christie showed him telling stories about 1) his mother’s addiction to nicotine and eventual lung cancer and 2) a law school buddy’s addiction to drugs and ten-year slide from having it all to losing everything, including his life. Christie noted how differently we treat addicts from cancer patients. We do not say to cancer patients, “Don’t treat them because they are getting what they deserve.” However, that IS what we say to incarcerated people addicted to heroin, alcohol and cocaine. He made the case that every life is precious. Every life is a gift from God. We need to stop judging and get addicts into treatment, instead of jail, and give them the tools they need to get better.

I would say that once addicts/alcoholics have gotten into treatment, they also need to make restitution for their crimes, if they have committed any. Twelve step recovery programs require taking responsibility for one’s individual actions in the past and making amends. So, recovering people often have a debt to pay financially or a debt to society. This may require public service or some form of restitution rather than jail, and it is consistent with recovery work itself. Doing such esteem-able work builds self-esteem.

So, Chris Christie, Governor of New Jersey, “gets it” about addiction. He surprised me. We have some common ground to discuss in the unlikely event that we bump into each other.

May we encounter other people with open minds and hearts, ready to be surprised by what we see and feel. May we also be informed by the wisdom of our life experience and reflection upon it.

Horizon One

29 Oct
October 29, 2015

Today, I am leaving the Big Sky Country of Billings, Montana after staying here for a few days. My father was born here and grew up nearby on the Crow Nation reservation.

What impresses me is the huge sky above the plains that nothing really interrupts. I have a keen eye for the obvious; I know. It makes me want to burst out in song, “On a clear day, you can see forever,” even though I am not normally that exuberant. There is something distinctive about the great blue sky, which inspires artists to paint the sandy and rocky or green and rolling landscapes. The moon in the night black sky without light pollution has a certain simplicity to it. (Billings does not care to populate each road with streetlights.)

If you have read my blogposts or tweets, you have discovered my appreciation of nature and how God is revealed to me there. Diana Butler Bass has recently written an excellent book Grounded: Finding God in the World – A Spiritual Revolution, which I highly recommend. She posits that our American culture is undergoing a spiritual revolution from a distant, transcendent God to a more intimate God whom we may closely experience. She begins by discussing God-with-us in dirt, water and sky:

Dirt and water are understandable and tangible, icons of earthy sacredness. But we need the sky to remind us that no matter how close God is, God is still the One who hovers at the horizon.

God is not above us, but rather beyond our sight. At the edge, at the horizon, God is the sacred mystery. This reminds us of what is unknowable about God. God is greater than our vision and imagination.

As I stand on the prairie looking out at the line where the sky touches the earth, I feel so small where I stand. And I feel an inner urge to speak to the Horizon One who created all.

(Written on 10-27-15)

 

 

 

Kimi Ginger Awe

01 Oct
October 1, 2015

Our pink kimi ginger garden is in full blossom bordering the polished coral walkway to our front door. Its leafy green stalks and ten-inch ice cream cone-shaped blossoms stand short to thirteen feet tall. They grow densely like a miniature jungle, threatening to overwhelm passers by. We have to tie them back and prune frequently. Having a kimi ginger garden is new and I have discovered that I love to prune. Whacking away at the base of the stalks, when the blooms have grown gnarly on top, brings a perverse pleasure. Felling a thirteen-footer, as I stand five feet five inches, just feels like I am evening the score in some cosmic height game.

Why does it feel so good to be outdoors? Scientists have been documenting nature’s healing powers. James Hamblin wrote an interesting article in The Atlantic magazine on “The Nature Cure.” He cited many studies. “Researchers in the United Kingdom found that when people did physical activities in natural settings instead of ‘synthetic environments,’ they experienced less anger, fatigue and sadness.” Another study found that children with ADHD who play outdoors in natural settings, such as parks, have milder symptoms than children with ADHD who play primarily indoors. Also, addicts who participate in camping programs have lower relapse rates than those who do not. To put it bluntly, my mother was right when she said, “Go outside and play. You’ll feel better.”

Richard Louv wrote Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder in 2005, examining research and concluding that direct exposure to nature is necessary for healthy childhood development and physical and emotional health of adults. It sparked a growing movement to keep children connected to nature. The research states that people are attracted to and renewed by looking at nature and nature images. There is something healing about natural environments. I can certainly attest to this, living part time in Hawaii.

James Hamblin also referred to a February 2015 academic conference at the University of California at Berkeley, where scientists discussed “the latest research on the health benefits of awe, including reductions in levels of cortisol, a stress hormone.” Awe is frequently the experience described by people in the midst of nature. So, nature de-stresses us, as it fills us with awe. Awe is also a spiritual experience. Isn’t that awesome?

What Makes You Happy?

24 Sep
September 24, 2015

If you are not happy or even if you are, this is a worthwhile exercise. Spend a few moments writing down the answer to these three questions.

1. How did you get to this situation in life? What does it reveal about your purpose in life?
2. What’s the best thing that ever happened to you?
3. List 50 things that make you happy.

I will share with you my answers to these questions.

After thirty-three years of having a paycheck job, I stopped working, as planned. I am in the generative stage of life, where I see my purpose as sharing some of what I know about spirituality and spiritual care with others through writing and teaching. The enjoyment of my relationships and God’s world is also part of my purpose.

The best thing that ever happened to me was actually a choice. Jim and I decided to get married. I wrote about our renewal of vows at our ten-year anniversary in a blogpost entitled “The Vow,” which you can find by going into the archives on my website (www.micheleshields.com).

Here are fifty things that make me happy in no particular order: spending time doing anything with my husband, our dog Rafa, dinner with my best friend, friends in San Francisco, friends in Hawaii, sunrises, sunsets, flowers, swimming, biking, running, outrigger canoe paddling, stand up paddle, Hawaii, San Francisco, hula, playing the ukulele, reading murder mysteries, reading spirituality books, running races, ice cream, pizza, the Bible, Hawaiian Regional Cuisine, California Cuisine, malasadas, the warm ocean, the Ko’olau mountains, the Red Rocks outside Las Vegas, triathlons, swim races, jeans, smart & humble people, Hawaiian musicians, jazz music, traditional Hawaiian music, doing spiritual care, writing, the New York Times, Netflix, teaching spiritual care, my iPhone, my iPad, my MacBook, my Nespresso machine, friendly dogs, silence, prayer, meditation, the Byodo-In Temple, our house in Kane’ohe, our apartment in San Francisco, Modern art and tennis. I could easily name more things.

If you spend a little while answering these questions, you will feel happier just remembering the best thing that ever happened to you or the times associated with your list of things that make you happy. It is a no-brainer.

May you do at least one of the things that makes you happy and something that contributes to your purpose today. May you be blessed as you do.

Deeper Truths

22 Sep
September 22, 2015

I was watching a recording of the new Stephen Colbert Show at breakfast with my dog Rafa. Rafa and I like it because this is a good way for us to keep up with the hottest stars, which we have been ignoring until now. Colbert reported that celebrity Blake Lively is launching her own brand, the main focus of which is “living a one of a kind curated lifestyle and how to achieve that.” What? A curated lifestyle?

What if Jesus had a curated lifestyle? What if some Madison Avenue salesperson, who did not consult with Jesus, created a designer brand of tunics, sandals, baby mangers (more comfy than the original one, of course) and woven crown-of-thorns hats (“a fashion statement!”). This might sell to a segment of the Christian population seeking a curated lifestyle like Jesus, all the better to walk in His footsteps. After all, people have been willing to do stranger things.

A.J. Jacobs wrote “The Year of Living Biblically: One Man’s Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible” about his experiment of taking many of the commandments from the Hebrew Bible and living them out. For example, he tells the absolute truth at a dinner party with disastrous results, in an effort to never bear false witness. He also does silly things like not wearing mixed fibers and beginning to play a ten-string harp. Also, Rachel Held Evans wrote “A Year of Biblical Womanhood: How A Liberated Woman Found Herself Sitting on Her Roof, Covering Her Head, and Calling Her Husband ‘Master'” about literally living out the biblical admonitions regarding women on the same basis. Enough said. I am impressed by how much one can mess up one’s life with such endeavors.

It is remarkable how much escapist religion is out there. People can be preoccupied by the oddest things to avoid the deeper truths about ourselves and our world. What if we opened ourselves up to hear deeper truths? It would have to be “a teachable moment” for us and we would need to listen to someone we could respect.

There seems to be some real public interest in Pope Francis’ visit to the United States, not only among Catholics. Could this be an occasion when people are ready to hear some deeper truths about economic injustice, compassion for the poor and unemployed, ecological concern and climate change, and unity in working on common causes? Perhaps so. Michael Bales writes for Sojourners, “Pope Francis’ visit is an opportunity to present an alternative vision for what life with Jesus can look like. This pope is connecting with millions of Americans who don’t consider themselves Christians, but who find themselves resonating with the simple, radical faith of Jesus.”

Perhaps this is a time when deeper truths may be told. Let all those who have ears, hear.

Broken and Beautiful

14 Sep
September 14, 2015

One summer during seminary, I did chaplaincy training (Clinical Pastoral Education) in a Catholic hospital in Western Massachusetts. The priest and nun who supervised assigned us as students to do something no one would be allowed by law to do now. They assigned us to be nurses’ aids for a week, before we could begin to be chaplains to patients. Today, that would be against Union rules, patient safety regulations and probably a lot more hospital accreditation standards. However, this occurred back in 1979 and I imagine that it was legal then.

I was a disaster as a nurses’ aid: clumsy, tentative, fearful and awkward. I remember being assigned to give a bed bath for the first time to an unresponsive elderly woman, after very little instruction. I was nonplussed as I gazed upon her pale, naked body lying still in the bed. It took me a long time with the pink basin, white washcloth, soap and water to accomplish the task. I was humbled and whispered my apologies to her, just in case she could hear. I felt badly that she was getting an amateur bed bath instead of a professional one. At least I treated her with respect, even if I was not good at what I was doing. The seed of my admiration for nurses was planted at this time. What could be more earthy, decent and humane than taking care of every need of strangers’ bodies?

After that week of being a nurses’ aid, I was so relieved to “just talk” to patients. In particular, I recall a middle-aged female patient who had a hemorrhoid operation and described her pain to me in great detail. I no longer had to help with physical tasks. I was so delighted and satisfied to be able to simply sit and empathize with her. And I empathized up the wazoo. (I also checked with the nurse about the timeliness of her pain medications.) That summer, I learned about identifying with people in their brokenness, because we are all human and therefore, broken in some way. No one “has it all together.” Not even the person you look up to the most.

I look up to people who have the strength to be vulnerable and real like the Rev. Nadia Bolz-Weber, who recently wrote Accidental Saints: Finding God in All the Wrong People. As a young minister, like her, I suffered from the delusion that I was supposed to be righteous, good at Christianity, for my church members’ sake. In my mind, it also seemed ridiculous because I was only twenty-three and there were plenty of old saintly people in the church where I served. So, I can identify with Bolz-Weber, who wrote:

as much as being the person who is the best Christian, who ‘follows Jesus’ the most closely can feel a little seductive, it’s simply never been who I am or who my parishioners need me to be. I’m not running after Jesus. Jesus is running MY ass down. Yeah, I am a leader, but I’m leading them onto the street to get hit by the speeding bus of confession and absolution, sin and sainthood, death and resurrection…I’m a leader, but only by saying, ‘Oh, screw it. I’ll go first.'”

Like Bolz-Weber, I have often learned and taught from examples of my failure or tentativeness and trials. After all, people can learn from a negative example, just like they can learn from a good one. It also helps to have an enormous reliance upon grace and humor. Each of us needs a lot of help to get through any particular day. And isn’t that a relief – not to need to look strong and perfect?

May you know that you are not the only broken and beautiful human here.

May you have the courage to be real and vulnerable.

May you sense grace and peace all around you.

Comes Through The Wound

31 Aug
August 31, 2015

Sooner or later, we will all be wounded. Wealth and good fortune can only protect us for a while, if we are that lucky. Eventually, we will experience a devastating loss, a divorce, a death, a disaster, an addiction, an encounter with the law, a bad car accident, financial troubles, an assault, mental illness, family secrets, a betrayal or something else. There will come a day when we will feel destroyed and deeply wounded by life.

Gwen genetically inherited the disease of alcoholism. There were sober alcoholics in her family, including her older brother. As soon as she began drinking at age twenty-five, she had no “off switch” and her capacity for alcohol was large with little affect. She married a man who drank like her. Their marriage centered around drinking. When Gwen realized that something was wrong, she suggested that they go to marriage counseling. Right away, the counselor suggested that they cut their drinking in half that week. The next week, he suggested the same – in half again. Gwen’s husband decided to quit the counseling and continue drinking, while Gwen decided to get sober with a supportive community and go to Alcoholics Anonymous. She did not want to “white knuckle” quitting drinking by herself. She was devastated by “hitting bottom” and learning about her addiction because she did not want to be like her brother, her sibling rival. Her marriage ended in a divorce and Gwen continued to seek counseling for support. Also, the divorce challenged her basic notion of how life worked. She had previously thought that if you worked hard enough, life (e.g. relationships, jobs, etc.) would work out and others would automatically love and appreciate you. This was not the case in her marriage; her husband had left her. Gwen’s whole worldview was demolished.

The great German theologian and mystic Meister Eckhart wrote, “To get at the core of God at God’s greatest, one must first get into the core of oneself at one’s least.” Why? When we are at our places of greatest vulnerability, our broken places, where we surrender, that is where God enters in. Several writers have remarked that God comes through the wound. “We need to experience this wound to earn access to our highest nature. God comes through the wound. God comes through experiencing death. Something needs to die so that we may live.” (Marcella Bokur Weiner and Mark B. Simmons in “The Problem is the Solution: A Jungian Approach to a Meaningful Life) After the death, there can be a new and different life.

Gwen was deeply humbled by the experience of divorce and the recognition that she was an alcoholic. She had to learn to accept herself as a wounded, broken person among other wounded and broken people around her, no better or worse than them. It was not a matter of trying harder to make a marriage work or being better educated to avoid the disease of alcoholism. In the depths of this time, human beings were God’s language to her. (Rabbi Harold Kushner) Her AA sponsor helped her to understand alcoholism as a disease and not a moral failing, something she brought upon herself. Others in AA also helped her work through her shame over her divorce and find forgiveness for herself. Following the Twelve Steps helped Gwen to cope with her personal guilt and shame. Her misery no longer blocked her relationship with God and she began to feel a new honesty in relationship with herself, others and God. All three relationships were connected. Gwen’s ego felt right-sized. It was as if she had been through a death experience and found a new life.

If anyone had said to Gwen, before all this had happened to her, that God would draw closer to her through a divorce and alcoholism, she probably would have said they were crazy. Yet, in retrospect, many of us can see that God comes through the wound, whatever the wound, and now we are more alive than ever.

Wherever you are on your path of life, feeling that something is wrong, or feeling wounded and broken, or discovering healing and new life, may you find the One who draws near and comes through the wound to bring new life.

Keep Something Beautiful

26 Aug
August 26, 2015

Mr. Costa was only forty-one years old and the single father of two teenage daughters. His black hair showed just a bit of gray and his square jaw had a stubble of beard. He was handsome, but thin, pale and weary-looking. As expected, he was attached to a heart monitor, pulse monitor, several intravenous lines and other medical equipment. Twenty years ago, he had received a heart transplant. He had spent the last three months in the hospital with a series of hard to treat infections, eventually facing the last chance prospect of another surgery. A chaplain visited with him in the Cardiac Intensive Care Unit, as he despaired over his inability to find any meaning in his suffering. Mr. Costa was very distressed over his diminishing treatment options and the prospect of another major surgery, agonizing about what to do. Previously, he had been an avid hiker and found solace and nurturance in nature. He had lost this connection in the barren technological wilderness of the ICU.

The chaplain embodied a spiritual guide. She suggested visualizations and meditations about his favorite places in nature, where he could be still and find his own source of nurturance and guidance, which he welcomed. As the poet and philosopher John O’Donohue said, “…connecting to the elemental (e.g. aspects of nature) can be a way of coming into rhythm with the universe…there is a way in which the outer presence –  even through memory or imagination – can be brought inward as a sustaining thing.” This was a powerful support to reconnect Mr. Costa with a deep sense of his inner resources. In creatively imagining other times of hiking and camping along the Pacific Coast Trail, he was able to capture a sense of guidance and knowing what was meaningful and enduring in his life. This enabled him to regain his equilibrium and decide to have the surgery.

The chaplain blessed his decision: “May you have peace with your decision and renewed hope for healing. May you have confidence in your surgical team. May you be reunited with your daughters as a healthy father. Blessings to you, Mr. Costa!” Fortunately, the surgery was a success.

John O’Donohue said, “I love Pascal’s phrase, that you should always ‘keep something beautiful in your mind’…if you can keep some kind of little contour (e.g. dawn or twilight) that you can glimpse sideways at now and again, you can endure great bleakness.” Most of us have access to something beautiful, even if it is only the sky. We can choose to think about these things. (Phil. 4:8) May you keep something beautiful in your mind today.

The Time of Your Life

18 Aug
August 18, 2015

When have you been so fully present in the moment that you lost track of time? Were you lost in another person’s story? Reading a totally engrossing book or watching an all-absorbing movie? Swept up in nature? Having a marvelous massage? Playing with your child? Being intimate with your lover? If these were times of centered awareness where you were paying attention solely to the present, then these were moments of “kairos.”

“Kairos” is a word that means the opportune or fitting time, the qualitative and nonlinear time, the indeterminate or time lapse period, and the fullness of time. It is “the moment spilling over with life and God,” according to Sue Monk Kidd in When the Heart Waits.

Most of our lives are lived in “chronos” or sequential, linear, quantitative, ordinary, minutes-and-seconds time. (Note: Both “kairos” and “chronos” are Ancient Greek words from the Christian scriptures, which are the only two words for “time” found there.) We are not usually very attuned to what is happening in our lives. For example, many of us have had the experience of driving somewhere familiar on auto-pilot, without remembering quite how we got to our destination. Being “zoned out” is not “kairos.” Following a schedule at work and ordinarily watching the hours go by is being chronologically aware of time. It is “chronos.”

I will give an example of moving from “chronos” to “kairos.” My husband and I decided to visit an Obon Festival and Flower Lantern Floating Ceremony at the Byodo-In Temple in our neighborhood. We had watched the Obon dancing, dragon drum demonstrations and Aikido last year. We wanted to remember our deceased family members by writing their names on the flower petals of a lantern to float during the ceremony this year. Our little dog Rafa was pulling and rushing us along through the covered exhibit area when the heavens unleashed a sudden, torrential rainfall. Normally, we would be walking quickly through this area anyway, because my husband’s normal pace is very fast. The rainstorm stopped us; we were protected by the roof.

I pointed out the flower arranging table, where we could sit down and make our own small paper-wrapped vases of one flower, baby’s breath and other accoutrements. An older Japanese woman suggested ideas for our concentrated endeavor. It became “kairos,” lost in our flower arrangements. Rafa had settled under the flower table. The rain continued to fall. When we naturally finished, we thanked the flower lady and moved on to the Japanese Tea Ceremony table, underneath which Rafa settled down again. The tea ceremony was performed by a kimono-clad Japanese woman. She very slowly cleansed a bowl, meticulously poured out the green matcha powder, added boiling water, and whisked it with a bamboo implement. Almost everything was in slow motion. Ritually offering it, she gestured how one should drink it, turning the bowl twice between sips, or so I thought. She bowed. It was “kairos.” We bowed in return and said, “Mahalo!” The rain had done us a huge favor. It had stopped us from rushing along so that we could see where we were and pay attention to the people there, just waiting to gift us with flowers and tea. We are meant to truly see everything around us.

We tend to live by “chronos” and not even cultivate the “kairos” of our lives. Yet, if we slow down and center our awareness on the present moment, we will find more “kairos.”

May you have the “kairos” of your life!

 

Retelling Your Loveliness

10 Aug
August 10, 2015

Has anyone ever loved you back to life again after you have suffered? There are many endings, griefs and tragedies to be borne and accompanied in our lives. If we are fortunate, we do not have to face them alone. With the help of others, we can make it through the suffering and its “dark night of the soul,” the transition, and find the new beginning emerging on the other side.

There are so many individuals, who need love and support, around us. As a professional caregiver, I am privileged to relate to some of them. A young man shared his story. “I grew up in foster homes. In the first one, from the age of two to five, I was severely beaten. Later, a doctor explained that I stopped growing because I was not loved.” To love and be loved is one of humans’ core spiritual needs.

I am reminded of the poem by Galway Kinnell entitled “St. Francis and The Sow:”

“though sometimes it is necessary
to reteach a thing its loveliness,…
and retell it in words and in touch
it is lovely
until it flowers again from within, of self-blessing”

A middle aged woman said, “My husband called me beautiful. In his eyes, I am. Why should that cause me such discomfort? When I was young, harassment dismissed by adults as jokes, and sexual harassment by peers ungoverned by the adults in charge, humiliated me and shaped my self image. In the absence of positive mirroring from my parents while I was a teenager, I grew up very insecure about my looks. My mother had extremely high standards for beauty and once conceded that I was ‘a handsome woman.’ Who wanted to be that? But now, after many years of marriage, I believe my husband. I believe I am beautiful.” A sense of self-worth is one of humans’ core spiritual needs.

Since it is human to need a sense of self-worth and also a need to love and be loved, we all suffer blows to these areas of our spiritual lives when we suffer, as in these two examples. We need to be retold of our loveliness and our love-ability. After we have deeply internalized that message, we may be able to freely bless ourselves and others.

May you know deeply your perfect loveliness.
May you always have one person or more in your life to retell your loveliness to you in words and in touch
Until you flower from within with self-blessing. Amen.