A Different Kind of Blog Post: Reviewing the Enneagram

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Settle in! This is a lengthy post. If you are interested in information about your personality type, the Enneagram is a helpful tool. And if you are interested in the Enneagram, or even curious about it, read on! If you’re not interested in any of that, wait for my next blog post.

“What’s your number?
That is the most frequently asked question about the Enneagram.

The second frequently asked question?
“What in the world is an Enneagram?”

Here’s the official definition according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary:

en·ne·a·gram
noun
en·​nea·​gram | \ ˈe-nē-ə-ˌgram \ plural : enneagrams

Definition of enneagram
1. a regular geometric figure with nine points : the figure inscribed within a regular nine-sided polygon
2. a system of classifying personality types that is based on a nine-pointed starlike figure inscribed within a circle in which each of the nine points represents a personality type and its psychological motivations (such as the need to be right or helpful) influencing a person’s emotions, attitudes, and behavior).

 

Imposed Isolation and a Compromised Immune System

When one system is weak — my immune system — why not work on boosting another system? In this case, I mean my psychological system (which actually needs constant attention). So while I am in an immunosuppressed state of imposed isolation inside my house, I have taken some time to look back on the Enneagram notes I have used through the years. When I first studied the Enneagram, I was asking, “Who am I?”

I’m still asking! I now know that determining who I am is a life-long proposition, so I still need a season of introspection from time to time. Hence, I pulled out my Enneagram diagrams and notes. Let me say at the outset that no system can tell you who you are. The best the Enneagram can do is to offer a bit of insight into various personality types. It has been helpful for me, so I decided to share an Enneagram overview today.

I recently read several of Father Richard Rohr’s daily meditations focused on the Enneagram. He understands the Enneagram not merely as a personality typing system, but as a tool for personal transformation. In one of his daily meditations, Father Rohr says this about the Enneagram:

If you know the Enneagram already, my hope is that you will learn something new about yourself, someone you care about, or even someone you don’t care for very much. Compassion, empathy, and forgiveness—for the self and the other—are some of the great fruits of this labor. And if you aren’t familiar with the Enneagram at all, know that these meditations are simply pointing in the direction of a much greater wisdom to be explored.

 

Some History on the Enneagram

In the late 1960s, Oscar Ichazo began teaching the “Traditional Enneagram” as we know it today. The Enneagram is widely taught as a way of understanding personality, addiction, relationships, vocation and other areas that all of us need more fully understand. However, the Enneagram symbol has roots in antiquity and can be traced back at least as far as the works of Pythagoras. The philosophy behind the Enneagram contains components from mystical Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Taoism, Buddhism, and ancient Greek philosophy (particularly Socrates, Plato, and the Neo-Platonists)—all traditions that stretch back into antiquity. The Enneagram of Personality Types is a modern synthesis of a number of ancient wisdom traditions. (The Enneagram Institute)

People who know the Enneagram in a superficial way think it’s about putting people into boxes, but it actually works to free people from their self-created boxes. While there are tests and quizzes that can help individuals identify their primary Enneagram type, finding our “number” is just the first step. We get to know our “number” so we can begin freeing ourselves from the passions, fixations, and fears to which our ego has become attached.  — Father Richard Rohr

As Father Richard would suggest, we should remember that the Enneagram  does not definitively determine one’s personality type. Its nine categories are not meant to restrict us to a certain way of being or “name” us. Rather, it is  a dynamic system that recognizes that humans are far too complex to fit easily into simple categories. It does, however, offer insight.

The Enneagram  can be  a powerful tool for self-discovery and spiritual transformation, but it shouldn’t be our only tool. The Enneagram is most helpful when used in conjunction with other practices like study, contemplation, therapy, spiritual direction, and life in community with others. The Enneagram’s most important purpose  is  to help us uncover the traps that keep us from being our best selves. That kind of insight is invaluable.
— From the Daily Meditations of Richard Rohr published on February 23, 2020

The Nine Personality Types

85EE4E48-DD90-454E-A9E7-A505DB185E1ELet’s begin by looking at a traditional Enneagram. The types are normally referred to by their numbers, but sometimes their “characteristic roles” are used instead. There are also  “stress” and “security” points which are the types (called Wings) connected by the lines of the enneagram figure and are believed to influence a person who is in more adverse or relaxed circumstances. According to this theory, someone with a primary One type, for example, may begin to think, feel and act more like a Four type when stressed or a Seven type when relaxed.

 

The Enneagram Wings

Most, but not all, Enneagram of Personality theorists teach that a person’s basic type is affected to some extent by the personality dynamics of the two adjacent types as indicated on the enneagram figure. These two types are often called “wings”. A person with the Three personality type, for example, is understood to have points Two and Four as their wing types. A person may be understood, therefore, to have a core type and one or two wing types which influence but do not change the core type.

 

The Enneagram at a Glance

The table below offers some of the principal characteristics of the nine types along with their basic relationships. This table expands upon Oscar Ichazo’s ego fixations, holy ideas, passions, and virtues, primarily using material from Understanding the Enneagram: The Practical Guide to Personality Types (revised edition) by Don Richard Riso and Russ Hudson.

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Every single person has access to all nine numbers. Based on nature, nurture, and discipline, you express the values of each number at varying degrees of intensity based on your lived experience. You are not one thing; you are complex and multifaceted; you are interconnected. This is a vital paradigm shift. When you consider having access to all nine numbers simultaneously, you increase and expand your capacity for thriving.  [1] 

Considering what you know of the Enneagram so far, in what numbers do you experience ease, or in Jerome Lubbe’s language, sense “efficiency”? Where do you feel less efficient? Great insight can be gained from Richard Rohr’s February 29th meditation that speaks of understanding the Enneagram as a Whole-Identity Profile instead of a single number personality “type,” He says that by seeing the Enneagram as a Whole-Identity Profile, one can expand their capacity for growth in infinite ways.

 . . . When you shift the Enneagram Framework from being a number to having efficiencies in all nine numbers, the Enneagram language shifts with it. It becomes about nature and values instead of type and reductive behaviors. For example, number Seven, traditionally associated with the title of “Enthusiast,” is instead represented by the innate human capacity for “Enthusiasm” as well as the value of “Experiences. 

“I am an enthusiast” becomes “I value experiences” which allows more room for nuance, invites growth and begs the question, “. . . and what else do I value?”. . . There is no human who is defined by a single number.

If you have resisted being “pinned down” to any one Enneagram number, perhaps Lubbe’s approach will help you see all of these qualities within yourself. Take a few minutes to read the statements below aloud slowly, pausing for reflection after each one. Notice any sensations in your body. Observe the difference between the impact of “I am” statements versus “I value.” After reading all nine, where do you feel the most energy and resonance? What values are especially meaningful to you? What values do you want to spend more time cultivating?   [1]  https://cac.org/enneagram-part-one-body-center-weekly-summary-2020-02-29/

 

Jerome Lubbe’s Enneagram as a Whole-Identity Profile

Eight: I am a Challenger = I value Autonomy 

Nine: I am a Peacemaker = I value Serenity 

One: I am a Reformer = I value Justice 

Two: I am a Helper = I value Appreciation 

Three: I am an Achiever = I value Creativity

Four: I am an Individualist = I value Authenticity  

Five: I am an Investigator = I value Clarity 

Six: I am a Loyalist = I value Guarantees 

Seven: I am an Enthusiast = I value Experiences   [2] 

When we understand the Enneagram as a Whole-Identity Profile instead of a single number personality “type,” we expand our capacity for growth . . . You are not a personality. You are not even multiple personalities. You have an identity—and what creates and characterizes your identity can be charted by the nine numbers of the Enneagram.

6F063E55-B677-43FB-92DD-CBEA902AD935The anatomy of the brain reflects this: we are not left-brained or right-brained, we are whole brained. [3]  The same is true for the Enneagram.

To put it more plainly, you are not a personality type or number on the Enneagram. You are a whole person who has a whole identity — you are all nine numbers.

https://cac.org/enneagram-part-one-body-center-weekly-summary-2020-02-29/

 

Too Much Information?

This post may have been too much information for you. Or you may be interested in looking further into the Enneagram. If so, there are many excellent books on the subject as well as online information. You may also be asking how you can determine your Enneagram type. Online you will find many life coaches, spiritual directors, counselors, ministers and others who use Enneagram types with their clients/parishioners. Also at the end of this post I will list some websites that offer free tests that many be helpful to you, with the caveat that after you complete your test, they may offer you further information at a cost.

What’s most important is that whatever personality work you engage in leads you to a deeper knowing of yourself. The goal is to you know who you are, understand your behavior and use the information you have to guide your life journey and follow your dreams. No! The Enneagram test — nor any other personality test — will not make you into your best self. Only you can do that, through self-examination, prayer, contemplation and a process of clearing your soul of anything that might be holding you captive. My prayer for you is that you might search patiently and persistently for whatever brings you inspiration, insight, self-understanding and transformation.

P.S. — I’m a “Three!”

 

 

Online Enneagram Tests

The Enneagram Personality Test – Truity
This personality test is based on the Enneagram personality theory, which describes personality in terms of nine types, each driven by their own set of core emotions, fears, and beliefs. This basic 105 question test is free and takes about 10 minutes to complete. https://www.truity.com/test/enneagram-personality-test

The Fast Enneagram Test. https://enneagramtest.net/

Eclectic Energies Enneagram Tests
Offers two online Enneagram tests help you to determine which personality type you are. Your wing will also be indicated. https://www.eclecticenergies.com/enneagram/test

Additional Resources

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Book: The Sacred Enneagram: Finding Your Unique Path to Spiritual Growth; 
Paperback – published September 5, 2017 by Christopher L. Heuertz(Author), Richard Rohr(Foreword) Also available: The Sacred Enneagran Workbook.

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For Further Study

Chris HeuertzEnneagram MapmakersExploring the Interior Landscapes of the Ego (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2020), podcastcoming March 24, 2020

Richard Rohr and Russ Hudson, The Enneagram as a Tool for Your Spiritual Journey (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2009), CD, DVD, MP3 download  

Don Richard Riso and Russ Hudson, The Wisdom of the Enneagram: The Complete Guide to Psychological and Spiritual Growth for the Nine Personality Types (Bantam Books: 1999) 

Richard Rohr and Andreas Ebert, The Enneagram: A Christian Perspective (The Crossroad Publishing Company: 2001, 2013) 

 

References

[1] Jerome D. Lubbe, Whole-Identity: A Brain-Based Enneagram Model for (W)holistic Human Thriving (Thrive Neuro: 2019), 30-31. Artwork by Aimee Strickland; used with permission.

[2] Ibid., 32. Dr. Lubbe’s upcoming book, which will be available May 26, 2020, The Brain-Based Enneagram: You are not a number (vol. 1), will share his latest work on whole-brained interpretation of the Enneagram. See https://www.amazon.com/Brain-Based-Enneagram-Jerome-Lubbe/dp/173329452X/

[3]  Dr. Jerome Lubbe, a functional neurologist and co-founder of Thrive NeuroTheology, has developed a science-based method to understand the Enneagram which he explores in his book, Whole-Identity: A Brain-Based Enneagram Model for (W)holistic Human Thriving 

 

 

Walking Peacefully

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People say walking on water is a miracle,
but to me walking peacefully on earth is the real miracle.

Thich Nhat Hanh

Those words ring so true, but how does one realize “the real miracle?” “Walking peacefully on earth” is much harder than it sounds, much more challenging than it ought to be, at least for most of us. Some have poetically said that walking on earth is our pilgrim journey, and I believe that many people feel that they are walking a pilgrim journey.

In his book, The Pilgrim Journey: A History of Pilgrimage in the Western World, James Harpur asserts that we are now in a new era of pilgrimage and asks: “Why is pilgrimage coming back, especially in a time when many people are questioning traditional religion?” Harpur’s answer is that in these days, there seems to be a deep longing in humans for this form of spiritual practice.

As for me, pilgrimage and journey are very real descriptors of my life. I have often set out on one journey or another, not knowing where to go, only that my soul needs the journey. I am captivated by Harpur’s book, by his tracing the history of why countless people through the ages have embarked on spiritual pilgrimages, by his many stories of pilgrimage through the ages and by his examples of why journey is so relevant to today’s pilgrims. Harpur writes:

If that is done, the destination — a shrine, a holy mountain, or a house of God — will signify not the end of the journey, but the start: a gateway into a new way of being, of seeing life afresh with spiritually cleansed eyes.What is essential is that the journey, by whatever means it is accomplished, gives the pilgrim enough time to expose himself or herself to the possibility of a sacred metamorphosis.

Nothing seems more important to me than seeing my life afresh “with spiritually cleansed eyes.” But getting there is a long process, a journey.

3BCA9FAD-8CD2-4B6A-B300-6609E1318379Walking peacefully on earth requires my full resolve and my desire to reach that place in life. Wouldn’t any of us want to experience transformation and the freedom to be? Wouldn’t any of us want to experience a sacred metamorphosis?

Certainly, it is a long process, a long journey. There are many steps along the way that each person must determine in order to persist on the pilgrimage. There are divergent paths and rough roads and thorny ways and threatening obstacles. Though choosing the path is personal, the graphic at the top of his post illustrates a set of steps we could possibly choose for ourselves. If I chose to take those steps, it would look like this:

First, I must learn to cry again. Crying is very hard for me, as if I dared to cry, my crying might go on forever. Yet, crying is a part of cleansing the soul, and as the quotation says, there is an importance to flowing and finally letting go. Secondly, I need to accept that within me, there is fire and that I must not be afraid to let it burn. I think I must face the flame, adapt and re-ignite my inner fire. Thirdly, I must to open myself up to refreshing air — observe it, breathe it, focus and then decide whatever I need to decide.

The quote also says “remember that you are earth” and ground yourself, give, build and heal. Finally, “remember that you are Spirit” and care for your inner core so that you can connect, listen, know yourself and be still. It’s quite a lesson — a new way of seeing myself — and perhaps it is the way I must journey if I want to walk peacefully on the earth. In these days when peace is in short supply, when nations refuse to beat their swords into plowshares, when political rivals use hate speech against one another, it is so important that peace dwells within my soul.

In the end, all of us long for what James Harpur calls sacred metamorphosis. We all want to realize the miracle of walking peacefully. We want to walk peacefully in our souls. We want to walk peacefully with others. We want to walk peacefully in our families. We simply want to walk peacefully — hand in hand with God and moved by Spirit. We want the choice to walk or to be still, to run or to leap, to breathe or to hold our breath when we kneel before wonder. We want to have the freedom to speak and shout and sing and dance . . . and truly live. That is the miracle!

 

Lingering . . . In the Presence of God

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I have observed, at this year’s beginning, as in past years, that humans are more introspective than usual. It may begin with intentions or resolutions for the new year. What I observe is that people are revisiting the past, trying to reinterpret it, digging for the meaning the past held for them and trying to find ways to heal the wounds of the soul theyp have hidden inside them for a long time. Those woulds live in us so long that they become scars, hardened in our spirits and thus more difficult to heal.

Until we have done this spiritual and emotional inner work, we are hesitant, unwilling to move into the future. So we linger in the present and re-live the past. Usually what we  revisit are past sorrows and losses, past disappointments and perceived failures, past pain that continues to pierce the soul. Seldom do we revisit past joys, because joy does not pierce like sorrow does.

It is a positive thing to linger in life review at the beginning of a new year. Just as the year is new, all of us hope that in the work of lingering, we will find newness in ourselves. The work of introspection is important for our well being and we have so many choices about how to strengthen ourselves, body and spirit. Many people use self-counseling, which may include searching their deep selves through personal contemplation and prayer. Others engage in spiritual direction, life coaching, trauma therapy or counseling. Still others tend to their souls through silent contemplation, labyrinth walks, yoga, nature walks, strenuous exercise, reading scripture, self-help books or poetry, and singing hymns or listening to music.

I want to suggest one other form of self-counseling that is unfamiliar to most people — working with Healing Runes as a part of your quiet time. Your first question probably is, “What are Healing Runes?” I want to begin by sharing an invocation written by Ralph H. Blum from his book, The Healing Runes.

Invocation

Practice the Presence of God in all ways,
Both in your coming in and your going out.

In your prayers, invoke God’s Presence.
In your aspirations, stay mindful of the Presence.
In your meditations, breathe in the Presence.

Above all, let the Presence be reflected in your attitude,
For surely then God will sing in your thoughts,
Speak in your voice and shine through your acts.
Let the Presence of God be the medicine
To heal your life, lift your heart and renew your spirit.

Practice the Presence of God in all ways,
Both in your coming in and your going out. Amen

To answer the question, a Healing Rune is a tool that provides a way of deepening  reflection and stirring the soul where we find life meaning and buried emotions. There is an interpretation of each healing rune in the book, The Healing Runes, written by Ralph Blum and Susan Loughan. They offer interpretations presented in graceful and sensitive language that allows the reader to take to heart what is appropriate for their own meditation and leave the rest.

A4B9545F-D3B1-40D5-AC08-23DF8FD547CAThe book adapts the sacred use of Runes as an alphabetic script used by the ancient Germanic and Norse peoples, creating a tool that could be helpful in the healing of body, mind and spirit.*

I suggest that we not fear the Healing Runes by considering them to be some sort of pagan artifact or something that seems like magic. They are more like mystery, something to guide our reflection and introspection. I suggest the we see Healing Runes as one way to guide us deeper into ourselves and into the presence of God, the ultimate healer of our souls.

I would like to choose a Healing Rune for us from my bag. Its meaning may not mean anything to you or to me. It may not open up any places in your soul that need attention. Or it may awaken us to a wound that we need to give some reflective time, some time for healing.

328A8B00-83F2-418F-BFC5-29960E0C06C7The Rune I have randomly chosen is the Rune of Trust. It is the Rune of restoration that calls for the rebuilding of belief in yourself, in your life and in your relationship with God. For some, drawing this Rune asks you to show trust in a present situation. For others, it calls for embracing the changes you are facing with trust and wisdom. In relationships of the heart, remember that I love you and I trust you are two stones for crossing the same stream. Most importat is that you ask your soul if Trust has something to teach you or somewhere to lead you.

Thomas Moore writes, “We separate, each from the other, the sicknesses of body, emotion, meaning and connectedness.” The soul must be moved, touched and healed, and that is why we linger at the door of our pain, trying every way we know to reconcile it, heal it, eliminate it (or just blast it with a sci-fi laser gun!) Thomas Moore has a better remedy than a sci-fi laser gun, a much more informed remedy:

I am convinced that all healing ultimately comes from a shift in deep imagination, grounding our own lives and anchoring our decisions in the very quick of the heart . . . not just relief from anxiety, but profound gifts that signal the presence of soul — intimacy, pleasure, beauty, love and piety.

As you and I explore what hides in our souls as this new year beckons us, may we not be afraid to linger directly in the presence of our fear or woundedness. Instead, let us consider that we are lingering in the comforting presence of God, in the gentle protection of Spirit. It is safe in that sacred space of Presence, safe enough for us to unearth whatever lies deeply in us and allow it to surface into the healing light.

God may be gently, lovingly calling us to do that work of healing and, in that introspection, to reveal our truth — the truth that will set us free!

 

* The Healing Runes, Ralph H Blum and Susan Loughan; Preface by Thomas Moore; St. Martin’s Press:New York, New York; ©️1995 by Ralph H. Blum.

Finding Simple Pleasures

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A Saturday of football — what a simple pleasure! I am a fan of certain teams (Roll Tide!), but I am definitely not a football fanatic. And yet, this morning while half-watching Sportscenter, I realized that watching with Fred, not having to focus that much, resting in the ordinary seemed like a simple pleasure.

There are many simple pleasures, of course, far more soulful than watching football — taking a walk in the splendor of nature, listening to birdsong, snuggling with your puppy, looking up at the night’s moon and stars, taking a walk on a labyrinth’s spiritual path . . . There are so many more simple pleasures in life, and most of them do not even require a trip to the grocery store. They cost us nothing, but their worth is priceless.

These are the simple moments that caress the soul, bring peace and calm to the heart and enliven a wounded spirit. These moments, and others like them, are the moments we desperately need, especially in times when we are burdened with the weight of the world, languishing in darkness.

I have learned some things about a wounded spirit: that woundedness happens to all of us; that “dark nights of the soul” happen to everyone at some time in life; that the wounded spirit does not always require sophisticated remedies; that a simple pleasure is sometimes all it takes to begin a healing journey.

The important factor is self-awareness, being mindful of the soul’s health, accepting the reality that healing will require us to self-intervene and that our intervention could begin with entering into a simple pleasure. One worthy New Year’s resolution is to intentionally identify the simple pleasures that feed our souls and then to allow a simple pleasure to enfold us in contemplation.

Normally, I would say “bah humbug” to New Year’s Resolutions that we make, break, and then feel guilty about for an entire year! But a resolution to discover the simple pleasures that give us life is one worthy resolution. So I challenge you to look and listen for the simple pleasures that are “you,” and to hold them near whenever you are experiencing a “dark night of the soul.”

“There comes a time when both body and soul enter into such a vast darkness that one loses light,” wrote Mechtild of Magdeburg. There comes a time when the soul “sinks down into the night.”

Her words are the words of one who knew spiritual journey and seasons of darkness. There is no doubt that at some time throughout your life, you will find yourself traveling the spiritual night. I do know this within my place of deep knowing: when I give myself to spiritual journeying, allowing myself the peace of a simple pleasure that calms my spirit, I realize that God always invites us beyond where we are.

God guides us on the spiritual journey that sometimes means winding through a dark wood. The darkness may frighten us, but it is a necessary part of the trip. When we panic in the darkness, we must try to understand that it’s a holy dark and that the idea is to surrender to it and journey through until we reach God’s light.

And then on to simple pleasures!372C6D47-6761-412E-AACF-420F5B1EE76D

God will be present beside us —- in the light of simple pleasures and in the soul’s dark night.

That is the gift, the grace, that God has freely given to us, and for that we give thanks.

“Me!”

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When I was younger, my primary life goal was to make people like me. It was something of an obsession, and it caused great harm to my spirit. For you see, I thought I had to be everyone else’s image of me. So “me” became changeable and malleable in the hands of a variety of other people. In my mind, they just had to like me.

The conundrum of life: how to accept that not everyone will like me. Maybe even most people won’t like me. So here’s the sad, but inevitable result: “me” became someone I didn’t even know. I lost myself in the impossible quest to be accepted and liked.

Then came the metamorphosis. It happened around age 47. I think what started it may have been reading the book by Sue Monk Kidd, The Dance of the Dissident Daughter.

My sisters in cyberspace, you should read that book. The thing that nearly frightened me enough to make me put the book away is the descriptor after the main title. So here’s the title of the book, in all of its feminist fullness: The Dance of the Dissident Daughter: A Woman’s Journey from Christian Tradition to the Sacred Feminine.

Well, when I read part of the book’s description — the “journey from the Christian tradition” part — it scared me to death! I had no intention at all to journey away from my Christian tradition.

I read the book anyway, and it changed my life and launched me into a journey I could never have envisioned. Sue Monk Kidd led me on an incredible, circuitous journey through fear, anger, healing, and eventually, awakening and transformation. Of course, I could never see myself turning away from my deep connection to what Kidd described as “the deep song of Christianity,” But I did discard the voices that kept me in my place, and kept me quiet, for so many years of my life.

When those discouraging, disparaging voices were silenced, I heard my own voice, finally. With clarity, my voice declared “me,” exactly the woman I was meant to be, precisely the woman God was calling to ministry. By embracing my full humanity and my spirituality — that looked very different than my religiosity had looked — I found myself.

“Me” was awakened, out in the open, in the middle of God’s world and smack dab in the center of God’s will. Oh my! Now no one would like me! When my words spoke Gospel truth, people didn’t like me. When I tenaciously followed God’s call to ordination, people didn’t like me. When I dared to preach (from a real pulpit) lots of people didn’t like me. When I worked as an advocate for women and children harmed by violence … well, no one at all liked me then because I refused to back down.

I like this quote from Denzel Washington:

“Some people will never like you because your spirit irritates their demons.”

There it is! The real, unadulterated truth! So as my spirit continued to irritate everyone’s demons, I was finally living my life as “me!” And that, my sisters, was a good place to be.

I hope you are in your own “good place.”

—————————————————————————

On another note, please pray for me as I await a life-saving kidney transplant. I am grateful that you are walking with me on this journey that often feels frightening. Your thoughts and prayers mean so much. If you would like to read the story of my illness at the Georgia Transplant Foundation’s website, please visit this link:

http://client.gatransplant.org/goto/KathyMFindley

A Go Fund Me page is set up for contributions to help with the enormous costs related to the transplant, including medications, housing costs near the transplant center, and other unforeseeable costs for my care following the transplant. If you can, please make a contribution at this link: 

https://bit.ly/33KXZOj

What’s Underneath?

A07A5421-F042-40D4-A143-32391BBC79FBToday, a friend’s blog posed a provocative question. It was provocative enough to stop me in my tracks. Likely, I was right in the middle of a tirade of complaints when this question challenged me. This was the question: “If I let go of my complaints, what might be underneath?” *

The question presented a plethora of thoughts for me. It opened up that place underneath just for a second. But then I quickly moved back to the complaints. I have many. Or at least I believe I have many reasons to complain. But I’m realizing that complaints are surface things. They live outside of us and do not always reflect the inner emotions we are truly feeling.

A complaint develops easily and blurts out what’s on the surface of our lives. It flows easily off the tongue and falls upon any willing listener. The empathy we receive from that willing listener keeps the complaints alive. If someone listens to us and responds with caring about our complaint, it is then cemented. We have given it life, perhaps life beyond what it deserves.

This brings us back to the probing question: “If I let go of my complaints, what might be underneath?”

If gratefulness for the obvious graces that we have received replaced the urge to complain, we would be surprised at the result. If, instead of lodging a complaint, we spent some time exploring what lives “underneath,” we might well gain true insight into our emotional state. 

So we would do well to ask ourselves what’s underneath the complaint we speak out loud? Is it true that our complaint rises from a deep place inside of us but hides the emotion there?

If my complaint, for instance, is that I am overworked, perhaps underneath is the constant feeling that I’m being taken advantage of. If my complaint is that I have to endure an illness, perhaps the feeling underneath is that I fear suffering, even death. If I am terrified of death, perhaps I am not certain I left a good and lasting legacy. If I’m languishing in retirement, perhaps the emotion “underneath” is that, now that I am not “ministering,” I am questioning my self-worth.

You might be asking why this is important. It is important because whatever lives inside of us holds the power to harm us physically, emotionally and spiritually. What could we do instead of complaining? 

  • We might begin with silence that moves us a bit towards serenity.
  • Next, we will practice mindfulness that helps center us.
  • We woukd do well to contemplate gratitude for the graces of life. 
  • Then we should pray for insight, comfort and healing, not only praying for what we need from God, but also listening for God, abiding for a while in God’s presence.
  • Then we must take time for what might be the most important practice of all: introspection and self-reflection.

One of the primary goals of introspection is to better comprehend our inward life and to learn to focus it towards fulfillment of self. To go there is to invite vulnerability, healthy vulnerability that softens the hard places inside me that are wounded. Then we need to pull up from our inner resources just a little bit of courage.

When all is said and done, each of us is given a critical choice: do we complain about all that is not right? Or does courage enable us to look underneath our complaints and discover what our true emotions are?

For myself, I have to ponder these questions: What am I grieving? What have I lost? What do I fear? Underneath my whining and complaining (which I am very apt to do) I will find a gift, a treasure that is my very soul and spirit, and the emotions that abide there.

And as a bonus, I will have found a better way to live my “one wild and precious life.” **

* From A Network of Grateful Living

** From a poem by Mary Oliver. 

Mindfulness

9B848BD6-A066-4F2C-ADFC-E8EA7D4C99D6mind·ful·ness
ˈmīn(d)f(ə)lnəs/
noun

  1. the quality or state of being conscious or aware of something.”their mindfulness of the wider cinematic tradition”

  2. a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.

Now that we have an official definition of mindfulness out of the way, we can explore what mindfulness might mean in our lives. Mindfulness prompts us to maintain a moment by moment awareness of our thoughts, emotions, body sensations, spiritual longings and surrounding environment. Mindfulness asks us to pay close attention to our thoughts and feelings without self judgment, to fully accept the spiritual, physical and emotional space we are in, and to let go of any thought that there is a “right” or “wrong” way to feel. When we practice mindfulness, our thoughts tune into what we’re sensing in the present moment rather than rehashing the past or imagining the future.

Try this breathing meditation. It will take just three minutes out of your day.

Three-Minute Breathing Space Practice

  1. You are invited to attend to what is. The first step invites attending broadly to one’s experience, noting it, but without the need to change it. Experience your self in a wider and more open manner that is not selecting or choosing or evaluating, but simply holding—becoming a container for thoughts feelings or sensations present in the body and spirit. Linger here for about one minute.
  2. Now focus on your breathing. Let go of the wider view of step one and bring a focus that’s much more concentrated and centered on breathing in one region of your body —the breath of the abdomen, or the chest, or the nostrils, or anywhere that your breath makes itself known. The attention here is narrow, while in the first step it’s wide. Breath deeply and slowly for one minute.
  3. Now widen your attention again to include your body as a whole. Become aware of sensations in your body. Sit with your whole body, your whole breath. Spend this last minute moving back to being mindful of yourself, of who you are in te present moment, your whole being — physical, emotional and spiritual.*

Mindfulness will not allow you to miss the vibrant color of a daylily or the sweet scent of jasmine. Mindfulness will move you to notice the graceful flight of a butterfly and to really hear the delightful strains of birdsong. Mindfulness also leads you to be fully in touch with the depths of your spirit. Mindfulness creates a kind of choreography of awareness. Though it has its roots in Buddhist meditation, we find so many references to meditation in the Psalms.

Meditate in your heart upon your bed, and be still. (Psalm 4:4)

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart Be acceptable in Your sight, O LORD, my strength and my Redeemer. (Psalm 19:14)

When I remember You on my bed, I meditate on You in the night watches. (Psalm 63:6)

On the glorious splendor of Your majesty and on Your wonderful works, I will meditate. (Psalm 145:5)

So you might be asking, “What is the point?.”

The point is that all of us tend to rush through this beautiful life and miss the real and deep beauty of it. We push our bodies to accomplish its daily tasks without cherishing the workings of the body — its breathing, its moving, tasting and seeing, hearing and enjoying the aromas that surround us. And most often, we fail to pay close attention to the longings of our souls and the promptings of our spirits — what makes us whole, what fills our hearts with joy, what moves our soul, what is God saying to us, how is God calling us to satisfy both our soul’s yearning and the world’s deepest need. We simply do not cherish it enough, all of it, this life we have been given by God’s grace. Life passes through us and around us in every passing moment, and we miss it.

And yet, a life of mindfulness can almost make magic in our lives, filling us with serenity and peacefulness, with lightheartedness and laughter, even bringing us to the honesty of our sorrows and the cleansing power of our tears.

I, for one, want to be continually mindful of my life, in my body, my mind, my world, my soul, my heart, my yearnings and my sorrows, my dreams, and the deepest desires that fill me with hope for the future.

Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?
— From Mary Oliver’s poem, The Summer Day

 

 

* The Three-Minute Breathing Space Practice was developed by Zindel Segal, Distinguished Professor of Psychology in Mood Disorders at the University of Toronto Scarborough.

 

 

Magical

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Magical Night: A painting by Teressa Nichole

Tell your story. Shout it. Write it.
Whisper it if you have to.
But tell it.
 ― L.R. Knost

These words of LR. Knost are so very true.

During the weeks of Lent, I helped lead a writing group at my church. What a rich experience it was for me — watching each group member spending quiet moments meditating and contemplating the ripples of his/her life. Then witnessing one person after another begin to write as if they were expecting transformation, telling their stories, writing down the highs and lows. It was almost magical.

It seemed as if I saw the throes of stress leave their spirits. It seemed as if I watched their expressions of pain ease as pen flowed across paper. It seemed at times as if a weight was lifted, an emotion discovered, a community created, a sense of understanding settled in.

I know this: no one left the room with a broken spirit or a weight they could not carry. Instead, they left the room in covenant with one another, knowing that someone cared deeply about their story. They left the room knowing that, in this intimate space, they could spew out whatever they needed to release or they could be silent in a peaceful sanctuary of acceptance.

That Sunday School room in the tall-steepled church at the top of a street in Macon, Georgia known as High Place became a sacred space for just a brief time. It became a place almost magical, a place of rest, a place of comfort, a place where each person could feel that they were not alone and that they would never feel alone again. Truly, that was magical.

I end today’s blog post with these words written by L.R. Knost:

Tell your story. Shout it. Write it.
Whisper it if you have to.
But tell it.
Some won’t understand it.
Some will outright reject it.
But many will
thank you for it.
And then the most
magical thing will happen.
One by one, voices will start
whispering, ‘Me, too.’
And your tribe will gather.
And you will never
feel alone again.

Amen.

Transformation, Pursuits and Productions

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A Recolor page that brought me fond memories of my beloved Uganda

My mind needs rest and renewal. My soul needs trasformation. My heart needs peace and serenity.

The problem is that not many activities relax me. Being the wretched Type A personality that I am, I turn every pursuit into a production. A dear friend has a saying that she uses when a task morphs into more than it should have been. “That was a production!” she would say, and we all knew what she meant — a project got way out of hand!

Such is my life. Compulsive. Driven. Perfectionist. All words that have often been used to describe me. I have to work on it diligently, this need for serenity and the renewal of my mind. Reading Scripture leads to writing a sermon, an opinion piece, or a blog post. Praying leads to a plethora of things I feel I must do. Swinging in the sunshine leads to working in flower beds that need tending.

My first waking thought is always about what project I will do or what meal I will cook. That decision influences my day. When I have decided what I will do, I’m off. I’m all in to get it done.

My greatest need is to find my way to peacefulness and serenity, to experience a renewal of my mind, to learn to be quiet and still so that in the stillness, I might find God in new ways. And I might even find myself in new ways and learn some things about the depth of my “self” snd the longings of my soul.

It is my soul, of course, that craves the serenity. I work on it often — deep breathing, brief praying at many times during the day, singing hymns (to myself) as I fall asleep at night. All of it helps. None of it makes a permanent difference.

Interestingly, I have found a pursuit that does not lead to a production. It is a computer app called Recolor, which is simply for coloring on devices like the IPad. Each day, Recolor adds two or more pages for coloring with your finger or a stylus. I have found nothing that relaxes me more than getting lost on a coloring page. As of today, I have colored 1,062 pages and have received 66 thousand “likes.”

One might observe that this pursuit is not at all a spiritual practice, not a contemplative activity, and is pretty much a waste of time. The thing is, it really is a spiritual practice for me because I am learning how to waste time. I needed to find a way to immerse myself into a creative activity that did not consume me. I needed an activity that would clear and renew my mind. As the Scripture urges, I need to be transformed by the renewal of my mind.

Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

— Romans 12:2 Revised Standard Version (RSV)

So I will continue coloring to clear my mind and slow me down. And I will keep working on the renewal of my very busy mind. Who knows? Someday I might find myself transformed.

 

Maps

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“I like to know where I am, not just where I’m going.”

That’s a statement made by my husband, who absolutely loves maps. In fact, he doesn’t like the GPS in the car to determine his route. Instead, he wants to see the map of the entire area so that he can determine his own route.

He gets this love of maps honestly from his father before him. And what’s more important is that he never, ever gets lost. He possesses a keen sense of direction that can take us through any city, on any highway, over any country road. He always finds the way back to familiar territory.

Knowing maps, reading maps is a gift, a gift I definitely do not have. But here is what I think is most important: to know where we are, not just where we are going. Knowing where we are is a part of knowing who we are, and that is a necessary part of a content life.

No doubt, many of us are not self-aware. We fail to spend time getting to know ourselves and getting comfortable in our own skin. There are no maps that can adequately chart our humanity. Maps do not show deep down emotions. Maps do not reveal the passion of our hearts. Maps cannot describe what lives inside a soul.

We must explore those things ourselves, in earnest and in prayer, discovering the person God wants us to be.