Where do I feel this emotion in my body?
The next time you experience a strong emotion—whether a pleasant one or an unpleasant one—ask yourself this question. Notice what your body may be saying to you about this feeling.
When we walk too long without a break, our feet talk to us, right?
When we eat too much food at one sitting, our stomach lets us know.
In the same way, we can gather awareness about ourselves by noticing things like a headache that appears in a certain setting but disappears when we change settings.
God created our bodies as a wealth of information. This doesn’t mean that every ache or pain is highly significant or emotional in nature. But some of them can be. How do we discern which ones are? How can we relate, spiritually, to these “felt senses?”
- Pay attention to “felt senses” in your body. That includes pain but is not limited to pain. You may feel other sensations such as tingling, warmth, tightness or pulsations. If you can’t find a word for what you are feeling, see if an image emerges.
- Talk to them. I know it sounds weird at first. But put yourself in a calm, relaxing environment and ask the felt sense if it has something to share with you. If nothing happens, then OK. But you might receive some body wisdom just by asking! If you have a spasm in your neck that feels like a tightly wrung cloth, ask the wound-up-cloth “what gets you so tight?”
- Keep a journal of this felt sense and your interaction with it. Notice when it shows up and when it leaves. A journal over time can help you determine if this sensation is tied to an emotion.
- If it is a pain, ask it “What would all better feel like?”
- As part of your daily practice of prayer and reflection, thank your body for all it does for you. Let your body know you love it and will take good care of it. Entrust your body to the Holy One and accept all the healing that God offers.
If you want more information about body awareness from a spiritual point of view, look into books and articles on the practice of “focusing.” One book I recommend is Bio-Spirituality by Peter A. Campbell and Edwin M. McMahon.
We must engage questions that are alive and do practices that make us more alive. — Rabbi Danny Cohen
As I continue to write about meaningful questions that can be engaged in spiritual direction, I’m sharing this one from Rabbi Cohen:
How do I see the miracle in the mundane?
I remember facing this question when I was studying in the Spiritual Direction program at San Francisco Theological Seminary in the late 90’s. We were constantly asked to share experiences of God with one another as we learned the art of spiritual direction. My experiences always seemed a tad mundane when compared to ones shared by people who had seen, heard and felt visions or miracles.
One day I shared an experience of deep well-being that consisted of walking down a sunny street headed to my favorite burrito lunch hangout. I am not sure I had ever felt so held, so loved by God. So happy.
Then, another woman shared an experience of a giant Jesus walking toward her to embrace her.
Wow. Giant Jesus versus happy burrito walk. That’s really miracle versus mundane!
Of course, it’s never a good idea to compare spiritual experiences (I now know that). We’re not in a competition. There was no reason for me to feel ashamed that my miracle came in the form of a walk toward a burrito while her miracle was in the form of Jesus walking toward her.
Mine was the miracle of daily life shining with Divine Light for no particular reason. What St. Ignatius might call “consolation without cause.”
Moments of deep peace, satisfied well-being and a taste of the transcendent are miracles in this world where chaos and greed sometimes seem to be winning.
Where are you seeing the miracle in the mundane today?
Recently I made a shift in my own understanding of what it means to be upset about something. After taking a course in cognitive behavioral tools for rational living, I stopped seeing contentious events, people and things in my life as causes of my distress. Yes, they may be inconvenient and not what I’d prefer to have in my life at the moment. But they don’t cause me to be upset.
I upset myself. Whenever I find myself in distress, I now ask, “what am I upsetting myself about here?”
The key to changing attitudes about this is to refuse to beat yourself up because you unintentionally upset yourself when life didn’t meet your expectations. We were ALL taught to react as victims when things don’t go our way. It’s part of the Western culture.
So we all need to learn our new lessons in coping. Because if we can upset ourselves about just about anything, we can also calm ourselves down. Even if someone acts hideously inappropriate toward us and conventional wisdom says we “should be very upset at how they are treating us,” we can take a step back, remind ourselves that their behavior is all about them and not us, inhale deeply and take calm, appropriate action on our part.
I mention this in Pocket Spiritual Director because—for me—taking this step back from other people’s opinions, actions or life events is difficult but rewarding spiritual practice.
So many times I pray about a situation that I’ve upset myself about and I hear God say to me “remember your cognitive behavioral tools.”
Naturally, since this has been so helpful in my spiritual practice, I recommend CBT books, worksheets and therapists to anyone who feels tyrannized by life. My favorite book is Feel the Way You Want to Feel…No Matter What! by Dr. Aldo R. Pucci though there are many other great books on cognitive tools around. Find what works for you and make it part of your spiritual practice.
So many times we only see what we want to see.
The other day I desperately wanted to go for a swim in the community pool. It was 108 degrees in the shade with partly sunny skies and I had time to spare. So I slathered up with sunscreen, grabbed my floating raft and headed up the road. When I got there, much to my delight, there was no one in the pool. I had the whole place to myself! This was too good to be true.
I got into the pool and looked to the east and saw why there was no one in the pool. Overhead, just east, was the nastiest thundercloud you could imagine. And it appeared to be moving swiftly in the direction of the pool.
To the west, the sun was sparkling through a clear sky. Naturally, since I wanted to swim, I had only looked west, not east.
Which is why it is prudent in spiritual discernment to always ask, “What am I refusing to see here? What am I missing? What might I be overlooking?” Sometimes the thing we are overlooking is crucial. And even if it isn’t, part of discernment is gathering all the facts.
The fact before me was a stormy sky. So I packed back up and walked home—-fast, to avoid the storm.
Which never came. The grey-black cloud headed due north and bypassed me altogether. I could have stayed in the pool and splashed around for hours, but I didn’t know that at the time.
In spiritual discernment, it is important to gather the facts in a relatively objective manner, always taking into account that we human beings tend toward tunnel-vision. Asking “what is it we don’t know but we need to know” is a way of widening the lens and gaining a greater perspective.
Because I like open-ended questions so much, I went on a search through the New Testament to collect the questions Jesus asked. Here are a few of my favorites, which I use (in some form) in spiritual direction:
What are you looking for? (John 1:38) Jesus asked this one more than once. And because he said “seek and you shall find,” I think it’s important to know what we seek and long for. Stopping and asking yourself what you really desire and need is a great contemplative exercise.
Why are you afraid? (Matt 8:26) What causes you fear? We are told numerous times in scripture—many times by angels—to “be not afraid.” Yet we are afraid….a lot. Looking at the source of your fear and handing it over to God can help us heal.
Where is your faith? (Luke 8:25) I don’t ask this in that “o ye of little faith” belittling sort of voice that Christians can sometimes use. Rather, I ask it in the vein of “what are you putting your faith in?” Many times we need to evaluate what we have faith in. In whom or in what do you trust?
Do you want to be made well? (John 5:6) This is a tough one. I would never ask someone who is gravely ill if they want to be made well. But I keep this one in mind whenever I observe someone who is stuck in an “unwell” life situation and resists efforts to make a change that could bring about wholeness. I remind people to ask God for the wellness they desire. I see the desire to be well as a big step toward wholeness.
Jesus was well known for answering questions with deeper questions. Sometimes he did it to up-end the people trying to corner him. But many of his questions were to well meaning individuals designed to help them think more deeply about their life situation. These four questions are perfect for helping us do just that.
Jonas Elrod woke up one day to a vision of a motorcycle crashing and soon after his best friend died in a a motorcycle crash. That life event also awoke something in him. From that point on, he was seeing angels, auras, “beings of light” and other non-material phenomena. (His journey to explore the meaning of this is documented in the film Wake Up available on Netflix.)
Maybe the life event that changed the direction of your life was not so dramatic. But we’ve all had moments in which we, metaphorically speaking, woke up and made a change that has led to a new way of life. For Jonas, it led to a quest to find out the meaning of this new sight he had. Doctors declared him mentally and physically healthy so he turned his quest toward spirituality. He didn’t find any one complete answer in his quest but found his heart opened to unconditional love as a result of the journey.
One of the pivotal events in my life occurred when I was working a morning radio show in Baltimore. I was the newsperson who gave “100 second news updates” while two DJs tried very hard to make jokes in the midst of the news. I had no real problem with that—it’s what happens on Classic Rock morning radio shows, and I was glad to have the job. But one day the DJs brought in a stripper for entertainment. (I know, a stripper on a radio show makes no sense at all.) And she is doing some really dirty dancing on the control board as I am delivering the news.
I went back to my news closet after that and had an epiphany. I don’t want to do this kind of work the rest of my life. Maybe not even the rest of the year. While I’m no prude, I don’t really want to read news while my coworkers enjoy a burlesque show. I wanted more meaning in my life.
Shortly after that, I entered seminary part-time which led to a new career in spiritual direction and ministry.
It is important to notice these pivotal events in life and ask, “what does this mean for me?” “Do I need to make a change?” And, “what is it I need out of life?”
Ask these questions of God the next time you meet a twist or bump (or a bump-and-grind in my case) in the road. It may be the change of direction you need.
Even before Rick Warren’s Purpose Filled Life became a best seller, people were going to spiritual direction to discover their purpose in life. The notion of having a purpose (some might even use the word “calling”) in life appeals to me and has been helpful for me in discernment.
Recently, though, I took a course in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy in which the teacher, Dr. Aldo Pucci, stated that “nowhere is it written in law that a person has to have a purpose in life.” His point being that our very appearance on earth is purpose enough! Apparently, too many people have been placing lofty expectations on themselves around an elusive “purpose,” causing themselves additional stress and anxiety.
If you are one of those people, then find a question other than this one to ponder. It seems that not all personality types need an overarching purpose to run after!
What Dr. Pucci does promote are goals. Concrete, challenging yet attainable goals in life. For many of us, goals provide meaning and purpose.
Take some reflection time to set short-term and long-term goals. Check in with those goals from time to time to see if the tasks you are doing are in alignment with them. Ponder whether your goals are meeting your deepest emotional, physical and spiritual desires. If not, set new ones.
Use goal-setting and action planning as part of your daily, weekly or monthly discernment practices, always noticing along the way whether the actions you are taking are giving you life and energy or draining it from you.
And then let purpose find you, or relax and let go of “purpose.”
One simple question you hear a lot from spiritual directors is this: How was that for you?
We may laugh about how that sounds very “Dr. Phil,” (and it does) but it’s an evocative question. After someone relates an experience in their life, that question can draw them deeper into the experience.
It’s a way of asking “After all you have been through, is the fruit of the experience good and healthy? Or sour and rotten?”
For Christian spiritual directors, the passage in Galatians (5:22) —in which Paul outlines the fruit of the Spirit as love, joy, peace, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness and self control—serves as a benchmark for helping clients evaluate their life experiences in order to make changes and grow.
How was that for you? Did it provide a lasting sense of peace and joy? Did it leave you energized? Was the end result “good fruit?”
How was that for you? Did it make you a better person? Did it open you to service in the world?
How was that for you? Did it tempt you to close yourself off to others? Did it seduce you into hatred or bigotry? Did it leave a bitter taste in your mouth?
We ask the question “how was that for you” not so that you will either congratulate yourself if the answer is “great” or beat yourself up if the answer is “awful” but so that you can discern what you intend to learn from the experience.
God knows we have a lot to learn in this life. Consider how the highly charged moments in your life (both the desirable and the undesirable) are affecting you. Are they producing life-enhancing fruit or not? And if not, what does God invite you do do about it?
That makes “how was that for you?” a powerful question.
Since we are all made so differently it stands to reason we each find different ways we connect to the unseen power we call God. That’s why one of the first questions I ask anyone in spiritual direction is this one: When do you feel most connected to God? Or the related question, “How do you connect to the Divine?”
For many people, it is through prayer. Some people enjoy reflecting on an image (I kind of like the image of connecting a power cord to a source of energy, such as the one above). Some people do it mostly with words, by talking to God. Others simply sit in silence. Some sit in silence and listen for a word.
For a great many people, connecting to the Source of Life comes when they step out of the boxes they live and work in and breathe fresh air, gaze at the sky or the land, or say hello to the animals that share their neighborhood.
For others the connection comes when they exercise. Moving the body has a way of both grounding us and putting us in touch with transcendence.
And, of course, many of us feel connected to God when we are with people who love and support us.
If you are not sure when you feel most connected to God then ponder when you feel most connected to what I call “the attributes of God”—love, peace, joy, patience, gratitude and mercy. These lead us to the Source.
I hope you find points of connection in your life this week.