Spiritual Spring Cleaning

by Dayna Pizzigoni

Spring cleaning was not a tradition in my family growing up. We did all our cleaning and work around the house on Summer Saturdays. Spiritual spring cleaning, however, is a tradition in my faith community. Each year during Lent the Catholic community engages in a searching and fearless moral inventory – to borrow from 12-step programs. As we contemplate Christ’s journey to his crucifixion, His deepest and most loving gift, we examine our spiritual journeys and notice what may be keeping us from experiencing God’s love. We clean up and re-energize our spiritual selves to gain strength and receive all the joy of grace in our lives. I offer the following spiritual spring cleaning tips in a non-theistic way for anyone who needs to shake off some spiritual dust and feel alive again.

  • Notice the light and joy-filled places in your day.

In the winter months we may have found ourselves just trying to keep it moving and get through our days. Now, stop. Breathe in deeply. Reflect over your past day or week and notice where there was light; where you felt lighter; where you experienced joy. Any of these cues are doors into sacred moments. (St. Ignatius would name these as consolations. This practice is part of the Ignatian Examen.) Sometimes we pass right by the love and goodness in our days. Notice it. Celebrate your light and joy. Feel the goodness of life.

  • Be curious about the dark or heavy places.

Resiliently moving through or past hard times can be helpful, but it can be a poisonous pattern. Pause for a moment and be curious about the heaviness on your heart or the tension in your chest. Do you need to slow down; make a change; or let go? Where does it feel dark in your life? Check it out. Bring the gentle, calm candle of your self-acceptance and courage into those dark and heavy places.

  • Stretch yourself and reach out to help someone.

Anxiety and stress create unintentional, worried self-centeredness as we try to “manage” our lives. Do one kind thing today with no strings attached… especially if you don’t feel like you have time to do it. It is a healthy reminder that the world doesn’t revolve around you. This fact eases stress, creates humility, and enhances our ability to show compassion to others. Serve someone today.

  • Practice gratitude.

Write down five things you are grateful for every day this week. No repeats. If you can’t think of anything go back and practice tips 1-3 again.

Happy spiritual spring cleaning!

Hungering for Justice

by Dayna Pizzigoni

Today I drove past four tents near the on-ramp to a local highway. I could hardly stand to consider the frigid cold the homeless would experience in another snow storm decorated with daggers of freezing rain. I feel sad and angry when I sit with awareness of people being hungry and homeless in a society of abundance. It’s infuriating to see commercials about new super-glossy lipstick, but no comments about hungry mouths.

I imagine people do not want to hear about the poverty in our neighborhoods. Poverty is not a pretty or comfortable reality. I have volunteered in city soup kitchens. I have had the honor to serve in the intimate space of someone’s home in Appalachia. I’ve sat with saints in the scarred and sacred space of Salvadorian advocacy communities. Despite my varied service, I still feel some discomfort every time I volunteer to serve people who are marginalized in our society.

My discomfort likely comes from a deep knowing that the world is not the kingdom on earth that God intended. The discomfort is also an urging to respond more fervently to my call to serve and do my part in creating a more just world. As a doctoral student, I have found it difficult to make time for this call. Thankfully, a wonderful opportunity called HungerworX has come my way through the Center for FaithJustice, an awesome non-profit dear to my heart that inspires the youth to connect their faith to a call to serve and shape the world to be a better place.

HungerworX is a mission-centered fundraiser that raises awareness about food insecurity in the United States. As a participant, I commit to eating for less than $4 a day for seven days in solidarity with the 1 in 6 Americans that struggle with hunger and food insecurity. [You are welcome to join me or support this initiative with a donation; check out my personal page, http://hungerworx.causevox.com/DPH.]

The truth is that reaching out to others and stepping outside of ourselves would not only help our communities, but would likely help our mental health too. Alfred Alder named social interest as a characteristic of mental health. Dr. Lisa Machoian suggests volunteering as a tool of empowerment for teenage girls who are struggling with depression. Serving others can get us out of our own worried minds and into a place of humility and gratitude.

A priest once proposed that the miracle of the loaves and the fishes was not that Christ Jesus multiplied them, but that strangers, who would not have traveled to see Jesus speak without provisions, all shared what they brought with the crowd. I am no scripture scholar to comment on what happened, but this message of sharing from what we might need, not our excess is beautiful. In this long winter, I hope you find some way to give of yourself. Our human family and our psyches are in great need.

Dear Me, Be!

by Andrea Noel

Four years ago, I began writing these “Dear ME” messages on post-it notes, sticking them up around my house and cubicle at work. This practice was more than writing simple affirmations or wishes; it was my approach to manifesting a new way of being. After working as a chemical engineer for almost seven years, buying my first home, car, and travelling around and outside the United States, I recognized that I spent a lot of time doing things, but not much time being. I considered how I lived. I had accumulated material possessions, and even more digital photos, but could not feel those tangible emotions that give life deeper meaning. I felt empty inside.

I began reflecting on what does it mean to be? According to my iPhone’s dictionary.com mobile application, some synonyms for the word doing are action, performance, and execution; and synonyms for the word being are living, conscious, and substance. Doing and being are clearly two different states: I was definitely great at doing, but needed to work on my being. I also recognized that both doing and being are necessary parts of life. However, striking a healthy balance between the two is the trick to living a fulfilling existence.

So, I made the intention to find small ways to punctuate my doing with being, using the “Dear ME” messages as simple reminders. I began being more patient with myself and others. I learned how to be silent; listening for God and to those around me. I started to be more accepting of events and people; learning to let go and seeking less control.

After a few months I noticed that I smiled more, I rushed less; I even drove the speed limit more often! Then I explored bigger ways to be. I intentionally attended a retreat every three months. I began spending more time with family and friends. I also explored several contemplative spiritual practices to further cultivate my capacity to be.

Those around me began seeing the difference that the intention to be made in my life. My co-workers shared in my pleasant mood and enjoyed seeking my help with things outside of our job responsibilities. My relationships seemed to deepen in ways I had never experienced before. I also perceived that life in general began to respond toward me more compassionately.

The intention to be, more than to do, continues to transform my experience of life; I have more clarity in my life, a deeper sense of peace, better relationships with others, a well-integrated spiritual life, and I find it easier to compassionately share myself with the world. Every day I make the intention to be. Be love. Be joy. Be radiant. Be ME.

So, how have you been lately?

Self-user friendly

“Every life is many days, day after day. We walk through ourselves, meeting robbers, ghosts, giants, old men, young men, wives, widows, brothers-in-law. But always meeting ourselves.” James Joyce (Ulysses)

Messages come from God/Spirit all the time and they are not always delivered via a burning bush. Okay . . . in my lifetime so far, they have NEVER been delivered via a burning bush, but I get them other ways. As my friend, Deb Rollison, said “if you hear something twice, that may be Spirit talking.”

Last week, fellow blogger,Glenda Dickonson, delivered an article on counselor self-care. That same weekend, before the article was published, the question “how can I practice better self-care?” came from another friend, Stacy, who is also in our pastoral counseling program. Both Glenda’s article and my conversation with Stacy yielded valuable and practical ways to take better care of ourselves.

But there was one practice of self-care that Stacy mentioned which, at first, seemed logical and easy enough. It was “be open and friendly.” Our interpretation was, of course, to be open and friendly to others. As we continued to talk, however, we realized that the question had been how to practice self-care, and so we pondered how to be more open and friendly to ourselves.

The answer did not come easily. Days later, I am still dancing around that doorway wondering how to get inside the open and friendly way of being with myself.

I observe when I am open and friendly with others and ask: am I being that way with me? Am I treating me with compassionate honesty, authenticity, caring, kindness, and acceptance?

I imagined myself as a friend who I have known for a long time. I know all of her challenges, her failures and disappointments, and her secret successes. Parts of life come easy for her while other parts are elusive mysteries that leave her puzzled and asking. I know where anger waits with ferocity (be warned anyone who mistreats children and animals!). I know what will bring her to sudden sadness (none of your business). I ask: am I being to myself the best friend I could possibly be? Am I being as open and accepting of myself as I am with other people?

No, I am not . . . not as often or as well as I could be. For some reason, I have different rules – a set of standards that says I should be-know-act-respond better than, holier than, more knowing than anyone else. Others are allowed to be more human than I am, and therein lies the lie and the key to that door. When I open the door, I discover that the truth is I am just as human as anyone and I am worthy of my own self-love, kindness, compassion, understanding, and acceptance. The same Divine light inspired me to life as inspired you and the rest of humanity.

And every bush around me is breathing another sigh of relief.

Experiencing God’s Grace One Client at a Time

Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me. Matthew 25:40

It might have been my first year in the Pastoral Counseling program at Loyola University Maryland, when a professor asked what type of client we would not want to treat. I thought for a moment, and then proceeded to conjure up the most depraved type I could imagine. Several of us raised our hands to share our opinions. I do not recall any answers being validated, and as the class progressed, it occurred to me that it was a trick question. As counselors we are called to be healers, and it is not our role to determine who might be worthy of counseling. What a valuable lesson I learned that day.

Many other lessons were learned since, some tangible, and some not. Among them was the manifestation of God’s grace in the counseling environment. As a pastoral counselor, I have the added benefit of incorporating spirituality in my work. This is not an alien concept, especially since many clients have a spiritual foundation, even if they are not actively involved in a faith community. In my experience, incorporating spirituality in my work enhances the healing process. It also allows me to experience God’s grace through my clients.

Even as I offer the thought of experiencing God’s grace, I realize the intangible nature of this statement. Grace is a gift that is freely given by God. We cannot earn it, and we cannot claim to deserve it. We also cannot touch it or present it concretely. It manifests as awareness, and I have found it to be present in the therapeutic environment. Each client has her own special manifestation of grace. It might be the hope she feels at the end of a particularly intense session, or it can be a feeling of peace that accompanies sacred silence during counseling. Each manifestation is unique.

I have wondered who benefits from God’s grace during therapy, and I realize that both client and counselor do. God provides what is needed when we acknowledge Him in the counseling environment. He supplies the counselor tools to facilitate healing, and offers the client the ability to receive and integrate the treatment. Loyola’s Pastoral Counseling program encourages and expects its graduates to invite God into the therapy room. In so doing, we should have no reservations about treating all clients with respect and compassion, regardless of who they are, and what their circumstance is.