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!

Emerge

by Andrea Noel

Emerge, according to dictionary.com, means to rise or come forth into notice, view, or existence. During springtime buds emerge on naked trees and flowers emerge out of those buds. In the spring, new life emerges.

This spring I am emerging into a new sense of self. The fall and winter seasons were times of deep contemplation about what it means to be authentically and fully who God created me to be. Listening to my heart, being present to deep feelings, noticing my intuition, and reflecting on past decisions helped me get reacquainted with me!

Over the last six months, I grew more familiar with my feelings, desires, fears, strengths and growing edges. I considered what external aspects of my life were not congruent with my internal sense of being and even realized that much of my life is spent living according to societal, familial or external exceptions, even expectations that did not fully resonate with my spirit. In the past, I made some decisions based on the affirmation and validation of things outside of me. All these years, all thirty of them, I made life choices that were mere reflections and interpretations of what others wanted for me.

This year I am choosing from within. As buds emerge, inviting flowers to bloom, I am living the life that reflects my inner most being. This spring I emerge, accepting who I am and living authentically. This spring I emerge courageously as who God created me to be. As we all anticipate lasting signs of spring, consider how you will emerge out of this prolonged season of stillness.

Spring Equinox

by Nicole Snyder

Winter with its snow and cold temperatures is holding on.  In a few weeks we will experience the Spring Equinox.  I suspect that the spring will begin to arrive and shortly after the equinox I will begin to experience the buddings of spring.  Every year I enjoy the transformation spring brings.  For perhaps the first time in my life I’m not living in the anticipation of the future.  (Although, I would welcome no more snow days.)  I am instead appreciating the opportunity to winter, to reflect inward, to spend some time in self-discovery and healing.  I am not yet ready to show the world the fruits of my solitude and inward reflections.

I struggle with wintering because I have a tendency focus outwardly.  I see the dysfunction of our world; I see the inequality; I see the costs civilization asks people to pay with their soul; I see the commodification of the sacred.  I see these things and I weep.  I came to this program because I wanted to learn how to be an instrument of healing.  Somehow it never occurred to me, before I got here, the importance of finding my own wholeness.

As I reflect on what the equinox means to me, I am asking myself what do I need to be ready to bloom.  I want to be able to take the wisdom of my wintering into the blooming of my spring.  I want to be able to see the sickness in the world and still be whole.  Holding these seemingly opposing parts makes me think of the quote by Mahatma Gandhi:

“If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. … We need not wait to see what others do.”

I believe these words point to truth.  I also hold that often we see ourselves through feedback from others.  This is what makes the therapeutic relationship so powerful (according to the six classes I’ve taken thus far) and negative feedback is just as powerful.  Pop culture’s shift of the quote to “Be the change you want to see in the world” glosses over the complexities of life.  In such a way it denies many people’s realities.

If therapy is all about helping others become their whole self, then I want to lead by example.  In this way perhaps my discovery of how to hold seemingly contradictory things together will allow others to honour their realities no matter how contradictory.  In this way I welcome the Spring Equinox, a day that reminds me that winter and spring do (no matter how briefly) co-exist.

Before You Begin

By Kate Gerwin

With the PC Open House coming up next week, thought I would put together a list of a few things I would tell anyone starting the MS program.

  1. Let the process unfold in its own time. Two and a half years and no more. That’s how long I wanted the program to take me when I first started. I was, by necessity, working full-time so even though this rich, growth producing experience may need more time to evolve in me, that fact was secondary to my desire to get it done. As it stands, I am slated to graduate in May of 2015, five and a half years after I started. And I wouldn’t have changed a thing. The “extra” time it took wasn’t extra at all—it was vital space for me to learn, integrate, question, play and grow. So if you are like me and find yourself anxious to be finished before you have even started, take heart! The process will take the time it needs to, no more, no less.
  2. Get involved.  I had the great fortune of attending Loyola Maryland (at that time Loyola College) as an undergrad and one of the things I appreciated most about my choice is how many opportunities I was presented with to get involved in campus life and other activities. When I started grad school however, I was working full-time, living far from campus and like many grad students, really pressed for time. In the last year or so, I have become slowly become more involved with the Pastoral Counseling community and it has been very rewarding. Even something as simple as meeting up with classmates for a cup of coffee can help you feel more connected and invested and is well worth the time you think you don’t have.
  3. Save Stuff! In fact, save everything! For one thing, you will need to have all of your syllabi to qualify for licensure. For another, you never know what kind of insight you will glean from that one little hastily scribbled note down the line when you are actually practicing in the counseling field.
  4. Plan Backwards. When I started the program, it was all I could do to register for one class—the thought of planning out what classes I would be taking the next semester, or the next year seemed way too overwhelming! I quickly learned however, that the best way to move forward is to plan backwards. As I learned what classes were offered when and got a sense of my overall “plan”, it became easier to see where I stood in the bigger picture and keep myself on track towards my graduation goal.
  5. Find a peer advisor—or a whole team of them. As great as Advisors are, the reality of office hours and schedules makes meeting regularly somewhat difficult. It’s definitely in your best interest to get to know some individuals who are further along in their journey and glean whatever information and insight you can from them. They can be invaluable resources for helping you navigate everything from what classes to take to helping you through the major challenge of clinicals.
  6. Take your own therapy seriously. While I have always valued therapy, I must admit I saw the 20 hour requirement as a bit of a chore when I first started—one more thing to fit into my busy schedule. As I grew in the program however and things started coming up for me however, my own therapy has been key in the process of evolving my identity as a counselor and a person. I think it is one of the best parts of Loyola’s program, so don’t short change yourself!
  7. Network Now. You never know if your “first friend” in Intro to Pastoral Counseling could later become a link to a job down the line! The program is just as much about developing your own professional identity as it is knowing the material, and networking is a key—and very practical—part of that process.

And most of all, as strange as it sounds, HAVE FUN!

Falling In Love and Finding God

by Dayna Pizzigoni

“Nothing is more practical than finding God, that is, than falling in love in a quite absolute, final way.” Pedro Arrupe, SJ

 

If you know how that quote continues, you know Fr. Arrupe’s wisdom. My experience of love and God, however, would be better expressed as such:

Nothing is more practical than falling in love, than finding God.

When I met my husband at Loyola, I was not searching for love or God. Mid-way through summer, I happened to be in a class about Imago Therapy, a model for Couples Counseling, with my now-husband. After class a few of us decided to drive to DC for a Theology on Tap. Conversation during that car ride, by the campus lake, and at my church after a movie about monks and social justice stirred up my interest in this friend. As God would have it, he found himself locked out of a parking garage in Baltimore city after the aforementioned movie. I happily found myself showing this friend around Baltimore for the day.

The thing about being in the single-discover-yourself-lifestyle is that you can risk vulnerability slowly with deliberate choice.  I chose to trust the words he spoke without analysis. I chose to stay grounded in reality and got to know him as he was, not as the future-him I predicted he could be. I also recognized the future to be a mystery with or without him. Most importantly, I walked with my fear of vulnerability while remembering that I was whole already and God was with me. Then, I fell in love and found God.

When I say I found God, I do not mean that I had a conversion experience. It was more like a slow spiritual awakening. I had a new, profound emotional experience of God’s love for me. You could say my God image was shaped in a new way.  When we talk about God image in our field, we are describing an internal working model of God as a divine attachment figure (Davis, 2013). God image is not about our beliefs, but our experiences. People we become close to or develop an attachment to can influence our God image (Davis, 2013). I discovered a new part of God through falling in love and being loved by my husband.

Arrupe is right. When we find God as if we are falling in love, our faith embraces all the practical pieces of life with a glow of being in love. The reverse is also true. I fell in love and the practical pieces of life (even data analysis) twinkle with a glow of being in God. Let someone love you this Valentine’s Day and experience something of God.

 

An Advent of Humanity – No Cape Necessary

by Dayna Pizzigoni

What does it mean to have a God that was born in a manger and died on a cross? About five years ago I wrote this question in an untitled notebook on a page without a date. As my spiritual community closes our liturgical year with Christ our King on the cross and begins our celebration of Advent, I ponder this question and its personal meaning in my faith journey again.

The reality of a God born in a barn and murdered after healing the sick and feeding the hungry means that Jesus was not a super hero. He participated in the messiness of humanity. I need to remember that if God did not step into the world as a super hero then She probably doesn’t expect me to be a super hero (despite how fun it might be to have super powers as a doctoral student).

I am a human being. God does not expect me to be perfect. He intentionally did not give me a super hero cape. My humanity, like my need for rest and play, is not a flaw. The most significant joy I will celebrate, pain I will suffer, and contribution I will offer the world will be done cape-less-ly as a regular human.

Now it must be said that sometimes we, as humans, do put on wonderful capes of determination and resilience. Single fathers, abuse survivors, refugees, and struggling students probably have made good use of metaphorical capes. It is beautiful how we can survive, stretch, and grow, but this strength becomes a liability when our expectations for ourselves become too high. We are not made to be “on” and heroic all the time. Following Christ is not about being a super hero. It is about being fully human.

There is nothing as tempting as a doctoral program to make me wish I could be a super hero; however, doctoral classes are not crises. I do not need a cape for my courses. I need to plan for adequate time to do my work and trust my intelligence. My studies call me not to heroism, but to humility with which work and be ever grateful for the privilege of higher education.

This Advent I hope to contemplate the beauty of our limited humanity. I can honor the holiness of my humanity and humbly invite Christ into the Bethlehem of my heart this Advent. Jesus will be ok in the messiness of my fragile humanity. After all, He was born in a manger and died on a cross.

Love What it Loves

by Kate Gerwin

“You can’t have my heart and you don’t own my mind but, do what you want, what you want with my body.” –Lady Gaga

Lady Gaga is a singer whose shock value tends to come more from her over the top ensembles than her lyrics; her latest song however, struck a chord with me.

Undertones of sexual assault aside, the lyrics aren’t any more sexually provocative than others you hear on any pop radio station and Gaga has every right to decide what she wants to do with her body.

What upsets me is the fact that the song speaks to a larger cultural attitude towards the body; one in which the body is at best, a vehicle to further the needs of the “real” parts of us (the heart and mind) and one in which it is, at worst, treated with apathy and abuse.

Gaga is not the first or the only one to voice the belief that the body is “less than” the other aspects of the self; turn on the radio or the television or peruse social media and it is not hard to see that Gnosticism is alive and well in modern day America. As a culture, we are conflicted masters of our bodily selves, oscillating between stringent contempt and debilitating over-indulgence.

On the one hand, we judge our bodies for what they are not, restrict them, deny them the basics of what they need (food, sleep, rest, touch, nature, play), push them beyond healthy limits and then chastise them for not working “like they should.” On the other, we abuse our bodies with over-indulgence and addiction. Even the arguments made for healthy living tend to come back to looking better and living longer, implying that the only two things that the body has to offer are attractiveness and longevity.

Religion and spirituality are often in on it too. Whether it is through the condemnation of sexuality, harsh ascetic practices or even just the subtle implication that “real” spirituality lies beyond our embodied selves, spirituality can proliferate the belief that the body need not be as valued as our hearts or minds.

What about a view of the body that cherishes it just as much as one would cherish a child? What about a view founded on acceptance, curiosity, appreciation and joy? One that celebrates the body not just as an essential part of the self, but as the true meeting place of self? What about a spirituality that understands that holiness or enlightenment is an embodied process? A view that tells us, in the words of the poet Mary Oliver:

“You do not have to be good. You do not have to walk on your knees for a hundred miles through the desert; you only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.”

How To Succeed At Staying Stagnant Without Even Trying

by Kathleen Gerwin

Personal growth, self-actualization, spiritual maturity—that’s all we seem to talk about in the pastoral counseling profession! But what about advice for those who would like to remain stuck, possibly depressed and certainly 100% growth-free? Here’s a helpful “How To” list for anyone who would like to succeed at staying stagnant—with as little effort as possible, of course…

  • Seek the company of friends who won’t—under any circumstances— challenge you. In fact, see if you can find a community of these like-minded folks and spend all of your time with them. Another possible un-growth strategy is to avoid people all together.
  • Be sure not to engage in a spiritual practice on a regular basis—talking about praying, meditating or practicing awareness is fine, but be careful not to actually DO these things!
  • Load up on a daily diet of stress, drama, and distractions. If these three “stagnation” building blocks are in place, you’re well on your way to setting yourself up to becoming growth-free. Conversely, healthy eating, regular exercise, and a daily self-care practice create optimal conditions for growth, so try to avoid these.
  • Stay firmly fixed in your routines, habits, and viewpoints. Studies show that those who take well thought-out risks tend to be happier and have a more positive over-all attitude, so remember to engage in risk-aversion at every opportunity!
  • If you’re the type of person who likes to avoid your feelings or any type of inner work, then you’re already at a relatively low risk for growth. But don’t worry if you’re the type who likes to endlessly ruminate and stay joylessly mired in you’re inner depths for weeks—there’s hope for you, too! This can be just as an effective strategy for staying stagnant.
  • Be on the lookout for the ways in which joy and humor might subtly work their ways into your life—these two little sneaks can take you outside of yourself and connect you to others in a way that can be very dangerous for anyone trying to stay on the path to stagnation. Be especially careful never to cultivate a light-hearted, grateful attitude!

Creating Balance in Life

In a few days summer will be officially here. This is a much anticipated time for many of us. The weather forecasts are full of beautiful, sunny days, and opportunities abound to catch up with old friends, visit family, plan vacations, and tackle household projects. Summer can be a busy time, with a to-do list attached to each dawning day, and a zealous effort on the part of many to use the time wisely before cold weather returns. Yet, as I anticipate summer, I am mindful of the need to create balance in my life by including time to rest and rejuvenate.

In our current society, the words “rest” and “rejuvenate” may be considered old-school. Who has time to take a break? Even while asleep we remain connected with those who are awake through technology. Today, life’s pace is faster than it has ever been, and no one, including me, wants to be left in the wake of progress. I can recall dismal days that ended with no obvious outcome, feeling the rise of guilt, that I had allowed such emptiness into my schedule. Maybe they were not empty days after all; I just did not understand. Maybe their purpose was to allow my body and mind to enjoy a respite; a part of God’s plan. Rest and rejuvenation are indeed purposeful, and my goal this summer is to enjoy them.

When I consider the value of rest and rejuvenation, I am mindful of Ecclesiastes 3:1 which states “To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.” \”Turn Turn Turn\” – The Byrds

This verse does not only speak to the notion of purpose, but also to balance. Balance provides an essential dimension to life. The dictionary defines it as a state of equilibrium or emotional stability, qualities that are important for Pastoral Counselors who are charged with the mission of the psychospiritual care of clients. To maintain that emotional stability, it is recommended that we include self-care in our schedule.

How easy is it for you to relax? Do you practice self-care? In the past, I maximized every weekend, and as many evenings as possible during the summer, with tasks.  In the process of doing, I forgot how to be. I forgot how to be calm; I forgot how to be mindful; I forgot how to be relaxed. I forgot how to appreciate uneventful days and simple pleasurable acts. I replaced “to be” with “to do.” Gratefully, this was brought to my attention, and I decided to change. I invite those among us who are caught up in doing, to pause, and try to practice being. Allow yourself to be still for a few minutes each day so your body and mind can recharge. Give them a chance to restore so you may create balance in your life.

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.