Sit Spot – be still and know

Sit Spot – be still and know

“The first good thing is the goodness of nature.”

– Julian of Norwich

How many seconds has it been since you checked your phone? How long is your to-do list? How are culture wars treating you?

Maybe it’s time for a sit spot.

Taking time to regularly rest and reset in a sit spot is a gift to yourself and the world around you. Sit spot is a gentle practice that opens the doors of perception and presence in your day-to-day life. It is a radical departure from the glorification of busy to give yourself permission to simply sit, look, listen and experience your place in the natural world and as Mary Oliver said, “let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.”

What is a sit spot?
A sit spot is a natural place that you can visit as a regular mindfulness, bodyfulness practice. Sit spots can be lush and deeply wild, neat and tidy in the burbs or tiny patch of green in the city.

If you’re not sure how to pick the “right” spot, that’s okay. There is no such thing as a perfect spot in nature. If your first choice turns out not to be ideal for your practice, even better because you get to explore more natural settings!

There are a few essential elements to selecting your sit spot. Safety first, friends! Your sit spot should be a place where you feel and are safe. There should be some presence of nature. Outdoors is ideal, but a lovely spot by a window or in a house-plant nook can work wonders too. Ease of access to your sit spot is pretty important. The more accessible your sit spot is – the closer to your home or easier to set aside in your home, the more likely you are to visit it with intentionality on a regular basis. Ideally it should be less just a few minutes to get to and settle into your sit spot.

Once you’ve selected a spot and settled in, you are invited to spend between 10-20 minutes unplugged and tuned in to the world around you. While sitting, look around to get to know the space and the beings with whom you share this place. Notice your noticing by lingering with what draws your attention. Are you curious, let your attention linger a bit longer.

After you’ve introduced yourself the spot and the beings around you begin to make themselves known, invite your senses into deeper connection. Reach out and see what you can experience with your sense of touch. What sounds are nearest to you, and which sounds are the far away? What is the smallest things you can see; what is really close or super far away? What does the sky feel like on your skin?

What are you noticing?

And that’s it folx, it really is that simple. Think of your sit spot as a tiny slice of sabbath you can experience any day of the week. Sabbath is a gift, a may not a must, where we are invited to step out of the unnatural, dehumanizing industrial growth society to slow down and connect with our true nature, others and the numinous mystery of life. A sit spot, when visited regularly over time, can begin to open those doors in gentle and surprising ways.

If you begin this practice, and I really hope you will, I invite you to come back here to share a photo of your spot and maybe something you are noticing now and over time.

Sometimes it is helpful to reflect on a prompt at your sit spot. If you would like to receive weekly sit spot prompts, please sign up below. Sit spot prompts will begin Friday, August 26.

If you’d like to schedule a walk with me and explore sit spots in Leiden, The Hague or Amsterdam, you can connect with me here.

Picking Blackberries & Taking Selfies

Picking Blackberries & Taking Selfies

The day before we hitched Sugar Magnolia to the station wagon I logged out of Facebook and deleted it from my phone, but not before sharing one of those inane “taking a break from social media” social media posts. With an intention to only share one image a day on Instagram, we set out for a 21 day camping and hiking trip around the Benelux, a swanky mash-up of Belgium, Netherlands and Luxembourg.

Sugar Magnolia is the name of our early 90s Eriba caravan that we bought last year from a Dutch family living about as far east in The Netherlands as you can go. Our custom for each road trip is that once safely out of the neighborhood, we pop a CD in the player (yes, the car is also old enough to have a CD player) and crank up Sugar Magnolia by the Grateful Dead.

“…She’s got everything delightful
She’s got everything I need
A breeze in the pines in the summer night moonlight
Crazy in the sunlight yes indeed…”

On the road south headed to our first stop in Limburg, we were happily planning our first meals and hikes while watching the turbines spinning along the flat Dutch farmland. Strong was the itch to capture a video of the passing polders to post a poignant piece about natural energy sources. But I resisted and returned my attention to the conversation in the car.

A few hours and a couple of aging hippie soundtracks later, we rolled into the campground at the Maasduinen National Park and stood gawking with goosebumps under the massive Douglas Fir trees who would be our hosts for the next few days. The Maasduinen park in Limburg is a vast park of dunes, heather fields (heide in Dutch) home to an array of wildlife and quite the diversity of bees, according to the forest ranger who greeted us with a boyish grin and a large bee poster depicting the winged friends who keep the world humming.

Once settled and sufficiently lunched, we headed out for a hike in the dunes and heide, just starting to bloom in advance of the big purple show that covers the dunes for a couple weeks in late August. With the road behind us and a beautiful uncivilized horizon all around us, our conversation wandered into transcendentalist territory where we considered Emerson’s transparent eyeball and Buddhist teachings about being fully present to our direct experience. As Sookie and Louie, our two aging boxer/bulldog companions sniffed and peed and pulled us along, we started noticing that the path was lined with ripening vines of blackberries (well, to be accurate, they are European Dewberries). B bent down to pick and pop a berry onto her tongue and then I reached into the tangle of leaves and thorns to pluck a plump little treat for myself.

Zing! The tart little explosion was perfection, full of sunlight and itchy memories from childhood summers spent picking blackberries behind my elementary school in Atlanta. Fully present and at the same time welcoming wisps of the past, the urge to capture it all for social media barged in to spirit my attention away from my present experience. “Ooo, let’s get some pics, reach in again and let me take a few photos for Instagram!”

No longer was I fidgeting the seeds lodged in my molar; no more was my gaze soft and reminiscent; the taste on my tongue had faded into framing the perfect photo for thumbs ups and heart emojis from the handful of people who may or may not see my berry blip in their day of scrolling.

Gone was my direct experience of the landscape, my lover and our languid walk in Limburg. Now my mind was out here with y’all, imagining the dopamine kick it would get out of a nanosecond of…what? Affirmation, acknowledgement, ego? Ugh.

Around 180 years ago, Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “Standing on the bare ground,–my head bathed by the blithe air and uplifted into infinite space,–all mean egotism vanishes. I become a transparent eyeball; I am nothing; I see all; the currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am part or parcel of God.”

I slipped my phone back in my pocket, feeling a little silly that I had so quickly stepped off the present path and onto the digital landscape in my mind. This multifaceted medium – blogging, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube – is built to be addictive, and I have been a devoted advocate for sharing a bit of love and light in the mess out here. I am also now called to put down my PDDs (person distraction devices) and take the “soft animal of body” out into the created world to experience encounters with wholeness – that awareness of being part and parcel of God –  that elude me on the interwebs.

And this doing what I do not want to do, all toxic Pauline theology aside, is a real and present human condition that many of us struggle with in various degrees and domains. In this struggle we are invited to be intentional with our promises of progress. For me this means airplane mode, away messages and phones parked out of reach combined with mindful/bodyful/prayerful practices such meditation, forest bathing and lectio divina. Such intentionality, however we craft it, can lead to rich internal landscapes where we are more fully aware of and connected to the world, one another and our ideal selves.

Here are a few ideas to help us deepen our human experiences of the here and now:

Find out how and use Do Not Disturb and away messages on your phone, email or other digital connection tools.

Put your phone in airplane mode at meal times, when you are on a walk or any time you want to just think your own thoughts for a while.

Go outside or spend longer than usual lingering by a window in your home.

Look closely at everything​​ (let it get a little weird).

Occasionally take a photo with the intention to print rather than post.

Breathe deeply when the urge to click or scroll tugs at your mind. Notice the sensation without judgement and let it pass.

Journal or draw – on paper – cheap notebooks are best for letting yourself fill the pages with musings, meanderings and mistakes.

Be gentle with yourself.

 

 

Unplugging In, With and For Nature

Unplugging In, With and For Nature

A long time ago, in a mindset far away, I planted and served an online church in Second Life. I’ve served as the minister of digital community at the UCC denominational level and even traveled the States leading “social media bootcamps” for clergy. For about 4 years I worked as the director of digital strategy for a liberal arts college in the south. All this after I graduated from seminary with a focus in social justice, pastoral care and digital ministry. I was about as nerdy as theologically progressive gal could be. 

And then just before the world turned upside down and tuned into all things virtual (meetings, game night, karaoke and church), the universe with her delightful sense of humor, plopped Braiding Sweetgrass into my heart, shook me to the core and called me away from the screen and into the woods.

Now I am called to (and trained in) nature therapy, outdoor life coaching and eco-chaplaincy, as far removed from technology as possible. Of course I still hang out in digital spaces, the public square of our age, and even build websites for folx in helping professions. But every day I more fully inhabit my wild love for the natural world – of which we are all a part – to invite others into this (re)connection with creation of which we are all luminescent, interdependent parts.

More and more research around the world verifies the positive physiological, mental and spiritual benefits of intentional time in nature.  

But it’s not all about humans and how we can use nature for our wellbeing. When we spend more time (re)connecting with the natural world through activities such as forest bathing, nature retreats or guided nature meditations, there are positive impacts on our environmental attitudes and behavior. A spirit of reciprocity invites each of us to be in and with nature, recognizing we are of nature and to do what we can to be for nature in a world that only sees what can be consumed. A walk in and with nature is the first step to remembering we are of and for nature.

I hope to have the honor of sharing a walk with you one day.

1. Amy Novotney, “Getting Back to the Great Outdoors” American Psychological Association, (2008)

2. Dr. Qing Li, Forest Bathing: How Trees Can Help You Find Health and Happiness, (2018)

3. Kyoung Sang Cho et al., “Terpenes from Forests and Human Health,” Toxicology Research, (2017)

4. Claudio D. Rosa & Silvia Collado, “Experiences in Nature and Environmental Attitudes and Behaviors: Setting the Ground for Future Research,” Frontiers in Psychology (2019)

Unlearning Fear

Unlearning Fear

A week or so before I was to turn 52 I was walking across the wide open fields of the Dutch countryside, alone, not another soul as far as the eye could see. As I wandered and wondered, a phrase drifted across the landscape of my mind and has lingered there ever since – unlearning fear. How have I been unlearning fear? How does anyone unlearn fear? First we have to understand how carefully constructed, how very profitable the fear is to the powers that be. So that is my exploration for the prayer, prompts, prose and practices for March…unlearning fear.

Oh Lord
We are a world
In love with fear
And afraid of love

The powerful pad their pockets
peddling fear to control the people

Be afraid, they say

And your creation
cowers behind
the great lie of scarcity

Be very afraid, they say

For those
With greedy minds
and clenched fists
shouting “Be afraid!”

I pray,
Be not afraid

For those
With terrorized hearts
And shuttered spirits
echoing “Be afraid.”

I pray,
Be not afraid

For those
with open wounds
and tear-streaked souls
crying “I am afraid.”

I pray,
Be not afraid

Gracious and loving God
free us from the myth of
fear of the other
fear of ourselves
fear of the known
fear of unknown
fear of loving
fear of losing
fear of living
fear of dying

and open us to the Truth
of abundance
of peace
of love

Amen

God be in my constant overthinking

God be in my constant overthinking

The season of my coming out was fraught with tumultuous storms and beautiful sunrises. 

It was nearly 20 years ago when I answered both a call to seminary and God’s invitation to step fully  into the life I was created to live and love. At the time I was attending St. Paul United Methodist Church in the historic Grant Park neighborhood within whose walls I uttered many a prayer, not unlike the prayers Anne Lamott suggests are the most important words we can utter – “help me, help me, help me…” and “thank you, thank you, thank you.”

There were many other prayers lifted up in those nascent days of my becoming and one that has stuck with me all these years is a prayer painted in shining text high on the sanctuary walls of St. Paul.

God be in my head
and in my understanding

God be in my eyes 
and in my looking

God be in my mouth 
and in my speaking

God be in my heart
and in my thinking

God be at my end
and at my departing

For some reason, this prayer has come back to me in recent weeks with other words wiggling into the cadence, so I thought I’d share one such version here with an invitation for you to craft your own version of this timeless prayer.

God be in my pandemic-weary head
and in the cloudy kaleidoscope of my understanding 

God be in my jaded yet hopeful eyes
and in my looking so that I may see the imprint of
your image in every person I encounter 

God be in my sharp-tongued mouth
and in my speaking truth to power 
and love to the lonely

God be in my bleeding heart
and in my constant overthinking

God be at my free-from-regret end
and my reluctant departing
from your broken and beautiful world.

Why Pray for Peace?

Why Pray for Peace?

God is not a cosmic vending machine and prayer is not tossing pennies in a divine wishing well. Prayer is persistently practicing the presence of God. It is an act of acknowledging our connectedness to God and one another. Prayer is inviting God’s creative presence and offering back to God the radical hospitality of our best selves. Prayer is cooperating with God and living into our interdependence with The Spirit, our neighbors, the environment and even our enemies.

No, my prayers will not change the greedy who profit from fear and death.
No, my prayers will not stop the spreading of conspiracy theories.
No, my prayers will not open the minds of the manipulated.
No, my prayers will not relax the gnarled fist of hatred.

No, my prayers will not halt the virus.
No, my prayers will not ease the lockdown.
No, my prayers will not make the powerful put people over profit.
No, my prayers will not bring back the thousands we’ve lost.

But, my prayers can gently break the silence of despair.
But, my prayers can channel my rage at the machine.
But, my prayers can embolden me to be the hands and feet of The Divine.
But, my prayers can encourage others of faith to awake, arise and act.

I do not pray for God to send us a miracle.
I pray for God to remind us how to be the miracle.

I am because you are and only together, with a radical belief that a paradigm shift is possible, an active hope and faithful resolve to be the change we seek, can we create a just and peaceful world for all of creation.