A decade ago, in 2011, I crafted my first rule of life in a spiritual formation course while pursuing my certification. When I look back now on that first "rule" I realize now how I've grown spiritually over these past ten years, where I've been stuck (pandemic, anyone?!) and how God has met me in each stage of my spiritual journey.
A Rule of Life is an opportunity to discover your own routine with God and seek wisdom for how you long to order your days. My personality is one that swings between the rule obedience (I tried to follow) In childhood and the longing never to embrace rules others place on me as an adult. Anyone else feel like a rule rebel? But when I find the rhythm of my own rules today and embrace them, I thrive. I think this is true for most of us. If we can honor ourselves with what works for us, we can embrace discipline that helps us grow. Yet that discipline isn't the same for everyone. Afterwall, we don't have "one size fits all" bodies nor do we have "one size fits all" souls.
In the Christian community, Saint Benedict is known for inviting the monks of his order to establish the rules that shaped their lives, giving structure to what we know today in spiritual formation as a Rule of Life. While those of you reading this likely are not monks, I'm guessing you could benefit from the simple structure of a rhythm for your own life.
Living in a pandemic has invited me to revisit my rule and discover new rhythms for connecting with God. The shifting of worship, small groups, personal connection, routine, work, and everything else that had given my life structure dissolved in 2020. I was left with a shapeless routine and someone in most every room of the house logging on to a device to go about their day. I soon realized a new routine was in order if I was to connect with God.
So I began updating that Rule of Life that's undergone quite a few revisions in the past decade. And this time, it looks completely different. My Rule of Life is less structured and more inviting than ever before in regards to my daily routine. It includes good books, hot tea and time in nature. It also includes reminders of my dreams and goals and how God made me. And here's a bit of irony, there are no rules for how you create your rule.
Need some companionship in discovering your own rhythm? I'll be sharing my Rule of Life in our Peace Seekers community next week on Friday, January 29, 2021. You're invited to join our community if you'd like to be part of that conversation. This year in our private online space, we'll focus on a theme each month for ways to meet God. And in doing so, we'll be working on our own Rules for the entire year of 2021. It's not an overnight project to discover the ways you best connect with your Creator. Rather, it's a journey. You can find details to join our community by clicking here.
Have you explored a Rule of Life? What has it offered you?
One of the first things they tell you when you publish a book is to make sure you stay in front of your audience. I've worked consistently over the past few years to not only be present on social media but also connected and engaged. And I've loved it. I truly love seeing your photos and reading your favorite quotes. I appreciate being inspired by people different from me, helping to expand my perspective. I crave to know what's happening in the lives of my internet friends. But guess what?
Recently, I found myself overwhelmed. Not only because our country and our world are amidst crisis but also because I found myself using my thumb to see your reactions and concerns before I even checked in with my own.
Here's how that looked:
Hop out of bed, open Instagram.
Eat lunch, check LinkedIn.
Have a snack, click on Twitter.
Post yoga, better look at Facebook.
After dinner, repeat.
And lots of clicks in between.
It was exhausting!
Now the irony doesn't escape me that I'm using these platforms to share with you my burnout moment. I heard clearly the nudge in my spirit to take a break into the new year. And, I did.
Here's what I learned, the first few days were really hard. It was truly like letting go of an addiction (well, I guess it had become that based on the detox time period I have needed). After a week of complete social media detoxing, we had a death in the family and it felt quite appropriate to share my grandmother's obituary (because she was amazing and I wanted to honor her memory) on my personal account. I appreciated the kind words and condolences that interaction offered me. But I didn't jump back in completely, I found myself purposely entering in slowly to check the messages you sent.
And guess what? With purposefulness rather than mindlessness, I felt more in control of my scrolling and less depleted. I found myself realizing I could find balance in my presence here rather than letting social media rule my heart and mind. I wasn't sure that was possible, I was afraid I may have to completely cut ties forever to care for my soul. That felt impossible with my role as a business owner and author (who hopes to publish again someday and will then have a new book to share with you, that I hope you'll want to set your device down to read). At a time when physical presence in community is limited, social media has become a practical lifeline to others. I did not want to lose that connection but I did want to find a new rhythm for my life.
Four ways you can decrease social media time to care for your soul (and how I did just that):
1. Stop using your thumb. Uninstall social media apps from your smartphone and after a detox time period (set by you) re-enter using them only on a computer or tablet. I've found there's less temptation to scroll from these devices than the always present phone that is by my side.
2. Set time limits. You can either set limits for yourself or (if you're like me and need a bit more structure) set your phone to shut down from social media or all screen time at certain times of day or after a certain period of time. This way, your phone is still a phone (what a concept!) and less of a time sucker. I've read so many more books and even picked back up some hobbies (knitting!) I had long forgotten about. I'm amazed at how much time I've gained back with my limits.
3. Install helpful apps (apps that help you be present, learn, or grow) on your phone for those moments of waiting that you truly think you need something to do. I like Insight Timer, Audible, and Mighty Networks (the app where our Peace Seekers community connects).
4. Keep your phone outside of your bedroom. I'll admit, this one is tough for me as I'm a parent of a teen who works evenings and my spouse and I are often already in bed when our son gets home from work. I'm finding a new routine though and purposefully plugging my phone in to charge in the bathroom. I can still hear it in an emergency but it's not by my bed nor am I tempted to pick it up first thing in the morning. Now in the mornings, I brush my teeth, let the dog out, practice meditation then open my devotional. After all those things, I pick up my phone. And guess what? It's just a phone now so it's power over me is much less than it's ever been and my thumb is way less stressed too!
Why shouldn't I be telling you this? Because what if you decide to unplug? What if you miss out on something I'm supposed to share with you soon? What if you make discoveries like me and find a new rhythm that leaves us less connected? Maybe this invitation will keep us accountable to one another? Maybe we'll find a new way to explore peace in our own lives. Maybe we'll discover what matters most and choose being present with God, ourselves, and those around us over the constant distractions. Maybe we'll see more of what God wants us to notice and feel less overwhelmed by the constant stream of information that's available in arms reach.
So actually, I should be telling you all of this! Why yes, you can find connection and balance in social media and still care for your soul. It's possible.
Do you have parameters for your social media use? What are they? How do these guidelines help you? Note: we'll be checking in on this in our Peace Seekers group later this month as we explore the ancient practice of Creating a Rule of Life. I'm working on mine now and am excited to share it with our small and growing private community. If you're looking to find a place with less distraction and more purpose, join us there.
Nope, I'm not talking about fighting with your loved ones over the holiday. I'm talking about fighting germs and viruses at home with natural products. Lately, I've gotten lots of questions about how I personally use essential oils. Since my devotional book was published, many have looked to me for essential oil insight. And, while I do have a passion for and experience with oils for myself, I am not an aromatherapist. I do, however, have a trusted team I turn to for my essential oils. There's a small family company called Imani Naturals in Minnesota. Brian is the founder and he was so kind to take the time to help me edit the aromatherapy section of Holy Listening with Breath, Body, and the Spirit. I love not only their products but also their hearts at Imani Naturals.
Their Infection Fighting Kit includes oil blends that have already been diluted and are likely safe for use on your person or in your home (I say likely safe because people can be allergic to anything, always test any new oils or blends in a small place on your body before you slather them everywhere!). As of this post, this kit is on sale for $99 and if you use my blog code, "exploringpeace" Brian will send you a free oil too! So what is in this infection fighting kit and how do you use it?
Also in our home, I have the Guardian blend diffusing constantly this season. We're washing hands, taking our supplements, and will be getting a vaccine when it's available. While there's no guarantee for avoiding COVID-19 (our son has had it already), we're doing our best to stay well and essential oils are part of that regimen. While there are tons of diffusers on the market, I've found I like a larger capacity diffuser with varied settings. I set mine up to diffuse intermittently and that means filling it less often (and yes, you do need to wipe out and clean your diffusers when not in use).
How did I learn about essential oils? Well, for one you I looked to trusted sources, like this information and education from companies I know, as well as aromatherapists and their books. I also use my oils regularly to discover what supports my body and my spirit. Aromatherapy is more than just "smelling good" it is an embodied experience that offers natural benefits such as infection fighting, something I'm leaning into to support my body and spirit in these challenging times.
What essential oils are your favorite for infection fighting?
We're in unprecedented times, challenging times. We're amidst a dark season of national discord and a worldwide pandemic. No matter what you're personally feeling, there is uncertainty and there is fear all around us.
And, guess what? There is also an invitation for joy! This is the third week of advent and we're moving rapidly toward Christmas. How can we experience the challenges we've faced this year and embrace JOY? I keep thinking of Mary. What challenges she faced and what joy she delivered!
Our advent retreat in thePeace Seekers community has featured weekly playlists taking us from Advent to Christmas. Music has a way of helping me slow down, listen, be present, and enJOY whatever activity I'm amidst. In tough times, music helps me contemplate, pause, and feel companioned. In joyous times it helps me celebrate and savor. What does music offer you?
Our Peace Seekers on retreat are enjoying the weekly playlists and I thought I would share this one with you! I pray it's an invitation to ponder joy this season. May it carry you from the waiting and the unknown to the joy of the coming of Christ. May the music be with you in the highs and in the lows. May it help remind you that the joy of Christ's coming is not only near, it's for each of us. It gives me joy to receive and share that gift!
A Christmas Prayer
WHEN LIFE FORCES US TO WRESTLE with what's difficult, give us courage.
Teach us that there is a purpose in everything we experience, and everything is more than it appears to be.
This world is permeated by your Presence, and is your Presence in form.
May we be drawn to your Voice above the other, competing voices.
Great and Holy one, we pray for Peace.
Take us to the abode of Peace for which all hearts long.
WE PRAY TO FIND STILLNESS WITHIN our busyness, and
Rest in the midst of our celebrations and activity.
Show us how to walk more gently, more patiently, on the Earth.
Let kindness be born within all hearts.
Teach us to draw together as one people.
May our prayer rise up like fire and be Light for a troubled world. This we know, Something is trying to be born in us.
Take our hand as we set out anew.
From Advent: A Time of Hope by Paula D'Arcy.
Did you notice the Exploring Peace Meditations podcast offering more and more Yoga Nidra practices as the year went along? That's because you kept asking for more! And, I heard you when you said you were amazed that it brought so much peace into your body. I've been studying and practicing Yoga Nidra more in this past year and I'm glad to hear your response to the practice. My body and mind love Yoga Nidra and my spirit loves offering it in ways that help me (and your) connect with our Creator.
What is Yoga Nidra? Also known as yogic sleep, this conscious relaxation and meditation practice offers space for your body and your mind to unwind. It feels good all over! Clearly, this is an oversimplified definition but it's the best way I know to explain the practice...until you have practiced it for yourself!
When I shared that this practice would be a bonus in our online advent retreat, I had multiple messages from those of you who were concerned you didn't know how to practice Yoga Nidra. Here's the great thing... You don't have to be able to know anything about it, you simply need to have a willingness to listen and relax!
Yoga Nidra is often practiced in a reclined resting position (think savasana pose in yoga) but can be practiced sitting up as well. It's a form of meditation, body awareness, and true relaxation. Richard Miller (yoga teacher, author, researcher, and psychologist) teaches that "in yoga nidra, we restore our body, senses, and mind to their natural function and awaken a seventh sense that allows us to feel wholeness, tranquility, and well-being."
It's a practice that has helped me connect body, mind, and spirit and I hope you find it helps you too.
Have you practiced Yoga Nidra?
Ready to unwind? Click here or listen below.
The live music ceased.
The hugs disappeared.
The worship paused.
The businesses wavered.
Give Thanks Anyway.
The table is empty.
The shoulders are tight.
The friend is struggling.
The account is dwindling.
Give Thanks Anyway.
The mask helps.
The Zoom introduces.
The commute is less.
The family is present.
Give Thanks Anyway.
The quarantine teaches.
The neighbor offers.
The alone time is reflective.
The pause is not so bad.
Give Thanks Anyway.
The divide is real, not imagined.
The conflict continues within.
The work God is doing is evident.
The choice to embrace it is mine.
Give Thanks Anyway.
Last year I purchased this adorable Christmas craft from Cozy Blue. And sadly, I've spent all of about 30 minutes working on it. I'm not sure why I was more excited about the idea of this piece than actually sitting down with my hands and being present while stitching. I was ecstatic with my purchase and have since looked at it and pondered, why have I paused in picking it up?
Maybe it's because I'm a recovering perfectionist and am afraid my final piece won't measure up to the Instagram worthy photos I've seen of the finished kit? Maybe I am simply distracted by life's responsibilities amidst a pandemic year? Maybe it's that silly puppy's fault I don't have space for thread and needles? Maybe I long for presence but don't always prioritize it? Maybe I have spent my time in other valuable ways besides crafting with my hands? There are a lot of maybes in life, aren't there?
If you haven't noticed, we are entering in to a season of giving! But here's what I'm reminded of... if we don't slow down long enough to receive, we won't have space to give. My hands can remind me to be open to and grateful for the way God allows me to both give and receive. Maybe I can practice that while crafting this season?
This Advent, I'm choosing to set aside all those "maybes" and enter in with open hands. I'm choosing presence over perfection. I'm choosing to slow down and prioritize the gift of this season. I'm choosing to ready myself for God's gift of Jesus. That may mean I end up with a finished craft and it may not. We'll see. Will you join me?
If you'd like to practice giving and receiving with your own hands today in prayer, savor this body scan meditation and a moment of gratitude for the ways you are giving and receiving in your life with God.
Since our puppy, Penny, joined our family this Spring, I've taken a lot of walks. A lot. Oftentimes I use our morning walk to listen to audiobooks that grow or stretch my faith. My recently played books include titles by Rob Bell, Glennon Doyle, Thich Nhat Hanh, Austin Channing Brown, Eckhart Tolle, and Jen Hatmaker. Through these recent (and yes, varied) listens I've been inspired to practice kindness with my neighbors, smile more often (I don't mean to always look so serious), slow it down, face my fears, realize everything really is spiritual, and truly strive to practice presence.
And while books and knowledge fuel, me, I don't always read and walk. Sometimes I pray when I walk, sometimes I listen to a favorite playlist, and sometimes I simply have to stay focused on training (AKA wrangling) our new puppy.
Walking has become a habit for me - twice a day, every day. I'm not quite ready for the Tennessee winters but I don't think Penny will let me break this habit. She loves walking, it's an automatic response to the start of her day. It took some practice for me to get on her plan but quickly it became a habit. I then realized our habit was becoming routine and at moments I dreaded it. Maybe like me, you often walk on auto-pilot. Do you ever wonder... How did I get to the other side of the house? Why is my face always in my phone? Or... What was I doing on my way to the mailbox?
Our minds wander and so having a focused purpose helps me stay present in my walks and break the cycle of worry (which I've carried my fair share of lately). Presence keeps us present! But we don't always need a book or music in our ears to practice presence. We can use our own bodies and breath to practice awareness with a purposeful walking meditation.
The first time I practiced walking meditation was on a retreat with a group of teens. It wasn't easy but it stretched us all and we learned a lot about ourselves. To start, I suggest practicing in your back yard or even at home if you can't get outside. It's nice to have some privacy to allow yourself full presence so you're not worried about being distracted or even stepping out in front of a car. Yep, that happens. Practicing alone gives you more confidence to start, then you can practice walking reverently throughout your day. Walking meditation isn't about exercising yourself or your pet but it is about healing, it is about being fully and completely present in your body.
In walking meditation you feel your feet hit the ground, each and every step. You notice how mindfulness in your body can bring you into the moment. You go slow on purpose. You walk and breathe in sync and allow your body the space to be fully present. While being present in this way is not easy, it is indeed transformational.
Ready to try it? Need some help in discovering presence with a short mindful walk? Listen to the Walking Meditation podcast below. Then use some of what you learn to begin incorporating presence and breath in all of your walking - about the house, to the car, or around the block.
Walking has become a natural way for me to destress and unplug. I have a long way to grow my mindfulness while walking (especially with a puppy in tow) but I'm glad to keep practicing.
How do you practice mindful presence while walking?
Will you take a walk with me?
Advent is a time of waiting, a time of preparation for Christmas. Let's be honest, waiting is tough right now but this kind of waiting is expectant and exciting. This kind of waiting is pondering the arrival of the one who came as a gift for YOU and the one who gifted you with your body and breath. There is always much to prepare for Christmas - food, decorations, packages. But what if the gift God longs to prepare most is YOU?
This year is different in so many ways. And Christmas can be different for you too, in the best way. What if this Christmas you prepared yourself? What if you made space for your body and your spirit? What if instead of being last on the list, you heard God's nudge and placed yourself at the top of the list? After all, if you care for yourself well you're better able to care for others well too. And, in this season, loving others and ourselves needs to make the top of the list!
How do you prepare for Christmas? What are your favorite ways to get ready? Don't worry, I'll still be decking the halls but I'll also be practicing lectio divina, centering prayer and yoga nidra too! Curious? Want to join me in community? Click here to register or learn more about this online advent retreat experience (nope, you don't have to be on social media to participate, one less distraction, yay!).
Are you ready for Christmas?
Whitney R. Simpson
Click to connect:
Content @ 2010-2020
Whitney R. Simpson,
Exploring Peace Ministries, LLC