In the past week I have had multiple conversations about prayer labyrinths and how prayerfully walking these over the years (some indoors, some outdoors) has shaped my faith journey. One conversation arose in a spiritual direction session, another after a yoga class with a student, and another at a meeting with a colleague. I find it interesting how God nudges me to return to the ways I best listen and hear when life feels distracted or I begin to feel distant. Labyrinth walk soon anyone? I am grateful for the reminder that this ancient prayer practice helps draw me nearer. So, I thought I would share this overview for those of you who aren't familiar with labyrinths and invite you to discover one near you (keep reading).
What is a Labyrinth?
For Millenia, pilgrimages to holy sites have been part of the Christian tradition. However, when a pilgrimage was not possible, the discipline of this spiritual journey was found on the labyrinth as a symbolic prayer walk. By walking the labyrinth today, we are rediscovering a long-forgotten tradition found in various traditions and forms around the world. While labyrinths have a history that can be traced back thousands of years and to a variety of religions, their beginning origin is unknown. No matter the style of the labyrinth, structurally, it has only one path so there are no tricks and no dead ends. The path winds throughout and becomes a mirror for where we are in our lives, each on a journey. Walk it with an open heart and mind as you allow God to touch your sorrows and release your joy, allowing your soul to sing.
What a Labyrinth is Not?
It is important to keep in mind that a labyrinth is not a maze. A maze is designed to confuse you, a cognitive puzzle (mazes only entered our world’s culture about 600 years ago). A labyrinth has only one path that leads to the center, designed to easily find your way making space for prayer and meditation.
Why Walk the Labyrinth?
The labyrinth offers a sacred and stable space to focus your attention and listen to your soul. It is a wonderful place to pray. However, the experience is different for everyone because each of us brings different raw material to the labyrinth. As with any spiritual discipline or prayer practice, we bring our unique beliefs, hopes, dreams, history, and longing of the soul. Leave behind what may not serve you as you journey toward union with God in quiet reflection.
How Do I Walk the Labyrinth?
Try to not have expectations, simply enter into the journey and use your senses to move your body forward in prayer. Before you walk, quiet your mind and become aware of your breath. Ground your feet and let go of any expectations. Simply have an open mind and do what feels natural. You may wish to choose a prayer, centering word, or phrase to avoid a wandering mind. Some find simply focusing on their breath helps them remain in the present. Allow yourself to find the pace your body wants to move forward (skip, dance, or walk very slowly). Those going in on the path will meet those coming out. You may "pass" people or step to your right and let others step around you. Do what feels natural. Afterward, you may wish to sit quietly and reflect, journal, create, or simply give thanks. You may find the following three stages helpful for your walk:
Find a Labyrinth Near You:
Click here to visit the World-Wide Labyrinth Locator. Note, not all labyrinths are posted at this website. You may also wish to do a simple search on the internet for locations in your area.
The above information was created and compiled by Whitney R. Simpson from the research of Lauren Artress using her guides, "Walking A Sacred Path” and “The Sacred Path Companion” as well as the Grace Cathedral Website. If using this information as a guide for others, please note these resources and also cite this post at www.ExploringPeace.com/blog.
If you know me well, you know I love collecting Bibles. Insightful commentary as well as scripture in fresh translations are encouraging to my soul. So, when I discovered the Common English Bible had created a Women's Bible, I was excited to spend time with this one in my lap. It is indeed fresh and what really makes this one unique is that the commentary was written by women - for women. The CEB Women’s Bible is intended for all women. It was designed for women in church leadership, women in the pews, and especially for women who value spiritual practice in their lives. It is ideal for those who value equality and discussions related to issues of gender and justice and how those ideas are lived out through their faith (YES, please!).
Once I discovered this gem, I wanted to share it with you too. Good news! My wonderful friends at Abingdon Press gifted me a new hard cover edition to be given away here at my blog - TO YOU! So, if you're feeling like you may need a fresh new translation with insightful commentary, I would love to share this Bible with you! It will be mailed via Media Mail in October to one blog reader (US Residents Only). You have during the month of September to enter the giveaway (the winner's name will be drawn and announced in the October newsletter)!
Simply enter your name and email address below (you'll be subscribed to my monthly soul care newsletter). For an additional entry, comment on this post with an encouraging scripture passage you would like to share with the women in your life. AND...you gain another bonus entry in the giveaway if your passage is from the CEB translation (my favorite)!
Feel free to share this post with someone who may also love to discover the new CEB Women's Bible. Let's encourage and bolster one another on the spiritual journey and reconnect with God's word.
Summer is winding down but the taste of summer doesn't have to leave you. One of my favorite drinks is a healthy, fizzy, flavorful treat called kombucha. Kombucha is a fermented tea and...I love it! It's good for my body and therefore, it's good for my soul. You can find kombucha in your local grocer (typically in the refrigerated produce section). My favorite store- bought flavor is GT's Trilogy Synergy.
However, my kombucha "habit" quickly became too expensive for our family's grocery budget. So about a year and a half ago, I began brewing my own kombucha at home. It's really not as intimidating as I imagined (I am working through my limiting beliefs about my abilities in the kitchen) and it is VERY inexpensive once you gather your supplies! I researched and read lots on kombucha before starting the process. One of my favorite online resources for all things food and health related is Wellness Mama. You can read how to brew your own tea and read more of those benefits at her blog.
After my research, I traveled to my favorite tea shop in Nashville to pick up my first SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast). I know, it sounds gross. But, it's magical! Your SCOBY is the key factor in the fermentation process. You want it to come from a reputable source to keep your brew safe! If you're near Nashville, High Garden Tea is a perfect place to grab your SCOBY and ask questions as they have master brewers on staff. They will even taste test your brew!
If you've read this much about my favorite tea, you're either already brewing your own or maybe you're interested in getting started with home brewing. So, I'm sharing my favorite flavor thus far on my brewing adventures...keep reading.
Once your first fermentation is complete (after about 7-10 days), you can flavor your tea and bottle it to create a soda style drink with a second ferment (this increases the fizziness and adding the flavor is amazing!).
So, here's my favorite summer flavor for my home brew.... Cherry-Limeade!
When ready for your second ferment (follow Wellness Mama's instructions to get to this point), remove your SCOBY and save one cup of liquid to store it until next use (I store my SCOBY in the fridge between brews).
Pour 1/4 cup fresh or bottled organic lime juice (I like Santa Cruz brand) and 3/4 cup fresh unsweetened tart cherry juice (I like R.W. Knudson) into your tea.
Use a ladle and a funnel to pour your flavored tea into your sealable bottles.
Seal and leave on the counter for 2-3 days at room temperature then refrigerate.
CAUTION: Do not shake. It will explode! You may even want to open your bottles and test your second fermentation readiness over the sink or outside with a towel (spoken from experience).
ENJOY and savor summer with your homemade deliciously flavored cherry-limeade kombucha!
Guest post by Lisa Huddleston
Lying on the space of rubber mat
Feet to the left and to the right
Both hands open at my sides
I breathe in His name
Keeper of my soul
Hold and absorb
He is the keeper of my soul
He does not need my help
Breathing out in prayer
Help me to let go
Filling the the mercy seat between my cherubim hands and feet
Keeper of my soul
Help me to let go
Keeper of my soul
Help me to let go
Breathing in the physics of his name
Exhaling the disease of my lies
Treatments given by the Great Physician
Clear pneuma, no monia
Healthy breath, spirit, and soul
Did you know that nearly eight years ago the ministry of Exploring Peace began? It's always been an invitation for your breath, body, and spirit - long before my devotional book was released last year.
In 2010, I thought Exploring Peace was simply a blog name. Yet it is so much more than a blog. It is an invitation to journey with God. It is an invitation that reaches beyond myself and touches many, many more than I ever fathomed. What a humbling journey to invite others to explore the gift of God's peace with their whole self. This is one journey I truly ENJOY. And one that sometimes I forget to pause and savor for myself.
You may remember, my word for the year is ENJOY. Can you believe 2018 is now more than halfway over? Our family was surprised in a big way this summer. We moved to a "new" home (it's 100-years old) in a location where God had fantastic neighbors already surrounding us. I've now packed and moved BOTH a home and a yoga studio this summer. And, I'm tired. My body and my spirit are in need of dedicated time for ENJOYing some REST.
Me: How can I rest? There is no time to rest. There are still boxes to unpack..and...and...and.
God: Ummmm. Well, I am fairly certain we have talked about this at length, Whitney. Remember that theme on Rest you penned (see page 94-95 in the devotional book I inspired and please directly note Psalm 127:2).
Me: Oh, yes. Oh, yes. Oh, yes. Ressssttttttt.
As of this month, Exploring Peace Ministries is now an LLC. This means as an official ministry, it's definitely more than a blog. It means I have worked hard behind the scenes investing time and energy to be a good steward of the work God has called me to do. I'm so grateful for your continued support and encouragement! With this nudge and your grace, I won't be posting in the Exploring Peace online community for the remainder of the month and while I'll be sharing some photos on social media, it will only be once per week. This means, I need your presence, your support, and your prayers here online more than ever because this ministry is in such the early stages (keep reading on how you can offer support in July, please?).
You CAN find me in the studio teaching my regularly scheduled classes. And after Wild Goose Festival, you may find me on my porch reading a good book or two (or three or four!) or studying for my current yoga teacher training as I grow as both a student and teacher, or writing (because I have some ideas brewing). However, you won't find me much online again until August (okay, I will post a few pictures along the way, but then I'm signing off!). That's the main space I've clearly been invited to rest from for now.
Wild Goose Festival is the perfect place to practice my daily unplugging (because there is not much cell service in Hot Springs, NC). I'm committing publicly to log off to REST and ENJOY July because accountability is key and community is important. And, otherwise, I probably would not log off at all. Whew, admitting the truth hurts. I love social media and the connection and community I find with you online, so I will definitely be back soon.
I'm committing to log on only once per week to offer REST for my #BreathBodySpirit in July.
Your challenge is to post any image with the #BreathBodySpirit hashtag that connects with one of the 40 themes from the devotional book (click here to download the book's appendix and find a theme that inspires YOU this month).
When I return to regular postings on social media in August, I hope to see lots of #BreathBodySpirit hashtags because one of you will be receiving a Breath Body Spirit shirt as well as a handmade aromatherapy bracelet to say thanks for supporting this ministry and offering me a bit of encouragement as I find some sabbath REST on this journey with God.
Will you join me?
It is pointless that you get up early and stay up late,
This past month has been turned upside down, full of surprises! Our family is moving back to the town where we built our first home (in the same county, not that far down the road). Everyone keeps saying, "I didn't know you were moving!" Guess what? We didn't know we were moving either! We weren't expecting it. We weren't planning it. Yet we are leaning in and very excited to settle in our new-to-us (100 year-old) home.
Since last month's blog post (which quite a few of you told me you've been using, yay!), I have had so many opportunities to practice mindfulness and not only while packing up our current home. Recently, my body has experienced some new health challenges which have pushed me to a place of discomfort and pain in my abdomen and pelvis. Mindfulness, breath work, my physical therapist, yoga, and naps have been my friend this past month. And amidst my self-discovery, I realized I have been mad at my body and my digestive system. I have been mad at myself for things over which I have no control (and some of which I do have control). It saddens me, I have not been kind and loving to myself.
In my teaching, I share lots of love. Love for those tight hamstrings, love for that achy back, love for wandering minds in meditation, love for yourself. In class today, one of my students from Rest Stop Ministries, repeated my words back to me when I could not model for her the full expression of a posture (due to my physical limitations). She looked right at me and reminded to send some of that love I teach to myself. Note to self: love yourself, all of yourself!
Is it hard for you to receive love sometimes? What about in certain parts of your body or with your body image? Do you throw love around like confetti to the rest of the world? Are you kinder to your neighbor or even that stranger than you are to yourself? Do you overlook the imperfections in someone else and then analyze your own imperfections? Do you see yourself as God sees you?
Friends, I am not perfect. You are not perfect. The one who loves us and created us, loves us like crazy. Yet our Creator did not create us to be flawless. We are perfectly imperfect, even when life is upside down and we forget to love ourselves!
Thank goodness God's love never lets go. Thank goodness when I spot the imperfections and the failings and the pain, God sees love and light and hope, upside down or not.
God sees creation.
God sees me.
God sees you.
God sees love.
Do you? How will you love yourself today?
Your faithful love lasts forever, Lord!
By the way, yes that is me upside down in front of some local Lebanon Love! This amazing mural is on the side of one of my favorite boutiques in Lebanon, TN (around the corner from Bloom Yoga Studio). Iddy & Oscar's is a "Give Back Boutique" educating Kenyan orphans. If you have not yet strolled and shopped the Historic Lebanon Square, come visit us soon!
Need a mindset shift? Believe it or not, you don't have to be amidst the perfect place to recenter and refocus. Interested in an exercise to practice presence in just a minute or two, anywhere? You just have to notice.
Recently, I've had quite a few opportunities to share mindfulness tools with others. One of my favorite tools for sharing is an exercise some call 5 Senses. I like to think of it as 5, 4, 3, 2, 1.
This exercise, whatever you call it, is an opportunity to use your five senses to practice mindfulness quickly and in most any situation! From kids to adults, it really is an easy way to for all of us to practice presence.
Notice five things you can see.
Look around you and bring your attention to five things that you can see around you. Try to notice the less obvious things or 5 things in detail (i.e. the green couch cushion rather than the couch).
Notice four things you can feel.
With your own touch, notice things you can feel. It may be your hair, your shirt or pants, the wind, your own skin, the chair you're seated in, or anything else you can feel.
Notice three things you can hear.
Quiet yourself and listen then notice three things you can hear. You may notice your own breath, the chirping of a bird, the sounds of an appliance, or cars passing by.
Notice two things you can smell.
Breathe in and notice what you smell - pleasant or unpleasant. This may be your own scent or a scent nearby.
Notice one thing you can taste.
Is there a taste in your mouth right now? If so, notice it. If not, consider savoring a taste, just one taste.
To recap, notice....
5 things you can see
4 things you can feel
3 things you can hear
2 things you can smell
1 thing you can taste
This mindfulness exercise is quick and a fairly easy way to shift your presence and state of mind. Then notice what you feel, sense, experience after this exercise. What do you think? Have you tried this one? Will you notice? What might it offer you to take just a moment and notice right now?
If you've followed my journey at all you may know these things to be true:
I am passionate about healing and wholeness.
I believe in safe space for all.
I have immense compassion for human trafficking victims.
I understand we each hold trauma in our bodies.
I am certain the gift of the breath grounds us amidst crisis.
With those things in mind, I invite you to join me in gifting the survivors I work with a tool that (I believe) will truly enhance their healing journey. The two organizations I currently partner with to offer trauma-sensitive yoga in this season are Rest Stop Ministries and End Slavery Tennessee. Graciously, yoga mats and blocks are in abundance for these survivors to use on site when we practice together. Some locations offer blankets to be shared. However, one of my favorite props/tools is largely missing. The yoga blanket.
Why are yoga blankets important and how do they help with a yoga & meditation practice? I am so glad you asked! Yoga blankets are the most versatile of props! A yoga blanket offers alignment to the pelvis and spine when in seated postures. It can be folded into a meditation cushion. It can serve as a pillow for stiff necks. It can be used to cover the body when cool. It can be folded into a bolster offering support in certain restorative postures. Heavy duty yoga blankets are not flimsy blankets, they offer firm support for the body.
From a safe space perspective, practicing yoga & meditation with an item that is "yours" is something which offers familiarity and comfort. Sharing yoga blankets that are stored and reused by others feels less personal. Yet gifting a survivor with a blanket of her own to be used beyond that weekly hour of practice is transformative! These women often have little of their own and this blanket may be the start of a new season of healing.
With your help, I would love to offer blankets for each survivor I connect with on this journey. Who knows...with your help...maybe even more survivors than these will receive this gift.
Will you journey with me?
There are two ways to help support this project right away:
1. Donate a gently used or brand new (heavy duty) yoga blanket to me in person or drop off at Bloom Yoga Studio (I will deliver on your behalf).
2. Purchase a new yoga blanket from my online shop (I will place a bulk order and deliver on your behalf). Click below to support these women on their journeys by gifting a blanket.
Blankets for Survivors
Trauma-sensitive yoga & meditation is an excellent tool for trafficking survivors and their healing journey. It invites survivors to re-connect with their body in healthy ways and feel grounded in a safe environment. In her teaching, Whitney has found that the comfort of a familiar object during practice and in transition is helpful on the healing journey.
With this purchase, you are gifting a survivor of human trafficking with her own heavy weight yoga blanket for her healing journey.
PLEASE NOTE: Select "local pickup" as there is no shipping for this gift. A bulk order will be placed by me and your blanket(s) will be gifted directly to the survivor(s) on your behalf. In the box below, type your name as you would like it to be listed on your gift(s). Gifts may also be made anonymously on your behalf.
If you missed my blog post about how this little project came about, you can read more here: https://www.exploringpeace.com/blog/blankets-for-survivors
“One day you’ll write about your relationship with food,” my counselor said.
In that moment I knew what anxiety felt like (again).
My reply at the time was, “Oh, I am not sure about that or when I will be ready. This is a deep wound; I would not know where to begin.”
I heard her words clearly as she kindly gazed at me with a smile. “One day.”
Over a year has passed since that day, and I’m not ready yet. I am honestly still not sure where to begin. Yet this is “one day” on my journey.
Today, I sit at my keyboard with homemade kombucha in my cup, a tea I love brewing and enjoying. I ate an omelet for lunch. It consisted of real food from God’s earth. But I also added pepperoni (of the turkey variety) and some cheese (from a jar).
My friends and family fall into categories of “You ate something from a jar” and “Wow, I didn’t know they made turkey pepperoni.” Maybe, you see my struggle? Maybe, you do not notice anything odd about food from a jar. If not, you’re likely in the second category and are also now Googling, “What is Kombucha?”
You see, my healing journey has taken me on some strict paths of fasting from specific food groups…on purpose. I was horribly ill at the time and that fasting and guidance from my physician brought me much healing. It helped tremendously. Yet, I’m in a season of what feels like… rebellion. For me, it’s “living large” to open a package on occasion and not check the ingredients. After all, my body responds so clearly to what I eat, and I truly must acknowledge this or I become ill. Not checking ingredients can be risky. Yet living in a food bubble is risky as well, not as much for my body but for my mind and my heart.
When rebellion happens, it is also unhealthy. My self-care habits become lazy, and my body becomes sick. I have been in this rebellion place, and it is not healthy either—spiritually, emotionally, or physically.
What is a girl to do? I have finally discovered, this healing journey with food goes beyond ingredients. What is the fine balance of finding healing on the journey when you discover you have had an unhealthy relationship with food for nearly your entire life? How is it that admitting I have an unhealthy relationship with food and what I can now state as an eating disorder feels so shameful? Why does anxiety plague me with most meals and yet I cover it up so well—and have for so long? Few know of the struggle I face daily with ingredients and labels like GMOs, organic, MSG, gluten, raw, the list continues.
As a matter of fact, it feels raw to write these words. Yet, I sense today is the day. One day. My anxiety falls low on the ingredient list for the untrained eye, yet it is present.
Anxiety is no stranger to me, but it’s been over a decade since I experienced its effects. For years, I’ve covered it up with well-balanced and managed emotional health and good diet patterns. I first met anxiety after a health trauma in my life years ago, and anxiety made its home in my heart. It took years of practicing mindfulness, meditation, yoga, and seeing a counselor to discover freedom from the effects my health crisis caused me at that time—and to break free from the anxiety. I thought I was free.
Fast forward a decade to a fresh new season of living into my purpose and call, all while writing and teaching mindfulness tools and sharing them with others! How dare anxiety return to greet me in this wonderful season?
Yet, it has returned, as unwelcome as it is through another health episode (although not as serious), in which I am reminded of the fragility of life. Anxiety appears all around me, but especially on my plate.
Here is what I have learned on my own healing journey. The closer we get to experiencing God’s healing touch, the deeper we realize what binds us and the rawer that feels. I now recognize it on my plate and the fear I have hidden behind over the years with healthy ingredients and secret rebellious snacking. I have been afraid I may hurt those I love by sharing my wounds because much of what I know (and fear) about food was not modeled in healthy ways by my family of origin.
When others eat for nutrients, my brain plays games over and over and over again. My deep wounds surface, looking like a perfectly balanced meal to some, yet to me, it brings a conflict of inner emotions and feelings I’ve looked to food to heal. Anxiety surfaces on my plate.
Yet, it isn’t about the food at all. I eat to celebrate. I eat to mourn. I control what I eat to celebrate. I control what I eat to mourn.
Is it possible to simply eat? I see my counselor’s smile, and I ponder my Creator’s gaze. Yes, I believe it is possible to simply eat. I believe anxiety will show me how, finally.
So, today is the first day I openly write about food, beyond the pages of my journal.
Chocolate nor wine.
Fasting nor supplements.
Keto nor Paleo.
Eating perfectly won’t heal my wounds. Eating imperfectly won’t heal my wounds. Counting points won’t heal my wounds. Binging on gluten-free cookies won’t heal my wounds. Fasting from everything non-organic won’t heal my wounds.
Until now, only my Creator knows of this struggle and has heard this admission. Well, and my counselor…and newest therapist who knows this work well … and now you. While it’s taken a long time to admit, the anxiety caused by food has been a reality I know far too well.
Today is the day, and the next, and the next, and the next. I am not healed overnight, but I am admitting my weakness, my imperfection, and my struggle. And that is the “one day” I’ve longed to embrace. A day that reminds each of us we are not alone in this life. A day that I can move from the shadow of shame and cling to God’s light and love. Today is that day!
In my weakness, God makes me stronger. Not perfect, but free. Oh, anxiety, I thought you were long gone. Yet, I find that as you appear boldly before me once again, you have much to show me about myself. You are ready to set me free!
This article originally appeared in the May 2018 edition of The Redbud Post, featuring Anxiety. Since that time, my body has been adjusting to my new emotional break throughs and yet also struggling with the physical effects of Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Our bodies are wise, my friends. More writing will come. For now, I'm breathing deep and practicing my mindfulness exercises. Thanks for supporting me on this journey with your kind words and encouragement.
Click here to read the most current edition of The Redbud Post.
My word this year is ENJOY. How is it mid-March and I'm only just now sharing this with you here at the blog? Oh, maybe that's because I haven't been at the blog! I've been creating soul care resources for you mostly in our new community (which I am truly ENJOYing!).
Anyway, back to the point, I think by mid-March many of us have forgotten the word that chose us (or sometimes that was chosen by us) for the current year. And trust me, this year has not been without bumps and challenges. ENJOY could easily have been forgotten. Yet ENJOY is getting closer rather than further away amidst those challenges.
This year, I've committed to ENJOY the opportunities God places before me as a choice. This does not mean everything happens with a smile on my face (if you live in my household, you know I master the "eye roll" on occasion). Yet when I choose to change my attitude and ENJOY something, it's amazing how much shifts in my body and in my soul. This invitation is a simple shift in attitude regarding so much for me - time management, laundry, finances, teaching, loving and living in my body....oh this is not an easy task.
Yes, God has called me to ENJOY what is before me yet that does not come without sacrifices and plenty of lessons learned. For starters, I am not good at letting go. Did you know it's impossible to ENJOY life and maintain control? You can only take delight and pleasure in life if you're willing to release the outcome (control). To take pleasure or satisfaction in something is to ENJOY, according to the dictionary.
This word invites a spiritual practice for me of being present in all that I do and invite God to be present with me as well. It invites me to let go in the highs and the lows. ENJOY is asking me to lighten up in some ways (nail polish anyone?!) and dive-in deep in others (let's End Slavery in our community). This word invites me to ENJOY the opportunities to use my voice, face challenges head-on, and savor joys and celebrations of this life with God.
For someone like me (a person who often struggles with performance/perfectionism/striving, what you think of me/my teachings/my choices/my call, or even how quickly I respond to your emails when you have a question or concern), ENJOY can be a hard word to embrace at times. It would be easy to let go of ENJOY by mid-March.
Yet this is a pilgrimage song! A song I will sing all year, even as it gets harder and the
Do you have a word for 2018? Are you learning much as you embrace it?
Whitney R. Simpson
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Content @ 2018
Whitney R. Simpson,
Exploring Peace Ministries,
unless otherwise indicated.
All Rights Reserved.