Connecting with Your Body
Recently, I was asked to write an article for The United Methodist Church on embodiment and why connecting with the body matters for Christians. Here's a short excerpt of that piece and a link to the full story. Your clicking and sharing is always encouraging to writers like me.
If you've heard my story, you know that over 15 years ago, my body went through a health crisis (a stroke and brain surgery on my 31st birthday). At this time, I did not always feel like a whole person; I often felt disconnected and broken. While my body was in chronic pain, my spirit was also discouraged.
In that time of frustration, a physician prescribed yoga. I am unsure if it was the last resort on their part, but I was hurting and willing to try exercise and mindfulness. What did I have to lose? I did not know that yoga would be an invitation for embodiment and an opportunity for healing in my whole self—body and spirit.
Now, more than 15 years later, I not only practice living embodied, I am passionate about inviting others into caring for their bodies and spirits through embodied practices. If you are not interested in down dogs, I understand, but please know that yoga is not the only way to become more connected and present with yourself (although you may also be surprised).
Click here to read more and be encouraged with ideas for connecting with your own body today.
Why Do We Resist?
My spiritual director mentioned Martin Laird's book, Into The Silent Land, multiple times before I took the hint to read it for myself. I devour books, they are nourishment for my soul. So why did this one get put off for so long? Oh, I think we all know. This book was not a book to use as a "get away" as many of my historical fiction reads, this book was to take me inward and do some deep soul work. I was faced with the reality once again, I struggle with and often purposely avoid silence.
Silence is hard. And I'm not simply talking about being quiet. We can cease to speak and our minds still be quite noisy! Can you relate? When I finally read this gem of a book, Laird gave me encouragement in the first few pages. I realized, he understood. Laird explains the focus of the book is on the struggles we face when we enter silence and "the inner chaos going on in our heads, like some wild cocktail party of which we find ourselves the embarrassed host...we are not even aware of how utterly dominating this inner noise is until we try to enter through the doorway of silence."
Oh, wow. Yes, I indeed find myself not at all present but listening loudly to all the inner noise. That's why we practice silence. It doesn't happen on accident.
Why does the inner noise get so much attention? For one, I often think we don't realize we have the power to calm that noise. For another, the world has become so noisy that we allow ourselves to follow the crowd. So why not give into the noise?
Silence is fruitful. St. Isaac the Syrian wrote, "Enter eagerly into the treasure house that is within you and you will see the things that are in heaven."
Why wouldn't we choose to enter the treasure house within? If we believe God created us and is within, why wouldn't we choose to draw nearer in the quiet?
Silence can feel lonely. Silence is not the same as being alone. And yet, it's true that when we enter into the quiet, calming those often loud inner voices, we may realize that there is less distraction to keep us company. So at first, silence can indeed feel lonely. But, my oh my, are the treasures worth it. The connection with our Creator is cultivated in the silence, that's not lonely.
God is here, you aren't actually alone in the silence. So, why do we resist? Sometimes we simply need support. I find a regular contemplative prayer practice with quiet in the morning, time on my yoga mat, being in community with other seekers, and spending time with my spiritual director and soul friends to be the greatest support. These people and practices help me find the strength and courage to quiet the inner chaos and draw closer to God.
How are you embracing silence in your life in this season?
This month in our Peace Seekers online community and in my yoga classes, we're exploring what it looks like to enter the quiet. If you struggle with the inner chaos, I invite you to join us. I also currently have limited openings for private spiritual direction both in person at Bloom Yoga Studio and online.
Because of You
You may not know why the Exploring Peace Meditations podcast even began. But, it's because of you.
After Yoga & Silence retreats and Yoga & Meditation classes, you would often ask me to send you the meditation I'd read or even record it for a future listen. That was nearly impossible since those the majority of those prayers and meditations often began with only a word or a theme. From there, each meditation and prayer was a creative collaboration between God and the gift of my imagination. There wasn't a written script to send or a way to record the spontaneity of the moment.
At first I thought, surely you aren't serious. I would reply with gratitude and offer a, "please come back to retreat or class anytime." But, you wanted a new way to consistently interact with God that felt embodied amidst your daily life, not just while on retreat or in class.
And so, just weeks before we entered a pandemic and the opportunity to be together in the same ways came to a halt. I uploaded Episode 1, without any idea of what would happen or how much our souls would need this resource in 2020.
And here we are in 2021, as Season 3 begins (on January 29th). I want to thank you for inviting me into your meditation space, your bedroom, your closet, your yoga mat, or wherever you practice and pray. Because of you, the podcast now has over 13,000 downloads of it's 44 episodes. And out of this, has come a community of seekers.
If your soul has benefited from listening to the podcast meditations, I hope you'll consider joining our community this year as a Founding Member. The opportunity is more than simply committing to your own soul care in 2021. You're giving back too. The doors are open right now and for $4.99/month or $57/year, your presence as a Peace Seeker in our community isn't simply for you. For less than a fancy cup of coffee each month, your support not only enriches the spiritual journey of other Peace Seekers, it also supports the Exploring Peace Ministries podcast and the vision of a private retreat spot for seekers near a peaceful creek in rural Tennessee. This podcast has birthed a lot of connection in a time of disconnection. I'm honored to host this space and thank you for being here.
Tell me! What's your soul longing to hear in 2021? And if you want to check out our growing community first, there is a 7 day free trial, click here to find out more.
Rest in Thee
How is it already October? What has become of this year's vision board and goal plan? For me, not much. It is the year of PIVOT! And while it's been tough, I'm finding many silver linings in this invitation and focus shift. Amidst that shifting, I do know I'm hearing this quote from Augustine and a very familiar verse, loud and clear.
"Thou has made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee." - Augustine of Hippo
“Be still, and know that I am God” – Psalm 46:10
Do you have any stillness or rest in your day? Or, does stillness only find you when you crash in the chair at the end of the day after being all things to all people?
Or, does rest evade your mind because although your body is still, you rarely choose to stop scrolling or turn off the news? Do you collapse at the end of a day feeling tired, alone, or even unworthy of being still in God's presence? Are you restless?
This restless pondering and verse aren't simply about being still, are they? Nope. There is so much more than stillness in this invitation.
We might want to take note of something pretty important in the verse. The word "and" in the sentence. The scripture doesn't just ask us to be still, it asks us to be still AND know. What do we need to know?
If you keep reading, verse 11 tells us that “The Lord Almighty is with us.” We aren’t simply told to be still (I was told that in church as a little girl plenty, that's not the same as this). We’re told to be still and know that God is with us. Augustine reminds us God wants us to not only rest but to rest IN GOD. Amidst stress, overwhelm, injustice, worry, changed plans, and pivoting dreams, rest in God.
God gives us the ability to do more than just stop worrying or running. God gives us the ability to rest in God and be reminded how much God cares for each of us, especially amidst restless times like these.
Today, I invite you to find stillness somewhere in your day AND in that stillness of knowing God is with you.
Know that God is your comfort.
Know that God is your peace.
Know that your Creator longs for you to rest in thee.
Reflect: How am I reminded that God is with me? What is causing me restlessness (get specific, consider journaling or praying through these specifics)? When was the last time I experienced stillness and rest WITH God? Where and when can I rest today AND be reminded of God's presence in my life?
Action: Let's not choose to be restless in this season, let's choose to rest in God. Need a little help? Press play below and drift off to sleep in God's presence tonight.
Online Retreats are HERE!
Oh, coronavirus, you've taken too much from us this year, retreats included. However, I am so very excited to share with you each that online retreats are here.
YES! We're finally ready to begin our journey of online retreats at Exploring Peace Ministries. It's been a challenging season for all of us to find new ways to interact and connect in our businesses, churches, communities, and relationships. After pausing all in-person retreats for 2020 due to COVID-19, I wasn't sure what was next. Yet after much discernment and lots of prayer and help, I've discovered and created a safe online space that I think you're going to love. Yes, it's possible to connect in safe space amidst a pandemic and I can't wait for us to begin. I'm more than thrilled to be hosting my online retreat book experience for you in a new space, our Peace Seekers Community. You'll find me there now along with our community moderator, Lauren, and a handful of Beta Testers. If you register for the Holy Listening with Breath, Body, and the Spirit book retreat, you'll gain access to our community and see exactly what's in it for you (encouragement, connection, community with other Peace Seekers just to name a few)! The retreat and our new community is open as of TODAY!
Retreat materials will be available for pre-work beginning August 17th. Our 40 Days together and live teachings begin September 1st! Don't miss out on this chance to offer your body and spirit a reboot in community. I am so excited to journey through the book with you!
Blankets for Survivors
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.
And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom. - Anaïs Nin
It feels risky to blossom. Yet blooming is happening everywhere!
May is the season in which the roses in my back yard are in full bloom. I paused yesterday in amazement at the number of buds opening up in the last week. It is also the month that I am excited to share with you some blossoming news!
First, I will be blooming in a new location. Just as I let go of "figuring out" what is next on this journey, an opportunity to partner with Bloom Yoga Studio (located at The Mill in Lebanon, Tennessee) has appeared. I will be offering yoga and meditation classes, private and group spiritual direction sessions, as well as workshops and events. The historic space is beautiful. You're going to love it at Bloom. Near Lebanon? Come grow with us, let's bloom together (click here for my updated yoga class schedule).
And next, this month marks the third publication in which my writing appears this year. Wow, what a year 2017 has been thus far (especially for me - a writer who has blogged in various forms for over a decade and ever only dreamt of being published). I am humbled to be included in Everbloom, sharing my story of miscarriage and grief. You can find Everbloom on Amazon and other online retailers. These stories of deeply rooted and transformed lives include reflection and writing prompts for your spiritual formation journey.
Blooming? Stop and notice the roses (or other blooms) in your backyard. And, consider allowing these reflections from the women of Redbud Writers Guild to be your companion in this season.
Take Me With You
Lately, I've been hearing God remind me with a gentle whisper, "take me with you" in all you do. Take me with you to the bank. Take me with you to the store. Take me with you in rush hour traffic. Take me with you in long lines. Take me with you, not simply when you show up to teach, lead a retreat, or facilitate a yoga class. Take me with you always, God whispers. No, the whisper is not audible. Yet the whisper is clear. Take me with you, God says.
As a kid who grew up in church, we went to church to meet God every Sunday and Wednesday. I knew God was with me (on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday) in my head - I had been taught good theology. But, I don't think I fully understood God's longing and desire for me to embrace this fact all the time - and in all places. For most of my life, I did not grasp that I could indeed take God with me. And, most importantly, that God longed for this invitation - to be taken along.
On the yoga mat, was one of the first "outside the box" places I truly began to take God along with me. I discovered the power of breath and the depth of God's spirit within me through each breath. My mat soon became an altar, a place to meet with God. Eventually, I began sharing this passion and offered others the chance to roll out a mat and meet their creator, God, in body and breath too.
Discovering God all around me is something I relish - not simply in church or on a yoga mat but in the trees, clouds, meals, relationships, experiences, travels, music, scents, and even the crises and challenges of life. Some days are better than others. Where are you God?
I am here. Take me with you.
Today I was renewing the tag for my car (a week in advance of the expiration I might add - celebrating the fact that I only procrastinated this long - not until the very last minute). The kind person receiving my fees for this postponed chore was wearing a diffuser necklace - containing her favorite essential oils. We quickly began a conversation regarding some of our favorite oils and she mentioned the browser tab on her computer was open to explore herb and essential oil sales from one of her favorite sources when she had a break. I smiled and thought - we have something in common - we could be friends.
The line was building behind me. I glanced down as I handed her my check and noticed a rock under her computer monitor. The word PEACE was inscribed on the rock. A reminder for her in some special way. And a reminder for me too. Take me with you, God said.
My favorite word, peace, brought a smile to my face as I considered the commonalities. Under my arm, in my purse I held my favorite essential oils - anchors for my soul. Reminders of God's presence with me through the gift of aromatherapy. I never leave home without them. They remind me of God. The scents along with her word peace (my word too) resonated. When I feel far away, overloaded with tasks and chores, I whisper the word peace. The oils and the word resonated in this moment - as I experienced God's presence - in the line for my license plate renewal. I take you with me, I said.
I offered a smile of thanks to the woman assisting me in daily ordinary tasks. She offered me a reminder of how I take God with me. And, she reminded me how I share God with those at whom I smile.
Take me with you, God whispered with a grin. Through words, through images, through scents, through strangers, through smiles.
I acknowledge the joy of this privilege and invitation - of taking God with me - everywhere I go. I exited past the long line into the sunshine of a suddenly less crowded day.
I do, I said.
Go Ahead: Judge This Book By Its Cover
You're at the library or your favorite bookseller (by the way, please go visit your favorite local bookseller if you have not lately - maybe ask them to pre-order this book?!) and you hold a book in your hand eyeing the cover. You have done this before. You pick up a book and either savor the cover curious as to what is inside or... you are instantly not interested. Your senses react to the colors, the font, and the imagery you hold in your hand. From that first impression, you may decide if the book is for you or not - even before you open the pages, glimpse at the author's profile or read a description of what may actually be inside.
The first book I ever wrote (probably around age 8) was about panda bears and was created in the shape of a panda bear's head. Yes, you read that correctly. I created the cover myself from white construction paper, carefully shading the ears and eyes with a black sharpie. As the first book I will ever publish became a reality, I was honored to be able to vision and dream with the Upper Room team how this cover could invite the reader into the pages of this devotional. It definitely did not look like a panda bear, but I was not certain what it did look like. It still felt abstract, but I knew it was to be an invitation for you, the reader.
You see, this devotional is an invitation to begin listening with your body in a way that is undefined. Each person who chooses to journey with God through the pages of this book is invited to use their body to listen for God. And guess what? No two of our bodies are the same! And, no two persons will read or experience this invitation in the same way. There is no "how-to" for how you should use your body to listen for God's activity. But there is an invitation.
This book cover is for you.
As I glimpsed the cover for the first time, I noticed:
How the feet imprinted on the mat leave the impression of a heart, and they do not show how a body should look or even stand in perfect alignment.
There is no gorgeous yoga posture or person in meditation as the focal point.
There is God's grace and love.
The imperfections of the wooden flooring.
The mat has barely been used.
The title itself as an invitation to journey with God's Spirit.
Go ahead, judge this book by the cover - because this invitation is for you. You are welcome here.
Coming in January 2017 from Upper Room Books.
For the past year, I have been writing. Actually, let me preface that - I have been writing since I learned to write! Recently, I found my first book which was bound by yarn, created in the shape of a panda bear's head (I collected stuffed panda bears as a kid and this book was ALL about pandas). I also uncovered boxes and boxes of journals in that purge, filled with pages and pages of thoughts, words, and even some poems. So, you could say writing has been part of my life for a very long time. It is one way I connect with God. And writing a published book that draws others closer to God has been a dream for many of those years (hint, hint!).
To the point of this post! For the past year, I have been writing a 40-day devotional for body and spirit. The seeds for this book idea were planted during my 500-Hour yoga teacher training with Holy Yoga Ministries. The idea kept growing to the point that I wrote the entire book before I ever shared it (although if you've been in any of my yoga classes in the past year, you've probably gotten a sneak peek without realizing it as I've shared some of the themes, scripture passages, yoga postures, and reflection questions with you!).
Then last summer while attending a writer's workshop at SoulFeast (a spiritual retreat hosted by Upper Room), I was nudged to submit a proposal for this project. Since summer is nearly here again, you can guess that this book has been many many months in the making. For the last couple of months, I have known we were moving forward yet certain details had to be in place in order to finalize and share. In that timeframe, I also submitted devotionals for the Disciplines 2017 publication. And finally, I can share with you that my 40-day devotional (title and details coming soon) will be published in 2017 by Upper Room Books!
Honestly, my heart beats fast as I share this news with you. One reason for this is that when I submitted the proposal for the devotional, the publisher specifically asked me to include more about me - my stroke and brain surgery story and how that led me toward work fostering care of both body and spirit. It's vulnerable to tell your story. But I believe it is important. I will tell parts of (because all those journals would never fit in one book!) my own story to escort you on the journey of body and spirit and to encourage you to embrace your story, after all.......these are God's stories!
Another reason my heart beats fast is because our son has been sick for weeks with sinus problems - which usually seems simple to heal - yet he has had many allergic reactions to medicines and it has simply been a very slow journey toward wellness. His body is tired and worn out. My body is tired as his caregiver (my awesome Fitbit helps me see how well I've rested and when I've moved, lately both have been lacking) and yet it proves I am ecstatic and full of energy at the same time (elevated heart rate!).
Recently, my grandmother (who is almost 95 and slightly frustrated with her body - as she broke a shoulder and hip last month) told me she always wanted to be a writer and that she could not imagine anything more important to write about than the spiritual life with God. My heart beats fast as I honor my grandmother and lean in to writing a book that I hope will help you draw closer to God with the gift of your own body!
My heart beats fast because God uses the gift of our bodies to help us listen and embrace our journeys (no matter your stage of life).
If you've made it this far in the post, surely you have questions because this is a unique approach to a devotional and emphasizes holy listening with your body. It will include yoga postures, breath prayers, aromatherapy, scripture passages for lectio divina, and of course journaling questions (tools we often use in spiritual direction and yoga)! I truly look forward to sharing more details with you soon! In the meantime, I'll be putting finishing touches on the book, finalizing lots of tiny details that most do not realize take place in publishing (I surely didn't), and gaining hands on experience caring for our son - in body and spirit.
Thanks for allowing my heart to beat fast as I share the news that #IAmWriting with you today! If you want to stay in the loop on details of the book (and I hope you will - there will be freebies along the way), sign up for my monthly(ish) newsletter below. The Upper Room has been a formational part of my faith journey, I'm ecstatic to be part of the Upper Room family of writers and look forward to what is to come. Hope you'll join me on the journey.
Whitney R. Simpson
yoga & meditation teacher
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Whitney R. Simpson
Exploring Peace Ministries, LLC