meditation

When You’re Just Not Feeling the Joy

This morning I woke up with a pit in my stomach. It’s one of those mornings when things just feel off, and my heart is unsettled. Often I can pinpoint the cause, but sometimes it eludes me. I will try to distract myself or medicate it away with sleep, sugar, caffeine, mindless tv, or more sleep. I think this feeling is not uncommon, particularly as we get close to the holidays.

It’s supposed to be a joyous time of year, but sometimes we just don’t feel like rejoicing. Is there something wrong with us?

Let’s look at the messages we are taking in. We are bombarded with commercials that tell us that we are unhappy and that our lives are less than perfect unless we buy a certain product. On social media, people are posting holiday pictures and discussing family, but for many, it is not a happy time of year, and it can be magnified when we feel like everyone else around us is happy and festive. And to be honest, the state of the world and the amount of social and political unrest is unsettling, particularly as things become more and more divisive.

We can feel uneasy or unsettled at any time, not just during the holiday season. So this morning I am going through my mental checklist, because if there is something significant and I don’t deal with it, it will show its ugly head later, so it’s best to just deal with things now, if I can. Perhaps this checklist will be helpful for you as well. Here are some things to think about when you’re feeling unsettled and you don’t know why:

  1. Do I have unrealistic expectations for the holidays? Am I looking for THIS holiday season to make up for any unpleasant or unsatisfactory experiences I had growing up or in the past? Or is it something more basic, not necessarily connected to the holidays?
  2. Is it a gnawing conscience? Sometimes when there is this uneasiness in my heart, it’s because I’ve said or done something hurtful or insensitive, and I need to make amends. Have I been hurtful, unkind, or insensitive? Do I have unfinished business with someone, and my heart isn’t letting me ignore it?
  3. Is it shame? Did I say something out of turn, or behave in a way that I wish I hadn’t? Is it legitimate shame (where I have truly done something that I shouldn’t have) or is it misplaced shame, put on by myself or others, to make me feel ‘less than’? Is this a sign that I am looking for significance in the wrong place, or letting outside forces determine my worth?
  4. Is it undiscipline? Am I putting off a duty or responsibility that I need to be working on? Am I distracting myself from some things that must be done with things that are unnecessary? Am I spending time on things that I call ‘time sucks’ – like social media, Pinterest, mindless tv, binge-watching Netflix, etc – rather than prioritizing the important things that I should be doing?
  5. Am I not setting good boundaries? Have I said  “yes” to something because I felt obligated rather than called to do something? Have I said “No” to something or made excuses when my heart knows I really should have said yes? Have I let someone have more power in my life than they should? Am I allowing another’s actions or words to affect my sense of self?
  6. Am I placing my sense of personal significance in the wrong place? Am I basing how I feel about my own worth on the opinions of others? On whether or not I have convinced them how awesome I am? On how many likes or comments or views I get? On whether or not someone agrees and supports my opinion? Am I comparing myself or my experience with others online (whose real lives are likely completely different from what they portray online)?
  7. Am I connected and in community? Do I have people with whom I can share my heart? Am I lonely and missing loved ones? Is there unresolved grief? Is there loss that might feel particularly strong at this time of year?
  8. Am I living my purpose? Am I just going through the motions, or am I living a meaningful purpose, fulfilling what only I can do in this life? Do I know what makes my life meaningful? (okay, getting a little too deep, time to move on to the basics)
  9. If you still cannot pinpoint what’s causing you to feel unsettled, look at the basics: Are you getting enough sleep? Are you eating healthy foods? Are you eating too much sugar (studies show sugar withdrawal mimics depression)? Are you getting outside and getting some exercise? Are you spending time in the sun? (or if it’s dark where you live, are you getting enough vitamin D?) Are you drinking enough water? Are you spending time with those you love? Are you working too much? Are you practicing good self-care? Are you spending time each day having fun? When was the last time you laughed? If you’re a spiritual person, are you staying connected spiritually by praying, reading, meditating?

Often just thinking about and labeling the cause will help to put things in perspective. It also helps me to talk to a friend – sometimes just processing things out loud helps you see things in a different light. I’ve found that sometimes the answer is as simple as taking a break from social media. I don’t think people realize the amount of angst it can create until you step away for a time.

Sometimes the feeling of being unsettled can signal anxiety or depression. This can be temporary, but if the feeling doesn’t dissipate, you may need to look at outside help and get some counseling and see a medical doctor. If you need to seek help, do it. You’re worth it.

Wishing you a holiday filled with love. And joy.

 

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Reining in My Wild Heart

You know that feeling – like change is coming, but you don’t know what it is?

It’s like a humid summer day, and you see the gray and green storm clouds billowing on the horizon. You know a thunderstorm is coming. You can feel the electricity in the air, you can sense the barometer change. Part of you dreads the storm, but you love the thunder and lightning. It’s beautiful and exciting. You know it will bring relief from the humidity, but you hope it doesn’t turn into a severe storm, or worse – a tornado. And my heart is the tornado – wild and unpredictable.

peter_and_harrison_ellenshaw_a_very_blustery_day__97423__19383-1312387649-1280-1280That is how I’ve been feeling this past month. What started as “Tut-tut, looks like rain” is shaping up to be a blustery day, in the words of Winnie the Pooh.

And the difficult part is that my life has been in flux for over a year. First being open to the idea of change (for us, it was moving across the country), then waiting to see if the change would happen (the interview process), then the actual move, only to find out that more change might be coming (another interview process and more waiting).

But this change on the horizon, this beautiful and terrifying storm that is coming is in my heart. Before I attended the Storyline Conference (a conference where you create a life plan so that you can live a better story), I could sense a change in the barometer, I could feel the electricity in the air. Storyline served as a weather report. A confirmation that yes, a storm is coming. A storm that will shake my core and water the seeds that have been planted.

A storm that might even stir my life and heart like a wild tornado.

Regardless of what is happening in my life – where I am living, where I am working, how I am feeling emotionally – there are things I am needing to do. Things I NEED to do, to weather the storm. To water the seeds that have been planted so that they can grow and be harvested.

This morning I was reading Shauna Niequist’s devotional “Savor“, and she talked about having a theme for each season. My theme for this season is ‘work’. Ugh, I know. That sounds so boring, and, well, like work. But hear me out.

There is work I need to do to plant and nourish the seeds that need to grow in my life and in my heart.

To be honest, I have spent much of my life avoiding the hard work of my heart.

Yes, I am great with the passion – the big, emotional, explosive, exciting types of work. But I am weak in praxis – the daily practice and structure that provides a foundation for seeds to grow, and be nourished, and produce good fruit. In some ways, I feel like

I am being called to the mundane in order to build a foundation for the extraordinary.daisy-712892_1920

I am not sure what this will look like, but it’s becoming more clear each day. I believe it is going to involved these things: As you read this, if you know me, you may think,”Oh my gosh, she has gone off the deep edge!” I tend to agree. I have gone off the deep edge, but I think it’s something that has been needed for a long time

to rein in this wild heart.

  • Creating a spiritual framework to provide structure for growth – I want to learn about the church liturgical calendar, and start keeping a daily office. For those of you from the evangelical persuasion, this basically means having a daily quiet time and learning about times of the year like Advent and Lent, and how that can shape one’s spiritual discipline.
  • Starting and ending each day with mindful breathing and meditation on God’s word, to focus myself each day, and to manage anxiety and distractions. (This also means NOT starting and ending my day on my phone or computer, which has become a habit for me.)
  • Writing each day, first thing in the morning, while my mind is clear. Putting on instrumental music with no words, finding a peaceful and comfortable place, clear of distractions, and practicing the craft of writing every single day.
  • Searching for spiritual direction and mentorship: I am looking to learn from those who are further down the road than I am. I am considering a silence retreat at a monastery close by (I know, you are thinking NOW SHE HAS REALLY LOST IT. I agree, I can’t even be quiet during yoga class.) I am also looking at working with a spiritual director. To be honest, I heard this idea and it spoke to me, but I am not even sure exactly what that means. I am still doing research on what is a spiritual director and how does one find such a person? Maybe I will build a prayer labyrinth in my back yard. Send for the white coats now. 
  • Closing in my circle – focusing on the 12 or so most meaningful and significant relationships in my life, building deep connections with those in my closest circle, those who will gather around my death-bed (I’m not anticipating that this will happen anytime soon, but those relationships take time and great care).
  • Limiting my time on social media. Yes, I know that is how we all connect during these times, and I know that it can be a good thing. But I also know myself, and the difficulty I have with balance. So I am still contemplating what that will look like.

 

I am going to spend the next few weeks praying, writing, meditating, getting wise counsel. I am anticipating a start to a new season in my life, and I had thought January 1 would be an opportune time, but then I read that the church calendar begins at Advent, which this year is November 30. So I have some contemplating to do in the next few weeks. And for the first time in a long time, I am excited to do the hard work, to build the foundation, to plant the seeds that bring change.

To embrace the mundane in order to build the foundation for extraordinary.

To rein in this wild heart, so that I can love extravagantly and purposefully.

And as much as I’d like to edit the hell out of this essay, I just need to push publish and move on.