Monday, September 29, 2008

Spiritual Environmentalism

Our retreat theme for October 11, 2008 is "Renewing and Re-Cycling our spiritual connection with God, Earth & each other." This retreat is being held out at San Damiano, in Danville, California. We have a Young Adult Planning Team that helps come up with the topic, meeting several times before each retreat. We've become quite close, and I love being part of the team.

In the bigger picture of our existence, I see being "green" as part of my own Spiritual calling. We only have one planet and we are its custodians. Our Earthly home was created by the same Creator who molded each of us. It's only right to treat this place with respect and love. And I see part of our role here to be guardians of the whole Creation.

In tandem with the upcoming retreat day, I'm posting a few links, with ideas on how each of us can take steps to be more "green."

1. Catalog Choice
This free service allows you to "opt out" of getting many of the catalogs that show up in your mail box (snail mail) every day. Over 1 million people have opted out of over 13.5 million catalogs!
2. FreeCycle
Another free site that lets you post things that you'd like to get rid of, but are likely still usable, for free. You post your item, other people search through everything posted, and if there is a match, you give your item to a new home.
3. Low Impact Living
A dedicated green site that let's you see your own environmental footprint using the free Environmental Impact Calculator. Also provides ideas for projects to lessen your footprint.
4. Reusable Bags
A site dedicated to finding alternatives to plastic grocery bags, bottled drinking water, and other consumer items that are contributing to dangerous landfill. They have lots of good links for bags to purchase.
5. Cleaning Products
Both Clorox's Greenworks and independent Seventh Generation cleaning products are green and made from vegetable products. They work as well as other cleaners and bring fewer toxic chemicals into your home.

Here's my one DIY "green" tip - every morning when I'm waiting for the water to heat up, I place a watering can under the tap and capture all of the cool water. Later, I use that water for the plants on my patio.

Do you have any green tips to share?

Sunday, September 28, 2008

In the Job Description

In my final year at Yale Divinity School, I was named the Community Life Coordinator. It was a cool job, and it meant I oversaw all of the other clubs and committees, helped with budgets for those groups, planned parties, helped with the daily coffee hour after chapel, and well, got to be a social butterfly. It was an awesome job, and I was really honored to be selected for it. Amy had been the "CLC" the year before me, and in her orientation of the job and it's duties, she listed one I would never have anticipated. She told me that everyday, she saw it as part of her job to eat lunch with a different group of people in the refectory (dining hall). She said that she saw lunch as a time for gathering, a time to learn about each other and a time to make new bonds.

I remember this seemed very unusual to me. But, for whatever reason, I decided to incorporate it into my "CLC" duties for the next year. And it was amazing. I found myself sharing ideas with all sorts of students, engaging in interesting conversations. I understood why this had been important to Amy; it broke me out of my day to day routine, and it opened up new avenues of discussion for all sorts of people. Even at Divinity School, there are cliques. But, but making a decided effort to spread my horizons beyond my usual friends, I felt myself grow in ways I wouldn't have guessed possible.

Just a year or so ago, when working with a vendor on a big website build, I was reminded of this idea. One time on the phone, Kyle (my main contact) told me that his company saw their role as being more than just a group that provided a service. He said that they worked daily to go out of their way to bring peace, happiness, and a personal touch to every client they encountered. He said that he knew that daily business was chaotic and crazy, and that they aimed to be an oasis in that daily grind.

When Kyle said this, I was in awe. What he had said was true, I did feel more at ease working with his company than others. It was refreshing to know that it wasn't something that "just happened," but something that his company willingly decided to pursue.

What these two examples make me wonder - what will each of us decide is in our own job description for the time that we are on this planet? What if each of us decided that we'd eat lunch with different people every day, go out of our way to be kind to others, donate our time or energy to causes that matter to us? What if each of us started writing our own human "job" descriptions? Sometimes these things just take a little planning and determination, but they can have a huge impact on everyone around us. What can you decide to put in your own job description today?

Friday, September 26, 2008

Welcoming Music: In Your Eyes

In a ceremony in a small chapel, at a retreat I was attending a few years ago, the leader quietly put on the song "In Your Eyes" by Peter Gabriel. It was played in the backdrop of candles, low lights, and a large icon of Christ, who's loving eyes were penetrating beyond the moment or the evening. Each of us was moved by this choice, this music, this moment.

Now, as a child of the 80s, this song is so intrinsically woven into my memories of the movie "Say Anything" that I admittedly have a problem letting it be used in anything else. I mean, when John Cusak arrives and puts that enormous boom box over his head to woo his girlfriend, what girl didn't get weak in the knees and silently hope that some way, some how, someone would love her enough to do the same?

And maybe that's where part of the power was in that moment, while looking at that image. We each knew that the song reminded us of the dreams of an Earthly love. We also realized that there is another love we are each connected to. I invite you to listen with new ears to this song, and reflect on the idea of being complete in God's love.

Mooooo cards

Now that this blog is up and running and I'm looking at having a few more retreats over the next months, I ordered myself some fancy Moo cards as little business cards. Each one has a different picture (that I took and uploaded right from Flickr) on the back, and the other side lists info about Welcoming Spirit. When they arrived at work the other day, I was so excited. They are adorable, and came in a perfect box. I'm really pleased with the nice people over at Moo.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The delight of friends

Friends are such an important part of our lives. I was Instant Messaging (IMing) with a dear friend, Sam, today.

Sam and I met eight years ago when we were both Traffic Coordinators for, working on the Sydney Games. We had mirror shifts of one another, meaning that he had the night shift of our job and I had the day shift. Since the Olympics were in Australia, and we were in San Francisco, and the two countries are twelve hours difference, our coverage was 24 hour. I worked 7am to 8pm, and Sam worked from 7pm to 8am. In the hour that we overlapped, we gave each other a total run down on where our news stories were in the production process, and handed off our shift. It was intense, crazy, mind boggling. It went on for three weeks straight, including weekends. You can see a little video about our whole team on You Tube! (And yes, we're both in that video. Can you find me?)

What happened very quickly with Sam and I was that we had to trust one another, completely. We had to ask questions about production, and each of us had to take those questions in stride, without ego or emotions getting in the way. We had to be open, honest, and direct. And, we both had to care about the stories enough, and be dedicated enough, that things didn't fall through the cracks.

Sam and I are still fast friends, and we're lucky that we had that zany experience. He and I were "forced" to develop the framework of honest and open dialog and now we talk about anything and everything and feel safe doing so. What's funny and amazing about it all is that today he apologized for "rambling." And all I could say was "When you and I ramble, I feel like we stumble upon the profound. And that is what I love about us."

It's funny how friends come along, and funny who stays in your life. I'm grateful for those friends who pull out the best in me, who force me to be honest about myself, who make me laugh so hard when I need to laugh. It's wonderful when these people can be accepting of who I am, respect what my life is about, and support me. It's my hope that I can be the same for them, a mirror of their friendship, and a link in their chain of support.

Do you have friendships that were forged in unusual ways? What have those people taught you in your path?

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Holding On to Spiritual Learnings

This last week has been quite trying for my wee spirit. Personally, I had two major projects launch at work (and they did not go well, oh no they didn't), I'm planning a bridal shower for next weekend, my boyfriend has been in Ohio visiting family for 5 weeks, and we're waiting on answers to other family news. And in the world around us, somehow the stocks have plummeted; even though I have worked in the mutual fund industry, I found myself wondering if I should move money from a money fund to a bank account. Dear friends were evacuated from Houston and still do not know when they may be allowed to go home.

At this moment, I'm hoping to make sense of some of the lessons that are being taught. Right now it seems they are being taught in the hardest, most visceral ways. And perhaps they are lessons my head and my heart are fighting.

For daily work, I am a Senior Project Manager at an advertising agency where we build websites. Mostly, big cool websites that make me proud and excited. The larger of the sites I launched this last week was wrought with trouble, induced and supported by one rogue lead programmer. It's been such a long time since I've witnessed the kind of chaos this one person was able to inject into the life cycle of this project.

What does this scenario have to do with anyone's spiritual path, one might ask? Here are my thoughts:

1. My role at work and in life is to help others be happy and succeed, and I firmly believe this and try to live it. (This is part of why I love being a project manager.) Success is generally reached when people work together and play by a similar set of rules, whether those be stated or unstated. And a successful group is fueled by every person willingly participating, following their own free will, but engaging with each other in a respectful way. If someone is in a group refuses to participate and does not follow up on their agreed tasks, though, sometimes you have to allow someone else to fail. This may not be a popular statement, but I strongly believe its an important learning experience for both sides.

2. In life, its best to be really upfront about your what your abilities, gifts, and interests are. This one is kind of a spin off of the last points, but the scenario at work reminds me that each of us needs to speak up if we've been given an assignment that's overwhelming. We're not alone. Each of us has a team, be that family, friends, church folk or co-workers - each of us has a team that is on the ready to help. And I do believe its in human nature to want to help and see each other succeed. It's only when ego gets in the way that we start to fear that our human experience needs to be lonely and solitary.

3. Don't let your ego talk you into believing you might fail. Your spirit is much bigger than your ego, and it is tied to something much bigger and more powerful than whatever your current experience is.

4. Patience and faith are often the tools that will pull you through, even in difficult situations.

What unexpected events have reminded you of important spiritual learnings?

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Welcoming Music: Someone else's life

At my last retreat I talked about the Prodigal Son. For the first time, this well known parable spoke to me in ways I did not anticipate. I had been looking for a New Testament reference to pull in to our theme, which was "Awaken to the Sacred."

For some reason, I was drawn to the passage, knowing I needed to revisit it. In this story, I could see myself as the younger son, as the older son, as both sons - longing to be welcomed home by the Father. And, I could see the amazing role of the father, the Father, being of steady compassion. Of leaving judgment aside. Of celebrating each small feat, of cherishing the life and time we have.

And I could see the moments when each son was being called to awake to his own divinity. Certainly the younger son, who had traveled to distant lands, who had left his heritage - when he had lost all of his worldly possessions, he remembered a better time. He remembered a time of love, a time of acceptance. In that memory, I feel his heart tells him it is time to go home. And regardless of the reception he will receive, he returns.

I see myself in the younger son when I am impatient and want to prove to the world I can do things my own way. I can be headstrong and perhaps controlling. Some days I think I know what is best. I am learning that I do not have to solve every mystery on my own. I am learning that sometimes the best things are in my very own backyard. I am beginning to see that there is a plan for me, and all I have to do is listen and remember.

The older son is perhaps a harder nut to crack. He is so bitter, so unable to acknowledge that his own decisions kept him home. He is looking for someone or something to blame for his situation. But oh how his words sound familiar. "I have always been good, and stayed here, and did just what you asked. But Father, you never gave me anything." The older son is wrought with despair over his Father celebrating the return of his younger son. And the older son is so caught up in his own bitterness that he can't see the joy that has surrounded him. He can't see his father's joy, his brother's joy. He is too determined to be miserable.

This song reminds me of what happens when we choose joy. When we choose love. When we can remember for a moment that there is something bigger than the sorrows. And this song reminds me of that feeling, that you've somehow jumped into someone else's life.

SeeqPod - Playable Search

Thursday, September 11, 2008

A bouquet of balloons

Sometimes in the whirlwind, its so very hard to see the bigger picture of our creation. A difficult day for sure, as every September 11th will ever be - one of mourning, one of remembrance, yet one of wonder. Personally, there was difficult news; and on the work front a project presented trouble as we near a launch date. There is much in the present that could cause me to be bogged down by the hardness of this world.

Yet, on the heels of the quiet launch of this wee site came two humbling invitations in quick succession. A contact who had been at my last retreat reached out and asked if I could help lead a retreat, in the Spring, for his Young Adult group. This one would be after Easter, during that glorious time of celebration. And my dear Franciscan friar friend, Father Rusty called as well, to ask if I might think of leading another retreat with him. It would be over New Years Eve, and the theme would be "the threshold of the new year."

I feel that Someone is reminding me that there are other things to hold dear on hard days. To remember the promise I have been brought here to fulfill. Reminding me that while there are things in the here and now that prove to be hard and difficult, there is more. My heart sings because it knows that family and friends and love are more important than anything else. When you act on following your dreams, you make light work of hard days. When you are inspired and in spirit, you can do anything, be anything, get through anything. And it is this promise that will keep me moving ahead, welcoming the next challenge and holding on to life's many balloon strings that all seem to be simultaneously blowing madly in the wind.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Matthieu Ricard: Change your Mind, Change your Brain

Matthieu Ricard is a Buddhist Monk and delightful speaker. I really love his explanation of happiness and well-being, which can be summarized as"Well being is not just a mere pleasurable sensation, it is a deep sense of serenity and fulfillment, a state that actually pervades and underlies all emotional states; all the joys and sorrows that can come one's way. "

Beyond his initial definition of well-being, he also believes that happiness is something that each of us can choose, at any given moment, regardless of the situation. It's hard to remember, as daily events cause each of us to stumble, that we can make a choice in every moment to be happy or miserable. I strive to remember this, daily, with varying degrees of success. Here is his talk, at Google, from March 17, 2007.

The doors are open

The idea for this online home came to me as I started reflecting on my work as a retreat presenter and leader. Much of what I do at retreats first involves welcoming those who have joined us for that day or weekend. In order for us to feel safe and loved, we first need to be welcomed. As our names and hopes and dreams have begun to be voiced, we then look to also welcome the Spirit, and finally in turn, as we grow and become the person God intended us to be, we become a welcoming spirit for others.

When leading retreats, you begin to understand that everyone is at a different place in their spiritual journey. Each of us can learn and teach each other, no matter where we are on life's path. Each of us has a distinct gift to share in this life time, and it takes a great deal of soul work to realize one's own spiritual potential. More often than not, it is through sharing our own small defeats and heartfelt triumphs that we experience growth and come to understand life's lessons.

My hope is that this online space can help cultivate growth and provide a place for sharing. We must take heart in the fact that it takes courage, love, and dedication to just "show up" for each day that we are given in this life. This is an online home where all are welcome. Please bring your thoughts, yourselves, your own spirit as we embark on this journey. And together, we can celebrate in the goodness of the gifts of this life. The doors are now open, and we are Welcoming Spirit.