I've stopped making supper for 6:30 every night.
That was my big triumph of the winter. I had a system down and it worked great until it didn't work any more.
I've been analyzing why it broke down and there are a couple reasons.
My family got tired of freezer meals. I got tired of freezer meals. (I was serving two per week and not having to cook two nights a week is what made it possible to have supper on the table by 6:30 each night.)
I lost my groove for sure when I was sick and it was hard to find it again after I'd recovered.
But really it was just spring, the season shifted. We wanted to eat different kinds of foods, lighter recipes; and the days lengthened, this was especially noticeable at the onset of daylight savings. I actually have more energy this time of year and go to bed later, my evenings are longer, even with a later supper.
So I lost that routine and haven't been able to reclaim it since.
I loved the efficiency and regularity of our 6:30 routine. These days supper isn't scheduled and often isn't ready until 7:30. But it seems too difficult to do anything about it right now, because it means stopping my work day between 4:30 and 5:00, and that's hard with all my other responsibilities and personal priorities.
Supper at 6:30 wasn't the only thing that got lost in the spring transition. I also lost my morning routine.
Again, sickness and daylight savings time really messed me up in this regard. But even after I recovered from being sick and adjusted my internal rhythm to the clocks (this takes me a good three weeks) I wasn't able to re-claim my usual time in the morning for reading, reflection and meditation.
The reason is writing.
The desire to write and to build my blog back to what it has been (and surpass that point) has kicked in, full steam.
This is seasonal, spring does this to me. But the desire to build something is also the light at the end of my burnout, breakdown, anxiety-struggle, mid-life crisis tunnel. It is a glimmer, once again, of vocation and calling.
I have done a lot of soul-searching in the past eighteen months and I decided to focus on home and hearth (which includes raising and educating three teenagers) and let all the questions of writing, vocation, career, work projects, income-earning, be just that - questions. I was confused about many things after our hike and some (misdirected?) dreams of ours died on the hike, or were laid to rest, upon our return home.
Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer. Rainer Maria Rilke
There is much that remains unresolved, that's life. But I feel, as Rilke says, "Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer." I have gradually found my way to the place where I am confident again about my writing voice and clear about my desire to grow and nurture my blog, and to become something in this space. I'm not clear yet on what I'm becoming, again more questions, but I'm ok right now with not knowing.
But "build-the-blog" and the hours of writing I wish I could do don't have a place in my daily schedule right now because of my other responsibilities (homeschooling and homemaking) and my this-is-my-definition-of-a-good-life priorities; daily outdoors, lots of reading, an evening chill with my teenaged kids, regular downtime in my days and on the weekends. I like all those things. I need them. I'm not willing to give them up to work more. I am not willing to schedule every moment of my life, nor am I interested to increase my productivity.
It has been my habit for a few years, except during the height of my anxiety, to start my day with writing. The problem is I don't want to stop. So I haven't been. I've been writing right up until the point I join the morning fray, somewhere between 9:30 and 10:00. And I've shortchanged myself on the quiet reflection and meditation I have grown accustomed to, and now need, in the early morning hours.
For awhile, I figured I would follow my writing bliss, see where it led me. I love the abandon of writing for an hour and a half, or more (more please!), but I don't love how I feel without the quiet I've come to rely on most weekday mornings.
If I don't have a morning meditation for more than a week I feel more rattled and anxious. Not the full blown anxiety of last summer, but a recurring tightness in my belly throughout the day.
Morning meditation seems to help this, not because it stops the tightness, but because the discipline of doing it creates a physical and mental pathway of deep breathing and relaxation that I can more easily access in the moments of tension. Morning meditation, though I struggle to do it, is training myself to release tension, so that when tension arises, as it always does, I can access the mind-body knowledge to deal with it.
April was a month of these realizations and realities.
I concluded that I need to reclaim some measure of quiet reflection in the morning hours, but it won't be as extensive as my winter routine. I like to read something worth reflecting on (often, though not always, the Bible), pray a bit if I have time, and then meditate.
And as for supper at 7:30, or sometimes later, it's not ideal. But we don't go to bed as early in the spring and summer either. The evening is longer. We're still eating home cooked meals together. That's what matters.
When I experience more energy in the evenings, as I do through spring and summer, it's the perfect time to explore a bedtime meditative practice. More evening energy means I'm less likely to simply fall asleep.
I LOVE sleep, going to bed is one of my favorite times of the day. I place a high priority on sleep, always have. I don't do late nights or really early mornings. And ever since Brienne reached three years old or so, so for the last ten years, I sleep well. My bouts with anxiety did not mess with this pattern.
At different points of my life I have journaled before bed. This spring I determined to learn the practice of the Daily Examen, also just called the Examen; a prayerful reflection on the day that follows a simple form, or liturgy, established by St. Ignatius.
The Examen is an idea that has been floating around my consciousness for a couple years. I would see it mentioned on blogs I read and in books. I'm not Catholic and I don't have a liturgical church background so these ideas are relatively new to me. Last year when I read about the practice in The Emotionally Healthy Woman I decided I wanted to give it a try.
(By the way, this is an example of the kind of Idea I was talking about in my Organizing Ideas series. I had the idea to learn about the Examen and try it myself. Last year, while reading Scazzero's book, I recorded "Learn the Examen" in Evernote, and on a Personal Retreat Day that Idea made it onto my six month life plan for winter/spring 2016.)
I just started last week, this is not an established spiritual discipline yet, by any means. But I love it and it's much easier so far than meditation.
Being aware of my emotions and discerning what they are trying to tell me and holding space in my heart and in our family life for "hard" emotions and things yet unresolved are areas of emotional wellbeing I've been specifically working on for the last eighteen months. I feel like I've already been doing an Examen of sorts.
What's different now is that it's a daily intention and the context is to invite Jesus to sit with me and to share my thoughts with him instead of simply "thinking" through things on my own. For me, the Examen is about seeking discernment in self-awareness. From a place of gratitude, I reflect on the day's emotions in the presence of God and let the Holy Spirit minister healing, wisdom, forgiveness, grace - every good thing I need.
This is a 500 year old practice, I'm hardly the one to explain how it works and its benefits. I like this summary by Mark E. Thibodeaux, SJ from Reimagining the Ignatian Examen.
- unite you even closer to God;
- reveal God’s perspective on your everyday life;
- stir you to praise God for the countless gifts that have popped up in your day, and to find God’s presence in those gifts;
- give you an opportunity to recognize and apologize for your faults, and to grieve your failures and hurts and receive healing from them;
- bring insight into what is really going on beneath the surface of your thoughts, words, and actions—into the very source of your motivations;
- you discern how to handle the trickier aspects of your life, to know what gifts you need from God to do the right thing tomorrow, and to ask God for those gifts explicitly.
As a liturgy, the Examen follows a formula and I have found this recording by The New Liturgy (thanks Sarah Bessey for the heads up on this one) to be very helpful and a great place for me to start. If you check that link you'll see you can purchase this recording but you can also listen for free. Tracks 9, 10 & 11 are great introductions to the history and practice of the Examen.
These are the resources I've sourced and used to learn about The Examen:
- Pray as you go, recordings for Ignatian prayer, with monks and choir music (and British accents)
- Ignatian Spirituality The Daily Examen, lots of links and resources off of this page
- Ignatian Spirituality video, a great introduction to what the Examen looks like for different people
- Reimagining the Ignatian Examen, the app (I haven't used the app yet, but looks good for when you want to mix things up a bit)
- The Simple Show Podcast, episode 26, coincidentally right as I was in my reading and research phase Tsh Oxenreider released episode Ep 26: Everyday Spiritual Practices with Katherine Pershey. They talk about the Examen in this podcast.
My favorite resource to guide my own prayer is The New Liturgy, as I mentioned above. The music speaks to me, the explanations are in a religious "speak" I can understand, and the recording quality is fabulous. I will be buying this resource.
I see my morning meditation as a time "to be still and know that I am God". I am pursuing the spiritual discipline of quieting my mind and it's challenging for me but very necessary. I'd like to become as dependent on the Examen as I have become on morning meditation. Though already I find it much easier to start my evening prayer, where morning meditation is something I have to "force" myself show up for (but I gain so much from doing so).
There is something so powerful about developing habits of stillness, quiet, and awareness. At the start of my mid-life I have just started to scratch the surface of these gifts.
I'm reviewing this post and asking myself, how does this all tie together? I know it does... cooking supper, writing, meditation and the Examen.
A process of controlling one's behavior and actions, either through self-motivation or through teaching and punishment.
We often chafe at discipline or the idea of discipline. We also elevate "trendy disciplines" and easily lose sight of the value of steadfastness and forget that most trendy disciplines are actually a return to ages-old wisdom, tried and true. There is nothing new under the sun.
In a culture full of distractions, bright shiny objects and things that literally beep and buzz to get our attention, it's a discipline to simply stay the course in the most essential and enduring human relationships and activities - marriage, caring for the young and the elderly, providing for our families, eating together, community involvement with your geographic (vs. internet) community.
I personally chafe at the daily discipline of cooking supper. For the last couple years this has been a hard one for me to come to terms with. I lost the winter discipline of getting supper on the table by 6:30 every night. But I still make supper almost every night for my family, and we sit down and eat it together, that's discipline enough. And the short and long term benefits of that discipline outweigh the effort and my lack of inspiration, and I remind myself of this often.
I'm not asking for kudos here. I'm an adult, this is my responsibility.
We all need to learn how to gain mastery of self and we have strengths we utilize in this quest to compensate for our weaknesses.
One's personality and of course, life circumstance, will influence what a discipline looks like in your life. When the kids were little, I lived my life around their nearly constant demands and needs, through day and night. I didn't get up early to meditate or read the Bible, or get up early period. Sleep was the priority.
It took all the discipline I could muster to simply keep everyone fed and the house reasonably clean, and to respond lovingly to the many needs. I love my children but responding in a way that expressed that love to them did not come easily, it was a spiritual discipline. During those full days, with very little time quiet time to myself, my frequent (and often tearful talks) with Damien were like an Examen of sorts.
A joyful life is a disciplined life. You can be highly disciplined and not be joyful. Discipline does not equal joy. But a necessary element of a joyful life is discipline because every thing worth doing takes discipline. Sometimes the discipline is to show up, other times it is to simply carry on, and sometimes the discipline is to stop.
Stop and rest. Stop and shift focus. Stop and pay attention.
Inspiration is golden, isn't it? We love visions that shimmer - the idea to write the book, go on an adventure, create a product, start a family, lose ten pounds, build a house, move to the city or the country, get married, earn income through blogging. If inspiration appears to us like a diamond, sparkly and beautiful, then discipline is the high temperature and intense pressure that will actually produce that diamond.
You don't get the gem - supper on the table, a close-knit family, regular down time, a calmer mind, spiritual growth (insert your gem here) - without going through the discipline to achieve it.