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Applying the Principles

I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned before that sleep is… a struggle for me. The things that messed up my sleep happened so early on in my life that I honestly don’t remember ever not having it be a fight. I’ve struggled with nightmares and insomnia my entire life. In fact, sleep itself used to be something that triggered me–I’d get panic attacks every time I tried to go to sleep. Sleep and I have not been friends in the past, although that is definitely changing (thank the good Lord!).

So, various times I’ve talked about the five Tai Chi principles (here and here)–being calm, relaxed, centered, grounded, and whole & total–and how they translate into spiritual reality–trusting God, surrender, living out of the essence of who God has made you to be, being grounded in who God is, and being engaged with the entirety of who you are and what’s actually happening around you (vs. what you wish/mistakenly think is happening). After having a few folks ask about how I use those principles in my life, I thought I’d share an example of how I apply them–in this case, how I apply them to my sleep issues.

Now, I am 100% not saying that you should ignore the physical causes of insomnia–e.g., lack of magnesium, not eating enough calories, exercising too close to bed, blue light near bedtime, certain insomnia medications, various chemicals, etc., etc., etc. I firmly believe that God has designed our bodies to work a certain way and when we align with His design, we’ll thrive–for example, we can’t expect Him to give us healthy bodies if we ingest poison every day. Please, if you struggle with sleep issues, address those things. Sleep is huge to a person’s mental and physical well-being, so it’s not the sort of thing one should just let slide. My current favorite book on these issues is “The Sleep Solution: End Your Insomnia Naturally” by Emily Benfit (and no, I didn’t get a free copy or any referrals, etc., etc.), so if you have sleep problems, go check it out!

Additionally, I’m not trying to downplay the emotional component of sleep issues. I spent a fairly large amount of time in therapy dealing with why I had nightmares all the time and have done cranial-sacral therapy to release the stored trauma on a physical level.

So, yes, applying the principles doesn’t happen in a vacuum. We’re not just spiritual beings–we’re bodies too.

Okay! Now that I’ve put all those disclaimers there, let’s get into the principles. I’ve already talked about Psalm 127 and how burning the candle at both ends is not a good idea. I’ve had verse two percolating in my brain: “In vain you get up early and stay up late, working hard to have enough food– yes, He gives sleep to the one He loves” (HCS). Yes, some translations talk about how God gives to us even while we sleep vs. giving us sleep itself, but it makes sense to me that God gives us sleep. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how if God gives me something and I don’t get it, I’m the problem. So, as I’ve been trying to be in a place where I can receive sleep (which includes addressing the physical and emotional stuff), I ran it through the principles recently.

  • Being calm/Trusting God–I realized that I have a scarcity mentality about sleep; I don’t actually trust that God will give me sleep or even that He created enough sleep for everyone in the world, as though if some people get plenty of deep sleep, it won’t leave enough deep sleep around for the rest of us. Yes, I realize that’s weird. I’m just sharing where I’ve been at. This lack of trust results in anything but calmness about sleep. My brain goes a million miles per hour when I start exhibiting signs of insomnia, instead of being able to stay chill and try to problem solve. So I’ve been working on changing that–on trusting God to take care of my sleep instead of trying to provide for myself.
  • Being physically relaxed/surrendered to God–Um, if I’m not calm, I’m not relaxed; it’s kind of a given. This is similar to what I just said, but I realized I’ve been trying to force sleep. Sadly, going to sleep is kind of the opposite of forcing something–it’s more about letting go of consciousness rather than grabbing onto unconsciousness. I’m working on letting God be the one to provide sleep and on letting go.
  • Being centered/living out of the essence of who God’s created you to be–in my mind, this is about making sure your sleep habits match your personal quirks. For instance, I’m pretty picky about my pillow and I can’t sleep unless I have a foot out of the covers. Applying the principles doesn’t mean ignoring who you are. It involves embracing who you are.
  • Being grounded/remembering who God really is–obviously, this one is an issue. As I said, I tend to have this belief that God withholds sleep or didn’t make enough sleep for the world. So I’ve been working on changing that belief. As I said, Psalm 127:2 has definitely prompted me to pay attention to what I actually believe about God’s character in this area. I actually had no idea that I had such a wonky view of God until I started thinking about it–isn’t it so interesting that we can compartmentalize that way?
  • Being whole and total/being engaged with the entirety of who you are and what’s actually happening around you–I don’t know about you, but I have a bad habit of laying in bed and then sending my brain somewhere else. I think about what else is on my to-do list, what I’m going to be doing the next day, something that happened in the past, a story that I read, what I’m working on in my writing, etc., etc. I’ve been working on trying to be fully present in my bed when I lay down–to feel the bed, feel the sheets, hear my husband sleeping, feel my body relaxing into the bed, etc., etc. I’m also working on not making assumptions about what’s happening. For example, I don’t need to assume that it will take me x amount of hours to fall asleep or to decide when I first lay down whether I’m likely to sleep or not that night.

So there you go! As I said, a couple people have asked about actually applying the principles. This is how I apply them. And they work great for every area of our lives!

 

 

 

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An Internal Art Form

Do you ever get so focused on getting from point A to point B in your day that you forget even why you’re going to point B? It’s so easy to go through the motions, isn’t it? Some days I find myself doing that. For instance, I get caught up in just getting through my kids’ homework vs. making sure they actually understand the concepts.

Recently at my Tai Chi class we were talking about how Tai Chi is an internal art form, but it’s not always taught that way. It’s so interesting: because of the differences between eastern thought and western thought there are some things that are just hard to translate in a way that makes sense to our western mindset. In my opinion, Peter Ralston has done an amazing job of actually translating those concepts into a way that’s understandable. A while back I talked about the five principles–being calm, relaxed, centered, grounded, and whole and total–and what the corresponding spiritual reality is–trusting God, surrender, living out of the essence of who God has made you to be, being grounded in who God is, and being engaged with the entirety of who you are and what’s actually happening around you (vs. what you wish/mistakenly think is happening).

My teacher was talking about how the first Tai Chi class he attended taught the choreography of the form, but didn’t talk at all about the principles–which is nuts because the principles are 95% of Tai Chi. It’s so sad. I can’t imagine taking the principles out of the form. Without the principles, the form is pretty, but it’s not functional. For instance, if you try to push something with your arms alone, you have less power than if you utilize your whole body. Tai Chi is an internal art form–95% of it you can’t see. You can’t see if someone is calm, relaxed, centered, grounded, whole and total–although you can make some pretty accurate guesses from observing them. And you can’t relax for someone else. You can encourage them to relax, but you can’t do the work for them.

Christianity is the same way: 95% of it is all the connection with God and hanging onto who you are in Christ–it’s stuff that isn’t visible. When we focus on the things that are visible–e.g., whether you attend church, read your Bible, pray, etc., etc., etc.–we are missing out on the majority of what’s important. It may look all shiny and nice on the outside, but it’s not functional. I don’t know about you, but I need reminded of that occasionally. I love that God is the power behind, um, well, everything in my life. He’s the power for me to stay calm when I’m late and stuck behind someone driving five miles under the speed limit. He’s the power for me to listen to my children and tell them that I love them the way they are. He’s the power for me to write when things are going awesome and when I feel like I’m beating my head against a brick wall. He’s the power for me to love my neighbor even when I don’t feel like it.

I hate to say it, but if you’re focused on the 5%, you’re not doing okay. There’s so much more to life, to thriving and abundance and joy in Christ than that 5%. As I tell my kids, stop, take a deep breath and regroup. Reconnect with the 95%. Nobody can do it for you–Christianity is an internal art form.

 

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Effortless Power

So…. Wow. It’s been a while. I know I’ve said, um, pretty much every time that I’ve blogged in the past year that it’s been a crazy year, but really, it’s been a crazy year. Now that I’ve finished editing Push on the Rock, I figure I should start blogging again–or at least I figure I have energy I could spend on blogging.

So one of the things I’ve been thinking a lot about lately is energy–as in having enough energy to get through the day. Simpson said that he felt younger and stronger at age seventy than age thirty because he had learned to “live using God’s strength, accomplishing fully twice as much mentally and physically as I ever did in the past, yet with only half the effort. My physical, mental, and spiritual life is like an artesian well–always full and overflowing; speaking, teaching and traveling by day on by night through sudden and violent changes in weather or climate is of no more effort to me than it is for the wheels of an engine to turn when the pressure of the steam is at full force or than it is for a pipe to let water run through it.” (Streams in the Desert 9/27)

Reading that made me think about the “art of effortless power” Peter Ralston talks about with Tai Chi. Effortless power comes naturally as a result of aligning oneself with the five principles: being calm, relaxed, centered, grounded, and whole and total. As crazy as it sounds, this is something that I’ve actually experienced in my practice of Tai Chi. It’s amazing to be able to punch without feeling my muscles tire, or to walk and have it take more energy to stop than it does to keep going. I think, like so many things, this physical reality has a corresponding spiritual reality and that’s what Simpson found.

It spurred me to look at the five principles and examine those spiritual realities.

1) Calm: In Tai Chi this means mental calmness, but I think when we look at the Christian life, it’s equivalent is to fully trust God. Like Paul says in Philippians 4:6-7: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (NIV). That mental calmness can only come when we’re not worried about anything–that doesn’t mean that you’re calm 24/7, but rather that when you worry, you choose to trust God.

2) Relaxed: In Tai Chi this is the reality of being physically relaxed, of letting your weight drain through all your joints and into the ground. My Tai Chi instructor likens it to water draining through a hose without kinks. Spiritually, I would argue this means surrendering to God…. getting rid of any hinderances to relying on God–in every single area of my life.

3) Centered: In Tai Chi this involved moving from the center of your body, rather than where we typically are focused (our heads). Spiritually, I think this translates into living my life from the core of who I am, who I really am; knowing myself and living out of that vs. trying to force something. I have to know who God designed me to be, who I am as a new creature in Christ, and what things are important to me. My husband and I recently cleaned out one of our closets and in one of my old notebooks, I found a story I had written back in third or fourth grade. I wrote myself into the story as a “future author.” I’d forgotten that I’d always wanted to be a writer. It was very affirming to be reminded of how much I love literature and writing–how much I’ve always loved literature and writing. I wrote my first story on a typewriter when I was four (it was about a cat and a rat, just in case you were wondering). It’s part of who I am. I also found some other things–little encouragement cards I used to send to the girls I discipled in high school, different prayers in my old journals. The more things change, the more they stay the same. God made me a certain way. There just are certain things that are part of who I am. And it’s easy to forget those things in the every day crazy of life. It’s also easy to forget the reality of who I am in Jesus, to start believing the lies about being unlovable, or unloved, or worthless, or lazy, or any of the other wrong things people have told me over the years. Being centered means living out of the essence of who God tells me I am.

4) Grounded: In Tai Chi this is being 100% connected to the earth, feeling all of your weight going down into the earth, so that when you push, etc., you do so with the force of the earth. There’s a concussive effect that happens when your body is relaxed, you’re centered and grounded, and you push/pull/punch, etc. It packs a lot of power. Quite painful if you’re the one being punched. 😉 Anyway! Spiritually, I think we can talk about this as being connected to God–being grounded in who He is and doing things through the power of the Holy Spirit. I don’t know about you, but I forget who God is. Often. I get these crazy ideas about His character when I focus on my circumstances–like that He’s forgotten me, or doesn’t really love me, or isn’t kind, isn’t patient, isn’t forgiving, and on and on and on. I need daily time in His Word and His presence just to remember who He is, to re-ground.

5) Whole and Total: In Tai Chi, this involves utilizing your entire body as well as being aware of your surroundings. My instructor says that so often we live like we’re all gingerbread men. We have a front and a back, and we forget about the rest. Or I’ve seen people who just have heads, but if you tell them to raise their right arm and tap their left foot, they have to think hard to connect with those parts of their body. We tend to put our bodies on auto-pilot, but being whole and total means knowing where all of me is. Knowing my strengths and weaknesses, and using them both. It means interacting with the whole world around me, not just the three feet in front of my face. And this is where circumstances come in. I am now going to betray my dorkiness, but I love the Vulcan concept of “kaiidith”: what is, is. Being whole and total means recognizing what is because only when you work with what is can you change. You can’t change something that doesn’t exist. I have a relative who is waiting on someone else to fix their anger issues because they truly believe that those issues are the other person’s fault. It means they’re stuck because they have no control over their lives. We need God’s help to see what is. And we need His help to have eyes that are willing to recognize all of ourselves–the things we love about ourselves and the things we hate.

When I’m going through my day, I’ve started asking myself about the five principles. I talked to my Tai Chi instructor recently and he pointed out that you really have to do them in order. You can’t be physically relaxed without being mentally calm. You can’t be centered without being physically relaxed. And I love that. It’s so nice to have a quick and easy checklist to go through in my day: Am I trusting God? Am I fully surrendered?  Do I remember who I am? Do I remember who He is? Am I seeing myself and my circumstances fully and accurately?