Eight Mindfulness and Spirituality Practices to Start the Year Well

As we start the new year, I am more determined than ever to fully engage in the present moment as much as I can and to have that moment be held as sacred. I’ve included ideas here for myself as well as for you about how to enable this process. These practices might also be thought of as including self-reflection, sensory processing and grounding techniques.

1. Writing a poem

I am writing a series of poetry dedicated to animal encounters. This process has felt sacred to me as I draw deeply from each moment of time in which an animal and I exchange meaning. Other series I think would be interesting to try include weather patterns, plants, seasons and the sky.

2. Drawing a nature scene

I prefer my time in nature to be a slow process. What I mean by this is I am not focused on moving quickly through it by mechanical means like a jet-ski or ATV and that I let go of trying to “conquer” any aspect of it, such as completing a trail in as little time as I can. I once joined a walking group and spent so much time outside for a season, but the focus on walking fast and talking completely detracted from any mindfulness. Activities such as sketching and drawing can require tremendous patience and repetition, which enables me to pause and to be rather than do.

3. Practicing Breathwork

I shared recently that breathwork can potentially affect the brain-body connection in PTSD. Knowing this inspires me to spend time simply in awareness of my breathing. For those who do not have much free time, even a few minutes between activities can serve to help us recenter.

4. Connecting with nature through each sense

I love forest therapy and the relationship it encourages between mindfulness and nature. My favorite practice is to notice how each sense is affected by being outside. With a bit of planning, this encounter can be tailored to an individual’s sensory needs and abilities.

5. Engaging in a Body scan and movement

I sometimes find myself reacting emotionally to a situation, and, only after I get some time for self-reflection, do I realize that my physical state either contributed to or has been impacted by the encounter. Spending time checking with each body system and sending it healing energy helps me feel grounded.

In the past six months, I’ve also educated myself about ways to stretch specific parts of my body such as my toes. Doing so not only frees me of physical tension, but it also helps me expand my sense of inhabiting every aspect of who I am. Becoming embodied can be a challenge for those of us who have endured trauma, but doing so has allowed me to more fully process other aspects of my identity such as being trans.

6. Drawing a card

I believe that qualitative as well as quantitative data and information are useful, and I find that using tarot and oracle cards helps me release some of my compulsions towards liner thinking so that I can also take in “big picture” viewpoints. Experiencing insight through not only written but also through illustration is also enabled through the inclusion of various decks I have.

7. Listening inwardly

I’ve shared my process for doing inner work. I sometimes find myself wishing I could pause social encounters, check in with myself, and then reengage. I may need to find a way to do this IRL as so much of my out-of-body, out-of-time response is due to not having enough brain power to process my internal and external experiences simultaneously. When I make time for this practice, I often realize that much of the anxiety and anger to which I’d been reacting for hours was due to an inability to fully hear myself.

8. Holding Sacred Ritual

There is a good deal of overlap between the practices I’ve listed above and scared ritual in which I might engage. I have at times kept to a Pagan calendar as well as honored the full and new moons, but I did not find myself relating to these holidays any more than I relate to the ones most Americans follow. Ritual, for me, works best when it is held in anticipation or response to lived events. In particular, I want to engage in it at times where I feel scattered from myself and in need of reconnection.

Conclusion

Which of the mindfulness and spirituality practices that I’ve shared have you found to work the best for your needs? What else would you add as beneficial? What barriers, if any, might you need to overcome to allow yourself to be in the scared moment?

Future Dreams (Today’s Daily Work of Art)

At the end of each year, I spend time reflecting on how my life unfolded, who I am as a person and where I’d like to develop in the next year. This year marks the third time I’ve engaged in the process and I love the fresh start it gives me. I keep my highest aspirations, my mission statement, abstract, so that I can allow the universe to bring me experiences to round out what I’ve written. I also write out specific, targeted goals for key areas such as finances, health and personal growth. The practice as a whole feels like an invitation to myself to be accountable in a way that views failures as setbacks rather than disasters and successes as opportunities for both pride and gratitude.

For 2020, my personal mission statement reads as follows:

I make sacred work of every moment and am here and now with all of myself. I cherish my inner world as I own my limitations and, in doing so, exhibit kindness and generosity of spirit. I embody powerful vulnerability as I gather myself whole.

I believe that all the planning and personal effort in the world does not guarantee our goals will be realized. There is an element of serendipity and luck to everything we do that also affects our chances of reaching the stars to which we aspire. I lay out what I want for the next year not solely as an enterprise in what I am going to work to achieve, but also as an invitation to Spirit to bring into my life that which I need to make manifest my hopes. What are your goals and your mission statement for 2020? To what extent do you think you will reach (or not reach) what you’ve set out on your own, and to what extent will you surrender your dreams to the universe and fate? Which miracles and beauty does the tableau of your future hold?

Questions Asked and Answered (Today’s Daily Remembrance)

For the Daily Remembrance prompt today, I drew a card that prompted reflection how spirituality has assisted me in healing. Where I went with this query was to focus on a big question I feel is unanswered in my life. I also decided to consider how my sense of spirituality impacts my response.

The largest unresolved question I have is whether the trauma I suffered as a child has permanently altered my capacity to have long-lasting and deep connections with others. If it has, I feel that I can give myself permission to decentralize relationships from my priority list. If it hasn’t, I feel that I need to keep striving for new and better relationships. “Can I heal my attachment issues” is really at the heart of it. I’m sure the answer isn’t yes or no, but probably somewhere in between. Actually, if I sit with it longer, “will I regret failing at relationships when I’m older” is what drives me into attempts to right my issues.

As I hold space for myself, what I come to understand is that I have a deeply-held belief about myself that I (mostly) do the best I can at any given point in time and that, in my crash and burn relationships, it was the other person who tended, more than me, to fail to take responsibility for their own healing and relationship skills. That’s what I believe on a cognitive level to be true, but emotionally I feel that I ruined everything because I have attachment problems.

My attachment problems certainly do not help relationships go well, but what actually goes on (especially the more I work on myself) is that others do not listen to or absorb my honesty about my limitations, and instead treat me as though I should not have them. They are incapable of setting healthy boundaries, apologizing for their behaviors or owing their role in a situation after triggering me, no matter how deliberate I am in explaining what went on inside me as a result of their actions.

I suppose the answer to what I’ll think when I get older about my relationship failures might be that I wish things had been better, but that I worked as hard as I could to stay true to myself and that it is all I could do. In looking backwards now, there are a few people I regret losing and ways of responding I’ve used that I see as immature, but I feel sorrow for myself in those moments, not anger. I’ve learned mightily from my personal failures about what not to do; I have not had enough successes, if I’m being truthful, to say that I’ve learned what to do.

My spirituality interfaces with these dilemmas in that it gives me access to my inner world, to the parts of me that are stuck in trauma, to the parts of me that want to fight everyone I meet and to the hopeful parts of me that believe kind people must exist somewhere. My embodiment and connection to nature ground me and give me the holding space people are, by and large, unable to provide for me. My appreciation for cycles, such as the sun and moon rhythms, allow me a framework for acknowledging the adaptations and changes that are inherent to life.

Collectively, my spiritual practices show me that I am not alone and that there is more to life than other people. In response to my question about whether my attachment issues can be healed, the sacred space I make for myself continues to provide the same answer: this isn’t the only question that matters. It is okay to ask other questions and to explore other types of connections. Maybe people won’t ruin or save me in the end; maybe life isn’t the type of experience to be won or lost based on how much love we’ve accumulated by the end or how many “try yet again” restarts we’ve attempted. Perhaps I’ll never fully resolve my trauma and my attachment issues and my failure to do so won’t be the final truth of which I’ll be cognizant. Maybe the smell of a puppy’s breath or the softness of dandelion fluff or the sound of birch leaves in a fall breeze are what I’ll cling to as life slips away and I’ll find the answer to questions I haven’t yet contemplated.

I would be so appreciate to hear your big questions, the types of things you circle back to again and again and feel like your life is dedicated to attempting to resolve. Do you ever question the question? It is would be mind-blowing to know if there is anyone who has a rich sense of an inner world but who doesn’t relate to life as a puzzle to be filled in. Finally, I would love to know how your sense of spirituality affects your responses.

A lake in winter with the sun gleaming off of it and leafless trees lining it in the distance.

Visiting a Body of Water (Today’s Simple Pleasure)

Today’s Simple Pleasure was very cold! The weather has taken a sharp turn into winter where I live, so my photo shoot was brief and I was left with numb fingers after only a few minutes. It was worth it, though, to visit a local lake that never fails to astonish me with its beauty.

I know people who love to sit in front of a fireplace or bonfire and feel that their cares melt away in the flames. Observing a body of water, especially a river or lake, has the same effect on me. I especially appreciate that, although the surface itself is so alive and ever-changing, even more is happening below, out of sight. The combination of unknowable depths, fluidity and quiet power that water holds makes it the element to which I most strongly connect. What is your element of choice? What effect, if any, does being near water have on you? What does it represent to you?

The In-Gathering

As I worked through what I need after feeling invisible, experiencing invalidation or simply having a stressful day, I realized my inner world is best honored by ritual. My spirituality is at its deepest when I follow my own natural rhythms. Whenever and wherever, I can honor each part of myself. I invite you to customize the following for your own practice.

Setting the Scene

Create a space for ritual. This can be as simple as lighting a candle, laying out a special cloth, or brewing a cup of tea. It can be creating an elaborate altar or traveling to a place in nature to which you feel called. All that matters is that it is made sacred by your intentional presence.

Begin by centering yourself on your breath. Invite your senses in, one-by-one. If you having trouble focusing, play calming music or listen to nature sounds.

A Safe Place for All

In turn, welcome* each part of self. Some I chose to honor are the vulnerable, the eager, the nurturing, the brave and the wise. You may have other parts that need representation. Allow each to share with you whatever they want to share, without judgement. Ask the other parts to sit back and grant space while each one shares. Parts may make a request of others, which should be held with care.

Body, Heart, Mind and Spirit

After each part has shared, concentrate again on your breath. Inhabit every corner of your body. Listen to your body as a whole and through its systems, observing what it needs. Focus on what it may want to reveal or release.

Allow your emotions to channel and course through your body. Meet each one with a loving embrace. Notice them shift and dance.

Attend to your mental state. Notice the pattern and pace of your thoughts. Observe them come and go.

Finally, turn to your Spirit. Allow it to reveal itself to you through your senses. Touch the moon and sun cycles, the sky, earth, rain and fire and the season. Let nature guide you deeper into your soul.

Symbols of Love

Breath again, and ask of yourself, all of yourself present, what love looks like here and now. To the best of your ability, provide this love to yourself. Note any hesitancy, and then move through it with care. Embrace yourself.

A Closing Prayer

Finalize your ritual by spending time in quiet meditation, honoring yourself for making time to gather yourself whole and to recognize your worth. Incorporate whatever words and movements feel holy in this moment. Be the prayer your soul needs to feel.

*If you are new to inner/self-work and you hold a trauma history, this practice could be destabilizing. I encourage you to first work with a trusted therapist before engaging in this ritual and to take as slow of a pace as needed. Self-care practices such as spending time in nature, running a gentle bath or settling into your breath may be safe places to start to connect with parts of self.

At the Center (Daily Works of Art)

In the last half-year, there has been an internal shift unlike any I can remember experiencing. I’ve started T during this period of time, so I’m certain that coming into alignment with myself as a non-binary person has played role in this change. My image of myself has been transformed as I’ve created my present.

I’m a relationship disaster. I get close to people, building up connection and hoping that “this time” something will stick and it won’t go sideways. Every single time, though, that there is a breach of trust, when I feel betrayed, used or mistreated, my trauma surfaces to an insurmountable level and the whole thing breaks apart. My deep-rooted attachment issues win the day, no matter, it seems, how much I try to will them into the background or how hard I work in therapy to undo them. I get re-traumatized and cut more deeply after every experience. I do not heal and I do not grow in my capacity to love by failing at it. The only beings I’ve ever loved are my dog and myself. Relationships with others matter and I will continue to engage in them, but they do not complete me.

My career is equally unable to give me a sense of fulfilment or meaning, despite the fact that I know what I’m doing is valuable. Every trigger I experience there makes it harder to show up the next day. I wade through it, but I don’t derive my joy or sense of purpose from it.

I care about the human condition and the planet, but I’m not an activist. Even though topics such as human rights stir my passions and I advocate for equity, I am not enough of a True Believer ™ in any cause to dedicate my life to it. I find meaning here, but it is fraught with disappointment and despair to an intensity where it is not enough, on its own, to sustain me.

I’m left, then, with the possible sources that most people turn to for their deepest nourishment a shallow bowl of thin soup. Finally, after twenty years of suicidality and less-than-ness, knowing myself to be a loner, a Not a True Believer ™ and an unmet career potential achiever, I may have hit on why I’m here. This dish is a rich stew, with layers of flavor and body.

My core is my inner world. I know my interior to a level of detail I’ve rarely encountered in others. And yet, I scrub the corridors of my mind and sweep the reaches of my heart and still I uncover things about myself I didn’t know before. And I refuse to see the gift of self-knowledge through the lens of navel-gazing self-absorption. We die alone. Life is coming to that realization and finding a reason to keep living.

I haven’t found my inner world in order to escape there and shut myself off from reality. Instead, my physical experience is at the center of my inner world. I live embodied. No, I’ve found my core because it is the root of my spirituality and creativity. I have something to honor and something to express because, in knowing myself, I find my entryway to the universe. I do not live to romance a perfect love, to make the world a better place or to achieve a capitalist monument to money, fame or innovation. I exist to live present, sacred and as a witness to the present and the sacred.

I’m a nature photograph of only the trees and the mountain. No caption to draw attention to the threats of the future. No human figure outlined as the subject. No metaphor for the accolades I’ve garnered. Only the holy now and the lens to see it.

My way of being is not the best or the singular way through life. I fully support those whose center is the periphery of my image—the happy family camping, the environmentalist chained to the tree, the goal-setter summiting the peak. There is pain in finding my focus, because I think it is trauma more than biology that has led me to it. A life unspoiled as mine was might have a depth I cannot achieve in which everything I’ve described is blended into a harmonious entree. But my point is simply that I have something for which I exist, even if it isn’t typical, appreciated or noticed. I’ve found my purpose. Attempting to compel myself to locate it elsewhere is a distraction from my fundamental source of joy and hope. I’m in this light, of this breath, reflecting divine presence.

Exploring a New Art Medium (Today’s Simple Pleasure)

After much deliberation, I’ve finally arrived at the medium I am going to use to create my In an Open Hand intuitive deck: colored pencils! I’d spent time reflecting previously and had thought digital art was the way to go. I’d planned to purchase an expensive computer and use Adobe Illustrator to illustrate the cards.

As I sat with the decision, however, I felt more and more uncertain. Specifically, I kept imagining myself dropping a few thousand and then feeling totally overwhelmed by the process and too lazy, frankly, to move to another part of my house to spend time on my artwork. My dog and I have an evening routine of sitting on my couch and I came to see that whatever I do, at least for now, has to be easy to access as well as portable in case I want to work outdoors or in a cafe.

Because of these realizations, I settled on colored pencils. There is a class I can take next summer locally on working with the medium which excites me even more and which made the choice easier. My lack of self-control led me to purchase both the Prismacolor set (wax-based) as well as the Faber-Castell set (oil-based) and lots of accessories. (Side note: it is easy to justify spending a few hundred when you can tell yourself you are “saving” over a thousand dollars 🙂

The colored pencils are scheduled to arrive soon. I plan to start by creating gradients and practicing my technique before trying to actually draw any of the elements of my cards. Luckily, there are lots of Youtube tutorials that have given me a likely exaggerated sense of self-confidence that I can produce beautiful art with this medium. I will eventually have to at least photograph my artwork (if I make it that far) to have the deck printed, and can explore the digital art format if needed. I believe that years of exploring my spirituality and my creativity have led me to this new chapter, and I cannot wait to write it. Which art medium have you been exploring lately? What has it taught you?

Visualizing Inner Divinity (Today’s Simple Pleasure)

I’ve begun sketching a crow for one of my intuitive deck cards that I am designing, so the first image that came to mind when I pulled today’s Simple Pleasure card was that of a crow in flight. I immediately connected the image of a crow with my Inner Divinity as their behavior reflects characteristics I think are worthy of holding sacred. They have a tough exterior that belies their mental strength, and, in this, they represent aspects of the sacred that may be less approachable but which are vital for connection within safe boundaries.

Many corvids, including crows, are intelligent, cunning and discerning. They are able to use tools to solve problems. Crows are inventive and able to adapt to their environment. They may even understand how money works! Crows can also distinguish humans by their faces and remember who is friend or foe.

In certain spiritual groups in which I participated in the past, there was an preference placed on emotions and intuition above the “thinking” mind, or on trusting an external deity rather than one’s own knowing. This de-emphasis on reason and logic never sat well with me, as I think justice and morality require deliberative thought informed by compassion and empathy; a meeting and melding much more than a competition between hard/soft, masculine/feminine, etc. Crows appear intimidating to me when compared to many other birds, but knowing that they bring gifts to people they like and bond with each other for many years helps me integrate the wisdom of the Divine–the need for an integration of the mind and the heart–that I believe they represent.

Fashioning a Prayer to Inner Divinity (Today’s Simple Pleasure)

The sacred and holy is both within and all around me in my view of spirituality. I celebrate the Divine in self, humanity and nature–concentric, looping rings of connectedness that foster a sense of awe, gratitude and expansion. My sense of inner sanctity, is, then, both singular as well as representational of the greater Spirit that imbues all we do with meaning and purpose.

My prayer today to and for my Inner Divinity is that I will grow in my trust of my Sacred Self as steadfast and limitless in his/her/their capacity to encapsulate all of my inherent contradictions, flaws and mistakes. Much of the time, I find “I’m so much harder on myself than I am on others” to be a vacuous and dubious statement, but I do know that I struggle to extend grace to anyone, including myself. I’ve come into greater awareness recently of the intensity of my obsession with morality and the judgment that flows so easily from it. My ability to call up righteous indignation at the failures of justice and the oppression in the world while remaining cognizant of my own part in it is core to who I am and there has to be a place for levity, carefree open-heartedness and play.

I do not want to become more forgiving as forgiveness is nearly always tied to an inability to hold space for both pain and for the demand of the hard work of accountability. But, I do want to trust that the heavy eye of scrutiny that I cast on all I am and all I encounter can sometimes becoming light-lidded with approval of growth and transformation in the presence of evidence of learning from one’s mistakes. I despise “I’m/they’re doing our best” as much as I do “not good enough,” which is a severe approach to life. I think the only way to extend grace to myself and others is to find hope in gradual change and small victories and to take time to celebrate life without fear of “doing it wrong.” My Sacred Self is compassionate and capable of nuanced praise; I need to open my ears to hear his/her/their voice.

Meditating with Sacred Beads (Today’s Simple Pleasure)

Today I meditated using a string of sandlewood beads. I integrated my touch of each bead into a pattern of breathing in and out. The tactile nature of the task, combined with the wonderful aroma that the string carries, helped to ground and center me. I also liked that they were made of wood, as versions I’ve tried that were made from stone have felt colder and less connecting.

I found myself curious about how this type of meditation might function in situations that I find stressful that require sitting and waiting for something to happen, such as certain kinds of appointments. Other options I could explore include bringing to mind imagery or language with each turn of the bead. Have you used sacred/prayer beads, and, if so, how have you included them in your meditation practice?