Here are some links we hope will be of interest to you:

The Practice of Relaxation by Rev Shelley Dungan

I have come to understand that relaxation and the art of letting go is more than just a sweet is essential for our well-being and spiritual growth. As I led the Women's Book Group last night, our chapter was titled "Relaxation".  

I find it quite humorous that my profession involves continually teaching people how to relax although I am still far from a master in this area.  Giving myself permission to relax is a message I need to embrace over and over every day!

I am further along in integrating rest & ease than I was 10 years ago. As I ponder my own relationship with relaxation, I realize yours may be similar so I felt led to share a bit.

Some barriers I am aware of to practicing relaxation:

1. POOR MODELING: I did not see intentional relaxation modeled much in the New England culture or family in which I grew up - Like many of us, I felt the pressure to be busy or at least look busy all the time, as if a packed schedule was a trophy of some sort :)

2. SELF-WORTH & PRODUCTIVITY BELIEFS: I realize that relaxing taps into my insecurities/uncertainties about my self-worth apart from what I accomplish and the ways I associate my self-worth so closely with my productivity.  Even though I see the error of this thinking, and my heart knows differently, I still can get trapped in this pattern.

3. HOW MUCH IS ENOUGH?:  If we don’t know what “enough” means for us personally, it’s very hard to justify relaxation. How can I know when I have put in enough work for a day or tried hard enough to make a relationship better?  When is it OK to take a break from trying so hard? I coach myself quite often with affirmations such as, "I am enough. I do enough. I have enough. I am worthy of taking time to rest and regenerate. Like a newborn baby, I am held by the Divine Mother-Father and loved just because I exist. I have nothing to earn or prove. What I accomplish doesn't define the value of my life. It's OK to relax and let go.

4. FEAR OF THE EMPTINESS: Relaxing drops us inside where we become of aware of things that our busyness masks.  As I relax and my "monkey mind" starts to slow down, I am aware that inside me, there in the void, is my lingering grief, uncertainties, multiple fears, shadows of doubt and a host of other challenging emotions that are part of this amazing and terrifying human experience.  This is why I would say that practicing relaxation takes courage for many of us.  It is also why relaxing in a supportive community, like The Sacred Center, can be beneficial...just feeling emotionally and spiritually "held" helps me soften and accept my full self and my life just as it is. 

 There seems to be an unlimited supply of data we are exposed to advocating the health benefits of relaxation, yet we remain hard to convince that it is worth the time and attention.  

Some benefits that come to mind right now are: 

1. ACCESS TO INNER CREATIVITY:  I have found that spending time in Savasana or other forms of deep relaxation, my creativity comes to the surface.  Sometimes it is the kind of creativity that manifests something outward or sometimes it is creativity that helps me create a new perspective/ a new way of framing a problem or difficult relationship.
2. FOSTERS TRUST: If I am relaxing and not taking matters into my own hands, demanding that life give me what I want, a door opens where I can access my choice to trust Divine Love/The Universe... that a bigger force is at work on my behalf.  I am able to find the ability to trust and surrender and flow.
3. I SENSE MY INNATE GOODNESS: The more I relax my grip and learn to be at ease in the flow of my life, the more my innate goodness becomes part of my present moment experience.  When I am aligned with this fundamental truth, I naturally find ways to share my inner goodness wherever I go and whatever I do.  That feels great!

I accept that I may always struggle with what constitutes "enough"... old habits die hard.  Sometimes the best I can do is practice a 5 breath pause at intervals in my day.  Sometimes that is the best I can do and I try to give myself a gentle pat on the back just for trying. I do hold the intention of having a richer, healthier relationship with relaxation & sacred rest in the days and years ahead; a little less doing and a little more being.  WOULD YOU LIKE TO HOLD THAT INTENTION FOR YOURSELF ALSO? 


The Practice of Compassion - Rev Shelley Dungan

Compassion toward others:
     Compassion, which means "to suffer with", can seem like a missing element in the world we find ourselves in.  We live in a culture where we are encouraged to shield ourselves from our own inner pain as well as the pain of others.  I think that compassion is right up there along with love and gratitude as the highest of human virtues.  I owe a great debt to the Buddhist teachers I have encountered along the way that take me deeper into my capacity for compassion.   I am a better human being because of these teachings. 

     Compassion has the potential to cultivate each human's feminine dimension. Offering another being our compassion involves letting go of all judgement, accepting them exactly as they are, offering a silent nurturing as we hold space for their pain with no attempts to fix them.  Compassion is born out of our sense of our shared humanity. Just like the metaphor of Indra’s net illustrates, we are all connected!  The more in touch we are with our interconnectivity, the more space there is for compassion to arise.  

   The experience of feeling compassion for someone else, puts me in touch with my own brokenness.  I have found that shared compassion builds bridges, it creates connection between people. Allowing myself to feel with another person, reminds me that we are all struggling in some way... we are all doing the best we can with what we have or with what we know in any given moment. The more in touch I am with my own pain…the less I deny, repress or minimize my own pain, the greater my capacity for extending compassion to myself and others. Compassion also breeds humility, it does not feed the ego, it leaves no room for us to feel superior or inferior, it levels the playing field. Compassion is the great equalizer.

One of the most direct practices of compassion I am engaged in right now is "compassionate deep listening".  I have come to understand that it lessens someone's suffering just by allowing them to give voice to their struggle. I have a friend with whom I practice this.  We create a space between us that is safe, where we agree to be honest, to listen without offering advice. Sometimes it is my turn to offer compassionate deep listening, and sometimes it is their turn to offer this gift to me. In doing so, we are healing each other, we are lessening one another's suffering. In practical application of compassion I have also I've been trying to take my 5 breath pause, turn the dial toward compassion before I enter into someone’s presence for a conversation and even before I send an email.

Compassion toward ourselves:
     Many of us find it much easier to offer compassion to someone else than to ourselves.  Our internal judge can be quite harsh.  My main practice of self compassion is toward my deep seated fears. I realize that most of my suffering arises from my fear. Instead of judging, punishing or trying to fix this part of me, I gaze upon the scared part of me through eyes of compassion.  I hold tenderly that scared part of me, that little child that wants to feel secure and certain...instead of making the fear more permanent by acknowledging it kindly, this practice allows the fear to be seen  and its grip on me lessens.  I can't explain why this is true, but this has been my experience.  I try look at myself through the eyes of the Sacred Mother, as she would view her beloved child. I have compassion on my perfectionism, realizing it is rooted in fear. I have compassion on my over-packed schedule as it reflects my fear of missing out, of being left out.

     I hope these words will inspire you to be more gentle with yourself and offer others the tremendous gift of your gentle, compassionate presence.