peace of mind and heart

Clean Heart

4:00 PM

Growing up Boone always meant starting the day with a family devotional, complete with singing (in three-part harmony, of course), a reading from the Bible, and a prayer to start the day off right. I love this about my childhood. To this day, I generally don't miss a morning sitting, lighting a candle, setting a timer, and allowing myself to relax, and breathe. 

There are two main things I focus on when I pray and meditate: I follow the rhythm and sensation of my breathing as it is regulated by my brain stem, and I try not to judge my thoughts, either quality or quantity. I practice letting thoughts come and go without attaching to them, letting them move through me like water through a drain pipe. By all means, let it drain!

These days, I follow up with a kind of prayer which is basically an exercise in acceptance and surrender, and more like listening. I wouldn't, however, rule out the possibility that I might beg God to relieve my loved ones of their suffering, something I don't tolerate well. Sometimes, while sitting quietly in the enveloping stillness, I notice that I am agitated, that my heart-rate is faster and my chest, tighter; this is usually connected to the thoughts to which I am starting to attach. When I feel anxious, I try to remember it's OK to have these thoughts. It's what my beautiful mind does; it runs on memory, patterning, and stimulus. However, I don't have to "think about my thoughts."

A couple of days ago, my meditation was interrupted by this kind of tension, tension that results from believing the random thoughts streaming through my consciousness, and I remembered this scripture I've loved all of my life; I still say it out loud.

"Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit in me." Psalm 51:10

I think the desire to revisit this scripture came from a place of frustration that I couldn't relax the automatic barrage of stress-thoughts, worry-mongering, and internalized rosary-style-fidgeting while I was trying to create this perfect zen moment.

The thing is, the scripture itself conjured up more anxious feelings, and some questions. What is a clean heart, and why would my heart...or anyone else's considered dirty? 

The idea I grew up with still hovers, that I have a nature that is prone to sin, and sin has a similar effect on the heart that cola does on a copper penny. It's corrosive. Mutating.

As a child and young adult attempting to process the teachings of my (beloved) faith tradition, I came to believe that this sin nature is with us from the beginning, and that the moment of salvation arrives when we recognize our sin nature, and repent. The moment we choose another way.

I still consider myself to be a Christian, but with some slight alterations in my originally formed perceptions. This idea of being clean or dirty, possibly a few degrees of separation from the way it was originally intended, has exacerbated an already existing shame issue for me, leaving me in a cycle of self-judgment, steeped in fear of being seen for who I am. 

I like how Pastor Dave (Brisbin) refers to the unfortunate-but-certain defects of the human condition: "stone not yet smooth." In this metaphor, the metrics are tied to maturity, or immaturity, and forgiveness is a given.

Anyway, it was unexpected when in meditation, I heard myself speak this scripture as a prayer, and it felt like going home.

"Create in me a clean heart, O God,
And renew a right spirit within me.
Do not cast me away from Your presence
And do not take Your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of Your salvation
Then I will teach transgressors Your ways"

That's how I remember it, with references to sin and being cast away, rejected, which happens to be my core fear, by the way. In the last few years, I have come to believe that for me, this illusion of separateness is one of the nastiest flies in the ointment.

So, what exactly is a "clean heart" in the context of someone who is seeking to surrender and doing constant inventory of his or her behaviors while embracing ownership and accountability? I know I screw things up, but am I dirty?

It continues:

"Purify me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow." (Psalm 51)

Hmmm. Hyssop. I have enjoyed a hummingbird hyssop in my front yard for years. It's delicately gorgeous, and  when I crush some of the leaves, it smells something like vanilla, jasmine and licorice, all blended together.

What does this have to do with a clean heart? Apparently, hyssop cleanses the body in the same way we might be cleansed spiritually.

I decided to Google articles about hyssop, and found a helpful one from Dr. Joseph Mercola whose wisdom in the field of holistic medicine is widely respected. According to his website, there are some very specific and beneficial qualities attributed to hyssop. It's considered to be antispasmodic and antiseptic. It can lower fevers, soothe or heal skin issues, and it can stimulate a variety of sluggish systems like digestive, endocrine, circulatory and excretory.

Apparently, hyssop is traditionally thought to be a healing herb, so in this case, purification is more like detox. 

Maybe, then, a "clean heart" is a beautiful euphemism for a healed heart, and perhaps, purification has never been about making me presentable. Just whole.

I've heard it said that spiritual elements are mirrored in natural, physical elements. In other words, like hyssop is provided by the Earth as an agent of healing, to stimulate the body's ability to cleanse itself, to calm the skin or regulate fevers, perhaps prayer, meditation and spiritual surrender serve as agents to clear the mind and heart of clutter, cobwebs and shadows, to gently exfoliate the hardening, irritating buildup of misconception and, yes, even guilt.

There's a subtle difference between the way I have interpreted scripture like this in the past, compared to the way I would now, and that difference has exponential impact in terms of experience because swallowing guilt and shame along with an authentic spiritual solution is like drinking poison with bread. No matter how liberating the original truth may be, the side-effects are devastating.

"Create in me a clean heart, Oh God," today and every day. "Purify me with hyssop, and I shall be clean."

Every time I ask, every time I am afraid, or ashamed, or even, in the wrong. Let it drain.

                                            Copyright © 2019 Laury Boone Browning

solid and sustained

Foxhole Revelation

3:03 PM

I spend a little bit of time reflecting on the past, and not necessarily intentionally; I may not want to deliberately turn a specific page in my personal history, but there it is...turning itself. 

Seven years ago, I wrote "Foxhole Revelation" as I reflected on the aftershocks, the little earthquakes, rattling from within my immediate family due to some of the more tumultuous elements in our history. Not to offend anyone who has literally survived his or her real foxhole experience due to war or violent crime, my immediate family has referred to each other as "foxhole buddies." The term reflects the bond we built after walking through our collective history, especially the tough parts.

Foxhole Revelation

So… here we are,
knee-deep in the muck of our history,
fingernails encrusted with the same dusty memories,
and bodies trapped behind embattlements, a tired triage
of blood and bandages,
of immature love and misplaced loyalty.

Here we stand in the wake,
the wearying devastation and disappointment,
our eyes filled with tears, and still we see
from the maze of disoriented guilt,
of grief and responsibility,
the carnage of our youth.

Our children,
sharing our tears 
through eyes widened and wise,
from the broader perspective gasp 
with embittered revelation, epiphany, 
and distraught resolve, to see
when the violating dust settles 
that the inhabitants of the foxhole
are both friend and enemy,
family and foe.

Sometimes, it seems almost impossible to sort through the "muck of our history," to wander with any sense of direction through the "maze of disoriented guilt...grief and responsibility." I am well-aquainted with my own need to connect the dots, to make sense of how the past, present and future are woven together. Compelled to make meaning, especially as it pertains to pain, loss and suffering, I notice that just because I need it doesn't necessarily mean that I have the skill or perspective to envision a higher purpose, or a greater good. Or even a way through.

People get wounded, and human beings, our memories and our nervous system fully trained by our traumatic or even abusive histories, pass along the energies stored in our reserves through our behaviors, our emotional presence, and even through snips in our DNA. It is comforting to know that we can also heal, and pass along the gifts that become available to us as we continue on that road.

For the record, I haven't fully retired from the occupation of negotiating anxiety and sometimes, depression; I sometimes feel like my feet are planted firmly on the boundary line between darkness and light. 

I know I am not alone. 

This does not mean that I am always suffering, or walking through my days in some kind of torment; it means I get a lot of opportunities to choose.

When I learned to ride a motorcycle, I was taught by a veteran rider to turn my head and look where I want the bike to go. It feels counterintuitive, dangerous even, to take my eyes off of the present course, but it is necessary to shift my gaze and press down on the handlebars, usually in a direction that feels...wrong. That is what brings about a shift in the trajectory. Trying to retrain the brain after years or even decades under the influence of toxic stress requires similar counter-intuitive actions, and reactions.

I am not ready (or inclined) to share the events leading to the "tired triage of blood and bandages" I describe in the poem, even though those experiences and, more importantly, the elements of healing that follow them, inform most of the writing on this blog. I'm not convinced it would be that helpful, and I don't want the "dark night of the soul" in my past to envelope my present and future.

Nevertheless, scar tissue is sensitive, reminding my connective tissue and nervous system pathways that something happened here, something big, something that informs my cellular memory and influences the way I interpret sensory input. 

When the "violating dust" unexpectedly becomes unsettled, it's dizzying. I look at it like the flip of a switch, one that seems to pull me through a portal. Although I may be sitting at home, safe and sound, I can be suddenly aware of some familiar sensations of panic, like I'm being pulled under water and there's nothing to hold onto.  

I found an educational psychology focused article by author Michael McNight that differentiates between a healthy nervous system and one that has been challenged by multiple touchdowns on the fight-or-flight pathway. Although the article focuses on children of trauma, and the way to support them, I was mostly interested in the descrition of these aftershocks of toxic stress.

"In the face of interpersonal/environmental trauma, all the systems of the social brain become shaped for offensive and defensive purposes. A child growing up surrounded by trauma and unpredictability will only be able to develop neural systems and functional capabilities that reflect this disorganisation." In a concise chart offered for reference, McNight focuses on what happens to a nervous system that houses "un-discharged toxic stress," referring to both ends of the response-to-trauma spectrum as being either "Stuck ON" or "Stuck OFF," like a switch that has been fused due to an unmanageable or damaging power surge.

Symptoms of being stuck on may include "anxiety, panic, hyperactivity, exaggerated startle, inability to relax, restlessness, hypervigilence, digestive problems, emotional flooding, chronic pain, sleeplessness, hostility and rage." If your switch is off, you may experience, "depression, flat affect, lethargy, deadness, exhaustion, chronic fatigue, disorientations, disconnection, dissassociation, complex syndromes, pain, low blood pressure, or poor digestion." 

Two things stand out here:

First, no one escapes toxic stress entirely, so many of these symptoms come in and out of our experience as humans, whoever we are.

It is also obvious looking at this list that if we are existing within either one of these extremes on an frequent basis, it is clearly unsustainable. Healing is necessary, and absolutely available, but it's going to take some time, and some counter-intuitive redirecting of un-discharged toxic stress.

Personally, I have gotten a lot of help: biofeedback, therapy, meditation and prayer, love and support from my friends and family, and surprisingly, acts of service. Someone told me once (slightly facetiously) that the mind can be a dangerous place - don't go in there all alone. While I am convinced that I have begun the helpful process of turning my mind into an ally, I haven't found anything more powerful than serving a community in need to get me out of my negative thought patterns.

Sometimes, I prefer to settle on a great movie and gluten free cupcakes. Very helpful.

Admittedly, there are certainly moments when there's there's nothing more healing to do than sit with the upheaval that an emotionally-charged memory serves up, waiting for the dark clouds to pass over, or even through me. Acceptance, surrender and trust may not completely erase painful memories, but they do "make me lie down in green pastures...lead me beside the still waters...and restore my soul." (Psalm 23) 

Walking near my home in Colorado a few days ago, I walked by a tree that was stunning, both in its artistry and in its twisted position. It stands, completely swayed, with branches and limbs reaching out so far and so bent that part of the tree lies submissively on the tall grass beneath it. It's as if it is doubled over, in a yoga pose, or maybe just resting, as if at some point, it meant to permanently fail, but was instead held, supported, by the ground beneath it. It seemed familiar to me, like a foxhole buddy, reminding me that I, too, have been shaped somewhat by my environment. But my core, my center, is both solid and sustained.

We lean into the embittered revelations, setting our attention where we want to go. We reach out to the others we know who can offer tools and comfort. Sometimes, in the most beautiful way, we are simply held up by the ground beneath us. 

                                               Copyright © 2019 Laury Boone Browning

"Adversity and thriving-working with children at risk," Michael McNight, LinkedIn, June 4 2017,  "


Deep Love

3:02 PM

Deep love. It’s the stuff of movies, popular music and poetry. We wait for it, jump into it prematurely, we fight hard for it, we read self-help books about it, and we grieve it’s losses.

The magnetic draw of attraction can be confusing, throwing us off course on our quest for love, but usually we recognize the real thing when we encounter it.

Deep, deep love is undeniable.

The first time I bonded with my newborn grandson, Finn, he was in the hospital, the NICU to be specific. Born a month early with a disastrous platelet count, this little man needed to be infused and incubated for a week until he was stable enough to go home. There would still be some challenges.

Although I watched him enter the world, grateful to be invited by my daughter Rachael to be present at his birth, the first time I had an honest-to-God opportunity to bond with Finn, he had three needles screwed into his sweet, soft head.

Watchdog NICU nurses, our heroes, were urgently attending to his care while limiting the amount of time we could hang out with him in this space. Manage the variables until the threat is contained.

I couldn’t wait to get my hands on him, this little warrior who had barely learned to breathe oxygen outside of the womb. The first day he was in the NICU, while they were scrambling to decide whether he had an autoimmune crisis in his own body, or whether he was having a reaction to the environment in his mom’s womb (it was the latter), I was gifted a few precious moments to rock him in my arms while tests were being run in the lab, and while Mama and Papa were talking to doctors.

While we waited, we talked, he and I.

I may have been the only one using words, but I’m pretty sure we were both communicating. It’s as if the conversation had picked up somewhere in the middle, like we had already established the exposition of Finn’s story, and the inciting incident; and now that we stood facing the terrifying climax, secretly we both understood that the resolution had already been written. It would be okay.

I commended him for being willing to enter the world engaging instantly in this little hero’s journey.

He quietly pondered that for a while.

I reminded him that he was up to the challenge, in case he had already forgotten, but he seemed to understand; this was all part of his storyboard, the scaffolding for his his future, his imprint on the world. I knew he was special…already.

It was in his eyes. His little bald baby head was a perfect match for the look in his eyes, the look of an ancient wise man. I remember referring to him as Yoda, not so much because of the funny shape of his head but because of the light that seem to live behind those eyes. He looked like he already had amassed the wisdom of a 60 or 70 year old man, at only two days old.

He’s been my main man for three years now, and I’ve hoarded this delightful honor of being his daytime caregiver while Mama and Papa go to work as teachers everyday.

I’ve also learned more about deep love.

Notwithstanding our now-three-year-old Finn’s perfection overall…his razor sharp intellect, verbosity, sensitivity, high EQ and his undeniable dance skills (See my moves, Lala)… these are not the reasons I love him.

That-I-love-him may be the reason, however, that I see him.

Deep love isn’t the stuff of romance, chemistry, or happenstance; it’s the result of painstaking, committed investment. We pour love into our children and grandchildren, and it grows.

They break stuff or pee on it, flush valuables down the toilet, tell us to go away, insist vehemently on one-more-minute-of-whatever. They demand our relentless, devoted attention, give us three million reasons to worry about them, and throw unreasonable prompts at us to elicit the construction of improvisational storytelling that wears out every molecule of intellectual energy.

So where does this kind of deep love have its origin?

I’m not going to pretend I know the answer, but I have a theory.

It may come from holding someone’s tiny hand while he struggles to catch his breath.

It may come from cleaning up messes without being grouchy, rocking him lovingly and fearlessly when he has a desperately high fever.

Deep love may show up unexpectedly when he tells you a joke, and you laugh loudly and authentically.

It’s nurtured in an environment of consistency, of showing up, of listening when you’re tired, of coming when you’re called, of saying no when you know it will disappoint and forever diminish your superhero glow.

The thing about deep love, true love, is that it can be trusted, not because it’s magical but because it isn’t. It’s just investment, empathy, and commitment to see, really see, the person sitting in front of you.

And enjoy him.

                                            Copyright © 2019 Laury Boone Browning

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