shadows 2

My word for 2014 is grace.

At first, my intentions revolved around “serving as a channel of grace” and “being a co-creator of circles of grace”. Surprisingly though, the most valuable lesson I’ve learned so far is this…

In order to extend grace, I also have to be a recipient of grace.

And being a recipient of grace means that sometimes I have to extend that grace to myself.

Here’s how grace has been showing up for me so far this year…

1. Extending grace to my body

Last year when my mom was dying, four special friends recognized my need for self-care and gave me a gift certificate for Ten Spa. Mom’s decline was happening too quickly, and so I didn’t get a chance to use it. And then… well… grief, timing, stories of worthiness, etc. got in the way of me booking an appointment. Suddenly a year was gone and I’d done nothing with this generous gift.

As the anniversary of Mom’s death came and went and Christmas approached, I suddenly found myself longing for the day of pampering I’d denied myself before. I booked an appointment for a hamam spa treatment just after the new year.

My first thought when they gave me a plush bathrobe and ushered me into the luxurious sitting room where snacks and tea awaited was “This is ridiculous. How can I enjoy something like this when I’ve seen some of the worst poverty in the world?” That thought quickly passed though, as I filled my plate with vegetables and hummus, poured a cup of herbal tea, and sank into one of the plush white couches.

Before long, an attendant invited me into a private room where she offered me more snacks (Turkish delights) and explained the process to me. I followed her into the hamam spa, and suddenly what she said about it “feeling like you’re in another country” made sense to me. The hamam spa is a darkened, steamy, marble-covered room, with twinkle lights in the ceiling that look like stars. It has the feeling of a mediterranean beach at twilight.

First you take a hot shower, and then rub lavender salts all over your body… and then comes the good part. You lie on a marble slab and your attendant begins alternatively massaging your face and feet and pouring warm water on various parts of your body.

I hardly know how to describe the experience in a way that does it justice. Almost as soon as my attendant  touched me, tears welled up in my eyes. Her hands were tender, warm, and pulsing with energy. The combination of her gentle massage, the warm water, and the steamy room made me feel like I was once again swimming in the safety and comfort of my mother’s womb. Fully embraced in love, ready to be born again.

After the face and foot massage, she left me for awhile to lie in silence. Then came the second half of the treatment. I moved to a higher marble slab and she began the most amazing combination of exfoliation, massage, bubble bath, hair shampoo, and more pouring of water.

It was the most sensuous experience I’ve ever had. My body felt alive in a way it’s never felt before.

More than anything, my body felt sacred.

My body was a temple, cared for by the most loving hands in the kingdom. My body was worthy of honour. My body was a thing of beauty.

My body was a container for grace.

After I was finished and I laid in the quiet, candle-lit transition room, where they offer a yogurt drink and white blankets to curl up under before you have to head back into the world, I had an epiphany…

If my body truly is truly a sacred, beautiful, container for grace, then I need to start acting like I believe that IT IS WORTHY OF GRACE. And if it is worthy of grace, then I need to learn how to extend grace to it regularly, not just on those rare times when I can visit the spa.

Since then, I have been turning my daily bath-time into a body grace ritual.  While I soak in the hot tub, I do more than simply wash my skin and hair, I massage it tenderly, being mindful of the muscles that hurt and the places where I need extra attention.

When I climb out of the tub, I nourish my skin with generous amounts of moisturizer, taking time to enjoy the experience instead of simply rushing through it.

I’ve also been more mindful of how I nourish the inside of this container of grace. I’m trying to drink only water and tea (with occasional glasses of wine), and eat what makes my body feel alive, happy and healthy. No, I’m not dieting or doing anything restrictive – I’m simply trying to be more mindful of how I honour this body of mine.

I’m also mindful of the fact that grace involves forgiveness, and so when I forget – when I indulge in half a glass of coke, I rush through my bath time, or I let the cold weather excuse me from a visit to the gym, I forgive myself.

It’s changing me, this new experience of grace. I am experiencing my body in a new way.

2. Letting a Circle of Grace Happen

Although circles of grace have become central to the work that I do in my teaching, workshops, coaching and retreats, there’s been something missing in my life – my own circle of grace where I can be the participant/recipient and not the teacher/facilitator. I’ve longed for this, but there was something always blocking me… I didn’t want to be the driving force behind it. Having initiated and hosted countless circles, I wanted the right circle of support to show up that I didn’t need to be responsible for. I knew that if I were to feel supported in the way I need in this work, I couldn’t be in a position that felt like leadership. So I waited…

And then it happened. In a surprising and serendipitous way.

The group of women who participated in my Creative Writing for Self-Discovery class in the Fall felt such a close bond by the end of the 8 weeks together that they decided they wanted to keep meeting. Because I felt bonded to them too, I decided to stay with them as well. The original intention was to form a book club, but when we met last night, we all realized that what we most need from each other is support and encouragement more than opinions on books, so we morphed into a women’s circle (that will occasionally read books together).

We passed around the “grace” talking piece that I’d received the day before from a client/friend, and we shared stories of heartache, courage, fear, resilience, unemployment, triumph, sexual harassment, divorce, parenting, and all of the little things in between. We hugged, cried, laughed, ate… and offered each other grace. It was a beautiful thing.

Much like my body, my heart is a container for grace.

And my job this year is not just to extend it, but to receive it. Last night, I received it.

“As you sow, so shall you reap.”

As I learn to receive grace, more grace will flow from me. When my container is full to overflowing – as it is right now – I can pour it out more freely to those who need it.

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