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In the Meantime
by Erin Dunigan

Morning Coffee Do you remember back at the beginning of this all? Back when people were joking about how to keep from touching your face (cover your hands in jalapeño) or how to know how long to wash your hands (sing happy birthday all the way through)? It seems like a lifetime ago, in many ways. Sure, we knew what was coming – or so we thought. But the actual experience of these past few months is something that we could not really have imagined. For some people the major challenge has been how to get their needs met while staying isolated – ‘needs’ such as almond butter, red wine, and freshly caught fish. For others, the challenge has been how to feed their family when the government dispensas only come every few weeks, and even when they do, can hardly feed a family for any length of time. For some of us it has been a time of being able to work in the garden, take life at a slower pace, and explore new learning. For others it has been almost maddening to not be able to go out, see people, connect, and have their routine social interactions. We are all, of course, unique in our personalities and their various ups and downs, and so it makes sense that our experience of this time would be varied as well.

Back toward the beginning of it all I had the realization that I had not sufficiently stocked up (aka hoarded) on two very essential items – red wine and coffee. So, I made a trip to Costco in Ensenada (back before their were checkpoints and temperature checks) to make sure I was stocked up. The coffee was whole bean, dark roast – a daily necessity. The red wine was a cheap Merlot from Italy, in a box of 6. I bought two boxes, just to be safe. I figured, hoarding wine, in the grand scheme of things, wasn’t all the bad. Upon arrival home from Costco I was so relieved. Phew. Exhale. Now I can handle this situation. Now I can breathe a bit easier. (The privilege of this is not lost on me, but that’s a different article.)

And then a funny thing happened. Maybe it was because the wine was not that great. Who knows? But that night when I opened a bottle to enjoy a nice glass of wine I got only a couple of sips in and…I didn’t want anymore. In fact, I haven’t had any since. It was as though once the ‘scarcity’ was removed, once the fear of not having enough was solved, the desire actually disappeared. It was as though the ‘need’ was based less on actual desire and more on fear of not having enough. It puzzled me and I began to ponder – what exactly was going on?

The more I thought about it, the more I came to realize that it was as though the idea […]

By |2020-05-29T13:40:18-07:00May 29th, 2020|Articles, Talks|0 Comments

Everything Changes
by Erin Dunigan

Erin BackpackingIt is so easy to want to hang on to the way things have always been, isn’t it? Even if we don’t realize that we are doing it. I don’t know about you, but I find comfort in routine, in predictability.

I am an avid backpacker. I love getting away to the back country for days – no internet, nothing extraneous, all day long hiking in spectacular beauty, breathing fresh air, drinking only water, eating only what the body needs to resupply for the journey, sleeping under the stars. For me, it is magical. Now, to hear that you might be led think that I’m some rugged adventurer. Which, in part, is true. But not completely.

The thing is, my backpacking has almost entirely been in the High Sierra of California – an area which has trails, maps, rangers, and for the most part, well maintained markings along the way. You don’t actually have to be able to use a compass, though of course it is always recommended. You do need to be able to read the topographical map to know when to expect access to water, potential river crossings, and possible flat areas to camp. But, the thing is, there is a trail. For the most part, you follow the trail. There is no mystery as to where you are going – you are going that way.

It was not until one such backpacking adventure, when my traveling companions wanted to investigate a local peak that was definitely not on the trail that I realized – I am actually not as badass as I thought. Because, as soon as we began to hike off trail – going toward a very obvious landmark that would be hard to lose sight of – I felt a bit of a shift in my breathing. A shortness of breath. A bit of fear, even. I realized, it was the fear of going ‘off trail.’ The thing is, we were in a valley with a small peak – it was really quite obvious where we were headed, and how to get back to the trail from which we had come. This was not some blizzard situation, where we couldn’t see in front of us and were fighting for our lives. It was just a short jaunt off trail to see if we could get a nice view from a bit more altitude.

What I realized that day was how much I had come to rely on the trail. How much I had come to rely on knowing where we were going. On knowing that there was a path, a plan, and that our job was to simply follow the path. As soon as I was ‘off trail’ all of a sudden all of that security melted and I felt vulnerable, a bit afraid if I were to admit it, and as though I were losing my sense of orientation. The adventure was fun as long as it seemed safe and […]

By |2020-04-22T11:32:07-07:00April 22nd, 2020|Articles, Talks|Comments Off on Everything Changes
by Erin Dunigan

Not Your Father’s God by Anna Zimmerman

 

At a recent Enneagram class as the group studied a diagram and discussed the various personality characteristics when we came to the quality of “love” there was some disturbance, dissension. It even led to conversation about the G-word through the idea of “God is love.” The word actually seems to make some people… shudder.

I sort of chuckled to myself, or maybe out loud even, since no one was paying attention to me at that moment. I may even have said something under my breath like that God really is love. Because that’s what I have come to know for myself. But I remember very well when I was of the other mind.

I grew up in a hell and brimstone community. My dad was even a Southern Baptist minister, making me a PK, preacher’s kid. Even though my dad was a very gentle, loving soul who did not spend lots of time telling people they were sinners going to hell, that was all around us. Dancing=hell etc. It’s taken me a lifetime to recover from what was damaging for me, though I do see that it was and is valuable, sacred (s-word) for some.

Somehow I was able to say yes to the Master’s Program in Spiritual Psychology at the University of Santa Monica when my dear friend recommended it, dialed the phone to the admissions office and put it in my hand, and I remember during the first few classes and books resisting the words and phrases that were packed with what I remember experiencing as such vitriolic judgment. Ironic that I had some of my own such judgment in reverse.

It was in the second year of the program a student, an earnest young women, stood up in front of the class of about 200 and shared some similar experiences. I remember one of the beloved and brilliant professors Dr. Mary Hulnick asking her when she would be ready to let go of the God of her father and find what there is for her? A whole conversation between teacher and student ensued with my pen flying over my notebook page trying to get down every word as I also opened my heart and mind to the learning coming right at me.

It still took more time, maybe the first year of an experimental follow up doctoral program, or maybe it was during my time as a classroom assistant that a first year student, an engaging Black man who was also grappling with a Christian background, joyfully shared, again to the full class, that his previous learning combined with what was being offered there was enhancing his previous ministerial leanings and confirming that God, in fact, is love.

When I heard it that time, and it’s rumbling and resonating joyfully and powerfully inside me right now as I write this, that that was the moment the hole closed up the rest of the way for me and I got that too.

I still find a sort […]

By |2020-04-22T11:35:35-07:00April 19th, 2020|Articles, Blog|Comments Off on Not Your Father’s God by Anna Zimmerman

Grief by Erin Dunigan

Grief

My dad passed away fifteen years ago. He had been struggling with cancer for two years, so it was not a surprise when the day came, even though it was. Those of you who have been there know what I’m talking about. As much as you think you can do to prepare for that moment, you still are not prepared when it actually hits. My dad’s passing was peaceful, at home, amidst family and friends. It was actually a lovely sacred time – you could even call it a gift.

For the three years prior I had been studying theology, including courses in what is considered pastoral care – courses such as how to be present with people in difficult times, how to help families make difficult end of life decisions and how to deal with grief. So, though I would not have said so in so many words, somewhere under the surface I thought I had a handle on the whole ‘my dad is dying thing.’

It became clear very quickly that I thought wrong.

When my dad did actually pass it was as though the ground had been pulled out from under me. I was not a child – I was a grown adult in my mid 30’s. But even still, it felt as though the very ground that I walked on became unsteady, unstable, shifting. I felt as though I was looking for a firm place to stand and tapping with my foot, but I couldn’t seem to find anywhere to actually step down.

“Oh, this is just part of the grief process,” I told myself. There are traditionally thought to be give stages of grief, that can happen in any particular order and that can cycle as one moves through grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and finally acceptance. Another thing I had learned is that there is no particular timeframe – grief can last far longer than one expects, or than others realize.

I had read. I had studied. I knew the five stages. I knew all ‘about’ grief – but it was not until I was in the midst of it that I realized, no amount of learning ‘about’ could save me from the ‘going through.’ I realized that somehow I thought I might protect myself from the grief, that I might be able to take a short-cut around it – I’ve studied this, I don’t need to actually feel it myself! What I learned when my dad died, more clearly than I had up to that point in my life, is that there is no short cut. Grief is something that one must travel through, not around. But I did also learn that it does not last forever. That in going through it, one actually does, eventually, get to the other side. That the grief does not have the last word. That the grief does eventually pass.

Of course I still miss my dad. But the missing is not as painful as […]

By |2020-03-25T10:43:44-07:00March 25th, 2020|Articles, Blog|Comments Off on Grief by Erin Dunigan

Begin Again

Tap Dancing

by Erin Dunigan


I love the idea of ‘beginner’s mind’ – this idea that we should be open to the new, willing to be a learner, accepting of not knowing. The idea of Beginners mind, to me, is one of possibility – who knows where the path may lead? Who knows what new journey might be just around the corner?

I love the idea of beginners mind…in theory. In theory not knowing and being open and being willing to be a learner all sound like great ideas.

Until that is, you wind up in a leotard and tights as a grown adult in a children’s production of the Nutcracker.

Not long ago I decided that I wanted to take up a new hobby, a new practice in order to learn something new, get out of the comfort zone of my normal routine. They say the brain actually rewires itself when you learn something new. Rewiring my brain? Why not?

So, I decided to take up tap dancing when I found out a neighbor was teaching a class at the church in Santa Anita. In the beginning it seemed a bit less like brain rewiring and more like blowing a fuse, but I kept at it. I like the combination of hearing the sound that the tap shoes make as they contact the floor, as well as the movement that goes along with the sound. Slowly, week after week, my body and my brain began to get the hang of the steps, the movements, and remembering how they all go together. In fact, one day I found that instead of remembering the dance we were learning with my brain, it was actually my body that remembered. Success!! Beginners mind, conquered. I was ecstatic. I had learned something new!

And then came the real test – this new dance that had moved from my head to my body was to be performed. In public. As part of a children’s program of the Nutcracker in which ours was the only dance being performed entirely by adults. Immediately, the brain kicked back in. “It is one thing for children to look cute in a production of the Nutcracker and who cares if they forget the steps or aren’t in rhythm? And it is one thing for professionals to perform the production for a paying audience. But me, in a leotard and tights (a leotard with tassels and sequins no less!), hoping that both my brain and my body would remember the steps and not wind up falling on my face in front of the crowd…? Well, that’s an entirely different level of ‘being willing to be a learner.’

As the recital day neared, I began to think of any possible excuses I could use to get out of showing up. But, the thing is, there was also part of me that wanted to embrace the challenge of stepping so far out of my comfort zone, being willing to risk looking like I […]

By |2020-03-05T15:16:05-08:00March 5th, 2020|Articles|Comments Off on Begin Again

Take the Reins

by Erin Dunigan

It’s a saying, of course – but the thing is, it’s also true. Like so many sayings that have been separated from their original context, ‘Take the reins’ is not just a metaphor – it’s actually a ‘thing.’ It applies to horseback riding. It applies to life.

When people ask me what I ‘do’ I often have a hard time answering – at least in any kind of brief or simple way. One of the things I ‘do’ and that takes up much of my day, is around horses. Sometimes it is working with them, sometimes it is taking people on rides. (More info at http://www.horsesbyjose.com). I find that through it all, I am constantly learning – both in my horsemanship, as well as in life.

One such example happened recently. It was on a ride. One of the riders, let’s call him Jack, supposedly had quite a bit of riding experience and it was clear that he was comfortable around horses. But as we left the ranch and headed out onto the trails I saw that he was holding his reins not just loosely, but practically not at all. “Hey Jack,” I said, “you need to hold your reins a bit tighter, not so loose. Otherwise the horse doesn’t even know you are there.” As we rode along I noticed that he still had his hand way back on the reins – and that the horse was going where he wanted, and not necessarily in the direction we were headed. “Hey Jack,” I said again, “You really need to take the reins.” To which he responded that he knew that, but that he didn’t want to be mean to the horse, didn’t want to be so assertive.

It was like I was hit in the face, the realization, and the parallel to my own life came at me, smack!

The thing is, when you are riding a horse, taking the reins is not ‘mean’ – it is part of the deal. If you are going to ride, you must assert control – it is your job to ‘drive.’ The horse needs you to be the leader. Taking the reins does not mean you have to be a jerk or mean – it just means that you need to be assertive. What I realized with Jack is that he was confusing the two. He thought being directive, being assertive, was being aggressive, dominating. But one of the things that I love about working with horses, and riding them, is that it is an invitation to find a gentle strength, an assertive firm, but not domineering hand.

Isn’t it funny how it seems that things seem to appear just when we need to hear them, or learn them? Because what I saw clearly that day with Jack was my own tendency to associate being firm with being mean. And so, in an attempt to not be ‘mean’ I had essentially been riding my life with loose reins, letting it […]

By |2020-03-05T14:57:39-08:00March 5th, 2020|Articles|Comments Off on Take the Reins

Letting Go

by Erin Dunigan

Image may contain: sky, cloud, outdoor and nature

I have to admit, I’ve got a love hate relationship with the idea of letting go.

Just last month I wrote an article for Baja News with the title of ‘Taking the Reins’ – about just that, taking the reins of your life, rather than just letting it lead where it will. I had realized that too often in life, in an attempt not to be ‘mean,’ I had held my reins loose – too loose. Reins are there for you to use – to steer, to stop, to decide in what direction to travel.

The thing is, I used to be more of a take the reins kind of person. And then I went to therapy. And learned about letting go. About balancing my over achiever self of doing with the self of being.

“I’m just letting go” I would say to myself. But I began to wonder, had I gotten it all wrong?

And then recently I had an aha moment.

On this particular day, leading a group of people horseback riding, this particular rider was trying to improve his skill. He had been riding a number of times, but he was still trying to get the feel of how to hold himself on the horse, how to balance his weight, how to feel centered and secure.

He was on a horse who is nice and smooth, dependable – the horse for first time riders, little kids, old people, or others who need a slow and gradual confidence building for their first time riding or for building their confidence. He wanted to try going faster. So, I explained to him how to hold himself, how to position himself in the saddle, how to signal that he wanted to go a bit faster, including giving a bit of a shout of a ‘yeehawww!’

I watched as he built up his courage, implemented the signals, including the yeehaw, and the horse began to respond – for about ten feet, and then slowed down. I watched as he repeated this again. And again. And then as he was doing it, I rode up beside him and saw it – with one hand on the reins, the other hand was firmly planted on the horn of the saddle, holding on for dear life. “If you want the horse to run, you’ve got to let go of the horn,” I yelled over.

And that was when, like a book end – the second realization hit me.

Letting go.

If you want the horse to run, you’ve got to let go.

That’s what it is! I almost yelled out loud, like a moment of epiphany with the clouds parting and the light coming down upon my newfound realization.

That is what letting go is all about – it is not about letting go of the reins, it is about letting go of the horn.

The reins are what give you direction – you need to keep […]

By |2020-03-05T14:47:16-08:00March 5th, 2020|Articles|Comments Off on Letting Go