Stretch, Don’t Stress

Rev. Carolyne Mathlin, Senior Minister

As I read in The Creative Life by Eric Butterworth, “churches could be much more effective and Sunday attendance much greater if the emphasis were more on teaching than on preaching, on helping people to find their spiritual center rather than on demanding loyalty to a place of stone and stained glass.” I immediately thought, “YES!” That is one of the cornerstone values of Unity of Tustin. We are about the teachings and consciousness that invoke and evoke the Divine as YOU! Our programs, Sunday services, people, even our gardens are all specifically designed for just that purpose. And, you contribute to that. It is a collective field that holds the conscious container for the stretch we are all leaning into.

On that note, I was recently reminded of the value of stretching. Stretching the body increases flexibility, circulation of blood, energy levels, and is a great stress reliever.

During times of stress it can feel like all I’m doing is stretching – stretching to meet a deadline, to attend another meeting, to squeeze in as much as I can, to hold it all together, etc. But that’s stretching on the human plane. Stretching is about conscious movement that brings health to the whole system. There’s an intentionality to it that brings our heart, mind and body together. In yoga I’ve heard over and over again that it’s not about making the stretch painful, it’s about going to that point where you feel it and then rest into wherever you are. When I’m consciously stretching, I know when I’ve reached my muscles’ current limits. I’m aware and therefore don’t push. I rest into it.

Stress and stressful situations typically induce a conscious-less state. In stress, I’m running around (either physically or mentally), not connected and out of touch to what I’m doing, thinking or feeling. My thoughts and emotions are running my life. I’m not consciously connected with a Higher Power. I’m pushing myself so hard that I don’t know what my limit is. Instead of being aware of the pain I am in, I start deflecting it onto an outer circumstance, or perhaps shove it away in the recesses of my mind to be dealt with at a later time. That practice actually creates more stress because there is a constant running from and avoidance of reality. There is another way.

The hardest thing in these moments is to see what is really going on – that once again I’ve slipped into that place where I am pushing too hard. It is a moment of grace to actually see what is happening, because then there is an opening for another way. When I wake up to these truths, I am reminded of my fragility and vulnerability. It’s humbling. It’s also freeing. From an unchecked egoic perspective, we will want to deal with our fragility by trying to control things and setting up our life so that we are as insulated and protected as possible. It’s pushing the river.

In Chapter 7 of The Creative Life Butterworth says, “In the marketplace of life, peace may seem elusive and even unattainable, but it comes easily to the mind that is disciplined to the creative intermission.” He advocates for consistent periods of Sabbath, or rest, from the activity of our everyday lives as a way to stay connected with the Divine within. We cannot find this consciousness externally. It is an inside job. To remain conscious of the Divine requires intention. That is one of the main reasons I am so passionate about inviting you to set your commitment to spiritual practice. It is a way for you to continue to stay conscious and when you forget, to come back to your original intention.

As we turn toward setting our commitments for 2017 on November 13, I invite you to join me in remembering the difference between stress and stretching. They are not the same. As you review your intention and the spiritual practices you would like to engage with in this coming year, be aware. Go into prayer. What are the areas that would be a stretch for you, where you will feel a sense of discomfort, but then know to rest into that, bringing conscious awareness to what is arising. This will be an opening to remain aware, not checking out and reverting to your old ways that just don’t work.  Breathe into the stretch. In that space, that inspiration, you might even want to go deeper. Allow Spirit to fill you as you become fully aware of your Divine nature.

This is a holy time, a sacred time. As we prepare to go into the holiday season and then usher in a new year, this is a great way to consciously lay the foundation for how you want to remember the Divine and help your capital “S” Self be the inspiration of your life.