In fact at the Haden training this last weekend we were handed a picture of a tree and the title was “Contemplative Practices.” There are several branches: stillness, generative, creative, activist, relational, movement and ritual/cyclical. It would appear according to this diagram that almost any form of activity can fall into a contemplative category as long as one is wholly present to their actions. I’m sure that’s true but I still feel most of us will benefit from finding a way to silence and stillness. It’s a busy noisy world out there and “in here” and to take some time and just be, can be life changing. In fact, it has now been scientifically proven that the part of brain that deals with stress changes with meditation and we respond with less tension and anxiety.
Ron DelBrene’s book was for me like discovering a magic lamp, with a genie inside. The genie popped out and I was asked to make a wish, only one. Oh, what was so important to me that I would want to focus on it all the time? Ron suggests you find a short phrase that you use as an all-day prayer. He recommends it be around six words or so. You then repeat it throughout your entire day. You can say it at a red light, standing in line, waiting in a doctor’s office, walking to you employment, in the shower. Anywhere, anytime is the perfect time. You “rub the magic lamp” and you actually ask, “God, what prayer would best serve our relationship?” You take some of that quiet time I just mentioned and you listen. What phrase comes to mind? For now, that’s the prayer. Sure, you can change it. You can tweek it but for now, own the words that you have been gifted. Breathe in, deep breath and let them settle into your heart and your spirit. Give the prayer a few days to take root and then be prepared for when it begins to blossom. That’s when you’ll know the “genie” has heard your one wish and it is being manifested. The prayer isn’t for anyone or anything other than yourself. Selfish, you think? Remember the Prayer of Saint Francis? “Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.” Until we change ourselves to be centered in the gifts of the Sprit; love, joy, peace, hope, compassion and generosity, nothing outside of us will ever change. Let God take up full time residence within, you only need ask, and then throw away that lamp because now the miracle of finding God within will bring about the miracle of revealing God without and I believe life will never again be the same.
|Susan & I beginning the journey|
Affirmation: Even though the walk along the Camino has ended, the journey continues.
|Roads Scholar Camino Tribe, May 2017|
I attempted to share a bit of our trip on the local Camino blog site in case someone else was interested in going with Roads Scholar but the conversation quickly turned to how much more it cost to go with a tour than it would cost to go on one’s own. I don’t think the people who commented had a clue; I don’t believe I would have ever gone “on my own.” I almost didn’t go with the group. Yes, it cost more than a solo hike but for me, it was worth the expense. I had many moments beforehand of wondering what the heck I had signed up for. We walked 60 miles in 10 days. We walked up mountains, through forests, through small villages and in the rain and through the mud. We didn’t get a certificate and we had a lot of guidance, thank God! But I left with a wonderful sense of accomplishment and an amazing storehouse full of memories that will last me a life-time.
|The Rosaries in Finisterra|
Remember the blessed Rosaries I collected? I mentioned them in the last blog. My first night with the group, I explained that I had been given a “message” to bring Rosaries and I knew that sounded weird but I had collected about fifty of them from a lot of different people. “Please take one or two if you like. If you don’t want one, that’s fine too.” The rest of the Rosaries walked the Camino with me. When I was finished, I again passed the bag around with the same instructions. Between our group of twenty-three and the other people I met on my trip, I came home with 5 Rosaries. I was in awe of how many people I met who wanted to talk about their faith. If that happened, I eventually offered them a finger Rosary and everyone accepted; the tapas tour leader, the taxi driver, the hotel receptionist, the German pilgrim in Finisterra. I didn’t feel any pressure to give away the Rosaries. I just let it happen, and so it did, and it was so rewarding to share this small gift of my faith.
The journey didn’t end in Spain. The journey hasn’t ended yet. The first Camino synchronicity that took place was about a week later when I arrived at my daughter’s home in London. When I had visited her in March I walked to mass at the local church as is my practice. As I was leaving mass a very nice lady introduced herself and proceeded to walk along next to me. She was very gracious and said the next time I was in London, perhaps I’d like to come to her home for tea; she lived close by. I contacted her when I arrived at my daughter’s and made arrangements to meet up. I mentioned in my email that I had just come off the Camino. As we walked along, I asked her if she’d ever walked the Camino. “I have walked the Camino for three weeks every year for the last eighteen years.” I had goose-bumps. When we arrived at her home, she had all the original tour books for the path, before one had access to cell phones or computers. She had them in English, German and French. She also had a walking stick engraved with El Camino. My new friend worked for the non-profit, L’Arche. An organization that helped mentally disabled adults transition to independent living. It’s a world-wide organization. She then went on to tell me she had two American Gurus, Richard Rohr and Marshall Rosenberg. As you may already know, Richard Rohr is someone I follow very closely. He’s appeared in my writing quite a bit. I didn’t know about M. Rosenberg but I downloaded one of his books and read it on my eight hour flight home. He is the developer of the Non Violent Communication process. If that wasn’t enough of a synchronicity, when we went to a communication session to help our grandson, one of the five recommended books was….you probably guessed it, Marshall Rosenberg’s NVC.
It led me straight to an available slot in the fall session at the Hayden Institute for training as a spiritual director. Yes, even when I’ve finished walking the path, the Camino journey continues. This image that I now carry in my mind and heart leave me feeling excited, hopeful and awed. It’s such a marvelous gift and I feel so blessed to have received it. Thank you, Lord, thank you, thank you!
Affirmation: I let go of affection, security and power.
Lee Smith, one of our beloved North Carolina writers spoke at the Olli program at NC State University this April. Her topic was, I Was Country When Country Wasn’t Cool. She spoke for one and half hours and never missed a beat. She was funny and clever and very entertaining. I took out my phone at one point, not to check my messages, I hope she knew that, but to write down one of her shared quotes, “Expectations are the breeding ground of resentment.” This, I felt, deserved some reflection.
I’m preparing for a walk along the El Camino de Santiago in Spain. I’m going with my friend, Susan Auman. We are going with Roads Scholar.
We are not walking the whole 500 plus miles. We are “only” walking about 50 miles or so, the last part of the famous pilgrimage. After my adventure last year with Isabelle to Alaska I realized how important it was to me to step outside of my comfort zone. This is way outside of my zone and it’s been an interesting journey before I’ve even packed the suitcase. (More about that later.)
I’ve read the information packet and I’ve watched the movie, The Way, with Martin Sheen. I’ve got my plane tickets, hiking boots and hiking poles. I’ve got new walking pants that roll up and my old Outward Bound hat. I have sunscreen and Biofreeze. I’ve spent the last few weeks dotting the “i’s” and crossing the “t’s.” I have had moments of complete panic and moments of total calm. At one point, I called Roads and spoke to a woman named Gale. I told her how anxious I felt and that I wanted to speak to the guide; that was not going to happen, she told me. Then she asked me what I was anxious about. “Everything!” I replied. At some point in the conversation she reminded me that millions of people have already done this. They’ve walked the entire path. She also reminded me that this is a pilgrimage and “a spiritual journey.” With those words, the anxiety seeped out of me. It was like I had been in the dark and she came in and flipped on the light switch. I’d like to tell you that I’ve been calm ever since but that would not be true, although I have been calmer and that’s been nice.
After listening to Lee Smith, I’ve tried very hard not to have any expectations for my trip. I have prayed that it be “uneventful.” I think that’s what people mean when they speak of “traveling mercies.” If you’ve been watching the news lately, it appears travel is filled with situations that are far from pleasant and may even be life threatening, or deadly. Of course, that describes most of life, don’t you think? I however, once again, get to choose on what I want to focus. I have asked my Guardian Angel to go ahead and pave the path with grace and ease. That practice brings me peace. I expect this to be an adventure, perhaps one of my life’s most daring after breast cancer. This adventure however, I’ve chosen.
As I sat quietly one morning trying not to mentally pack (again) and to stay in the moment, I received a message, “Bring Rosaries.” I haven’t had a lot of direct communication with God or in this case, Mother Mary, but I was very sure this wasn’t my idea. When I rose from my sitting, I sent a note to all my Catholic friends asking for Rosary donations. I felt I wasn’t supposed to buy them. I believe I am to bring the prayers and energy of my dear ones from home onto and into the walk. What a wonderful response I’ve gotten. Some came with notes wishing us well. Some are from the Vatican, recently blessed by Pope Francis. Some are homemade by the ladies of St. Michael the Archangel. Others belonged to loved ones who have passed away. There are even finger Rosaries. Who knew there was such a thing? I’ve already given a few away. I know the dear ones I gifted will be holding us in their prayers as we walk along. I like knowing that. It makes me smile.
When I heard Lee Smith’s quote, however, it was not travel that first came into my mind. The reason I believe it resonated so loudly with me is because I recognized the frustration I’ve experienced over the years with several important relationships. I’m guilty of expecting people to behave in a certain way or to respond to me in a certain manner and they don’t always meet my expectations. I’ve got some amazing people in my life and I’m not proud of judging them as wanting because they didn’t live up to my expectations and perhaps because I didn’t even let them know what I wanted. I’ve been on the other side of this also and it’s a very exhausting experience to try and meet someone’s expectations whose needs are quite extensive but who doesn’t want to appear needy and so doesn’t tell you what they are.
The phrase I have adopted this year to begin my meditation with is, “I let go of affection, security and power and accept this moment exactly as it is.” I say it before I begin meditating and have to say it several times during my quiet time. “I let go.” How powerful is that? When I stop attaching my wants and desires on my loved ones, I give them permission to be whoever they are and I am then called upon to love them and accept them exactly as they are. Perhaps, once I can achieve that state, I can also allow myself to be the best I can be and not feel an obligation to create someone else’s happiness, or even comfort. As I examine this new phrase, I wonder how much of my life has revolved around my expectations and if that’s served me well or not? I think there’s a difference between expectation and hope. The first is about the destination and the later is about the journey. I can be guilty of focusing on the destination when It comes to every aspect of my life not just my relationships or my travel but my faith, my material possessions, my health, my social life. None of that has brought me happiness or contentment. It’s time to let go.
Maybe by letting go I will make more room for God in my life. Perhaps by letting go over and over again, just like I do in my mediation, I will finally be content and peaceful. I think my pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostella began the day I signed up for this journey and the lessons I am to learn and share started showing up almost immediately, including in Lee Smith’s talk. Although one of my affirmations is, “The best is yet to come.” Well, who is responsible for that? Perhaps that too can refer to the journey and not the destination. I’ll let you know as I walk along. Look for an update or two but don’t expect too much!
May the road rise up to meet you. May the wind be always at your back. May the sun shine warm upon your face; the rains fall soft upon your fields and until we meet again, may God hold you in the palm of His hand.
An Irish Blessing
|My Rosary Collection|
Affirmation: I am a Journaler.
Why Journal? Why put pen to paper? Is it true that writing makes a difference in one’s health and can even speed up the healing process? What other benefits arise from sitting with a notebook or a pad or perhaps some colored pencils or markers? Are there techniques that help one become a more consistent, insightful writer? These are the questions that arose as I prepared to present Healing through Writing at the 2017 Cancer Survivorship Summit here in Raleigh, NC.
If history is any indication of the importance of keeping a diary, it appears there is little doubt that most successful endeavors were meticulously recorded. In the past an adventurer or explorer never seemed to leave home without a notebook and pen or pencil. Certainly, Lewis and Clarke would not have been able to share every important detail of their expedition if they hadn’t been charged to write down everything that they encountered. Why then shouldn’t we write? Aren’t we all on an adventure? Aren’t our explorations as important as any explorer’s? True, our journeys may take us less out into the world, than in towards our minds, hearts and souls but those may be the journeys where we discover the most relevant truths of our lives.
Free Writing – Put the pen to the paper and just go. Whatever comes to mind. My experience has been that after writing my “stream of consciousness” for a few pages, a gem or two appears towards the end of the entry, not always but enough to make me feel like the time was spent well.
Affirmation: I enjoy every moment of this blessed life.
The conversation revolved around the needs of the poor and destitute and what we are capable and willing to do to alleviate their sufferings. The news stories revolving around the excitement of the 2016 Summer Olympics were in a sharp contrast to those of the sport stories. They were grim and horrific. The photo on the front of the August 14th Wall Street Journal was that of a little toddler, Omran Daqneesh, 5, who was rescued after an airstrike in the Syrian city of Aleppo. Within hours, this photo of his dust and blood-covered face captured the world’s attention. You can google it if you like. It was taken by Mahmoud Raslan. It has been compared to the photo of the little girl running from the napalm blast during the Vietnam War. It’s a single image that brings into our homes and hearts the complete devastation caused by hate and evil.
The question, however, always seems to remains the same, “What can I do?” What can I do? I know I’ve written about this before and as you might know I do volunteer and raise money and send money to different charities especially those that help children. I do pray daily for “those most in need of God’s mercy.” It’s a part of my morning ritual and part of my Rosary but is that enough? Yes, I would like a magic wand to wave. I’d like “all the money in the world.” I’d like to be a mini Mother Teresa but I do not have those gifts and some days I simply feel helpless in the face of such suffering and agony.
As you probably know. I live in North Carolina. I think it’s one of the most beautiful parts of the states, if not the world. We have the ocean at one end and the mountains at the other. We have Carolina blue skies and when you fly into this area all you see is green green green. If that isn’t enough we have flowering bushes and trees that dot the landscape wherever you go. Most days I am in awe of living here. How did this happen? Why am I living in this paradise? Did I “do” something right? Did I “do” something to deserve this? Am I a favorite child of God and so She/He placed me here in the midst of Shangri-La? Why do I get to live this life of abundance and comfort when so many are making do with so little or perhaps nothing at all?
I know some would tell me that I chose this experience before I was even conceived, smart me. Some others might say that this is karma, what I did in a previous life earned me this life I now have. Good job, Jean! I, however, do not have an answer that makes any sense to me. Maybe you do? I know my Christian faith tells me I am called to give much because I have been given much. I’m not even sure I understand that. How much is enough? I have heard many religious people talk about how everything we have is a gift from God. I don’t really get that either. I’m grateful for everything I have, even those things I didn’t think I wanted but received anyway but really did God bestow those on me? Does God really look down and say, “There’s little Jean Anne and I think she should enjoy a piece of chocolate, a good husband, wonderful children, a beautiful sunset or a stunning vista?” I don’t think so! I do believe, however, that we get to choose how to view whatever it is that comes into our lives and we can choose to be grateful to a God that can create the beauty and pleasures and even the challenges of this life. That’s what free will is all about; we get to choose how we perceive whatever is or has occurred in our lives, especially those of us who live a life of comfort and privilege.
I am re-reading Christiane Northrup’s, Goddesses Never Age, with my study group, The Seekers. The chapter on optimal health revolves around the concept of finding pleasure. I know it sounds hedonistic but the lesson Dr. Northrup is teaching is about fully embracing the joys and gifts of our lives. It’s not just about the concept of pleasure but of how to affect a healthy response to what we enjoy. She’s not telling us to simply notice those aspects of our lives that bring us joy. We are being encouraged to not only be grateful, which I know for many is a challenge in itself; we are being called to savor those experiences, to taste them, to feel them, to let them raise us up beyond our wildest dreams and fill every cell in our bodies with tingling sensations. She is suggesting that when we have that piece of chocolate or see that sunset or hold the hand of a loved one, we take the time to fully embrace the feelings of the experience. What happens when we allow ourselves to completely experience such pleasure? There is a physical reaction where our bodies emit Nitric Oxide and NO has healing properties that cause all sorts of wonderful effects including a delicious sense of well-being.
I believe God does care about us. I believe God loves us beyond our wildest dreams and that He/She will and does intervene in our lives in a very personal way but we have to ask and we have to be open to those gifts and then, the most important part is that we must fully appreciate our gifts, even those we didn’t think we wanted. The conversation I was having about the poor and destitute and our responsibility took a completely different turn than I had expected. The wise woman across from me said with emphasis, “Well then, Jean, you must fully enjoy every moment of this blessed life.” That felt like quite a challenge. I had another person tell me they thought when we arrived at the pearly gates St. Peter’s question would be just that, “Did you fully enjoy every moment of your blessed life?” I’m working on having that answer be, “Yes.” Perhaps with an attitude of gratitude my healthy healing body and spirit will in itself spread out and make a difference in someone’s life that is less fortunate than I. Perhaps part of my giving back and sharing my bounty doesn’t lie in only giving time, talent and treasure. Perhaps it also requires unconditional love and bringing hope and joy into every part of our lives and therefore, the world.
Affirmation: I Did It!
|Isabelle and her brothers, Sam, Joe, & Owen and sister-in-law, Arden|
Graduations of all type have taken place at this time of year during which this is being written; celebrations of milestones, accomplishments and dreams come true. My oldest grandaughter, Isabelle, graduated from the Raleigh Collaborative High School. It was a tiny school, only twelve children. There were only four students graduating. Our whole family attended the ceremony. It was a wonderful event. Two of the three teachers spoke, the principal, Doctor Anderson, spoke and each family had a family member (Isabelle chose her grandfather, my hubby) speak. Then, each student showed a slide presentation of their life and also gave a short speech. All of them were very nervous. There were about sixty people in the audience.
Isabelle was gracious in her talk, thanking her entire family for their support and including us and stressing how blessed she felt to be a part of such a loving family. My heart almost burst. We are all so very proud of her. She was the first presenter. The last student to speak was a young man, a man we knew to be twenty years of age, who was slight in stature and appeared very timid. He read his speech, hesitating over the pages and stumbling through several of the phrases. He ended and then he began to walk off the stage when he suddenly stopped and said, “Oh, I forgot something.” He returned to the dais, looked out at the audience and especially towards his family and raising his fist shouted, “I did it.” I wasn’t the only person there with tears in my eyes. As I write this I still feel weepy with the joy of his accomplishment.
My friend told me that when we arrive in heaven she thinks the question Saint Peter will ask us is, “Did you appreciate and celebrate all God gave you. Were you joyful and grateful?” Was I? Have I been? Really? I began to journal. How many times in my life have I shouted, “I did it!” I have not, I have not claimed victory. I have downplayed my accomplishments more often than I have celebrated them!
Right now I am in the process of preparing for an outward bound type of trip to the Kenai Peninsula in Alaska. Isabelle has been accepted to the Savannah College of Art and Design. It’s the only school to which she applied and she will be attending as a photography major. It is her passion. I am providing her the opportunity to photograph a part of the world which with neither of us are very familiar. I am anxious. I’ve been gathering all the gear necessary for this expedition, things I have rarely packed, if ever. I recognize I am blessed and lucky to be able to do this and to share this time with one of my favorite human beings but it is way outside of my comfort zone and so I have been quite nervous.
Recently I finished Christian Northrup’s book, Goddesses Never Age. Don’t miss this book. I truly believe that any woman over the age of eighteen, maybe even younger, should be required to read this marvelous guide for a woman’s life. If you don’t get it and you’re a woman reading this, at least turn the title into one of your affirmations and claim it! Towards the end of her book, in the middle of this trip’s preparation, she writes about the healing effects of being in nature. Isabelle and I will be in the thick of nature and Dr. Northrup’s advice helped calm me.
Several of my readings lately, including Dr. Northrup’s book has stressed the life changing practice of letting go of our own agendas and attempting to live a life within the Divine flow. You’ve probably heard it, “Let go and let God.” It’s a life long practice. It takes patience and quiet and setting aside our egos. For me, I feel like I’m right there, following the “path” God seems to have laid out and then I’m off doing my own thing again, taking back control of my life and truly believing I have control of it. Ha! What if, however, because of my time with the Lord, my prayer time and my meditation time, I am actually being led to this Alaskan experience? What if this is a place where I will learn and grow and heal in a way beyond my wildest dreams? If I could truly believe that would I still be anxious or would I be excited?
After graduation and pondering the accomplishments of these four young people, I sat with my journal and wrote down several things in my life of which I feel very proud. I began with my education and then listed this wonderful family my husband and I have created. I went on to list several charity projects I’ve spearheaded and the positive, joyful manner in which I went through breast cancer. It wasn’t a long list but I felt good about it. Then I sat back and I read it over. I read it again and I thought, “If I didn’t know this woman and I read this list of accomplishments, I’d say, ‘Wow, this is a remarkable woman. I’d really like to meet her.'” Then, I thought of all the people in my life who, like myself, don’t always see their amazing selves as others might see them. There are so many who don’t really claim their accomplishments, especially the women.
My experience has led me to believe that most of us try to be humble and it’s not always to our benefit. Just recently a young friend was sharing her accomplishments at work. She’s effecting amazing changes in her work place by guiding people towards a healthier life style. She had engaged more people in this project than anyone else in her organization. She went onto explain why she was so much more successful than others. It wasn’t because of her passion and knowledge. It was because the other counsellors were at some sort of disadvantage. “No, no, no,” I said. “Claim it! You did it!” “You are using God’s gifts to be the change people need. You are a remarkable woman.” My other friend chimed in and said, “Don’t bury your coins,” or as Marianne Williamson says,
What if each of us took some time to write down several things of which we are proud? I encourage you to do this exercise. Then read them like it’s about someone you do not know. I’ll bet you’ll find yourself saying, “Wow! This is a remarkable person. I’d really like to meet her or him.” I’m expecting to add my Alaska outward bound trip to my list when Isabelle and I return and with great joy and gratitude I hope to shout from the dais of my stage, “I did it.”
Affirmation: I freely forgive myself and others.
The topic of the NPR story was about the abolition of the death penalty. What type of response do you have to the phrase “death penalty?” You must have given it some thought. The Old Testament promotes, “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a hand for a hand, a foot for a foot.” (Exodus 21:24) Then, Jesus came along and promoted a whole new concept, forgiveness. Even at the end when He had been unjustly toured and crucified He prayed for His executioners, for all of us, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:24)
I think of this quote often. Someone once commented to me that He did not say, “Father, I forgive them for they know not what they do” or even “Father, I forgive them even if they know what they are doing.” I’m sure there are many biblical scholars who have dissected these last words of Christ that are much more qualified to fully explain all the implications of His petition; I am not one of them. I am simply trying to absorb the lesson that even after Our Lord was put to death because some people did not approve of Him healing the sick, raising the dead, and protecting and promoting the care of those who most needed love and care; He refused to hold onto the burning coal of hatred. In His final moments He was teaching us His greatest lesson.
As I drove along that day the story being discussed on the radio was about the death penalty in China and the tradition that allows a family member of the victim to actively participate in the execution of the offender by removing the support from under the person who is to be hung. The narrator told of a young man who had been stabbed to death by another young man and the mother of the victim had chosen to perform the execution. She approached the condemned, reached up and slapped him and then reached out and helped him down from his perch. She then went over and took the hand of the mother of the condemned man. The story resonated throughout China and now it was being shared with the rest of the world. Because of her action, the Chinese authorities were reconsidering their tradition. Because of her act of forgiveness, some of the world’s conscience was being awakened.
Why do most of us find it so difficult to forgive, me included? I am not normally angry. I’ll get hurt before I respond with anger. Perhaps that’s just another form of anger. Sometimes, however, I’m angry at institutions, authorities or systems. Sometimes I’m angry with individuals. I can be angry with strangers, friends and worst of all, with people I love. Some small injurious word or behavior and I can feel the resentment building. Most of the time just when I think I’m “over” something that has happened, I don’t even realize I haven’t let go of the perceived injury or intentional slight or harm but then some reminder comes along and I’m back with my sad response. I can recall events from decades ago that still cause my body to tighten up but most times I don’t even recognize the emotion. Sometimes when the anger arrives the feeling puzzles me because it is so rare for me to respond in an angry manner. The point is, however, whether or not anger or hurt feelings come quickly or slowly, responding appropriately and then releasing it is not only to your benefit, but to the world’s.
The question that sometimes comes to my mind is, “What do I know to be true; what do I believe absolutely with all of my mind and my heart?” “The only important thing in life is to love and to forgive.” This is a quote from a wise older woman who was from my Small Christian Community. I believe with all my mind, body and soul that the above statement is absolutely true. Richard Rohr, one of my favorite spiritual teachers explains the Beatitudes in this way, “Jesus seems to be saying, our inner attitudes and states are the real sources of our problems. How we live in our hearts is our real truth.” When I can carry only love in my heart and my body and when I can release myself from any resentment, my life is rich and rewarding and peaceful. My life is then filled with hope and joy and I am able to take those emotions, those qualities with me out into the world.
One of my morning meditations took me into a subway station. What am I doing here, I pondered? On the station were 6 briefcases evenly spaced along the edge. The train came and five people picked up a case and boarded. I went over to the sixth case and looked down. It had my name on it and so I opened it. It was filled with trash. It was filled with the resentments of yesterday, perhaps of my whole life? I carried it up out of the subway, found a trash can and threw it away. Perhaps like most of the garbage in my life, I need to gather those resentments up periodically and toss them out. Perhaps with practice, I can throw away all those resentments and other junk that interfere with the love and joy with which I want my life to be surrounded.
The Chinese woman in the story was changing the world because of her ability to forgive. I believe we are called upon to do the same and that with the softening of our hearts; we too will change the world.
Father Richard Rohr, prolific writer and teacher, has a daily e-mail missive that is published by him and his organization, The Center for Action and Contemplation. One of my daily practices is to read something motivational in the morning and inspirational in the evening. Sometimes, actually many times, one reading can prove to be both. Father Rohr’s writings often fall into the dual category. Father Rohr is a Franciscan friar and much of his theology and philosophy stems from the writings and practices of Saint Francis. I have also been told his approach to religion can be somewhat controversial. He has a very inclusive approach to God and spirit; you wouldn’t think that would spark any controversy but it does. He doesn’t follow all the rules. His focus is on one rule, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” He speaks a lot about non-dualistic thinking and the non-dualistic mind. He encourages his readers and followers not to judge. He encourages simply observing, not labeling. I find his advice to be so very refreshing, also quite yogic, also very Zen.
One of his exercises in The Naked Now directs one to focus his or her attention on a single object and just to observe it. What purpose could that possibly serve you might ask? A dear friend of mine is part of my church study group and we are presently reading The Naked Now. She wasn’t too enamored with Father Rohr’s teachings but she is a good student and followed his suggestion. She found a chair on which to focus in a doctor’s waiting room. Her eyes settled on it and she shared that her first thought was, “That is the ugliest chair I have ever seen!” She’s quite a remarkable woman, a searcher, looking to increase her faith and grow to know God better. She shared how powerful that moment was for her. If she couldn’t even focus on a chair without judgement, how was she approaching the really important things and especially the people in her life? It’s a very challenging practice to learn to simply observe and not to judge. It may be even harder according to some studies to judge something in a positive light than a negative light.
This is one of the reasons I write in my daily journal three joys from the previous day and one joy to which I am looking forward for the present day. It forces me to concentrate throughout the day on those things that bring me joy so that I can remember them for the next morning. Today a Blue Heron swooped as I sat to begin my mediation and then a Pelican came along and finally before I closed my eyes one of the two Osprey that seem to be nesting close by soared above me. I just sat and absorbed the awe I felt as these amazing creatures flew by. If you assumed I am somewhere close to the sea at this time, you would be correct.
Now comes the part where I have to decide if I’m going to focus on that abandoned car and Christmas wreath or the fresh flowers and chocolates the owner put everywhere or the heated pool out back or the views from the windows out of the back of the house, the views that allowed me to sit quietly and watch the Blue Heron, the Pelican and the Osprey soar gloriously through the air and bring me one or maybe three of my joys to record for the next day. Dan O’Grady is right. That negative stuff stuck to me like Velcro. It took quite a few days to get it off of me and to come to the point where I could focus on the positive, on the joys that were available to us in this VRBO adventure. It’s good we have the power to choose. It’s good I’ve been practicing for quite a while. I chose to find the joy, the grace and the blessings of a husband and a family that wanted to celebrate this life of mine of which I’ve been so blessed to live.
We are presently into the third week of 2016. It’s the beginning of a whole new year. Many people have shared with me their goals or resolutions. One person when describing her expectation of the new year used the word “awesome!” Another told me she always gets excited at the beginning of a new year with all the possibilities that will be presented to her. Certainly we get to choose how we want to imagine our unknown future. I have one person in my life who says she doesn’t imagine the future at all. She simply allows it to unfold, there’s no expectation of any sort. Do you think that’s actually possible? She must be making plans for some things and she, I would imagine is planning for a good or at least a pleasant outcome. When we start out on an adventure, and yes a new year (even a new day) is the beginning of an adventure, we will normally carry in our minds and hearts some sense of anticipation. When the angels appeared to the shepherd to announce the beginning of Jesus’ life here on earth they heralded, “Be not afraid.” They were offering them a choice and guiding them to be at peace. Our response to what happens to us is in most respects what we get to choose. We may be anxious about the unknown but we can choose whether we want to be excited or filled with fear.
At this year’s Immaculate Conception women’s retreat I found myself pondering the question of how to hold the future events of my life in a positive, blessed light? I began by trying to believe that everything that will happen to me will be for my good and while that may be true, the real truth is there are some things that I would rather avoid, even if they are for my good. I guess it’s like not wanting to require medicine in order to get over some illness or even not having to eat Kale in order to stay healthy. When unpleasant things arise and someone shares with me that’s it’s probably for my benefit, I think of my husband Sandy’s expression when he says, “that’s like practicing bleeding.” It’s not anything with which anyone wants to deal. So, I began to go around asking people how they make peace with all the aspects of their lives, those we label “bad” or “disagreeable” or worst of all “disastrous.”
The Seekers, one of my study groups, usually does a year end review together and we present a few questions to help shape the vision of the future year. This year we have chosen several questions from Sarah Susanka, renown architect and author of The Not So Big House and The Not So Big Life. She actually sent out the questions to promote a workshop she was presenting in Chapel Hill. I share them here for your perusal:
What has inspired you over the past year?
Father Jude Siciliano was our retreat facilitator this year. He leads gently, not with commands but with a soft voice and reflective questions and readings. This year he opened the first session with Rumi’s The Guest House.
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.
Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
What does it take to “welcome them all in?” Once I learn to do that will I have peace, will I no longer carry fear and anxiety with me into the unknown? If my faith is true and strong will I be protected and gently cared for and be spared the travails and disasters of life? If they do come is it because I wasn’t “good enough” or faithful enough? This was my question to all I met as I began this new year? I am pleased to share that I have found the answer or perhaps a better phrase would be that I have been blessed with an answer.
The answer, for me, is that life will happen no matter how strong or great my faith. Life will present challenges and disappointments no matter how many positive affirmations I create to try to avoid suffering. Pain is a part of our human existence and no one gets to go through life without it. Sometimes it’s in small things, like a festering splinter or a bad cold and sometimes it’s heart wrenching and debilitating. We all know what those events can look like. There’s a popular phrase used in the media right now, to paraphrase it it says, “stuff happens.” We may be able to welcome it all in, like Rumi suggests but it’s the challenge of a lifetime. What I have discovered is that after, yes after, not normally during, I will get to choose how I want to perceive the “stuff.” Will I see it for the blessing it can be, it may have brought, the lessons I may have received or will it remain nothing but continued pain and suffering? I began to make peace with who I am and how I have previously responded to the challenges of my life and I realized that with my faith, from all these years of practicing my faith, I have the free will to choose how I shape that experience, no matter how I labeled it at the moment of its conception. I am a strong, resourceful, loving person and I fully recognize that things will happen to me that will knock me down but I also believe that I have created the inner and outer resources to rise up again and to believe that I can,
“meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.
Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.”
So in answer to Sarah Susanka’s last question, for the following year I want to focus on the fact that I can choose to believe 2016 will be exciting because I know I get to choose my response to whatever happens to me and I choose “Awesome.” In fact, I’ve decided to choose “Awesome” for the rest of my life.