Tag Archives: energy

Spiritual Journeying in Northern California

It was already late/ enough, and a wild night, / and the road full of fallen / branches and stones. / But little by little, / as you left their voices behind, / the stars began to burn / through the sheets of clouds, / and there was a new voice / which you slowly recognized as your own, / that kept you company / as you strode deeper and deeper / into the world, / determined to do / the only thing you could do – / determined to save / the only life you could save.                                            – from Mary Oliver, The Journey

Here’s a quick and somewhat disjointed reflection on my first week of study in interfaith spiritual direction at Chaplaincy Institute, Berkeley:

Last week at this time, the Campanile on the Cal Berkeley campus would be chiming 7:00 p.m. It would just be starting to turn cool and, from my “holy hill” window, I might see the marine layer of fog forming in the distance. The memory provides a stark contrast to the dry 106 degree weather-reality this evening, here in Bakersfield.

What a rich week of experience, learning and “being.” I wasn’t sure if I would love the course or hate it. My reaction to things like this tend not to be “in the middle”! Upon arriving at the funky, comfortable classroom – located in a section of a church gymnasium with a wood floor, large worn rug and numerous worn couches – I had the chance to encounter my fellow classmates for the first time.

We didn’t waste much time before sharing and listening to one another – practicing the skills of listening with open hearts and minds. We began to discover that our fellow journeyers were fascinating folks. The conversations that ensued falls under the veil of solemn sharing – so I won’t recount much in the way of anecdotes. But the diversity of my fellow students – from traditional Southern Baptist and Roman Catholic to Unitarian, Wiccan, Jewish, and Buddhist – was powerful. Not that such variety is unusual, but that such openness and respect from all these varied directions is rare indeed.

Each student was open to learning from the others and from the speakers who shared with us. During this first unit we heard from a Wiccan high priestess, a Daoist priest, and a Hindu Swami. As a group, we “sampled” some of each tradition so that spoken word became sacred experience. This, for me, is part of the wonder and excitement of being a part of this process.

We also, as I said, began to learn some of the skills we will employ as “spiritual directors” or spiritual mentors, and guides. I was glad to hear our instructor say that the historic and traditional term “spiritual direction” is problematic because what we do is largely non-directional. To me, that was great news!

Our time with clients is about “deep and mindful listening.” The spiritual (non-) director’s most important job is to hold space for the other person as he or she encounters the sacred or explores mystical energies. We are here to witness and accompany the other on the journey.

It was also affirming to discover that each of us seems to have gifts and experiences that have prepared us to do this. For many of us, our spiritual experience has been our lifeline through life’s challenges and trials.

By carefully opening doors and removing the barriers, we begin to embark upon this journey together. We get ourselves out of the way and let the mystical encounter begin.

I love being a part of a small group of people who have chosen to make this experience, study and practice a part of our growth over the next eighteen months. We are chaplains, therapists, hospice volunteers, clergy, artists and ordinary human beings on spiritual journeys. We are wise, foolish, whole, wounded, veterans and beginners. But we each share openness to experiencing the Divine, the sacred, the energy that vibrates through the universe. Who knows where it will take us?

May the unfolding begin….

Ari Bhöd

It is hard to describe my visits to Ari Bhöd*. It is a bit of an adventure just bumping up the winding dirt road to get there. But it is hard to encapsulate the experience. I can tell you what I’ve done when up there…

On my first visit:

  • Watched four Tibetan lamas create a sand mandala & listened to them chant a prayer and blessing

And as a volunteer:

  • Cleaned bedrooms, bathroom, kitchen of winter dust and mouse droppings
  • organized a couple of freezers
  • organized closets and bedding into categories – family guests, lamas, and rimpoche
  • climbed up the hillside to cut fir branches for the smoke offering
  • ate wonderful food
  • learned to clean and fill butter lamps

The activities have been oddly fun and invigorating but fairly mundane on the surface. Each time I go up there I lose track of time, feel peaceful, and as my friend, Marilyn, puts it, “experience of sense of spaciousness.” Good, sustaining energy.

I am not sure of a purpose for my time there, but I feel strongly drawn. Images that remain:

  • White smoke above snowy ground billowing out of the outdoor fireplace chimney (Joey told me the name for this stove, but I’ve forgotten)
  • Prayer flags blowing in the strong mountain wind with crisp blue sky as a backdrop
  • Evergreen boughs on the ground and the sound of the machete as branches are trimmed and cut
  • Linnea (and Yeshe) in the kitchen brewing up nourishing and enlightening foods
  • The 3-D mandala, Zangdok Palri
  • The wonderful scent in the empty temple
  • Radiant faces and smiles

And each time I visit, the lingering sense of peace. The soul-support for just being.

* Ari Bhod is a Tibetan Buddhist retreat center that hosts guests, visiting monks, lamas, and rimpoches. They host a summer camp for Tools for Peace. They are home to several stunning and unique mandalas, including at least two three dimensional mandalas. The center has many volunteers and a small group of residents. It was founded by the Venerable Lama Chödak Gyatso Nubpa.

Down-shifting (and shifting Up)

Reaching out to other people carries a Divine power,
whether recognized as such or not.
Divine power isn’t metaphorical but literal,
actually releasing calming chemicals in your brain.
…Spirit does more than calm you; it heals you.
It reverses entrenched patterns.
It is nothing short of miraculous.
– Marianne Williamson, A Course in Weight Loss

Stuck in inertia again. How does this happen???

One Day: Sailing along on the wind of spirit, I am open to the universe and its revelations. I am motivated and moving. Finding my true Center, nothing can throw me off balance.
The Next: I have trouble getting out of bed.

OR alternately:

One Moment: Plans, great ideas and goals for the day.
The Next: Two hours have gone by and I’m still scrolling through Facebook, feeling the big Blah.

The thing I love about Byron Katie and Eckhart Tolle is that they have both had their big “aha” moments while in their sluggish, dark and depressed modes. They were not practitioners of some big system or followers of a certain way. Each had a simple shift in perception and awoke to reality – which was more wonderful and simple than they had ever imagined.

I believe one of the messages the universe has been trying to send me lately is that what I need for peace of mind is not about doing more. It is about the shift in perception and knowing I have already done enough. More doing is not going to help it now.

Part of my problem, is that my pattern when I am alone and not “doing” is to sink down low. If I’m not busy and productive, then I kind of submerge into isolation and negativity rather than resting in tranquility. That may be why yoga or a morning walk turn the key for me – they literally move me out of inertia and help me find balance. If I don’t have a group or a friend to hang out with, this is crucial for me.

Yesterday, meeting with a friend and chatting one-on-one brought me to life, group discussion later gave me insight and serenity, but later on in the day, individual dynamics within a group sent my head to swirling. When faced with some tricky social waters to navigate, I decided to bail. In that particular situation, maybe it was a good decision.

Allowing myself these occasional ungraceful moves – kind of ungainly and not totally open and honest – is the beginning of a shift in perception for me. It is okay. I’m doing my best to be loving and compassionate with all – including myself. It is no longer my expectation that I have to do things perfectly or take care of everyone around me. That’s a new one, and I’m still learning.

I’m also learning that solitude and isolation are two distinctly different things. Solitude is the time we take for self-nurture, rest and reflection. Isolation is when we seek to escape from those who love us, when we mentally and physically punish ourselves, and when we’re most at risk for addictive behaviors (for me today, that means over-eating, not exercising, and too much “screen time”).

So, being gentle with ourselves, the solution is awareness. Breathing, stretching, doing any small constructive activity (taking a shower, doing the dishes, putting in a load of laundry) when I get into this place is a good start. My spiritual counselor even talks about “shaking it off” like dogs and other animals do. Get up and shake that negative energy off! Put on some music, perhaps, and move around. Dance a bit! And reach out to others – whether to offer help, to snuggle up, or just for a chat – any breaking of isolation is a start.

This simple stuff shifts our perception within the moment and breaks the energetic barriers we  build. Ahhhhh…what a relief! Everything I’m seeking is available to me here and NOW. Who knew?

Fresh Start

photo 2On the other hand, I think it is possible that Lent isn’t something I need to revive for myself these days. Instead, I just need to get out of my head and into my body.

I re-read my morning pages and came across these two poems which applied again today.

CHOICES
“To yoga or to walk?” that is the question.
Either will do.
The point is to allow the incessant indecision
of chatter in my head –
the inertia –
to settle or unravel or leave.
Thoughts circle round in slower, tighter patterns;
stuck in a circular maze that turns in on itself
and halts
to a standstill.
Putting on my shoes,
opening the door,
words and sentences spray like droplets from a sprinkler
scattered on the earth
in glorious motion.
The toxic muck of stagnancy becomes fertilizer
mixing with air, dirt, and green.
The poison is diluted and transformed,
becoming energy and breath in the wind.

MORNING

The morning sounds begin…
Rumbling of dreams and whispers of ghosts
clog my arteries
like bacon fat.
I invite these phantoms to speak and have their say,
then wash them away with soap and hot water.
The slate wiped clean,
I tie my worn shoes, put on my hat,
and turn the temperamental lock,
opening to a new adventure.

(-K. Gatlin, February 2014)