Tag Archives: insight

Beyond the Wardrobe Door…

Rainy dayI vividly remember, as a child, pressing my face up against the large picture window in our living room on a rainy day and wishing I could go outside and play. It is interesting that, in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, by C.S. Lewis, the children would never have discovered Narnia if not for a rainy day. If not for days that keep us bored and stuck indoors, we would not be forced to use our imaginations and explore the interior of our lives.

Today, it is a rainy afternoon in the Rockies and our pale green grass and nearly budded trees are soaking in this steady saturation. After several days of being out in nature, out in community, it is a day to settle in and just observe.

It has been a good morning of clearing stale energy from our home by cleaning and decluttering. Things have been neglected a bit because we have been on the go. Just dusting, sorting through a few piles – rearranging some books and tucking things in brings new peace and joy into our space.

So, how do we clear space and open to new life, new growth in our inner world?

  • For energetically sensitive people, bringing some peace and order to our environment or living space may be a great first step to clearing out some of the chaos inside.
  • When in doubt, open windows (even just a bit), dust and vacuum and straighten up the clutter.
  • If that doesn’t do the job, get out some Epsom salts and take a warm bath (light some candles, put on soft music or soothing sounds) or smudge your space with some white sage.
  • If weather permits, of course, get outside, even just to sit in your backyard or on a balcony.
  • If you have access to Reiki energy, definitely use it to clear those chakras and get the energy flowing again – yoga and tai chi work too…especially the gentle restorative stuff.
  • Chop veggies and create a nourishing soup, stew or dal. Taking the time to nourish your physical self in a healthy, nurturing way can also be a spiritual practice.

Lately, I’ve been really aware of the benefits of even a very brief time of seated meditation, meditative breathing, or contemplative prayer. Taking even a few minutes to go inward and to simply be present to your highest Self and tune in to the Sacred, the Universe, has a powerfully restorative effect. It can be like the children opening the door to the wardrobe – a gateway to inner adventure and transformation. And it is as close as our breath, as radical as utter simplicity. Give it a try. It may lead you from a hectic or stressful day to a magical one

Intro to Meditation and Contemplative Prayer:
How to meditate by Pema Chodron:
Mindfulness Meditation by Jon Kabat Zinn
Centering Prayer by Fr. Thomas Keating

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.

If I were to pray…

If I were to pray,
I would ask the life energy that buzzes inside to grow.
I would feel it as it touches each molecule and vibrates on,
out beyond the boundary of my skin…
Life, vibrancy,
At the heart of every moment
Light that erases angerdoubtjealousydepressionresentmentandonandonandon
Light that burns my universe clean and opens my heart.
Breathe in this moment.
Greet the breeze, the blossom, the birds,
Greet the motorcycle, the leaf blower, the truck turning too close to where you stand.
Send your fear down into the earth where it may be healed and transformed.
Bring it back up as a spring bubbling up with new life.
If I were to pray,
I would feel the light, the energy that holds you and holds me in one embrace
and I would know that you are held by a beauty, a force, so vast
that nothing could ever do anything but
multiply
our joy.

Amen.

– Karen Gatlin, February 2014

Grasping the First Two Limbs

Three steps are required to reach the state of absorption:
repetition, understanding, and sincerity of purpose….
An attitude of humility and receptivity is essential
to catch any light of knowledge that comes.
– “Yoga, the Iyengar Way” by Silva Mehta

Let’s see… instead of focusing on the confusing and the complicated -in the spirit of fostering Contentment, let me think about the Light I’ve experienced during the past week . Some highlights:

  • Breakfast and good conversation with a friend
  • Phone, email and text connection with my daughters, family and my friends
  • Weekly fellowship and spiritual/philosophical conversation with my Tribe
  • A good 90 minutes of yoga (I will omit the 60 minutes of wacky, spinning-out, crazy mind yoga)
  • A couple of lovely walks
  • Good conversation during a workshop about the Eight Limbs of Yoga
  • Fun afternoon picking out my birthday present (a guitar) up at Mountain Music in Tehachapi and coming home and playing until my fingers were raw
  • A spectacular session with my counselor/spiritual coach in which I had a footbath, reflexology and talked about old wounds and a readiness to heal
  • Many warm conversations with my partner and the promise of many lovely adventures in the near future as we plan our spring and summer

From the workshop, led by Shanan, on the Eight Limbs of Yoga (that focused on Yama and Niyama), some concepts that jumped out at me were:

Contentment – This may be one of my many life challenges – fostering contentment. But this is a lovely project, right? To spend time turning around perfectionism and nit-picking and live into gratitude and appreciation for the grace of being.

Generosity/Non-Hoarding – Generosity seems to be one of my gifts – I like to give what I have to others and share my good fortune – I never keep money in the bank for long (and it isn’t because I buy much for myself). I spend considerable time critiquing myself for what I accumulate in closets and storage areas. But perhaps I should be gentle with myself because my “hoard” is relatively small by American standards? HOWEVER, letting go of what I accumulate without guilt or fear of scarcity is an ongoing challenge. When I do this, the reward in inner peace is great. I am most peaceful when I have the least stuff.

Kindness/Non-Violence – In the big areas of non-violence, I’m doing well. Like others who spoke in my class, the small unkindnesses that seem to pop up cause me the greatest challenges. Little sarcasm and put-downs. Thinking I know better than another person how to live their life. Arrogance. Ego gets in the way here. This thinking is in total conflict with reality (i.e., “He/she should do what I think is best.”) Perhaps kindness includes respect for how others choose to live their lives even if it seems to cause them problems or unhappiness?

Truthfulness/Non-Lying – Again, in the area of big stuff, we’re good. In the small stuff, I’m not honest with myself, others, when I try to frame things in the best light and make myself look good. Strangely, part of self-honesty for me is probably lightening up a little bit and being more generous in my self-appraisal. There’s another kind of lying I do when I view myself as bad or not worthy. This definitely is intertwined with opening to more kindness.

The other thing that I heard at the workshop that I am going to meditate about is the need for “repetition and familiarity” – things I often wish to skip over. I want to master things instantly. Instead, I was reminded that we need to take the time to repeat even short periods of asanas (postures), pranayama (breathwork), and meditation each day so that they may begin to be a part of us (I’m sure the same goes for whatever your own spiritual practice is). Seems fairly obvious, right?

Okay, let the practice begin (again)….

8 Limbs image

Allowing It to Unfold

 “So when we cry out for Help, or whisper it into our chests,
we enter the paradox of not going limp
and not feeling so hopeless that we can barely walk,
and we release ourselves from the absolute craziness
of trying to be our own – or other people’s – higher powers. Help.”
– 
Anne Lamott, “Help, Thanks, Wow!”

Can you believe it? We don’t have to be other people’s higher power. I don’t have to fix everyone’s problems or figure life out so that others can be enlightened. I just have to take care of me.

On top of that, it is okay to ask for Help! Who knew? I keep striving for perfection when no one ever really thought that was a good idea – and certainly no one ever thought it was any fun. I keep believing I need to be self sufficient when there is a whole interdependent universe of creative resources that I could lean on and draw strength from.

The other astonishing thing is that although there is a universe inside me and all around me, I don’t have to invent it myself or make things happen. It is my job to witness it, give thanks for it, and tune in with awareness – but the whole spiraling miracle doesn’t depend on me to keep it swirling. Whew!

My moment of awareness today was a flash of recognition: When I get uncomfortable, I tend to fall back on old habits, old addictions, old patterns. Those things have temporarily lifted discomfort in the past. However, none of these things has sustained me. The only thing that has ever sustained me is letting go – leaning into the wave and letting it lift me and pull me along.

I wonder how many times and in how many ways I’m going to have to repeat this pattern? But something must be changing. I no longer fear the process. Riding the wave is so wonderful, I know I’m going to eventually paddle out there again and trust.

Messages from Above

(Rumpled Blue Jay, Julia Warner)
(Rumpled Blue Jay, Julia Warner)

Most of my observations these days are from my walks. As I’ve said, this is a very good practice for me. Walking my little feet down the street shakes loose the cobwebs. And the occasional feather…

FEATHERS

When my mother died,
we cleaned out her home.
Among her collections –
of coins, stamps, rubber bands –
we discovered feathers.
Feathers of every color, size and shape.
We shook our heads, laughing.
My sisters and I threw each baggie and coffee can
filled with blue, brown, white, gray feathers
in the trash
with thoughts of mites and germs.
This morning, like so many mornings,
I left my home in sneakers, sunglasses and baseball cap.
Looking up, always up –
watching for hummingbird, jay, and nuthatch,
sparrows, doves, the occasional swallow or finch.

On the coast, I spend hours watching
while pelicans glide, float, and dive –
setting my soul back in harmony,
de-cluttering my crowded mind.
Simplifying.
Purifying.
Setting me free.

A small blue feather settles on the sidewalk,
and I bend, shaking my head, smiling,
telling my mother that
at last I grasp her message.

– Karen Gatlin, February 2014