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Posts tagged ‘compassion’

Listen: Become Available

Become Available

My smartphone chimed, indicating a new text message. I read four words, “How was your day?” Pausing, the simple sentence evoked a multitude of emotions, sensations, and thoughts. I stood still, surprised. Primary was the realization that it has been a very long time since I’d been the recipient of this gentle question, a genuine invitation to reflect and share, four simple words conveying interest and care.

Our conversations and communication with each other are often functional, relaying data and details: I’ll meet you at …., When is …?, I need …., How about …?, Where is …?, and so forth. The text, How was your day? queried me, posed a reflective question, evoked my response, and began a mutual conversation and exchange that held potential to grow intimacy and friendship. When we communicate and interact with each other, a flow of energy and presence brings forth expansion or contraction.

I had a choice in my response to that text message—I could share about the productivity or pleasures of the day, or my concerns and fatigue, or a dozen other details. My desire was to be utterly available to my best self, and to the person asking the question. To become available means to be able to avail ourselves on behalf of someone, or something. It is a choice that involves intention, willpower, and decision. Sometimes to be available involves risk and takes courage. Being available generates connection and ultimately involves both giving and receiving.

In the beginning of Aleph, a provocative new novel by author Paulo Coelho, the main character prepares to make a journey, and visits a chapel. Coelho writes, “There I asked Our Lady to guide me with her love and help me identify the signs that will lead me back to myself. I know that I am in all the people surrounding me, and that they are in me. Together we write the Book of Life, our every encounter determined by fate and our hands joined in the belief that we can make a difference in this world. Everyone contributes a word, a sentence, an image, but in the end it all makes sense: the happiness of one becomes the joy of all” (21).

When we pause, on behalf of our own soul stirrings, on behalf of another person, or when stirred by empathy, compassion, or injustice, we evoke the inner spaciousness to become available. To be available allows healing, wholeness, connection, and joy to birth in the cosmos. I imagine a world where every day we make the time to pause and ask, How was your day? or How are you? to someone dear to us, or to a complete stranger. And then show up, and listen.

A spiritual companion might ask these kinds of questions during spiritual direction, opening a pathway of conversation, and allowing a listening presence to flow within and between both the listener and the speaker. When asked with sincerity, these genuine, evocative questions heal, and lead each of us to our authentic self, mystery, and ultimately write the book of our life.

— Pegge Erkeneff

Reprinted from Listen: A Seeker’s Resource for Spiritual Direction, 6.4 page 1 (Spiritual Directors International © 2012). Reprinted with permission of Spiritual Directors International. To order copies or a subscription of Listen, call 1-425-455-1565 or go to http://www.sdiworld.org.

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What’s Your Natural Habitat?


I sit facing my computer screen, inches from a large window. My heart thunks. Outside a shadow moves. A moose peers at me. Vividly tall, she is furry, sturdy, six feet away, eyes glued in stillness. Her nose twitches. I catch my breath, meet her gaze. Seconds pass. Does she comprehend glass? Does it matter? When her shoulder muscles flick, she turns away, hooves crunching tracks through the snow crust. I remain, untangled. My breath is slow and deep.

How can we cultivate compassion when the world we inhabit may be hostile, stressful, aggressive, and painful? It is simple, but not easy, and requires our ongoing commitment. Compassion is not reliant upon ease of circumstance. Some of the most trustworthy, compassionate people I know have suffered profoundly. Paula D’Arcy writes, “How you approach something determines what you will see.” Roshi Joan Halifax tells us, “The world is so tangled, and I need to be somewhat untangled to meet it.” These are good insights. We cannot give what we do not have. What we cultivate is shared with others.

To cultivate compassion we must first show up and be available to place, time, and our embodied self. This prepares us to meet someone or something with integrity and presence. We each live a sacred story with particularities and peculiarities unique to our personality, life experiences, and our decisions of yes, no, and maybe.

Three moose wander in my yard—it is their natural habitat. The two twins were birthed when sun shone for twenty hours a day. Lush green ferns and foliage sheltered their tentative beginnings. Months later, I now sit in silence. Two feet of snow arrived, and neighbors help one another in time of need. I do not live in a wildlife preserve or zoo. Bear tracks across my driveway startle me from complacency. While outdoors, I am calmly alert, with a choice to engage the realness of time and place. I am interwoven in this landscape, a part of it. How will I forge connection and compassion in this climate?

Do you understand my question? Perhaps it needs translation: Where do you live—what is your natural habitat? Who do you encounter with your everyday activity? What causes you to stop in awe and wonder? Where do you rub up against fear and disconnect? These are essential questions in the marketplace or monastery, the inner city, suburbia, or wilderness. Thomas Merton said, “The deepest level of communication is not communication but communion. It is wordless.”

What can your natural habitat teach you? A spiritual director can accompany you when you share your stories of desire, surprise, fear, hope, and despair. Rabbi Awraham Soetendorp reminds us, “The teaching of compassion, the exercise of the soul, will open the heart. And then nothing will be impossible.”

How do you cultivate compassion through the concrete specifics of your life?

–Pegge Bernecker, editor

Excerpt from Listen: A Seeker’s Resource for Spiritual Direction, Vol. 5.1, “Cultivating Compassion” by Pegge Bernecker, (Spiritual Directors International (c) 2011). Used with the permission of Spiritual Directors International. To order copies or a FREE subscription to Listen: A Seeker’s Resource for Spiritual Direction call 1-425-455-1565 or go to www.sdiworld.org.

Grief and Loss: “I don’t know what to say.”

Last week I spoke at a church in town. They asked me to talk about grief and loss, for ten to fifteen minutes—make it personal. An icy, snowy night, by 7:00 p.m. it had been dark three hours. My stamina was in the single digits, and I was cold. A dark chocolate woven rabbit fur scarf wrapped my neck and shoulders.

Standing in the dim lit church, behind the podium, I fingered the scarf tails, felt warm breath flood my chest, whispered a prayer to God, and then surprised myself by speaking, “My name is Pegge. I don’t know what to say.”

My eyes traveled around the wood church pews. Men, women, and a few young people had gathered. They spaced themselves, some sitting together, others alone. I took another breath, and again spoke, my voice amplifying through silent attentiveness:

“I don’t know what to say. And this is the experience of grief.”

More words came, “We don’t know what to say, or how to act. We may be fatigued, not think clearly, forgetful, and have very little energy. Memories surge, catch us off-guard. Some full of sorrow, others with laughter. The ache—numb, raw, and stabbing comes and goes with no predictable time-frame. So we show up as best we can, take ourselves lightheartedly, give ourselves permission to rest, say no, and feel what we feel.”

I think words tumbled from me about how grief makes tracks through the chill of loss, of believing that we are not alone, being willing to receive from others, and ask for help. I know I said, “I trust God. I am not alone.” After ten minutes, I concluded, and breathed into the stillness of listening hearts. I walked back to the first pew, sat down, silent, remembering. A card laid in my open bible, a bookmark for the passage I’d planned to read. Two words: Only connect… . A cello played, candles flamed for loved ones who died.

Tonight, what chimes for me again, is that whether we are the one grieving, or the one who accompanies a friend or loved one, there will be times when words do not, should not, and will not suffice. Dense bone weariness grows. Or, memories of play and joy surface with vivid intensity. At times like these, I pray we may give ourselves permission to be still. Breathe. Simply be present to ourselves, and one another, with gentleness, compassion, kindness.

–Pegge, December 16, 2010

Giving Thanks–to CNN, to Life

I thought I was thankful, especially Saturday night with a heavy plate of Thanksgiving leftovers for dinner, nestled into a visit with my parents. Then I watched the CNN Heroes show. Tweets earlier in the week alerted me to it. I didn’t know I’d be crimped, ripped, and left wondering what mystery wants to birth in me.

Driving home, fresh snow brightened the two lane road. Tears bubbled and blurred me for twelve miles. Starry pinpoints lit the pitch night sky. I imagine the crimps and cramps that assist in open heart surgery. Compassion and unnameable longing wrench me open.

I can’t–don’t want to–let go of the stories, the people. Men and women who saw a need and said, Oh, no. Then birthed, I can, I must, I will. All the CNN Heroes stories pinch me, a few in particular:

The stories are not new. Nor is the need. Yet, I am grabbed in a way that is simultaneously unfamiliar and life-giving.  These men and women simply–though I’m sure it wasn’t always simple–responded yes. Tonight, I wonder–ask myself: “Who am I at this crossroads in my life?  What can I do–where does my compassion intersect with humanity?” I will let this question gnaw in me, germinate.

What unknown light is mine to shine? What light might be yours? I give thanks–for you, for CNN Heroes, for everyone who won’t let go of humanity, community, hope.

Earthquake, Pray.

The slightest ground movement garnered my attention when I lived in Southern California. I grew an earthquake alert awareness. That sense diminished when I lived in Colorado–a low seismic activity region. Now I live in Alaska, on the rim of fire, where we shake, rumble, and roll often. *&#@, we just did again, but these are tiny tremors.

My heart is always moved by unforeseen tragedy.

Thus, I pray for the people of Haiti, those who await news about friends and family, and what the time ahead will bring. As an editor for Spiritual Directors International, I wrote this simple prayer for our blog and international learning community. As spiritual companions, we listen deeply. We offer presence to individuals and in world situations. When we offer our prayer and compassionate action, and invite others to join us, we live into the call of being global citizens of contemplative action. I share this with you; invite you to pray with me. Simply notice how your relationship with God or the sacred invites you to respond. Make a difference in a way that fits for you.

Prayer for Haiti – and everyone in need of such a prayer.

Together let us join in prayer
wrap a mantle of compassion upon Haiti
for the babies, sisters, brothers, workers, family, friends, strangers, enemies, animals, and more, more, more who died and will die,
who are wounded and ache
and will ache, suffer,
who grieve, breathe in shock
crawl
paw through the rubble of time
a violent collapse of daily routine.

…..

May fresh air breathe with vital necessity.
May we sacrifice and share.
May we enable compassionate action, and service—now. Right now.
May our mantle of compassion console and heal.
And may our prayer build grateful action, life.

Amen.

Lighting a candle is considered a sacred action in many traditions. Take a moment to pause, and Light at candle at gratefulness.org.

Click here for a list of charitable organizations active in Haiti.


Prayer for Haiti
Together let us join in prayer
wrap a mantle of compassion upon Haiti
for the babies, sisters, brothers, workers, family, friends, strangers, enemies, animals, and more, more, more who died and will die,
who are wounded and ache
and will ache, suffer,
who grieve, breathe in shock
crawl
paw through the rubble of time
a violent collapse of daily routine.
…..

May fresh air breathe with vital necessity.
May we sacrifice and share.
May we enable compassionate action, and service—now. Right now.
May our mantle of compassion console and heal.
And may our prayer build grateful action, life.

December Solstice Blessing

...offering you an invitation to awaken to this present day and night, this new season unfolding.

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