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Posts tagged ‘Listen: A Seeker’s Guide to Spiritual Direction’

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.