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Cultivate Spiritual Awareness

Cultivate Spiritual Awareness

Mentors teach and guide us. I know this to be true: when the student is ready, the teacher will come. Perhaps you do too. Who are the important people who have arrived in your life at distinctive times and places? At this time—are you seeking to learn, know, or experience something specific that you can identify and name? Do you wrestle with an inner restlessness that may want to reveal something to you about your life, work, a relationship, action of service, creative endeavor, or spiritual inquiry? Have you experienced a person approaching you for mentoring or guidance?

A mentor can be a valuable person who illuminates life lessons and insights. Mentors appear in many forms, and often surprise or challenge us. Jalāl ad-Dīn Muḥammad Rūmī, a thirteenth century Persian Muslim poet, theologian, and Sufi mystic wrote, “The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you; Don’t go back to sleep. You must ask for what you really want; Don’t go back to sleep. People are going back and forth across the doorsill where the two worlds touch. The door is round and open. Don’t go back to sleep.”

Central to our human existence and evolution is the capacity to listen. In order to listen deeply, many find it helpful to make  a commitment to a spiritual practice. A spiritual practice allows us to participate in dynamic stillness—a moment of strength when we think we cannot go on, a rootedness in the present moment. A regular spiritual practice develops the necessary courage and resiliency to reconcile dissonance and polarity.

When we cultivate and grow peace in our hearts, learn with our bodies and minds, and contribute to our families and communities, an opportunity presents itself: live with integrity and awareness. Every day we have the choice to up-level our communication with others—and our own inner dialogue—agreeing to align and interact with the best parts of ourselves, not the weakest. We can make a promise to be truth-tellers. When our actions generate from this center, we often discover a teacher or mentor arrives to help us grow in ways we may currently name and desire, or perhaps only intuit. When we wake up, tell the truth, and are faithful to our spiritual practice, unforeseen possibility and potential shows up!

Mentors and spiritual guides assist us along the way, until one day, our fidelity to a spiritual practice and listening deeply creates an awareness that that we have become the mentors, examples, and witnesses to a life of authentic engagement and flow, where the breeze at dawn or dusk whispers secrets to our awakened life.

Reflect
Stop everything you are doing, be still. Ask yourself, and then ponder:

  • Who are my mentors?
  • How am I a mentor or witness to others?
  • What is it I truly desire in my life?
  • Dare I believe in possibility?
  • Am I ready to sort things in—and out—to create the time and space for my deepest calling, and heart desires?
  • How might a spiritual director or guide accompany me in my journey?

–Pegge Erkeneff

Excerpted from Listen: A Seekers Guide to Spiritual Direction, July 2012, vol. 6.3, published by Spiritual Directors International, 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

Do Meditation and Prayer Include Tears?

Do you think that meditation and prayer eventually encompasses all of our emotions, thoughts, experiences, and patterns of being in the world? Do you believe that prayer can simply begin when we yearn, notice, or respond in some way, to someone, or something? What does this thought evoke in you:

“If you haven’t cried deeply a number of times, your meditation hasn’t really begun.” – Ajahn Chah

When we bubble with joy, ripple with grief, wrestle with angst, or shower care, forgiveness, and concern, we pray. When we notice what grabs our heart and won’t let go, listen and respond to an invitation toward love, healing and forgiveness, we pray. When we encounter our self, another person, or a world concern with vulnerability and compassion, we pray. When we put skin on our inner conviction and choose loving actions, we pray with our life. When we celebrate each other, prayer can erupt!

Prayer is an opening and an encounter that brings us to truly love our selves and one another, even in times of inner aridity, uncertainty, and darkness. Meditation and prayer have the possibility to become a gift for the world, binding us together, creating community, hope and transformation. Prayer can offer a sheltering embrace, a joyful surrender, a passionate conviction.

About those tears…
Tears can erupt in us when we are deeply moved, inspired, or even surprised. Tears show us our angst, radical joy, overwhelming empathy, gratefulness. Tears are tender. Tears teach us how and where we may need to respond. Let us give thanks for our tears, for the clues they offer about what we value, for our caring hearts, for listening to our life and the world we inhabit.

Five minute pause
Pause for five minutes and breathe deeply. Listen to your heartbeat. Be in the present time of now. Allow your inner spirit to connect to what you know to be Sacred, and to the world around you. What do you notice? What bubbles up in you?

Be still. Be grateful. Listen. Then, give thanks for life, no matter what condition it is, on this day, in present time.

  • What tears rise in you–will you give your tears permission to speak your truth?
  • Do you believe that your tears can be a powerful prayer?

Please share.