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Posts tagged ‘spiritual director’

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.
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Lent Dance: A Turning Back, A Turning Toward

Wednesday, 17 February, marks Ash Wednesday, when the Season of Lent begins for Christians. What makes Ash Wednesday and Lent significant, year after year?

A Christian Response

I engage in daily prayer and meditation. Over dozens of years, a variety of spiritual practices have, at one time or another, given life, been shed, and occasionally re-embraced. A consistent thread is to make deliberate time periods for intentional reflection and turning toward God. Why is this important? In this time of my life I want to be a whole person, delightfully alive, and hallowed into radical authenticity and vivid presence. I know that God unabashedly loves me—and everyone who I desire to serve with mutuality, friendship, and compassionate care. I want to participate as fully as I can in God’s ongoing love affair with humanity and all of the cosmos.

Spirituality is not a separate part of who I am every day—it is embodied and experienced through my senses and life particulars. I welcome the defined time period of Lent to turn to God with my whole self. This turning is ultimately toward the world.

An Olympic Story

Tonight I watched Olympic figure skating, pondered Lent, and allowed the Hebrew Scripture, “Return to me with your whole heart” (Jl 2:12) to glide within me. I looked at ice dancers become grace in motion—turning, spinning, twirling, arching, moving towards, away, tucking and reaching. I visually experienced the spiritual journey. Surely it encompasses all these moves. We are not meant to be spectators in life! We are invited to engage, participate, train, fall, glide, spin, embrace, and turn towards one another and God. Music dances through our soul, as rhythm glides into expression in our body and daily life.

Spiritual Guidance

Ash Wednesday and Lent invite a fresh turning—or return—to God’s embrace. As much as each of us is on a solitary journey, it is also communal. Meeting with a spiritual director can encourage genuine seeking and conversion. During spiritual direction we are accompanied in our turning to God with our whole heart, broken heart, or dancing heart.

Will you join me in turning toward spiritual practice, a daily discipline, and a radical acceptance of wholeness and connection with all of creation? Lent can spring the frozen places in our heart and actions, thaw our resistance to compassionate love, and grow our sacred dance with the Beloved.

If you are seeking a spiritual director to accompany you, click here to discover good questions and spiritual directors to interview through the online, searchable: Seek and Find: A Worldwide Resource Guide of Available Spiritual Directors.

Note: I wrote this post for my work with Spiritual Directors International. It is on the SDI blog, and titled Lent Dance: A Turning Back, A Turning Toward by Pegge Bernecker.