Hesychia: Day 5, Week 1

I’ve said all along that what I need most to pursue becoming a director are confidence and practice.  Well, today I got my first taste of one if not the other.

Here are some of my take-aways from the practicum session this afternoon:

  • Name and embrace the silence.
  • Sometimes the silence is more helpful/necessary for the director than for the directee
  • Stay relaxed.
  • Find your own style within the method.
  • Honor what you bring to the table as a director.
  • “I have a magic wand. Poof! You have exactly what you want. Now, what does that look like?”
  • Creating safe, comfortable, contemplative space is an important element of preparation for a session.
  • Set a chime or bell as a gentle reminder when there are five minutes remaining.
  • “I can’t answer for you, but I can help you think toward an answer.”
  • “Let’s settle into some quiet.”
  • “How is that for you?”
  • “What’s coming up for you?”
  • Be a gentle, encouraging, and supportive presence.
  • Offer images sparingly.
  • Invite; don’t direct.

Being the directee is one thing, but being the director is a whole other beast.  Here’s hoping by the time it’s my turn next week, I’ll have gained more confidence and be ready to explore what I bring to the table.

At least I’m not alone in the process.  All fourteen of us are wading through this jungle together.  Here’s to coming out as confident as natives on the other side!

God willing.


Hesychia: Day 4, Week 1

Every time I sit down to write one of these posts, I have to resist the urge to give a play by play of all we’ve been learning.  I’m sure it will only get harder to resist as the program continues.

This afternoon I found out that I am to be the first “directee” of the first practicum session of the program.  This means I sit before the group and share something real that I want to receive spiritual direction about while another member of the group functions as the “director” and the practicum leader observes.

So tomorrow I pretty much have to bear my soul to half the participants at Hesychia.

Now you’d think playing the director would be the hardest role, but actually most of what she’ll be doing is listening, being silent, and perhaps reflecting back what she is hearing.  Which means I have to talk the whole time.

Introvert’s nightmare.

Dear Jesus, help!

I also have to spend the evening preparing for the session and deciding what I’m going to bring in to share with the group.  It has to be something real, something I’m really dealing with, but I also don’t want to be too personal.  We only have about 25 minutes for the session, so it’ll need to be a relatively short or concise issue that I can explain quickly so we can spend more of the time going deeper.

Here are some ideas:

  • discerning what to do with what I learn with this program (vocational discernment?)
  • exploring my changing concept of God and searching for language/framework that helps express my experience
  • discussing an interpersonal conflict
  • thinking through ways I can participate in the new church community we’re a part of while remaining true to myself and utilizing my gifts

Anyway, I don’t know what I’m going to choose. Maybe we’ll just see what comes up in the moment during the beginning silence.

Speaking of silence, I think that’s the element that I appreciate most about this program, or maybe just about hesychia spirituality in general.  The value of silence.  What silence teaches us.  The way silence prepares us for the movement of the Holy Spirit.  The emotions and distractions that arise in the silence.  The embodied rhythm and pace that silence creates space for and facilitates.

I’m fortunate that I work from home and can spend as much of my day in silence I want.  Yet that silence is full of thoughts and activity as I work online and write reports.  That silence is only outward and not inward.  It is not fruitful in the way that attentive silence is fruitful.

How can I bring this attentive silence into my daily work?  Is it even possible? Maybe that‘s a good question for my spiritual direction practicum tomorrow. How can I pursue this embodied rhythm and life balance when my brain is so fully occupied?

I think that’s one reason the monastic lifestyle stresses manual labor.  That kind of work leaves the mind free for contemplation and prayer. I notice that when I cross-stitch. Although my mind is still occupied to an extent with choosing the correct color thread  and following the pattern, there is also a rote-ness and repetition to it that becomes almost methodical and leaves the mind open to wander and process and move among thoughts.

But my work is pretty much all cognitive.  Unless I’m in the office doing printing and filing or cleaning where there isn’t much mental effort involved, I’m generally thinking critically and creatively at all times.  It’s hard to think about prayer while writing an email to a client who is upset or coordinating multiple schedules to find the best time for a conference call.  My work is restful in that I don’t have to invest the same type of energy that it takes to interact with people face-to-face, but it requires all my mental faculties.

Maybe I will bring this up tomorrow after all.  We’ll see what happens.  I’ll report back, so stay tuned!

Hesychia: Day 3, Week 1

I’m slow to warm up to people.

It’s a character flaw. Or at least, I wish I could make it otherwise.  Yet we are who we are.  Being in a completely new environment with completely new people handling generally new or at least untried material — it’s a lot for my poor, introverted personality to overcome.  Add in the extreme, prolonged fatigue and the squeezing in of work at every free moment, and you get one very tired, very discouraged, very anxiety-ridden me.

But that was yesterday.

Today I arrived so exhausted that it was all the energy I had left just to focus on class.  So I took a 30-minute “nap” between class and dinner and then stayed around the dinner table after I finished scarfing down the delicious meal to talk to people.

Best decision I’ve made since I hit Arizona.

Here’s the thing about me. I’m so all-or-nothing that half the time I don’t even realize it.  I’ve been so busy focusing on getting all my work done so I can rest that I forgot that all-important lesson I keep having to learn over and over. I need to pace myself.

If you follow HBTB, you’ll be familiar with my continual inability to maintain a steady rhythm.  Instead it’s hurry-up-and-burn-out-and-crash-and-panic-and-hurry-up-and-burn-out-and… This is my rhythm of life.  It is terrible. I am trying to change.

So tonight, I decided to pace myself by taking the first-ever break I’ve had since I left Carp at 6am Friday morning.  I’m talking complete break where I lay on the couch and closed my eyes and did exactly nothing (except check my phone a few times to make sure I didn’t miss dinner).  I’ve stuffed my time so completely full of to-dos since I started this journey that I literally have not had time to floss (another HBTB throwback).  And by “have not had time” what I really mean is “have not taken the time.”

So today I took the time. I took the time to rest. I took the time to be available for conversation with my fellow group-mates.  I took the time to practice general hygiene (my gums are so happy right now!).

And now I’m taking the time, lovely readers, to share with all of you just how very, very bad I am at this whole rhythm of life thing all spiritual leaders from pretty much any tradition you could think of would agree is about the most basic and paramount element of spiritual (not to mention physical) well-being.

But you know what? I am also very, very normal.  Maybe not about living in the extremes and lacking healthy balance, but definitely about what it’s like to grow and change on this experience we call a spiritual journey.  We’re all very, very bad at the things we most need to change about ourselves.  Our bad habits are strongly entrenched.  Our neural pathways are dug deeply into our brains.

Did you know it takes 22 consecutive days to break a habit? I say “consecutive” because if you miss a day, you have to start all over.  It takes 22 days to dig a new pathway in a human brain deeply enough that it can have a fighting chance of countering the old pathway.  That means I would have to practice balanced life rhythm for 22 days without a single all-or-nothing decision before I have any hope of taking one single step forward.

Change is hard work.  It’s physically, mentally, and spiritually demanding.  Sometimes it’s even impossible on our own.  That’s what God’s grace is for.

So, by the grace of God, I have made the choice to pace myself with breaks of rest and connection with others among the classwork and work-work that filled my day today.

And, by the grace of God, I will make that choice again tomorrow.

See you on Day 22!


Hesychia: Day 2, Week 1

In case you’re wondering, yes, I did go off in the wrong direction again this morning.  This time it took me about 10 minutes to figure it out.  But it’s not my fault.  My navigator app made me do it.

I’ve been thinking all day about why God sent me to the desert, of all places.  Couldn’t I learn to grow spiritually in a more conducive environment?  Couldn’t I have a retreat in a place with more, I don’t know, water? Greenery? Life? Anything?

The desert is an unfriendly place.  It’s prickly.  It’s dangerous.  Everything about the desert says STAY AWAY.  In my own spiritual journey, the desert has represented suffering, pain, drought, darkness, disappointment, desolation, distance from God…pretty much everything terrible you can think of, that’s what the desert represents for me.

And yet, hesychia is desert spirituality.  It’s spirituality specially shaped and informed by the Desert Mothers and Fathers who fled to the deserts of Egypt, Palestine, and Syria in 200-400 AD.  Yep, I took notes!  Hesychia spirituality represents everything my soul is longing for, everything the Holy Spirit within me is drawing me to: rest, stillness, peace, solitude, contemplative prayer.

But why does it have to be in the desert?

As I walked along the paths meandering through the desert behind the retreat center, I kept thinking, I am like the desert.  I can be prickly. I keep people at arm’s length until I feel safe.  In college I was labeled anti-social, although I was really more like un-social.  As much as I love spending time one-on-one with people and having heart-deep conversations over tea or dinner or on a walk, being around groups of people exhausts me.  I often want to retreat. I often want to be alone.  I am extreme, all or nothing.  Even my humor is dry! I am like the desert, but I want to be like the rainforest. I want to be lush and green, warm and inviting, saturated with refreshing water.  I want to be a tree, not a cactus!

So why does this program have to be in the desert? Why does hesychia have to be the spirituality that most resonates within me?

Today as I wandered in the desert, sat on a bench, journaled, wandered some more, I sensed an invitation to receive the ministry of the desert.  The desert has something to teach me, if I am willing to be open to it.  The desert has something that I need, something that my soul is longing for, something that God has prepared before me.

So I have decided to learn to appreciate the desert.  After living in a desert climate for five years, you’d think I’d have adjusted, but I am one stubborn lady!  I still miss the quiet beauty, peace, and comfort of the Appalachian foothills.  Arizona is even more desert-y than California.  If I can’t learn it here, I never will.

Here is what I notice about the desert (positive only):

  • serenity
  • self-sufficiency
  • necessity
  • survival
  • surprise
  • adaptability
  • hidden
  • store
  • away
  • protection
  • boundaries
  • unique
  • unchanging
  • basic
  • rock-solid
  • sand (dust to dust, finite)
  • extreme (hot and cold)
  • dry (notice your thirst)
  • confrontational
  • strong
  • stable
  • fully itself
  • unknowable (air of mystery)
  • teacher
  • slow
  • silent
  • alive
  • simple
  • solitary
  • subtle
  • balanced
  • complex
  • persistent
  • enduring
  • serious
  • counter-cultural

The desert ministers through suffering.  It both mirrors and shapes our inner experience.  It offers empathy, understanding our pain.  It only gives and expects/needs nothing in return.  The desert does not need people to survive.  This is the ministry I must learn to receive while I am here, this ministry of empathy and reflection.

Lord, help me!


Hesychia: Day 1, Week 1

I’m stupid in the morning.

Everyone who has ever known me or especially lived with me can testify that my brain does not function in the morning.  This morning was no exception.  Waking at 5am for the third day in a row is tough enough, but waking to a seven-hour road trip (my first ever all by myself) is even tougher.  You’d think after all the weeks of preparation and careful planning, I would have been able to start off my journey to Arizona on the right foot.

Or at least in the right direction.

Don’t worry, dear readers.  I was only driving west for a mile before my handy navigator app finished loading and alerted me to my gross error.  Thank the good Lord Jesus for technology, or I’d have driven at least 40 miles before I even started thinking about when I was going to need to change interstates.   God has my back, even when I have morning-brain.

So I drove east.  And east.  And more east.  And kinda south, too.  But mostly east directly into the rising sun.  Good morning, world! I listened to every CD I brought at least twice and listened to the digital recording of the prophetic word I received last night from The Well more times than I can count.

It wasn’t until last night when I heard myself say “I’ll feel better once I get there” in answer to a question about whether I was excited about this trip that I realized (again) I am also stupid many other times of day.  After all my practice at learning to experience the journey, I find I’m right back where I started as a destination-oriented person.

I’ve been wrapped up in all the logistical details of planning a work trip to Pasadena plus a school trip to Arizona while getting as many big projects completed or at least started as possible and reminding all the people I work for that I’ll have weird work hours for these two weeks and trying to coordinate staying with friends-of-a-friend who I’ve never met who live in a town I’ve never been to that I have to get to by driving a route I’ve never used and reminding the retreat center staff of my super-fun dietary restrictions and reading all the required reading for the classes and gearing myself up for the kind of energy it takes for introverted-me to be  around a bunch of people I don’t know all day every day for two weeks while also being away from my husband for the longest we’ve ever been apart since before we started dating and even missing his ever-important-day-to-celebrate-his-one-and-only-birth and getting the car in shape for such a long trip and packing and repacking and making a last-minute Target run for incidentals and packing some more and driving to Pasadena at the crack of dawn directly into the rising sun and working loooooong hours for two days and catching up with good friends and hearing babies and puppies cry in the night and sleeping on couches and receiving prophetic ministry and trying not to succumb to the ever-nagging doubt that I’m just not cut out for this program and I’m wasting my time and our money and and and and and —

And I haven’t been able to relax enough to think about what I’m doing and what it all means until now, sitting in a stranger’s home on a strange bed in a strange room surrounded by strange boxes and gathering my energy for a final push on a work project before I collapse and try to get more than five hours of sleep tonight.

I’m already here. I’ve been here in Tucson since 2pm today. I’ve already met my teachers and classmates. I’ve already wandered around the retreat center. I’ve already met the chef and eaten my specially prepared dairy-free dinner.  I’ve already unpacked (mostly) and settled into this rent-free spare room.  And I still feel like I haven’t “arrived” yet.  I still feel like I’m trying to “get there” and that I can’t relax until I do.  This experience has already started, but I’m still stuck in go-mode.

I need to get unstuck.  I need to downshift.  I need to be in be-mode.  I need to be here. I need to be here.

The first step is recognizing there’s a problem, right?

Hi. My name is Laura.  I’m a do-er.  I’m destination-oriented.  I’m anxiety-ridden.  I’m caught up in the daily details and missing the chance to sit at the feet of Jesus.

I’m trying.

Dear Jesus: help!