Hesychia: Day 3, Week 2

Today my biggest take-away was a growing respect and awe for the many different and nuanced ways people express and experience their spiritual journeys.  I am just blown away by the depth, vulnerability, honesty, and capacity of spiritual journey-ers of all “shapes and sizes,” as they say.  I feel so honored to be invited into the sacred space created by the sharing of these personal and varied stories, and I so look forward to the opportunity to enter this kind of sacred space with many more people after I leave Hesychia.

It’s too early to reflect on my experience here, but it’s hard to avoid doing so.  We only have two days left of Session 1.  In some ways, I can’t wait to get home to my own bed and my husband and my regular life.  In other ways, I’m not sure what it will be like to return after having been in Arizona for two weeks. I’m not sure what the desert has done to me.  I’m not sure how I have been affected by this program already.  I’m not sure of anything at all.

I think the thing about being in the middle of something is that it’s all so nebulous.  I’ve begun, but I haven’t finished.  It’s like having one foot on the shore and the other foot on the boat.  I know where I’ve been, but I’m not sure where I’m going yet.  And the ground beneath me is shifting.  Something is happening, but I can’t define it.  Something is stirring, but I couldn’t name it yet.

But it’s something.

In some ways I feel like a sponge.  Not that I am impressionable or indiscriminate.  It’s just that there is so much here, so much in the people in my class, in the teachers, in the material we are being exposed to, in the director sessions we are practicing, in the desert setting, in the supplemental reading, in the sacred space we are creating together.

There is so much.

I feel like I have to soak it all up, get it all in there, every single drop.  And then I can sit in it all and let it begin to begin to be something new, something with shape and figure, something perhaps even with name.

In tea-language, I need to steep.

In some ways, I am glad for the break between sessions. It gives me a chance to breathe, to recover from the pace I have been keeping and the lack of sleep I have been getting, and to let things simmer.

I am mixing my metaphors.  Oh well.

But I still have two days left. Two more days to soak up and take it all in before we break.  Let’s see what happens tomorrow.

Hesychia: Tour of the Pathless Path

Just for fun, our group had an impromptu tour of the Pathless Path, a Buddhist retreat center on-site at Redemptorist. Here’s a little video so you can see the building, meditation path, retreat rooms, and meditation room.  We pass the big gong in the hallway.  A fun little almost-adventure exploring the building right next to the Hesychia classroom.  On Buddhism day, it was a fitting excursion.  You also get a glimpse of some of my group-mates as well as Father Greg who is leading the tour and our school.

Warning: it’s a little bumpy.

 

Hesychia: Day 2, Week 2

The hardest thing about practicing is not getting to try again.

I directed my first spiritual direction session today.  Ever since yesterday, I have been plagued with periodic attacks of anxiety imagining myself in the director’s chair on display within the fishbowl having to perform for the group.  Today I tried to tell myself that the nervous energy I was feeling was really excitement and that I was ready for this.

And then I spent the whole 25-minute session trying to control my shaking and relax at the same time.  My goodness, I was in a state!  My facial muscles were twitching, and my body was tense.  My fingers were fidgeting, and my heart was pounding so loudly I could barely hear my directee speak not two feet away from me.  I spent most of the session trying to breathe deeply to calm my heart and hoping no one could tell how internally stressed out I was!

The good news is, God showed up.  My directee did not pick up on my anxiety at all and was not “blocked” by anything about my demeanor.  In fact, he actually appreciated my attentive presence and reported that the word I had shared that seemed to name some of his experience was really insightful and helped open up a new avenue for him to explore.

The group was gentle. They acknowledged my anxiety and offered suggestions for next time.  The facilitator actually made some revisions to some of what we had learned last week about how to interact with the directee in a session that was really freeing for our whole group.  So we all learned together.

It was both affirming and a learning experience.  I was proud of myself for having taken the risk to name what I was hearing in the session and was honored that it resonated with my directee.  I was proud of myself for taking the risk to participate in the practicum at all.  No one was holding me there. I could have skipped out. I could have even quit back on Day 2, Week 1 when I was so full of doubt and discouragement.  But I stayed. I tried. I learned.

And you know what? I wanted to go again and put my learning to use right away to see what it felt like to be a little looser and more myself in the session.  I wanted to try more active and reflective listening.  I wanted to pause and ask a deeper question. I wanted to be in the hot spot again!

I’m actually disappointed I won’t have another opportunity to play the director in practicum until we return for Session 2 in April.  What a change from last week at this time.  What a change from this morning!  This morning I was trying to convince myself that my anxiety was excitement.  Now my excitement has actually usurped my anxiety.  Now my heart is beating in anticipation.  Now that I have tried and learned, I feel ready to do this.  I can do this!

As the Little Engine said,

I thought I could! I thought I could!  I thought I could!

Hesychia: Day 6, Week 1

Well, it’s Friday.  I made it through the first week of the program!  I’m very proud of myself, especially considering I was ready to pack up and head home after the first day of class.

Perseverance.

What came up today that I most want to reflect on is my earliest memory of encountering God.  I remember distinctly.

I was very young, maybe four or five, and I was very angry.  I’m not sure why, but my suspicion is that I was in time out or pouting after not getting my way.  Whatever it was, I have this sense that I was certainly not in a spiritual place.  I was full of emotion and sat on the floor of my bedroom sobbing into the bed skirt around the edge of my little twin bed.  The bed skirt had little white and pink flowers on it and matched the bedspread and the curtains on the window.  I was feeling unfairly punished or frustrated or misunderstood.  Whatever it was, I was in a very broken moment of my young life.

As I sat there with my face buried in the bed skirt, I experienced in a very tangible and physical way, that I was being held.  I literally felt God behind me, surrounding me, comforting me.  I remember very clearly how I slowly relaxed into that tangible presence.  My tears subsided. My breathing normalized.  It was going to be okay (whatever it was).  God was with me.

I spent years searching for that experience of God again.  I held onto it in moments when I was sure God did not exist, or if God indeed existed, was not interested in me.  I held onto it in the moments when I was broken and laid waste inside, knowing that it was possible to experience God the way I longed for and trusting that I would find God again if I just kept searching.

A lot has happened since that first moment when I knew for myself that God was real and personal and good.  As my conception of God changes and is shaped by the ideas and people I encounter on my journey, I hold on to that first moment, that first truth that I received all on my own.

I hold on to God because God first held onto me.

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 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!