Falling in Love Again

birds christmas break 011

One day last week I reread Paula D’Arcy’s moving spiritual memoir, Gift of the Redbird, in which she shares her lost-and-found relationships with the Holy over the course of many years, and how her sacred encounters, whether prompted by the utter depths of grief, illness, or yearning, always led to her willingness to notice, attend, and surrender images of the Holy that no longer held meaning for her. The gifts yielded by these journeys—hard-won, as the best gifts often are—seemed to be greater expansiveness and deeper evolution regarding her capacity to love and to perceive connection with all creation.

And so I’ve been traveling with the book’s wisdom in the time since closing its covers. (All art, for me, requires this time to be with my atoms and energy, rearranging my understanding of life’s big questions before I can even begin to speak about its effects on my spirit. And, of course, these alterations change when I revisit a work of art, even a book that’s slim and a deceptively quick read.)

I’ve been thinking about all the significant relationships in my life, from the openness and intimacy shared with my own spirit and sense of the Holy, and then rippling out from there to include my connections with my husband, family, friends, 4-leggeds, and even my home. It seems all of them have followed the pattern described by D’Arcy’s relationship with her God, in that the connections are at times deeply intimate and lively, and at other times, somewhat flat and stagnant

CHRISTMAS HOLIDAY THRU 26TH 226It’s good to be reminded that ongoing discernment and faithful checking-in can help us recognize the degree of effort and attention we’re offering these relationships and how well we’re tending them. But there is also the need for the field of each relationship to have its fallow time for deepening; what may, at first, feel stagnant may more truthfully be the sacred period of stillness necessary for the rigors of  the relationship’s evolution, its next stage, requiring re-commitment and patience as this unfolds.

The dark nights our spirits experience, as do each of our relationships, may be accepted and unpacked as gifts, although at times they feel so antithetical to anything desired, supportive, or helpful. But traveling the circle as many times as I have, I’ve begun to see these places of dark blessing are like the silent depths beneath the earth where seeds are loved into growth.

CHRISTMAS HOLIDAY THRU 26TH 237

And to realize that my partners in relationship, perhaps even the Holy, have their own steps to dance, their own needs to withdraw, to be renewed, and to evolve.

CHRISTMAS HOLIDAY THRU 26TH 230And how lovely when we waltz together once more, embrace, and fall in love again, not only with our past adventures and the relationship we have shared, but with the shining place we now find ourselves in and all the steps we have yet to dance together.

birds christmas break 010

 

© Copyright of all visual and written materials on The Daily Round belongs solely to Catherine M. O’Meara, 2011-Present. Unauthorized use is strictly prohibited, without Catherine O’Meara’s written approval. No one is authorized to use Catherine O’Meara’s copyrighted material for material gain without the author’s engagement and written permission. All other visual, written, and linked materials are credited to their authors.

Still, Still, Still

Christmas Season, First Snow, Bon Ivor 131Our first annual snowfall graced our Sunday (Bon Iver!), and we relaxed into being with the wonder of it. Huge flakes covered the trees and earth; the river, surrounded by white hills and flowing beneath the smoky gray sky, took on a brilliant silver sparkle, like a glittering ribbon threading through the landscape.

Snowy Sunday 044Winter is the season that calls me within, to slowly and gently review the journey of the dimming year and gestate the light with which my spirit will co-create the year to come. What gifts have served me well? Which have I neglected? How will I dance out my life in the new year? What are the triggers that hook me to harmful ways of being and what are the deep desires I ask of Spirit to further challenge and delight my heart? Am I tending my time, health, and relationships, respecting the treasures they are? Am I putting anything off because I’m afraid of failing? Or succeeding? Can I begin, alter, or renew a spiritual practice? Is my energy aligned and in communion with my beliefs, and do these translate clearly through my speech and actions?

Christmas Season, First Snow, Bon Ivor 111Last year, I wrote about my “hibernaculum,” the meditation room where I spend my deepening time each day. It becomes more deeply sacred to me in winter. As I wrote: The word “hibernate” is derived from the Latin word for winter (hiberno: I winter) and generates the wonderful noun “hibernaculum,” which, zoologically, is the place where an animal winters, and, botanically, is the protective bud or covering a plant uses to survive the challenges of dormancy. I love that the letters of the word “hibernate” form the anagram “breathe in,” for winter is my time for assessing, deepening, and strengthening my meditation practice and more earnestly tending my dreams.

Christmas Season, First Snow, Bon Ivor 158Nothing engenders these days of gentle and vital introspection more for me than the lovely snow that muffles the noise, busyness, and demands of a world too addicted to all three. When it’s snowing, traffic slows, heartbeats slow, breathing slows, and sometimes magically, the limiting need to avoid our inner voices and knots dissolves as well.

Christmas Season, First Snow, Bon Ivor 179Sitting in my meditation space and looking out towards a full moon making the snow-covered earth sparkle and glow with mystery, or witnessing the iced river and white hills afire with the deep violet, indigo and scarlet of a winter sunrise remind me that all of life is a magical gift, and that the finest way of offering my gratitude is through the inner work and discernment accomplished in stillness, that helps me be as present to all of it as I can.

Christmas Season, First Snow, Bon Ivor 003I wish you a winter of gentle peace, times for deep introspection, the stillness to bring forth your renewed light to the world, and gentle snow (real or imagined) to blanket you with the shimmering beauty and mystery of spirit-tending.

 

© Copyright of all visual and written materials on The Daily Round belongs solely to Catherine M. O’Meara, 2011-Present. Unauthorized use is strictly prohibited, without Catherine O’Meara’s written approval. No one is authorized to use Catherine O’Meara’s copyrighted material for material gain without the author’s engagement and written permission. All other visual, written, and linked materials are credited to their authors.

Thin Places and Sacred Ancestors

When my Celtic ancestors felt the energy of a place was sacred, they called it a “thin place,” meaning the boundary between this world and others was easily crossed at such locations; spirits might travel freely; the ancestors—and other spirits—were close.

Halloween, in part, is derived from Samhain, which marked the New Year for the Celts, a time when the souls of the year’s recent dead traveled beyond earth, and the long-deceased came back to “visit,” their presence welcomed.

When the Catholic Church sought to convert indigenous cultures (or “pagans,” the term Romans used to designate “country people”), it took their sacred days and translated them into Christian observances, and so November 1 became All Saints Day and November 2 is called All Souls Day. (These latter souls, presumably, await heaven and sainthood in purgatory, where one’s lingering sins are “purged.”)

Regardless of one’s theological views and practices, in the Northern Hemisphere this is the season when all the world’s considered a thin place. It seems natural, as vegetation dies back, exposing nature’s stark architecture, to enter the time of darkness and long shadows and consider the spirits of the newly and long-departed.

It’s fitting and important to set aside special days to focus our attention and gratitude upon single themes, events, people and memories. The danger is that we relegate our awareness of these important bonds to one-day-a-year only, as we relegate our acknowledgement of the Sacred to barely an hour a week, or less. (And heaven help you if a church service is ending as a football game is starting! The Sacred better get out of the way quickly.)

For growing numbers of people, however, it’s important to integrate connection with the Sacred in meaningful ways every day; nothing is profane unless we see it as such, and I think that explains the increasing attraction to non-Western cultures and their spiritual practices, as well as seeking new ways to honor the earth and all those who live in communion with us.

I’ve mentioned the books of Malidoma Patrice Somé before. My favorites are Of Water and Spirit and The Healing Wisdom of Africa. In both, he illustrates repeatedly the link between the deceased ancestors and the living community of his people, the Dagara tribe of West Africa. The ancestors are sources of wisdom and counsel for tribal leadership, choices, and direction. It is a natural behavior to commune with them daily.

The elderly in the tribe, because of their advanced age and proximity to death, are viewed as living on the bridge between worlds and therefore closer to the ancestors, and the newborn are viewed similarly; they have “just arrived” from the ancestral land and the company of the Wise Ones. This forms a tribal link between the young and the elderly, whose relationships are very close, sometimes edging out deep connections with those who, by necessity, are more fully engaged with “the things of this world.” The elderly and very young are believed to have the ability to speak with the ancestors more fluently and are respected for this connection.

In our materialistic, work-focused approach to life, we cart the young ones away to day care and the elderly off to nursing homes, or we move far away from childhood communities, severing connections that follow us from birth to death, and denying ourselves the deep riches of lifelong community. Relationships and the wisdom of our ancestors don’t matter so much to us. The immaterial, the insubstantial lacks value; or rather, it can’t be accorded a price point, which is what we most value. We’re often connected to our money and our desire (or frustrated desire and anxiety) more than to relationships with family, living or dead.

The recent Presidential campaign has clearly illustrated that “what should be important” is jobs: making money and spending money. One candidate is perhaps a bit more blatant and aggressive in his disregard for the earth, the ancestor we all share, by promising mining, fracking, and the extraction of resources needed by corporations (and robbed, if necessary, from lands that are currently federally-protected). Whatever it takes to get and keep people working (when they’re not shopping), will be accommodated.

But both candidates have neglected to confront the lack of reverence we have for the earth and the resulting devastation wreaked by storms like Hurricane Sandy. No mention of conservation, our role in climate change, global warming, or the sacrifices we might make to correct these, has been made. No invitations to alter our worldviews or perspectives have been offered. People who lost their homes along the coast are being urged to “rebuild” instead of to “rethink.” And how could it be any different when the campaigns’ exorbitant costs are funded by the wealthy corporations (i.e., “persons”) and their officers, who reap the short-term benefits from these ill-gotten resources and the new slave laborers we’ve consented to become?

We carry our ancestry in our DNA. I’ve enjoyed episodes of a program that connects people with their ancestors through investigating their genetic roots. Their DNA leads to unearthed connections played out across charts, and they learn about their ancestors’ stories, sometimes going back hundreds of years. It’s profoundly moving to see the featured guests weep, share their amazement, or evidence stunned silence as these deep connections are revealed.

We yearn for sacred connection, all the more because we have forgotten who—and what—we are. Imagine the wealth afforded by conversations with our ancestors. What can we do differently? What did they learn from their trials, errors, successes? Are they proud of the people we are becoming and the world we are creating? How can we better steward our gifts and those of the earth?

Perhaps, instead of just rushing, working and shopping during these sacred days of early November, we could stand in our thin places and listen for the wisdom of our ancestors and the lessons of Mother Earth. Perhaps we could kneel in reverence and gratitude for all of these holy connections that exist to nourish our souls, offer us wisdom and energize our spirits.

Perhaps we could change ourselves and so, the world. Because we’re always standing in a thin and holy place, being held by Mother Earth, with the wisdom of our ancestors circling in our hearts.

Just listen.

 

© Copyright of all visual and written materials on The Daily Round belongs solely to Catherine M. O’Meara, 2011-Present. Unauthorized use is strictly prohibited, without the author’s written approval. No one is authorized to use Catherine O’Meara’s copyrighted material for material gain without the author’s engagement and written permission. All other visual, written, and linked materials are credited to their authors. Thank you, and gentle peace.

Desert Encounters

We are concluding our 5th week of drought and looking at yet another week with no rain appearing in the forecast. I feel somewhat trapped indoors, yet there’s no reason to go outside; I can’t water the gardens as I’d like to, due to the risk of drying the well, and it’s too oppressive to weed. I have no reason to use the car and expend its energy to convey me somewhere I don’t need to be, and I face only discomfort if I venture out for a long walk or bike ride…so I photograph through windows or briefly from the bridge, observe the 4-leggeds as they observe the outside world, read, write, and divert myself from anxieties and questions that have been nagging my spirit for some time now.

Yesterday the heat index was 106; I went outside only to hang the laundry and then retrieve it; both times, I moved as though walking through walls of heat. It felt claustrophobic, like living in a terrarium. Suffocation might feel like this, right at the beginning…that sense that breathing has become a struggle, the next breath is less generous than the last and the throat closes in self-protection, fearing the heat of the breath to follow.

I prayed for the people living and moving and having their being, by necessity, in this oppressive atmosphere. “Fire purifies or fire destroys,” a literature professor used to remind us. “Water drowns or baptizes…” And “Deserts are places of death, which is to say, places of transformation.” How to choose one’s perspective in the midst of life’s circumstances?

I remember an elderly patient I visited in the hospital where I worked as a chaplain. She had been isolated for some contagion that left her magnificently alone. The room was a “negative pressure space,” the other bed, table, and chair had been removed, and the patient’s own bed was pushed in the far corner. One had to cross what felt like a vast and empty galaxy to approach her.

Emotional and spiritual excavation over the course of many visits revealed that the woman’s personal relations echoed this isolation. All connections had been broken, due to one or another quarrel, grudge, or perceived impediment to forgiveness and love.

Our dialogue eventually began to explore how the spirituality she identified and the beliefs she claimed were of value to her, were helping her cope with her circumstance, which is what chaplains seek to help a patient discern. Is your belief system helping you cope positively or contributing to negative coping? Where is your God or sense of the sacred in this experience? What are you feeling as you share this story? How would you define a “healed body?” a “healed life?”  What do you desire or need at this time?

Of course, a barrage of such questions is not one’s method; but the focus of our visits explores these types of avenues through various approaches: silence, “sideways observations,” gentle touch, when and if appropriate (even if the chaplain is gowned, masked, gloved and hidden behind protective garb), listening for metaphors and patterns as the patient is encouraged to share her story, and always, compassionate presence.

At times, a judicious question can open doors that have been bolted for years. One can almost hear the rusty hinges creak and sense the cobwebs brushed away. It takes a lot of time to sense the appropriate moment to ask such a question and when to let it pass. Speaking the (observed) truth, in love, is a way to confront fears and regrets, but timing is everything.

The underlying “foundation” to these visits is always being able to listen to one’s own denials, regrets, fears, anger, joys, etc., and acknowledge them and the ways the patient and her story triggers or elicits these responses. The chaplain hears these, gently “tucks them away,” and brings the light back to the patient. Certainly in her own heart, the chaplain acknowledges that the presence of love, or Spirit…one’s own sense of the sacred, is “embracing” the encounter, and will “manage” it for ultimate good.

My job as a chaplain was not to fix, transform, or bring about a resolution, and believe me, the temptation can be very strong to do this (which again leads to the inner work one must explore at a later time). Rather, what you’re trying to do is open the space for the patient to hear her own story, her own wisdom, her own needs and choices…clarify her own relationship with the Holy. What needs to die and what is almost-or-fully-gestated and yearning to be born?

Chaplaincy is eventually and reliably exhausting, because in every visit, the chaplain is encountering herself as well, at deep and profoundly naked levels, and must be brutally honest about this part of her profession, to be good at it. Self-care and replenishing “breaks” are absolutely necessary if a chaplain is to do work that is effective and life-giving.

I remember this specific patient because of the dramatic contrasts between her isolation and her inability to encounter a need for connection. How strikingly the stories of her personal relationships correlated with the physical space she occupied. Her God couldn’t have led her to greater isolation, couldn’t have shouted any louder that it was time to listen and to stop pushing away, time to go deep within and, finally, encounter her brokenness.

I recalled the Native American commitment to “all my relations,” which acknowledges that a balanced life requires commitment to one’s relationships with everything, and understands the sacred reciprocity of attention and the necessary choice to attend that exists between oneself and all life, every point along the web’s delicate strands. This woman had made a series of choices that severed all connections.

“How did we ever arrive at this place?” Eleanor of Aquitaine asks her husband, Henry II, in James Goldman’s brilliant The Lion in Winter. “Step by step,” he replies.

And I remember this patient today because I sense I’m in a similar space, in that I’m being called to the center of the desert, to listen for the change that wants to happen. My invitation from Holy Mystery couldn’t be more starkly and physically heard.  Here I am, for all intents and purposes “trapped” by the heat and drought into inactivity. I cannot choose an action that will alleviate the drought; it’s out of my control. My calendar is free of engagements and there is no purposeful work I “have to” accomplish.

Mystery/Spirit/Love has cornered me: Uh-oh; time to listen.

Wake up (again), my situation seems to be saying. Of course, the spiritual journey is an ongoing spiral of discovery, but we all tend to step in and out of the dance at times. And then there are moments, whether we’re so inclined or not, when we’re called to fierce engagement. I’ve been aware for a few weeks now of the need to go within and listen and I’ve avoided it, like most people. Discernment is a chancy undertaking; it often leads to change and, also like most people, I fear transitions.

But unlike most people, I’ve been given the gifts of chaplaincy training and spiritual direction training. The character Monk always says of his detective ability, “It’s a gift and it’s a curse.” The same insights I’ve brought to my patients and seekers are turned inward. I can see my denials and diversions and I’m challenged to call myself on them. I know my next move and can counter it. Or not. It’s always a choice. And I’ve been avoiding my regular deep practices of silence and meditation because I don’t want to hear the questions that have been circling, and I know the time has come to face them. The vision quest never ends.

Here I am in isolation, and I’m saying yes to the invitation to listen. I will walk across the vast galaxy and through the door. I acknowledge my fear and will go deeper within, anyway, because I believe that in the end, I’m on a journey of healing, of making myself whole, and that the way in is the only way out—and is ultimately necessary for any healing to occur. And whether I’m being invited to change dramatically or make minor adjustments, I know the invitation comes from Love.

Please keep me in your gentle energy; I’m setting off for the far country of the heart and the whispered encounter with Mystery.

May the rain come soon.

All my relations.

I’ll be away till July 8. Gentle peace to all.

Happy 4th of July

 

© Copyright of all visual and written materials on The Daily Round belongs solely to Catherine M. O’Meara, 2011-Present. Unauthorized use is strictly prohibited, without the author’s written approval. No one is authorized to use Catherine O’Meara’s copyrighted material for material gain without the author’s engagement and written permission. All other visual, written, and linked materials are credited to their authors. Thank you, and gentle peace.

Anam Cara: Dance Instruction From the Spirit

Work in the invisible world at least as hard as you do in the visible. ~ Rumi

I worked as a hospice chaplain at a time when people were just starting to purchase and learn about the value of a GPS (global positioning system) in their cars. I understand the need to be guided, especially when time dictates the fulfillment of the “urgent care” service you provide, as is often the case with hospice work; however, I never needed to buy one because I generally worked in easily located nursing facilities.

And, to be honest, I inherently resisted purchasing a GPS. I suppose this was fundamentally due to my deep mistrust of authority and love for finding my own way through the maze. This is not a trait that has always served me well, but I’m at an age where I notice it, shake hands, and agree to reassess and reconsider when appropriate, finally aware that the one who offers guidance is not always intent on suppressing my rights and gifts so much as wisely assisting me in living more freely as well as more fully, and avoiding the road hazards I’ve ignorantly or unconsciously placed in my path.

I’ve always been someone who naturally spirals into the knots life presents and figures her way out; I love employing unique blends of creativity and logic within an ethical framework, and I credit my parents and years (and years) of Catholic education for inviting and encouraging my style of reflective cartwheeling through life. (I have no stories of abusive, scary nuns to share at parties. Mine were highly creative, gentle-but-spirited and well-educated women who were gifted, affirming teachers and wonderful role models. Still are.)

But for me, being a smart creative woman in the Catholic Church—one who did not view the convent as a potential path—eventually meant taking and exploring my spirituality outside the boundaries of the dogma and hierarchy the Big C seemed to perpetuate and rely upon more for its power to dominate and control than nurture. I was/am neither a virgin nor a mother, the two archetypes the males controlling the Catholic spin seem to recognize and promote as valid.

Ironically, the excellent education provided by Catholic schools led me to value my spirit enough to save it by leaving the structure and living with its better teachers, like Francis, Bernard, Teresa, Ignatius, and my lifelong mentors, Pierre Teilhard and Thomas Berry. More recently, I’ve felt embraced by the writing of people like Judy Cannato, and throughout my life, countless and treasured teachers from other paths have fed my spirit and connection with Love.

I am a spiritual pilgrim, and chose peregrinatio consciously and authentically, because it was the only path I could see and name for myself. (Peregrinatio, roughly translated, is choosing expatriation from one’s homeland—in my case, from the Catholic Church—in favor of the broader journey, pilgrimage, and encounter with Love.) I guess I’m a kind of nomad setting up her tent smack dab in the center of Mystery and attempting to let it reveal itself—or not—rather than having it solely defined for me by others.

I have not rejected my teachers or the gifts of my C/catholic (“universal”) upbringing: they are very much evident when I open my spiritual backpack and reach for my tools, filters, and methods of translating insight and experience into perception and—I hope—wisdom. Many experiences and challenging times of reflection have co-created my path and I do not offer it or recommend it for others (we all must find our own) so much as I highly encourage myself and others to be conscious in our choices and the paths we choose, for we are always on them, dancing our own steps of progress/regress with Spirit between the inspiration and expiration we call life.

Sometimes, though, life leads me to feel I’m sitting out the dance and my partner’s abandoned me. Or I feel the need to learn some new steps or try some different music.

Choosing the “little c” over the “Big C” ironically made me more aware of the need for community and spiritual pit stops than when I dutifully attended weekly church services, accepted the need for an ordained man to intercede with Love on my behalf, and limited the number of sacraments to seven. And so I began to schedule regular retreats, embarked upon a wonderful relationship with a spiritual director, and later pursued the three years of education and preparation that would enable me to offer trained spiritual companionship to others.

The practice of soul-tending is vital once we recognize that Spirit is our dance partner in life, for we then organically want to make the dance more graceful, elegant, fun, creative, intimate, honest, deepening and illuminating. I cannot locate and string together words that express the value a spiritual director has added to my life or isolate in imagery what serving as anam cara (“soul friend”) to others has afforded me. But I do highly recommend that you explore this practice with someone trained to provide it. (You can start here: www.SDIworld.org )

A spiritual director doesn’t commandeer your spiritual journey, but holds the mirror so you can see it for yourself and explore its meaning. What is your current image of the Holy and how has it evolved? How do you communicate with and experience the Sacred? Are you being pulled toward or pushed from these encounters? How do you experience the Transcendent and what are your sacred stories?

A spiritual companion asks the right questions, opens and holds the fertile silences, uses tools and shares new practices—for example: walking a labyrinth, prayer, bodywork, breathwork, meditation, creative exercises (free-writing, drawing, mandala creation)—but the point of spiritual direction is to allow you to see and name where you are with the Holy and where you desire to be…if you have a religious connection that’s meaningful to you, it is honored and can be deepened through the discernment offered by spiritual direction.

It’s not mental health therapy or counseling, though a spiritual director often works in tandem with a therapist, and spiritual direction is founded on “meeting the Sacred exactly where you are,” which often includes sharing and exploring the types of issues and experiences you might share in therapy, simply because everything in our lives connects to our spiritual well-being; it’s all interrelated. But there are specific elements, motivations, areas of expertise and modalities that distinguish therapy from spiritual companionship and there are boundaries to each profession that need to be clearly communicated and honored. Therapists are licensed; spiritual directors are not, which emphasizes again that you need to question and feel resonance with someone you choose for a spiritual companion.

The difference between a good friend and a spiritual director is the training and “professional” emphasis on you and your spiritual journey. Spiritual directors ask questions and invite explorations a friend might not (and shouldn’t) to support your discernment.

Some spiritual directors charge a fee; others do not. I studied for three years and completed a recognized program to serve as a spiritual director, for which I was charged tuition. I charge a fee not just to honor my education and time/gifts, but also to encourage a seeker to recognize that his or her commitment to the spiritual journey is worth pursuing and of value. If we think nothing of paying a hair stylist regularly and well, for example, we might also consider devoting as much conscious time and value to our spiritual journey and regularly (usually once a month) meet with a trained spiritual companion.

The website mentioned above lists spiritual companions geographically and offers some background information: you can call and further clarify a person’s orientations, qualifications, etc., by phone, or schedule the initial meeting and see how it feels for you. (You should never be charged for these initial meetings.) Spiritual direction can invite growth and be challenging; an hour-long session can end with questions left unexplored and a sense that “nothing’s changed,” but you must always feel safe, loved, and accompanied. A good spiritual director will also not agree to accompany someone with whom she isn’t comfortable, and the relationship can end at any time, at either person’s wish, but oh how lovely when it continues for years of soul-affirming deepening. In my own times of grief and transition, it’s been my safe harbor.

Some workplaces, especially healthcare institutions, have hired trained spiritual directors for staff members’ support and discernment, and as a service for their patients. (http://mayoclinichealthsystem.org/locations/onalaska/medical-services/complementary-medicine/center-for-health-and-healing/spiritual-direction) I’ve always thought it should be integrated with medical school training as well.

Another approach is group spiritual direction. The group functions as a community of discernment, guided by a trained spiritual director and blessed by their own mutual deep listening, commitment, and openness to sharing. As with one-on-one spiritual direction, confidentiality is sacrosanct. The spiritual director may work with one person while the others support with listening and prayer, or one person may share while the spiritual director guides the other members in supporting the person’s discernment as this is requested.

Spiritual direction is not about “fixing,” but it may be deeply healing. In the end, the dance is Spirit-led, and I have left my own spiritual direction sessions immersed in deep peace, welcome affirmation, greater clarity, and a sense of renewal. Living the questions is never easy but, for me, it’s infused with greater gratitude and spaciousness when I journey with my spiritual companion. Whenever I feel I’m sitting out the dance, spiritual direction allows me to see my partner’s embracing me and leading me on, deeper into mystery and always in Love.

 

© Copyright of all visual and written materials on The Daily Round belongs solely to Catherine M. O’Meara, 2011-Present. Unauthorized use is strictly prohibited, without the author’s written approval. No one is authorized to use Catherine O’Meara’s copyrighted material for material gain without the author’s engagement and written permission. All other visual, written, and linked materials are credited to their authors. Thank you, and gentle peace.

Compassionate Listening

I know that you believe you understand what you think I said, but I’m not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant…

 Today, I’ve been reviewing the past year and pondering the paths before me regarding the year to come. The country and, more dramatically, my state—and my friends, in their discussions of these things—have been through such turmoil and discord this past year that I find myself focusing on a desire for the blessing of true, from-the-heart dialogue. More than anything, this requires the ability to listen to oneself and the other with conscious and deep attention.

 Three years of spiritual direction training, a concurrent MA in Servant Leadership and rugged year of CPE, all emphasized my responsibility to the art of listening. For both CPE and spiritual direction, I wrote “Verbatims,” almost 75 of these over the course of those 3 years, and they have since become an illuminating spiritual practice and a way to continue deepening my listening. It turned out that at 75, I was just getting started.

 Verbatims support the reflection necessary to notice what I noticed and missed regarding the other’s responses and my own during our time together, and to hold both of us in the light while doing so. Chiefly, they are tools for self-knowledge.

 Meaning is sifted through many levels of listening: There is the literal dialogue, and then there are all the accompanying intonations, pauses, body language indications, eye movements, triggers, memories, and energetic pulls toward and away from each other. There are projections, denials, biases, transference, manipulations, desires, shadows and more shadows at play in any conversation. Remaining conscious to all of these dimensions so that a conversation can be between our hearts and unearth true feelings respectfully, while allowing Spirit to truly guide and be present within our communication, takes continual practice and tending, and yields continual gifts.

 I encourage you to use verbatim-writing, if it appeals to you, for reflection and for deepening your listening gifts. There are people who loathe writing and for whom this would not be a helpful practice; rest assured, there are a variety of ways to deepen our listening, and I’ll be happy to share others as well.

 I’ve added a template at the end of this post, and encourage to you to try using all, some, or just one part of it, and let me know your reaction.

 It works like this: Light a candle or use meditative music: whatever signifies to your spirit that your time of meditation and sacred work is beginning. (It can help to have a great pot of tea and some wonderful form of chocolate to sustain this meditation!)

 Still yourself through meditation, centering, deep breathing—whatever method you use, and then take time to recount a recent conversation you shared. (For me, it’s best to jot down some memories and dialogue as soon as I can after a conversation has ended, and then to wait through one sleep/dreaming time before continuing.)

 Begin to write, describing the setting and energy with which you and the other seemed to enter the encounter. Then, as best as you can recall, write down the dialogue (like the script of a play). You can start with about 20 exchanges and try to build from there as you grow comfortable with the practice. It may seem daunting, initially, to recall who said what, but I assure you, if you get into the flow, the gist of your time together will also flow fairly unimpeded as you gain experience. Whenever possible, you can add, in parentheses, what body movements, pauses, tones, etc. accompanied the spoken words.

When you’ve finished transcribing the dialogue, the deep work can begin: this is the gift of creating a verbatim, for me. Over the years, the whole process has become a form of prayer and meditation that gives me great peace.

This is not about judging yourself—or the other—but about improving your ability to truly speak and hear from the heart and grant others the space and safety of speaking from theirs.

 Here is the verbatim outline I use when I’m working as a spiritual director/companion, or just praying with a recent conversation. There are many other versions available; mix and match; add and discard as it serves your spirit and deepens your listening. This is always, and only, for your eyes, and meant to enhance your self-awareness and compassionate listening. Some people save their verbatims to review their growth and celebrate lessons learned; others burn them following reflection, or annually, at a time that for them is holy, as a kind of sacred offering to Spirit or to honor their commitment to a level of listening that is awake and compassionate. Always remember: this is a way to listen more compassionately to yourself as much as to the other.

 May the New Year offer us wonderful opportunities and invitations to deepen our listening; and so may we, the other, and the world be healed.

 Verbatim Template

 Introduction (Time/Place/Person/Relationship/Context): (A good place to start.)

Record of Conversation: (Write it down as fully and faithfully as you can. Re-writing and jotting notes—all over the verbatim—is encouraged!)

 Analysis and Evaluation

Movement: (How would you describe the individual, shared, and Spirit’s flow of energy from beginning to the end of this encounter? Sometimes using colors to trace these “energy flows” is helpful.)

 My Feelings: (Note, in as much detail as possible, what you were feeling at each point of the conversation. Where did you feel any significant shifts?)

Other Person’s Needs: (What do you understand about the yearning and desires—for connection, healing, wholeness, relationship, etc.—of your dialogue companion? Or, perhaps the other person just stated goals and implied a need for support and a desire for clarity. Note wherever in the conversation s/he identified a feeling.)

Seed: (What would you isolate as the “important truth” of this encounter? Keep it simple and pure: what was this conversation “really” about? There may be one for you, and one for the other, that you sense and would like to explore.)

 What I’d Do Differently: (As you are present to this conversation, can you identify, within your own responses/movements, anything that you would change? Remember, this is about deepening your listening: Did you interrupt your companion out of anxiety, and so impede her own ability to hear herself or follow a thought along its journey? Did you veer off to another subject? Did you re-direct conversation away from the revelation of feelings and matters of the heart and head back to the good, old reliable brain? Did your attention drift, or did you become focused on your next response and so limit your listening?

 I learned two techniques in my training that I will always treasure: First, avoid asking too many, if any, “Why” questions. These can quickly turn people away from the heart and back towards the brain. Use “why” very sparingly.

 And—I cannot emphasize this enough—perhaps the most integral aspect of deep listening is to learn to be comfortable with pauses, however long. Over and over, this is what has yielded the most remarkable gifts in my listening. “Let silence do the heavy lifting.” Silent and listen contain the same letters; they are close kin and powerful allies on my listening journeys.)

What did this reveal: (About each of you, and reveal about your attitude toward the other person? Did you feel hooked at any point, or resist anything shared during this conversation? This is a very important part of the verbatim regarding your self-awareness and growth) 

Future Involvement and Learning: (What might you learn more about, or seek to master so as to improve the listening you offer this person, yourself, others, and Spirit?)

Spiritual Reflections: (How did this encounter echo, challenge, invite, etc., your spirit to grow? How did it affirm your journey? Are any patterns or practices made clear? If there is a theology that holds meaning and direction for you, how is it integrated into your listening? If you have a connection to an image of the Holy, how was that affected by this encounter? How has your spirit been moved by this, and do you have a sense of how the greater Spirit was—and is—present to you?)

Identity and Style: (What has this revealed to you about yourself and your way of listening, being present, embracing mystery…etc.?)

Take time to be with this verbatim and revisit it for deeper reflection. Honor yourself and the other with a blessing before ending the practice. Listen and heal; listen and be healed.

 

© Copyright of all visual and written materials on The Daily Round belongs solely to Catherine M. O’Meara, 2011-Present. Unauthorized use is strictly prohibited, without the author’s written approval. No one is authorized to use Catherine O’Meara’s copyrighted material for material gain without the author’s engagement and written permission. All other visual, written, and linked materials are credited to their authors. Thank you, and gentle peace.

 

Meeting Life on the Inside: Breathe In

The wheel of the year has turned to the position we call winter; we recognize the year’s shortest day with the solstice and the “sun’s rebirth” as days begin to lengthen again. The daily round is marked with celebrations and traditions honoring sacred understandings of light-in-darkness. Winter offers invitations to explore one’s interior yearning, healing, and relationships, so we may go forth again in spring renewed, centered, and focused upon our unique forms of service and connections to our outer relationships and communities.

The word “hibernate” is derived from the Latin word for winter (hiberno: I winter) and generates the wonderful noun “hibernaculum,” which, zoologically, is the place where an animal winters, and, botanically, is the protective bud or covering a plant uses to survive the challenges of dormancy. I love that the letters of the word “hibernate” form the anagram “breathe in,” for winter is my time for assessing, deepening, and strengthening my meditation practice and more earnestly tending my dreams.

My “hibernaculum” is a small meditation room with a futon, my piano, lovely artwork created by friends, and a beautiful cabinet made my Phillip. I use it to store books, candles, discernment cards, CD’s, and a small TV for viewing the excellent Spirituality and Practice DVD series, Spiritual Literacy: Reading the Sacred in Everyday Life as a prelude to meditation. This room is a sanctuary I value; I suppose it’s the feminine spiritual equivalent of a “man cave.” It’s where I go to consciously “breathe in.”

 Coleman Barks, the wonderful translator of the Sufi mystic Rumi’s poetry, tells of a meeting with a spiritual master who asked him, “Will you meet me on the inside or on the outside?”

 Barks recalls that he answered “with English-teacherly evasiveness,” saying, “Isn’t it always both?” Reviewing his response years later, he regrets this attempt at sophisticated cleverness and writes, “I should have bowed and said, Inside.” (From The Drowned Book: Ecstatic and Earthly Reflections of Bahauddin the Father of Rumi, by Coleman Barks and John Moyne.)

This is a time when we gather to celebrate and mark festivities of light with gift-giving. Often the gifts are mere gestures, empty of true, heartfelt meaning. How lovely if we could daily gift ourselves with times of stillness and inner peace, and encourage others to do so as well. Twenty minutes in the morning and the evening are possible; more than that, I have learned, they are necessary, wholly holy, and healing moments of the day, when I may retreat, meditate, and again meet myself “on the inside.”

 At no point in the year’s turning are we more generously invited to be with our authentic selves this way: to sift through blessings, losses, lessons, hopes, realignment, and redirection. Winter speaks to my beloved inner hermit and beckons her to explore and honor the wisdom yielded by another year on the path.

It can be helpful during the time of the solstice to create a timeline of the closing year and note the patterns danced by my spirit. When was I most strongly true to myself and where did my spirit waver? Are there any opportunities to ask for or grant forgiveness and so strengthen relationships in the life I’m creating? What learning do I most desire in the year to come? What do my senses crave; what colors, smells, imagery and totems are calling; what paths are opening? What relationships need mending, tending—or ending? What gifts have been neglected or over-extended? What parts of me need regeneration and where can greater balance be restored?

I truly and happily anticipate this retreat, this time of hibernation and restoration, this annual opportunity to deeply “breathe in,” to bow to Spirit, to greet myself and therefore others with true Namaste. (“My Source/Spirit recognizes, acknowledges, and bows to yours.”)

I sometimes wonder if those who proclaim their dislike of winter are really denying–or fearing–the naked encounter with the self that calls to and from the heart during this season, and if that is the case, I’m sad for their unconscious fear of what, for me, has always been a loving boon and gentle way to welcome a new year. As counter-cultural as stillness and darkness are, entering them openly and with a candle lit by self-compassion can steady and deepen one’s orientation towards, and connection to, the Mystery that is the stillpoint at the center of our existence. Now is always the time, but certainly the winter solstice (when the sun stands still) gentles the spirit inward to gaze on the Love at its center more sweetly than any other time of the year.

May the peace, wisdom, love, and joy of the season be yours.

 

© Copyright of all visual and written materials on The Daily Round belongs solely to Catherine M. O’Meara, 2011-Present. Unauthorized use is strictly prohibited, without the author’s written approval. No one is authorized to use Catherine O’Meara’s copyrighted material for material gain without the author’s engagement and written permission. All other visual, written, and linked materials are credited to their authors. Thank you, and gentle peace.

 

 

When Diverted, Make a Bridge: Lessons From Squirrels

The daily round has been beset by obstructions and frustrations this week, good reminders that change should always be expected, since we’re all transforming, every instant. But more than that, the awareness that my efforts and careful plans could be altered in a moment challenged me to either “breathe and deal,” or lapse into the comfortable role of the complaining victim. Family patterns and Irish blood allow anger to reside very close to the surface, always available for sharing when well-laid plans go awry. Blasting another’s inadequacies, vacuity, and faulty logic can bring such wonderful relief.

Living from the spirit level is so much easier to write about than to do.

Sigh.

The temptation to blame these changes on others’ incompetence is so very handy (as is a well-fashioned string of profanity), but why blame others for being human rather than perfect?

And then the real challenge becomes the introspective journey: Why would I even expect perfection of others and what do I expect of myself? How do I feel about the elements of control—and surprise—in my life? How hospitable am I, truly, to the flow of life-as-it-is? How gracious am I towards my own and others’ mistakes? Why evaluate and predicate life upon how close I and others come to perfection? And why the need to separate myself from the other in the first place? Aren’t we all in this together?

Human being is human screwing up. Homo Not-So-Sapiens. Accept it and get on with it; perhaps one day, in greater wisdom, revel in it.

We’ve been experiencing high winds more frequently this autumn. Leaves have been whipped from trees and branches have been scattered across the lawns and trails. A huge branch was partially ripped from a willow along the riverbank. I heard it crack and saw it swing downward, resting its tip upon the ground, its “shoulder joint” still attached to the trunk. In an instant, an arm that had always touched heaven now brushed the earth.

Squirrels had formerly enjoyed the views and safety of this branch, as well as the leverage it provided to those branches adjacent and above it. What I noticed within a half-hour following the storm was certainly a lesson in flexibility and adaptation to change: the squirrels now used the newly-fallen branch as a bridge between earth and the tree’s higher branches, and scurried playfully up and down the streamlined pathway.

Chaos rules; might as well accept it and adapt accordingly, with as much peace, grace, and joy as we can summon. Look for the bridges where none were before. Perhaps especially those that exist between ourselves and others. And recognize that we, like all our fellow humans-being, are doing the best we can.

There’s just this moment and we co-create what it is with what is presented to us.

 Which is what humans do.

Which is imperfectly perfect.

 

© Copyright of all visual and written materials on The Daily Round belongs solely to Catherine M. O’Meara, 2011-Present. Unauthorized use is strictly prohibited, without the author’s written approval. No one is authorized to use Catherine O’Meara’s copyrighted material for material gain without the author’s engagement and written permission. All other visual, written, and linked materials are credited to their authors. Thank you, and gentle peace.

Co-Creation

So ends a weekend full of fall’s bounty and invitations…for me, the proper response is gratitude: for friends, for family, for 4-legged companions, for the mystery of life we enter, and for the meaning we co-create in community.

Early Saturday morning, my husband and his friend, Scott, helped me plant over 160 tulip bulbs (wonderful bulbs, from www.AmericanMeadows.com).

 They dug, and I placed and covered the bulbs with a silent blessing for their peaceful rest and eventual vernal emergence, when all creation rises to the light. I like to plant in groups of five; certainly, this is in keeping with the elements of formal design, but for me, it also ensures the bulbs will rest in community: fragile companions nestled together during the time of fertile darkness, while cold winter winds and gentle–or fierce–snows swirl above their earth-womb, and safeguard their needed gestation.

And so, too, my own spirit is led downward to the coming darkness and cold of autumn and towards the solitude and centering of winter, where losses may be recounted and griefs healed, and where seeds of hope and dreams of growth may be harbored, incubated, and cradled. I’m gathering in the lessons of the year: winnowing, discarding, and laying out the questions I want to plant for winter discernment. Like the bulb’s requirements for transformation, this is best done deeply and in stillness, and never without community. Phillip, the 4-leggeds, friends, gardens, everything in every moment–my relationships with all–reveal myself to me. For each of us, whatever vulnerable potential will bloom into light requires co-creation and the support of community. Our growth is never done in isolation. We collaborate in fashioning the questions with all of creation, in awareness or not, and within these relationships we refine the paths where the questions lead…

Together, Phillip, Scott, and I joined the dance of co-creation with Mother Earth, planting hope and joining our energies with the web of nature, connecting with life’s eternal circle. Planting seeds is always a co-creation and collaboration with mystery, as is a life lived consciously.

 

© Copyright of all visual and written materials on The Daily Round belongs solely to Catherine M. O’Meara, 2011-Present. Unauthorized use is strictly prohibited, without the author’s written approval. No one is authorized to use Catherine O’Meara’s copyrighted material for material gain without the author’s engagement and written permission. All other visual, written, and linked materials are credited to their authors. Thank you, and gentle peace.