Breath of Life

Phillip, my cousin, Don, and my Aunt Mary
Phillip, my cousin, Don, and my Aunt Mary

My beloved Aunt Mary died several weeks ago, early one Sunday morning in February. She was my mother’s younger sister, but not by much, and their close bond throughout their lives always made me long for a sister, too.  It often surprised the three of us how much more I resembled my aunt in attitudes and preferences than I did my mother. And in the years since my mother died, Mary and I had become even closer, sharing e-mails and phone visits regularly.

My aunt was a remarkable person, utterly funny, charming, intelligent, and alive to the society, interests, and amusements that paraded through her days, the kind of person who had many lifelong friends, enamored children, nieces and nephews, and beholden strangers who benefited from her kindness and acts of charity. She was someone whose wit, wisdom, ready listening and encouragement were vital to making others see that a better world, or just a better day, is always possible. She had a vital spark most lack. She breathed greater life into those around her than they sustained alone.

Little foxes, early bees, squirrel, chipmunk, spring 041I write this not as a eulogy, for I cannot do her gifts or influence on my life justice in such a brief forum, but by way of sharing that my grief in losing her has been gentle and so coupled with relief at her peace that it’s traveled with me these past weeks more like a soft grey cloud than a terrible storm, as my parents’ deaths engendered. I am grateful for her gifts and presence in my life and I am grateful that she is no longer yearning to be with her husband or suffering from ill health.

But I sure miss our e-mails, visits, and shared laughter.

I was thinking of her one morning when spring beckoned more than chores and I’d wandered outside to see what the world could tell me. I saw this daffodil, so earnest in its reaching for light that the dead leaf circumscribing its leaves couldn’t restrain its rising momentum.

Fox babies, dogpark, roly-poly puppies 007That is how the dead can be with us, how grief can restrain joy…The next day, the leaf had fallen away, joining others that surrounded the plant, becoming food for its continued growth. In death, still the breath of life.

Fox babies, dogpark, roly-poly puppies 011Grief takes its own time—and must—but what a gentle reminder that winter leads to spring, and death to life. Just the kind of message my Aunt Mary would send me.

Little foxes, early bees, squirrel, chipmunk, spring 062

Little foxes, early bees, squirrel, chipmunk, spring 064Another gift of spring has been these darling fox kits, just emerging from their den to smell the world and take a few tentative steps into its songs and mysteries. They make every pore of my being tingle with maternal instinct, but, like everything wild, including my own nature, they also teach me over and over again to respect their boundaries and not interfere with instinctive patterns followed for centuries. So I observe from a distance and leave them to their necessary dance. I hope they will know peace, and comfort, and joy, in whatever form these may be known by foxes. I breathe a prayer and send it to their den at night.

Little foxes, early bees, squirrel, chipmunk, spring 090I read about a wealthy inventor, futurist and engineer who believes people will, eventually, live forever, and who has hopes that his dietary, vitamin, and exercise regimen will allow him to remain healthy until this is possible.

I have no desire to live forever; I just want to be alive for all of the life granted me, and, if I’ve done it well, maybe I can feed the growth of others in their reaching for the light after I’ve gone, breathing still through their lives and the ways they love the world.

Little foxes, early bees, squirrel, chipmunk, spring 101Like my Aunt Mary.

 

© 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.

 

A Change in the Weather

Spring rain, duck 014Our annual guests, the ducks, have returned this past week on daily reconnaissance missions to site their new nest. Spring, finally, is in the air.

Spring rain, duck 025Lovely rains are falling today and more are promised this week. The dogs and I have been sitting peacefully for a time, just watching the rain wash the world green. The music and rhythms have lulled us all into a sleepy peacefulness, but I know it’s time to set down the book I’ve been reading and pick up my paint brush. Again.

I had the bright idea that freshening up the painted cabinets in the dining room and kitchen would be a wonderful project to replace the gardening I couldn’t yet begin because of snow cover and cold.

Earrly April, bridge repair, video 002Of course, painting cabinets requires taking everything out of them, and—in my case—facing the haphazard organization resulting from the accrued 17 years of living and working in this kitchen. Bakeware, appliances, tools, pots and pans…all of these things just kind of “settled,” like homesteaders who staked a claim, plopped down to clear land, and built a life, regardless of how logically situated they were towards light, water, necessities, and the rest of civilization.

Shouldn’t the bakeware and pots, etc., be closer to the oven, and shouldn’t the less-used cookie tins be on the pantry’s highest shelf, allowing the grains to be placed more accessibly? Amazing what we can discover about ourselves and our world when we pull everything out and look anew at how we’ve arranged and accepted it “must” be.

So, the kitchen and dining room are now beautifully and logically reorganized…and I can’t find a damn thing. My mind has not yet adjusted to this new, improved way of functioning, but it will, as I reorient.

It reminds me of the interview I read in The Sun last week (http://thesunmagazine.org/issues/448/out_of_our_heads). Philip Shepherd discusses his perceptions about the ways we accept culturally-designated realities and then all the institutions and behaviors that ensure these, without questioning whether these are the best we can do regarding the health of the earth, humanity, and the interconnections between our own and all other species.

In his book, New Self, New World: Recovering Our Senses in the Twenty-First Century, he speaks of the brain in our heads as more aligned with masculine energy, and the brain in our “gut” as having greater alignment with feminine energy. These are not men vs. women designations, but rather ways of describing every human’s potential for wholeness and balance, and it’s no surprise, I suppose, that Shepherd believes that, as a species, we’re dangerously imbalanced in our dependency upon the “head brain” to the exclusion of incorporating the wisdom of our heart, or gut brain. And therefore, the imbalance is reflected in the realities we create and maintain, which Shepherd feels have set our world on a clear path of unnecessary destruction.

Too much reliance on our masculine energy creates the illusion we’re separate, independent, and entirely self-reliant. Shepherd thinks a greater integration of our feminine energy and wisdom would help us see, value, and tend the interconnections that exist “outside of” the reality we accept.

I’m simplifying, of course, but if we can get beyond the “way it’s always been,” perhaps we’ll be open to discovering a better way it can be…

Spring rain, duck 012So, I’ll deal with the inconvenience I experience when my old patterns of habitual steps around the kitchen frustrate my ingrained expectations. In time, I hope I’ll enjoy the reorganization and the “flow” the new plan offers my cooking and baking. 

A change in the weather is a gift, allowing us to view our “old” landscapes from new perspectives. Perhaps I can set down some of my deep-rooted expectations and behaviors regarding what I accept as “reality” as well, nurturing my own and others’ balance by widening the possibilities I consider, and choosing new responses and ways of engaging.

Maybe just one more mug of tea before I pick up the paintbrush…time to sit and breathe into greater balance before starting my work.

Now, where’s the tea strainer?

Spring rain, duck 029

 

© 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.

Everything Changes

60 degrees and raining 001In the past four days, we’ve had a snowstorm, a thunderstorm, temperatures in the upper 50’s and today, another snowstorm. This morning, chickadees have been flying back and forth to the feeders, singing their spring songs, but that’s changed again in the past hour. They seem to have adapted to winter’s return. I wonder if they can tell that tomorrow the temperatures will dip once more below zero, or if this will surprise them?

Birds snow rain fog 016Everything changes: not always in a day, or even a lifetime, and rarely all at once, but as we revolve through life, it seems every cycle brings us back to a place that’s similar but never the same as it was. Companions have left our side and new ones now walk the path beside us; our physical capabilities or our views have altered; the degree of hope we perceive in our hearts and the encouragement offered by the world around us varies.

Birds in snowstorm 042We may be surprised by loss, tragedy, or reversals, changes that cause the geographies describing our relationship to self, others, place, and spirit to evolve or regress, or dramatically alter, and we either adapt or do not, depending upon our finesse and willingness to regain our balance and accept these changes that were unsought and undesired.

CHRISTMAS HOLIDAY THRU 26TH 177But even changes we’ve planned for and worked towards demand our willingness to discard elements of our current situation, boundaries, or relationships that were once rooted in the earth of our existence.

We devise systems to manage change: education, healthcare, government. We create “news programs” to discuss the changes collectively experienced over 24 hours, and share phone calls, or posts in social media, or text messages to update each other more intimately and frequently regarding changes in our “status.”

Birds in snowstorm 025It seems, societally, we’re addicted to insignificant change and hasten its rhythms to keep us engaged in life. Until substantial change threatens our sense of security, the way we “want” things to be, or the direction we desire to move. Then, we resist, argue, deny, or retreat, often to our detriment, though certainly stillness, discernment, and speaking our own truth are valuable companions as we navigate the flow of this ever-changing energy we call life.

I’ve been reading another book on the spirituality of change, specifically as it relates to aging. This is a topic that fascinates me and that I’ve been asked to address in presentations to those who care for geriatric patients or to those who, like me, are interested in exploring changes that are specific to aging humans and our physical, emotional, and spiritual health.

Over and over, I’ve encountered the understanding that the happiest individuals are those who have used their intelligence and gifts to the best of their abilities, but who resist grasping too tightly to any outcome, and instead nurture a willingness to let go and to flow with the greater current, looking for unexpected blessing and the potential for creativity in forming one’s response.

birds christmas break 008The central change we face as we age is our death, and our health as elders may depend upon the degree to which we embrace our death as friend, foe, inevitability, or a fearful possibility we can avoid through the “magic of medicine.”

I know of a woman who is 89 and considering a heart valve replacement. All of her organs are somewhat compromised and the surgery, if successful, will require a lengthy stay in a nursing facility for her convalescence. She has said, “I’m afraid to die.” I hope she is aware that hospice is another choice, and that patients served by hospices often live longer than those who instead choose aggressive medical interventions, but her fear is driving her choice to undergo this surgery. Family members often disagree about such choices and thus another level of chaos and distraction can intrude upon our end-of-life choices and experiences. Answers are elusive and, in the end, each person has to choose and, hopefully, be at peace regarding these choices.

Birds snow rain fog 010

Over and over in my work as a chaplain I met people at these crossroads and tried to be a listening presence as they navigated their way to peace, or battled through final breaths to the change that came anyway and inevitably. Regardless of my inclinations, my job was to support them through theirs. Certainly, a patient who said, “I am afraid to die” indicated an obvious need to dialogue, and in conversations with a chaplain or other trained caregiver, the patient often reached greater peace as his fears, his beliefs, and his sources of strength were opened, explored, validated and employed creatively to face the days ahead.

Birds snow rain fog 063Rituals sometimes helped ease deterrents to dying peacefully, but so did the hard work of asking forgiveness, or extending it to another, reviewing a life that proved more light-filled than first admitted, re-connecting the dying to loved ones who had become distant, or to a faith community that affirmed its willingness to become involved.

Rainy Night 016It taught me to pay attention to my own dying: to choose responses to possible scenarios; to designate my power of attorney, complete a will, and file the legal forms with my physicians and loved ones; to discuss with my husband, relatives, and friends, what treatments and care I would desire at the end of my life, and to clarify how I want my body to be returned to the earth. Such tasks completed, although unforeseen change may cause their revision, I’m better able to turn back towards the amazing mystery and ever-changing dance with my ever-changing life. Whatever it brings, storms or halcyon days of mellow sunshine, I hope I’ll go with the flow.

And back to winter 007

 

© 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.

Blessing

House,  Christmas tree, sunrise 070May I offer joy and gentle peace today and every day. May I take time to pause before I judge, before I criticize, before I punish myself or the other with thoughts, words, and energy that is anything but calm, loving, compassionate, and forgiving.

May I remember and hold close to my heart the awareness that we’re all here together; may I help heal myself and others by remaining mindful and intentional about my presence, my needs, and others’ rights.

Everything passes; may it pass my awareness with love, and may I look for the joy, because it’s here, within and without. May I be love to my friends and to the strangers I’ll meet today.

May no one cross my path without feeling respected, worthy, seen, heard, and loved.

May I hear the invitations to transformation that call to me today, and be willing to travel the paths that will lead me to greater authenticity, deeper self-knowledge, and greater compassion.

May I be kind. May I be aware of any thought or behavior that moves me out of the state of love. May I grow in balance, wholeness, and wisdom.

May I be a force, a light, a candle in the night…

All my relations.

House,  Christmas tree, sunrise 029

 

© 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.

Something Wicked

I love the celebration of Halloween: the decorations, the pumpkin-carving, the bonfires, the masks and costumes, the trick-or-treating and the ghost stories. If you visit Full Moon Cottage any time after Labor Day, you know it’s the home of someone almost crazed about Halloween. Luckily, my good-natured husband encourages, or at least welcomes this. Cats, pumpkins, witches and ghosts…they’re everywhere!

To understand, you need to know about the Halloween of 1963…

In those days, trick-or-treating was an after-dark celebration, walking door-to-door in the neighborhood, accompanied by friends and siblings and, usually, a parent who stood (thankfully) in the shadows, enjoying the spectacle, keeping an eye on us, chatting with friends, and making sure we said, “Thank you.” (The other parent was stationed at home to hand out candy to other eager trick-or-treaters.)

For weeks, high energy fueled the anticipatory excitement of fantasizing about our costumes, planning the trick-or-treat route, speculating about others’ costumes, choosing and addressing cards, and looking forward to the classroom parties. It all culminated on the glorious day of Halloween (not the weekend before or after, but on the very day, October 31st), a day of celebration at school followed by a night of donning our amazing (usually homemade) costumes and going “trick-or-treating,” slowly navigating our way around a few blocks of homes whose windows and porches glowed with lit pumpkins and whose yards featured cornstalks, fabricated ghosts, and goblins. It seemed all the world (circumscribed by those few blocks) agreed that life was enchanted, if only for one day and night every year.

We carried decorated bags handed out at area groceries, bumped into other costumed kids, enjoyed the neighborhood decorations and laughed at the adults who also wore costumes and “scared” us when we came to their doors… Everything about the evening was magical.

When we arrived back home, we dumped our treats on the floor and swapped candy, more cagily than Wall Street traders.

“I’ll give you two Butterfingers for six caramels…”

“No. Two Butterfingers and one Chunky…”

“…For six caramels and a Bun Bar!”

“How about six caramels and a popcorn ball?”

“Is it one of Mrs. Heidke’s popcorn balls?”

“Yes.”

“Deal!”

We were only allowed to have one treat a night thereafter, and tried to be the one whose candy lasted the longest, at least through the second week of Advent.

After trick-or-treating, the neighborhood public school invited everyone into the gym to watch cartoons and a Walt Disney movie, a rare treat in those days. The Halloween celebration was probably all over by 8:30 or 9:00 P.M., but it seemed to last forever. We drifted off to sleep on stardust.

But in 1963, that fateful year when I was eight, a tonsillectomy left me bedridden and unable to participate in all the fun.

The surgery itself was very like a horror movie, so there were Halloween-like elements to the experience. The Dayton Children’s Hospital was at that time an old converted mansion, and I clearly remember my parents exchanging looks that questioned the sanity behind this decision as we crossed the threshold very early on the morning of Friday, October 25th. They quickly rearranged their faces and smiled at me, telling me “what an adventure” this would be, but I was not mollified by their reassurances after glimpsing their initial expressions. Parental energy was never hard to read, and they were anxious and worried.

Within an hour, I was given a mini-hospital gown, even uglier than those offered now, and a shot of something that made me dopey. (Dopier, my brothers would have said.) I remember the smell of ether and some of the hallucination that followed. (It started with the twirling pinwheel from the beginning of every Twilight Zone episode.)

When I came out of the anesthetic, I was assaulted by more pain than I’d ever felt. Apparently, the surgical tool of choice for tonsillectomies in those days was a hacksaw. I also remember the drive home later that day, my mother and I sitting in the back seat so she could hold both me and a coffee can, in case the ether made me ill. I’m pretty sure it did. (I’ve often wondered: did the hospital staff suggest a coffee can? Did they supply it, from a stockroom full of empty coffee cans, hacksaws and ether?)

For the next few days, all was darkness.

Oh, there were bright spots. My grandparents sent me a huge box of books, toys, and candy. My best friend brought me not just my homework, but a present every day for the two weeks I was healing, and an extra-magnificent bag of candy on Halloween. My classmates sent me treats and cards, and my family tended me well…I made a bigger caloric haul than if I’d actually gone out trick-or-treating, and opened more gifts than if it were my birthday, but it didn’t assuage my disappointment in missing out on the fun. And I couldn’t eat the candy, anyway, till my throat healed.

I’d lost Halloween and nothing could replace it.

All that love held me, shone around me, showered upon me, but the disappointment of a child can overshadow everything around her.

My throat eventually healed, and I still had a few great Halloweens to enjoy, but missing my eighth was always recalled as something wicked that came my way.

Many years later, after many lovely blessings and a few and more deeply wicked twists visited my life, I met Phillip. And the fairy-tale I always knew would happen, did.

Once we were settled at Full Moon Cottage, we began shaping our own traditions and I started collecting decorations for the holidays that mark the seasons of the turning year. Frequently, when decorating and celebrating, my inner eight-year old comes out to play, and never more ecstatically than during the Halloween season. Every year, she regains the magic of the Halloween she lost, while the inner wise woman I hope I’m becoming stands back and recalls, in gratitude, all the love that surrounded that eight-year-old and her healing back in 1963.

This year, maybe we should swap candy and watch a Walt Disney movie. In costumes, of course. Good thing I found Mrs. Heidke’s popcorn ball recipe!

 

© 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.

Healing Arts

My life’s partner and I have a passion for handmade art–and for musicians, for painters, for photographers, and for people who shape their energy and the earth’s into pottery or glass, blankets or baskets, jewelry or carvings, or ornaments of beauty. The central joys of life, for me, have always been to listen for the generative song of creativity and to seek the company of those who hear, welcome, dance, and improvise to its music. And to midwife the arts of our own and others’ spirits.

How else do we love and heal and become, fully, ourselves?

I was three years removed from city life when we moved once more to Full Moon Cottage. Still weaning from close proximity to theaters, orchestras and art museums, I wondered if moving again, to even more remote country acres, was overdoing it. Happily, I soon learned that wherever there are people, there is art.

We can drive to Madison in 30 minutes, to Milwaukee in under an hour, or to downtown Chicago in about 2.5 hours. So when the Big Art Jones needs a fix, it can be readily satisfied. And then we can return home to sleep beneath a sky scattered with stars and the music of owls, crickets, and the entire Full Moon Orchestra.

Works for us.

But a lovelier benefit of living here is that many of our neighbors are working artists who live in this area because this is where they can afford a home and the space that feeds their spirits and art, and yet be near metropolitan centers where their creativity can be shared with wider audiences.

The town we now call home is built around a beautiful, clean lake. There’s a square at the center of the “business district” that forms a park where the local farmers’ market and festivals are held. In winter, an ice rink is formed at the park and “skating music” is played through speakers, something I look forward to every year. It’s wonderful, especially during a snowfall, to hear the music and children’s voices as I walk between the library and grocery store, or meet a friend for lunch. 

Art and community are what I need when my hope for humanity ebbs, as it does when one among us turns to violence and communicates his fear, anger, and alienation with a gun rather than a paintbrush, poem, or guitar. And so, yesterday, we attended the annual Art Fair on the town’s square. A good friend joined us, and we shared a peaceful day meeting artists, enjoying their creativity, listening to an all-women band playing classic “big band” music, watching children’s delight with face-painting, and catching up on our own stories. “It’s all about relationship,” a professor once told me. Yes, it is.

I strolled and sat and people-watched and thought how good it is when we gather to share our inherent creativity: not to judge, but just to celebrate that–given the choice between hate-fueled destruction or love-infused creativity—most people, over and over, choose to make art and make merry.

And so we love, and heal, and delight each other back to continued creativity and hope.

Our favorite house-sitter will be with the 4-leggeds this week so we can go up to Lake Superior, the Big Pond at the north end of our state. Peace to your week, and joy in your creativity!

 

© 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 the Rain Fell

When the rain fell—

softly breathing, then with snores of thunder—

our ears woke first to ancient rhythms

and whispers of water.

The dusty world cleansed;

the brittle made supple;

small spirits washed green and

sighing, serene.

We turned towards each other,

smiling into the blessing

of a newly-baptized earth.

Our embrace: not clinging, but soft

with the fullness of gratitude

for wet leaves 

and lives saved again by water

and 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.

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.

Transformation

A few years ago, a lovely willow in our back yard uprooted and crashed to the ground during a storm that swept through, riding on extremely high winds. Phillip and I happened to be in the living room facing the tall windows overlooking the yard when an earsplitting crack suddenly exploded through the wailing winds of the storm. We instinctively ducked, then turned towards the direction of the sound and saw the tree falling, crashing across two gardens. Bushes, perennials and annuals were crushed beneath the huge trunk, and the willow’s shattered branches lay in pieces, everywhere.

We spent the next week cleaning up and cutting the trunk of the tree so we could remove it from the gardens in sections. Huge “willow boulders” still form a pile of firewood near the river. We can only use such large pieces in outdoor bonfires, as they’re too hard to cut for the indoor wood-burning stove. Thankfully, all of the plants were saved, as though the willow had tried to do the least amount of damage as possible as it fell to its own death, missing far more plants than it touched, and those that were crushed now look healthy and revived.

We left the base of the willow’s trunk and a few massive pieces where it had been rooted, and formed a garden around it…at first, haphazardly, since it hadn’t been a planned garden, initially. Phillip built a trellis and set it at the back of this space, and I set a few plants around, intending to design and shape a garden when we had time. Throughout the next year, we added seeds or plants when we had leftovers from other gardens, driven by necessity and still without a design. The space gradually became attractive, but it made me sad to think about losing the willow.

For some years, I’d collected rose hips from the wild roses along the trail, saved them in the freezer and then, at some point, opened them and scarified a few of the seeds…I couldn’t find a lot of help on the internet in those days, so I had to guess at the techniques that would work: freezing and burning some, slicing others with a razor: scarification is challenging for the seed and the gardener… I planted these seeds around the yard and forgot about them for a couple years. Surprisingly, a few wild roses started popping up here and there, and within two years of the “falling willow,” a huge white wild rose was embracing, then overtaking the trellis, and forming an elegant backdrop for willow’s garden. Poppies thrived there and so did irises, lilies, and flax.

It has become a very lovely sanctuary in that corner of the yard, a memorial to our beautiful willow and her gentle spirit. The wild rose has become a symbol of what the pain of scarification can lead to: vigorous new growth and a surprising beauty that was unforeseen.

A few nights ago, we burned pieces of the willow’s trunk in our bonfire, and the holy fragrance entered my dreams as the fire smoldered through the night. It said: See what beauty can come from loss, and how spirited is the growth born from pain!

And all my dreams were stories of hope.

 

© 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.

Lost and Found

 Dear St. Anthony,

Come around,

I’ve lost my _______,

And it can’t be found.

That was the prayer-poem we were taught when we were very, very young and trying to locate a toy, or shoe, or homework assignment that had been misplaced. In the Catholic Church, St. Anthony of Padua is the patron saint of lost articles (extrapolate and extend metaphors as needed), and the prayer seemed to work. At any rate, it alleviated anxiety and allowed us to focus on finding what we’d lost, but I’ve never discounted the energy of holy mystery and its role in easing life’s burdens, either.

I’ve been reciting the Prayer to St. Anthony this past week, not in search of my mind, which I sometimes think would be a recommended “best practice,” but in search of a novel begun and stored on my computer and then one day accidently deleted or carried over to the trash bin. Poof. Lost. Without any recollection on my part. This is proof that age doesn’t automatically yield wisdom: I certainly know my manuscripts should be backed-up and stored on a flash drive and/or in a cloud. (Would that sentence have made any sense at all a few years ago?) But my new computer seemed so strong and safe; I relied upon it and let down my guard.

I forgot to practice safe text.

Writers will sympathize with the torment and agony this causes; the loss is real and deep. The child of my creativity is alone, abandoned, and floating somewhere in the ether. I can’t retrieve it…I can’t duplicate it. All the work; all the magic…gone.

My husband took the hard drive to the local computer doctor, who has been running searches for the past week; so far, unsuccessfully, but I haven’t surrendered all of my hope yet. Maybe St. Anthony will help me find my story. If not the actual document, perhaps I’ll be inspired to re-create it anew. Still too heartsick.

Damn! I loved the way it flowed, and I had so finely polished the words; each was a jewel, artistically conformed to the mood, setting, and action and poetry. The characters were distinct and intriguing…oh dear; even writing this hurts.

And on top of the loss, to be without a computer for days and days was initially like lemon juice on an open wound. I felt like I was floating free in the ether myself. The lack of my computer seemed to expand the day by innumerable hours. Had I really spent all that time checking e-mail, writing, visiting Facebook, reading links…?

I’d thought my days were fairly silent; I believed I wrote in stillness all day long. I discovered, though, that my hours had been full of the endless chatter the world creates and thrives upon. My computer was like some techno-umbilical cord connecting me to the constant stream of the world’s anxious head-noise.

Without it, I had time to enter my meditation space and stay for an hour. Meditating. I wrote in longhand, wandered and weeded in the gardens, meditated some more, and still had plenty of time to complete my share of our family’s tasks…and all of this in real, deep silence. Unplugged. Listening.

I had no idea until I lost my computer how silent silence could be. I knew this once, but I forgot. Technology seduces us and even when we think we’re being mindful, we’re enticed, led into reliance upon its endless connections and the desire to keep in touch. I HAVE to know what is occurring in the world now, and now, and now…

No; I don’t.

Phillip gifted me with a little (as in Lilliputian) notebook this weekend, so I can write and post, and e-mail. I appreciate it, but I don’t want to lose the lessons this past week taught me, lessons I thought I’d already mastered, but hadn’t. Twice a week, I plan to refrain from turning on any computer.

I learned again that moments of deep healing can come when we are silent and our spirit is deeply still. We can enter a space where everything we’ve ever been, and dreamed, and suffered, and where everyone we’ve ever loved lives, and waits for us to meet their energy and be with them.

I lost my story last week, and I lost a very precious friend. He was 86 and had been my spiritual director for several years. This will be a deeper grief to heal, a longer journey in the landscape of loss. But I know again that when I travel in silence to the still point in my heart, I’ll find my story and my friend. Both of them are there, alive, forever.

Thanks, St. Anthony.

 

© 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.

Hospitality: Of Pests and Guests

Hospitality is the fundamental virtue of the soil. It makes room. It shares. It neutralizes poisons. And so it heals. This is what the soil teaches: If you want to be remembered, give yourself away. ~ William Bryant Logan, Source: Dirt: the Ecstatic Skin of the Earth

So ends a week of surprising visits from pests and guests, which has led me to contemplate the practice of hospitality and its inherent reliance upon both giving and receiving.

I suspect when the energy between host and visitor is balanced, the visitor is more likely to be perceived as guest; when the exchange is energetically imbalanced, perhaps the visit becomes an experience more endured than welcomed…At any rate, I’m struggling with the impulse to label visitors as pests or guests; to paraphrase the quote from Logan, hospitality involves making room for whatever healing is needed; it necessitates giving oneself away, not withholding generosity based on judgments that rank the worthiness of one’s guest by considering some “pests.”

But, to clarify: my initially perceived pests included a virus that has benefitted from the warm winter and damp spring, using them as a fortuitous springboard to attack my irises, whose lovely leaves are spotted and rotting. I’ve cleaned and cut and thinned. I’ve destroyed what plague I could isolate and must now await the healing or demise that may follow.

Another pest shut down my computer quite suddenly this week when I’d hoped to spend fruitful days writing. Ominous messages appeared and before I could even react, my computer, more sentient and capable than I’d known, turned itself off. I was not hospitable to this detour and delay. I wrote what I could with a pen and notebook, then surrendered, my hand cramped and my outlook cloudy. To be honest, I enjoyed a few days of peaceful reading and stillness with the 4-leggeds, until the computer responded to Phillip’s tinkering.

The third pestilence is one that will continue to spread and infect our spirits through the upcoming state recall elections and probably through the presidential election next November. It is the canvassing and unwanted visitations to our e-mail, phones, and doorbell by earnest campaigners. I went out canvassing door-to-door myself, so can hardly fault others for acting to support their own political candidates, but it feels, already, like too much of a muchness. And to be perfectly honest: I have never been persuaded by a phone call, ad, or face-to-face encounter to vote any differently than I’d already determined I would. The urge to disconnect, turn off, tune out, and unplug grows.

But then I would not have the blessings of guests I also enjoyed this week. The loveliest was a visit from a friend with whom I share conversations so intense and deep I need to retreat to stillness and sleep for a day or two so all the meaning can settle, begin to synthesize, and slowly clarify the perceptions that have been altered and better ordered by our time together.

Many paths have led to my passion for hospitality. I have prayed, studied, and entered into friendships with Franciscans and Benedictines, members of two religious orders that value and earnestly tend their vowed commitment to hospitality.

I have worked as a professional and volunteer in both hospitals and hospices, organizations whose names link them to the ancient and healing bond between host and guest—in theory, if not always, ironically, in their environments or the manner in which their services are offered.

The daily round has brought many guests to our door over the years and most have shared their gratitude for our attempted hospitality, saying they feel comfortable, peaceful, and nourished in body and spirit, a testament to the land and environment surrounding Full Moon as well.

These encounters in life that drench it in such profound sweetness and gift make me wonder if I’m missing something when I label other encounters as undesirable and pest-ridden. I wonder what gifts I’m missing in my willingness to close the door to my spirit. After all, Logan says, “If you want to be remembered, give yourself away.’’ No hospitality, no healing on either side of an encounter?

I’m beginning to understand what hospitality means for me: it is the welcome embrace, the open assent to relationship with life in whatever form it presents itself. Hospitality is a posture one assumes; it draws equally upon strength and vulnerability. It creates a necessary portal, enabling our passage to the place where, in relationship, our regeneration and creativity can be stimulated and nourished, our songs can be heard and brought back into tune and resonance with our spirits, and our hearts unburdened and refilled with hope.

Both host and guest create whatever hospitality exists, and in its truest and purest form it can involve such intense engagement, such energetic connection and transference of energy, that it can leave one both energized and depleted, which are natural responses to transformation. A loving sexual relationship offers this; so does a loving spiritual relationship, a friendship, an encounter with one’s sense of the Holy through a stranger, or experiences with other forms of life and nature.

I am changed and new; I am overwhelmed and energized with gift. There is much to do; but first, I must sleep…incubating gifts…healing.

Gratitude is a lovely light to shine on one’s life; I think, though, that hospitality is what makes it possible.

My friend drove off yesterday afternoon. I walked among the gardens, weeding a bit, mothering the irises, admiring colors and turning, over and over, the words my friend and I had shared, planting new perspectives and perceptions, uncertain of their necessary gestation time, but confident they will bloom—created as they were in the garden of mutual and healing hospitality.

A stranger called and asked me to vote for his candidate. I opened my heart to his need to ask, his courage to try, his reaching for support. I shared that I didn’t agree with his choice but sympathized with the time and effort he was offering to make it known. We laughed together.

Even “no” can come from a place of hospitality. We are all, each of us, host and guest, creating our healing, or not, in relationship.

 

© 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.

Spring Is Icumen In…

Although my friends and family to the north received snow this week, we did not. Rain and the unseasonable warmth we’ve experienced all winter continues, and lead the spirit’s need for color and blooms and scents and birdsong to dreams of spring…every so often I find myself turning to images that remind me of what’s coming, and it seems a good day for sharing a few of these images in hopes they brighten your spirits, too. May the sweet rains wash away gloom and loosen ties to anything that doesn’t serve our healing and wholeness…

 

 

© 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.

Going Inside to Play: In Praise of Idleness

The hardest work is to go idle.  ~ Yiddish Proverb

Ages ago, when I was a very young college student studying theater arts, a few of our professors encouraged meditation in differing forms, but always with the purpose of drawing our attention inward, to a place centered and still. The creative process is such a mystery that it requires these journeys inward for excavation, image work, listening, and synthesis. But this is also as true of life itself, for everyone, and always.

I have friends who yearn to meditate and engage with it as a practice but who can “never find the time,” and this breaks my heart, because I know how hard they work –almost nonstop—day in and day out, and how rarely they play or even allow hallowed moments of “non-work” to exist and open up their lives to possibilities of stillness and the kind of renewal it alone brings us.

 Who has taught us to punish ourselves so earnestly? What is it we fear in encounters with the self? How true is it, finally, to equate our worth with our productivity and “busyness?” Why on earth, while we’re on earth, wouldn’t we deserve regular times of peace and quiet? What has made us so blind to the need for balance?

Why is our first impulse to condemn idleness? Part of it is due to our American heritage, I suppose, and the Protestant work-ethic that people pledge allegiance to without the introspection or reflection a mosquito gives its next bite; some of it results from bad religion, handed down and accepted without question; a good bit is derived from unique family dysfunctions that become the rhythms to which we dance till/unless we learn better music and tempos, but all of it is nonsense and fear-based. And the imbalance generated by “nose to the grindstone” thinking and behavior makes us ill, so very ill in body, mind, and spirit.

A perusal of quotes regarding “idleness” is illuminating. Among others, Kierkegaard, Chekhov, and Virginia Woolf agree that me that idleness is necessary to our health as humans; many others view it with fear and disdain—not surprising in the world we’ve created. (http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/keywords/idleness.html) Idleness is not the same as indolence to me, though they are used as synonyms. Neither is “work,” as in engaging with our gifts and passions, synonymous with “busyness,” that cultural frenzy with lists and tasks and always ensuring one is a human doing and never a human being. Engagements with our passions brings us to the center and we lose track of time; busyness causes stress because it so effectively binds us to time and keeps us away from the voice and needs of our spirit.

It is lovely and necessary to create, to work hard, to use our innate giftedness, and to produce something that makes the world, the community, or family, or self, the better for having done it. But this activity and the energy expended require fruitful balance in peace, introspection, reflection, and stillness. The avoidance of this—working “harder” and running faster to evade the still small voice within—is diseased and, at its core, “inhumane.”

For several years, I worked as a chaplain in a heart hospital and came to know the “types” who frequently became patients there: the over-achievers, who whipped out their laptops and cellphones within hours after life-saving surgeries; the people so steeped in denial of their brokenness or grief that their hearts just gave out from being so cruelly “silenced;” those who were non-compliant with prescribed self-care regimens, who routinely “forgot” to take medications or engage in exercise that would restore health; and those who never considered they were spirit as well as body, and that life was transcendent as well as empirical.

I always recall one of my patients, a retired and eminent heart surgeon, who could perceive no connection between his own heart attack and the fact it occurred on the day of his wife’s funeral. He could not accept that grief or loss had any place in his well-being, and was most anxious to leave the hospital and get home to finish necessary tasks he had set out for himself. We cope and grieve differently, and in our own time, but this tenacious avoidance of connecting dots and feeling feelings was something I observed frequently in heart patients.

This is not to blame the patient for the illness: most of us do the best we can till we know better, and our bodies are machines that weaken for many, many reasons, but there is often a connection between illness and a lifetime of beliefs and the behavior patterns they choreograph.

And the thing is, our beliefs and patterns never change unless we name them, review them, assess and evaluate them through reflection and introspection…and change. And this requires what appears to be “idleness.” We need daily recess: playtime and dream dates with our spirits, and connections with the Sacred within and without.

Meditation isn’t tricky. You don’t need to travel anywhere, earn a degree, pay a lot of money, or understand another language to meditate. Books and classes are available: so is a floor—or chair—where you can sit, close your eyes, and breathe for five minutes twice a day, and then, maybe longer. Do it with a friend or do it alone. Be kind to yourself; accept your feelings; heal.

Over the years I’ve continued to meditate and explore what that means for me. As I’ve aged, my stillness practices have only expanded, and all of them can be meditative: Centering prayer, mindfulness practices, walking or biking the trail, dreamwork, sitting with the 4-leggeds, walking a labyrinth, mandala creation and meditations, sitting meditation with and without images, breathwork, photography and gardening, canoeing the river, yoga and yoga prayer, journaling, soup-making, and (yes) housecleaning—all can help me to still and focus, release negative energy and open my spirit to needed healing and joy.

There are days I prefer music and days I need silence; days when I must move, and days when stillness beckons. And there are days when lying on a blanket beneath lovely clouds or a field of stars is mandatory playtime. Don’t look for “rules” regarding how and where, or when you meditate; do look at your need for rules.

For almost 40 years, meditation has saved me, over and over, from tipping into the illness of imbalance or calling me back from it, and I have learned so much about myself and the need for balance.

“Namaste” is the beautiful Hindu word for encounter: used as a word to bless both our greetings and partings, it means, “the Holy/Sacred in me recognizes and is grateful for the Holy/Sacred in you.” One way to begin to slow down is to use this word purposefully, whether silently or out loud, as we move through the day. Seek balance. Let yourself become a human being as often as you are a human doing.

Idleness is the Spirit’s playground.

 

A little while alone in your room
will prove more valuable than anything else
that could ever be given you.
~Rumi

 I have collected dozens of meditation books, but a few I return to frequently and still, are:

 Meditation for Life, by Martine Batchelor

Meditation for the Love of It, by Sally Kempton

Meditation, by Richard W. Chilson

God Makes the Rivers to Flow, by Eknath Easwaran

 As I’ve mentioned before, Spiritual Literacy, by Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat, can guide you towards many ways of deepening through self-reflection. The DVD series derived from this book is a wonderful resource for “visual and aural” meditations. Or, visit their website: www.spiritualityandpractice.com

 Here’s Fr. Thomas Keating, offering an introduction to Centering Prayer:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3IKpFHfNdnE

And here is a wonderful resource for heart care through meditation, backed by years of scientific testing and research: www.heartmath.com

 

© 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.

Love and Healing on 24 Legs

I’ve been recovering from eye surgery this past week, which–so far–seems to have replaced double vision with single vision and welcome clarity.

The physical pain has been minimal, despite my resemblance to Oedipus (after the truth is known), Mr. Rochester (after the fire), and Suzanne Pleshette (after the birds). Despite their terrifying appearance, though, my eyes really don’t hurt a lot from the surgery itself, but become sore from exposure to light and from trying to focus on anything too intently for longer than a few minutes.

The wounding-to-be-healed that is the essence of surgery requires long hours of being still, resting, and, for me, lying in a darkened room for the desired healing to actually occur. The radio has been a comforting distraction and the length and frequency of my meditation time has been invited to grow, but the hours tick by slowly and enforced disengagement from activities that offer pleasure and invite me into the daily round is difficult to sustain with equanimity.

Phillip, hesitantly gauging my relative coherence and mobility as functional, returned to school with my blessing the day after my surgery. I had a burst of “well, this isn’t so bad” energy, and, quite overjoyed with my restored sight (slightly blurred by antibiotic ointment), darted around the house cleaning, answering e-mail, starting a load of laundry, bumping into walls, and predictably falling into bed about 9:00 that morning, thoroughly exhausted.

Whatever residual general anesthetic had borne me aloft with such energy and enthusiasm had exited my bloodstream completely, and I crashed into my pillow, leaking pink tears and feeling quite defeated and pathetic.

I closed my eyes and focused on my breathing, trying to center my runaway thoughts and connect with my unsettled spirit. Gradually, but perceptibly, I felt an energy shift within and around me. The 4-leggeds had slowly crept into my room, one by one, and in silent communion, began to offer their comforting presence and peace. Clancy, the sweet gentle boy who normally follows my every step around the house, positioned himself beside me and near my heart, while his sister Riley kept her vigil by the window, always watchful in her natural role as the family guardian. The cats, Finnegan, Murphy, Mulligan, and Fiona, jumped up and nestled around me, joining Clancy and Riley, and enclosing me within their circle of love.

It felt as though I surrendered my otherness and separateness; my energy merged with theirs, and we rested in stillness together for hours that day, and have shared more “circles of love” throughout the week. Their selfless, peaceful presence has allowed me to relax deeply, and has revealed connections more profound than the limiting imagery of words allows me to corral and convey. This is a different experience from that of a “shared nap” with my animals; it has felt more like a deep knowing, alive and actively present, is passing between us. Sharing loving energy with them this way has been one of the most healing experiences of my life, both surprising and humbling in its renewal of my spirit.

Gratitude has been my dominant feeling in response to the restoration of my vision; I am thankful for the surgeon, certainly, and even more grateful for the healing presence and care provided by Phillip, who has patiently tended to my pain, clumsiness, and craving for chocolate chip cookies. Family and friends have called, and sent notes, and e-mailed love and encouragement, reminding me of their individual and collective dearness in my life.

But it is the holy tending of the 4-leggeds that has most unexpectedly gifted my heart with healing this past week. Their deep sense of authentic presence has brought me to a stillness that is new and lovely. However transitory this level of stillness and awareness may prove to be, my animal companions have contributed to my lasting healing and spiritual growth; that is certain. I have learned that there are burdens we are able to release under the influence and presence of 4-legged companions that language cannot touch and physicians cannot prescribe.

It is good to be reminded of our dependency and individual frailty, at times. It is so easy to believe we are, as we imagine, the single-minded, autonomous architects of our lives. The ego drives the engine so effortlessly, until our genuine vulnerability reveals our inherent need for connection and care. I feel blessed to once again clarify my place within creation’s web of giving and receiving, with an emphasis, for now, on receiving.

It is frightening but necessary for us humans to fall, over and over, and be caught by Love. And it is always surprising what shape Love will assume. An infant, a friend, a husband, a teacher, a garden, a work of art…or this time, for me, two dogs and four cats in a darkened room made light by our shared and holy energy.

 

© 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.