Last week I spent some much needed quiet reflection, prayer, and meditation time for four days at the San Damiano retreat cottage on Michaela Farm in Oldenburg, Indiana. I am grateful for the opportunity the Sisters of St. Francis provide through the use of this space. The peace and blessings of that time continues to unfold and here are some of my thoughts.
I spent the bulk of my time rereading my journals from December, 2015 to the present before a fire in a cozy fire place. I thought I could gain a perspective on some things I’m currently experiencing. In the process of rereading, I revisited some challenging periods in my life. In the past three years, I experienced significant losses, including the death of my mother. I wrestled with movements of the Spirit that seemed to challenge me to live my life in a different way. The call to see losses and failings as opportunities for growth, renewal and redemption became more evident as I reread and in some cases – rewrote – these stories. I could now see extruciatingly painful events, feelings of failure, loneliness, and fumbling around in the abyss through new eyes figuratively (and literally since cataract surgery last October!).
The process of rewriting my stories has become the gift I never knew I wanted. I wrote in previous entries about my participation in story telling workshops with Carrie Newcomer and Diane M. Millis and the gifts of insight and blessing they inspired. It is and has been the gift that keeps on giving because the wisdom of both workshops continues to unfold. How we see ourselves is shaped by our past, our present and our future and are seen through stories. A Zen teacher and friend suggests the past is nothing but stories and the present is something that has not yet occurred. All we have is the “now”, the present and to learn to be present to it.
Any story can provide a way into our deeper selves and any story can offer something more than just the facts or parts of the story. I discovered that in my journal entries, something beyond my thoughts or feelings about an event or a book I was reading. I saw those things in a bigger context and discovered a new significance in the mundane and in those terribly painful events and feelings. I saw “sparkling actions” as David Denborough describes in his book, Retelling the Stories of Our Lives: Everyday Narrative Therapy to Draw Inspiration and Transform Experience. I saw solutions to current problems, anxieties and predicaments I thought had no solutions. I saw that my life as it is now could never have been but for the upheaval and chaos and pain and loss.
It’s not our nature to embrace pain and chaos and loss. Befriending it and being compassionate with ourselves is important. Revisiting and retelling my stories for myself was my way of befriending those unpleasant periods and being compassionate to myself. I believe all our stories can be redeemed. Out of the ashes, we rise anew – like the Phoenix. We see the “sparkling actions” and find solutions to current problems because we have the wisdom of our past.
For your personal reflection, prayer, journaling, or meditation:
One of the writing exercises I used was one developed by James Pennebaker and Joshua Smyth called the Best Possible Life Exercise. Here’s what you do: Think about your life in the future. Imagine that everything has gone as well as it possibly could. You have worked hard and succeeded at accomplishing all of your life goals. Think of this as the realization of all of your life derams (as you do, make sure you think about both what you have achieved and how you got there). Now, write about what you imagined. Pennebaker and Smyth recommend that one do these exercised for four consecutive nights. 1) What is your protagonist’s name? 2) What has she/he found lifegiving? 3) How has she/he overcome or met her/his limitations? 4) What does she/he choose to highlight in her/his life story?
I took the photo above the day after an ice storm came through. It just seemed to say to me that even in those times when we feel encased and cold and feel as if we’ve failed and are completely alone, the ice eventually melts. Feeling shut out and cut off doesn’t last forever. I know there will likely be more days of ice
(This blog is not intended to serve as individual spiritual direction. Spiritual direction or companioning is typically done in a face to face confidential setting. If you would like to explore one on one spiritual direction or your faith community or small group would like to experience group spiritual direction, please contact me. In the meantime, my hope is that the photos and the blog serve as a pause in your day, food for thought or just a reminder to breathe in and breathe out all that is holy and good. The Divine Milieu is all around us. Thank you all for your prayers and support.)
One thought on “Musings after a retreat . . . Best Possible Life”
Feels like I was sitting by the fire with you. Thank you for your thoughts.