Snow, Silence and Solitude

(c) Christy Wesselman, Listening Heart LLC

The first snow of early winter arrived this week. Since the weather guy predicted warmer temperatures later in the week, I eagerly headed to the woods for a much needed walk and contemplation amid this first hint of winter.

Have you ever noticed the silence of snow? It’s not the absence of sound actually. It is the sound of the present moment, the sound of stillness in the crisp chilled air. It is Presence.

I walked, hearing the crunch of the remains of fall in the leaves under the snow. The snowfall had only dusted the floor of the woods. A nuthatch danced up a tree, adorned in blue covered with black cape and hat. Quite the fashion statement for this first winter outing!

Camera in hand, I stopped from time to time as an image reached out for acknowledgement and I welcomed it into my view. I made a point to visit the Three Beech Sisters near the back of our property. They’re part of my photographic study of the seasons in the woods. There is another beech tree which has entwined around itself and a maple that twisted as it grew. Both responding to the stress and trauma they encountered in their growing years. They prevailed. They adapted and overcame.

It seems we all have encountered trauma and stress. The present certainly has provided more than it’s fair share. I’ll admit it has been extremely difficult for me in the past month or so. Overwhelmed does not adequately describe it. I’m sure others have felt same or similar emotions. Many wiser and gentler souls before me have used metaphors like desert time, dark night of the soul, desolation, a dry leaf on the ground, the mud of the lotus, a dying to self, and more. Even St. Teresa of Calcutta, known as Mother Teresa, wrote often she felt God had abandoned her! She stayed the course and remained on the path.

St. Ignatius of Loyola wrote that in the beginning stages of spiritual growth and development we often encounter desolation and despair. We often believe we should give up on spiritual practices and leave the spiritual path. Ignatius offers a series of “rules,” or principles, in his spiritual exercises which can help us work through those times of desolation. One of my favorite interpretation of those exercises is Louis Savary’s New Spiritual Exercises, In the Spirit of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00935UXXW/ref=dbs_a_def_rwt_bibl_vppi_i1

I’m reminded of a song from one of my favorite singers, Carrie Newcomer, The Only Way Out is Through. She sings, “the only way out is through, but the only way through is in, again.” Lean in. Go in. Enter the silence, the solitude. It’s the place where the soft soul waits. “Where the soft soul waits and hearts beat and break and the real wars are waged and won.” https://www.carrienewcomer.com/store/the-point-of-arrival-cd The real war of dying to self and ego.

As I walked in the silence of the snow covered woods, these words – and more – echoed in my mind. Soften. Lean in. Cry if you must. Break open. All will be well. Accept what you cannot change. Change what you can . . .

Solitude. Silence. The silence of snow. Alone but not. I inhale a deep cleansing and slightly chilled breath.

Keep breathing. Keep walking. When you find yourself in the middle of a desert, keep walking. The only way out is through and the only way through is in – deep within. All WILL be well.

Be well. Be safe. Be Blessed. – Christy

May you be blessed in abundance during this time of of the receding light and celebrate the return of Light however that celebration might look to you.

(This blog is not intended to serve as individual spiritual direction. Spiritual direction and spiritual companioning is typically done face to face in a confidential setting or can be done via Zoom or other virtual platform. If you would like to explore one on one spiritual companioning, group companioning, SoulCollage©, the Labyrinth or Reiki, please contact me. If you, your faith group, your church or your book club would like to know more about spiritual companioning, please contact me to schedule an informational workshop. In the meantime, my hope is that the photos and this 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 prayers, vibes, positive energy and support.)


In Praise of Sadness

I was searching for a specific handout for a workshop I was developing and ran across 5 others on various topics but did not find the handout I was seeking! Murphy’s law? Perhaps.

Among those 5 other handouts, was a collection of poetry for times of loss and grief from an in-service for pastoral care work I participated in several years ago. I glanced through a couple poems but one grabbed my attention because of the title – In Praise of Sadness.

 In Praise of Sadness
 Fr. Robert Morneau 
  
 Is happiness overvalued, 
 this life of jolly contentment?
 And is sadness a disease, 
 afflicting all who experience loss?
 Though the great St. Paul preached rejoicing always, 
 he knew great sorrow and constant anguish.
 Though Abraham Lincoln enjoyed the state, 
 his melancholy never left him.
 Does the happy hour eradicate life’s weariness?
 Is there no room for the sad hour,
 when one embraces the losses of life?
  
 I pause to praise sadness,
 a significant component of the human condition,
 a catalyst for change,
 a gateway into compassion.
  
 Sadness may even be the cause for greatness
 as Lincoln, van Gogh, and Beethoven knew. 

It had not occurred to me that sadness should be praised. It should be welcomed as part of our human condition. Pema Chodron wrote years ago in her book “When Things Fall Apart” about leaning in to things. For me, it made me understand that I don’t have to dive in headfirst into sadness in order to solve it or fix it. Tenderly leaning in with compassion and understanding is what is needed.

This poem reminded me of the yin/yang of life. Accepting sorrow, melancholy, uncertainty is yin receptivity while rejoicing and celebrating are more yang in their active nature. Fr. Morneau reminds me that greatness came from the depth of sadness. How different would our lives be without the Gettysburg address, the swirling blue of a starry night or the grandeur of the 9th symphony?

Sadness, melancholy, grief, loss, uncertainty and anxiety may be the fertile ground for creativity and greatness.

Grateful for insight. Grateful for all human emotions. Grateful for All.

Blessings, Christy

(This blog is not intended to serve as individual spiritual direction. Spiritual direction and spiritual companioning is typically done face to face in a confidential setting or can be done via Zoom or other virtual platform. If you would like to explore one on one spiritual companioning, group companioning, SoulCollage©, the Labyrinth or Reiki, please contact me. If you, your faith group, your church or your book club would like to know more about spiritual companioning, please contact me to schedule an informational workshop. In the meantime, my hope is that the photos and this 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 prayers, vibes, positive energy and support.)

May You Live in Interesting Times

There is an old Irish toast, I believe, which goes something like “may you live in interesting times”. I don’t know about you but I’ll forgo interesting for dull and boring at this point.

I’m probably showing my age, but I cannot seem to recall in my lifetime a more uncertain and scary time than now. I’m old enough to remember the turbulent 1960s through the television screen showing protests, riots, burning cities, injured and bleeding people and through the lens of my parents’ comments.

Coming to terms with family of origin stuff – and the messages I heard growing up in Germany/Dutch influenced stoicism in the midst of a world pandemic, civil unrest and a divisive political scene is not for the faint hearted! Trust me on this. I wondered what my parents thought when the world was coming apart in the 1960s. I wonder if they questioned starting a family in the midst of all that chaos.

I’ve questioned a number of choices I made earlier this year in the midst of the pandemic and societal upheaval. I thought I was handling things and then a couple weeks ago I lost my footing and my center. It was like an unexpected wave knocked my feet out from under me. It was as if I was taken under into the darkness and the more I struggled the deeper I went. I let go.

One sliver of light pierced the dark water. One possibly TWO vaccines are about to be released soon to deal with the pandemic. To borrow from Forrest Gump, “well, that’s good. One less thing to worry about.”

Hope. In that instant I caught a glimpse of what my parents generation experienced during the war years and the years that followed. They didn’t quit. They didn’t give up. They learned that fear itself is the greater enemy. “We can do it” was the rally cry.

So, forgive me if I moan and complain a bit and then gently remind me to accept what I can’t change. Change what I can. Sometimes you have to let go.

Journal or Reflection Prompts

Write what is “interesting” about these times. Where do you see hope?

What spiritual practices have supported you during this time? What have you changed because something no longer works for you? How did you feel before and after that change?

What creative practices affirm and nourish you? Are you being invited to explore and “play” with other practices?

Write a toast in thanksgiving for all you have received.

This blog is not intended to serve as individual spiritual direction. Spiritual direction and spiritual companioning is typically done face to face in a confidential setting or can be done via Zoom or other virtual platform. If you would like to explore one on one spiritual companioning, group companioning, SoulCollage©, the Labyrinth or Reiki, please contact me. If you, your faith group, your church or your book club would like to know more about spiritual companioning, please contact me to schedule an informational workshop. In the meantime, my hope is that the photos and this 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 prayers, vibes, positive energy and support.)

An Invitation to Be

My favorite time of the day is morning. I’ve never really been a morning person per se. It always took quite a bit of effort – and more caffeine – to get going when I didn’t have as much say so over my days and scheduling in the past.

I’m fortunate to be in a position where my days are a bit more leisure. I still use an alarm but it is not set as early as it once was. I’ve learned to appreciate my own body’s rhythms. I still have one cup of coffee sometimes half-caf, sometimes de-caf on alternating days. Too many caffeine laden mornings manifests as my feeling less centered and more anxious. I pay attention to that.

I selfishly guard my mornings. They are times for contemplation, reflection, prayer, for labyrinth walking and a time to be. I crave contemplation and need it like I need to breathe. It is a time to dwell in God space sending forth loving kindness to all beings. Busy mind or monkey mind is present but given a piece of scripture or mantra to contemplate befriends it and it too, settles into solitude and quiet. The Beloved is present inviting me to just be. Be here now. Be present to my breath. Listen. Listen to the sounds of silence. Feel the rhythms of Creation.

On this lovely early autumn Sunday morning as I made my coffee (caffeinated this time), I heard the “eeeeee” of the red tail hawk who co-exists in our woods. She invited me to come and see, come and be. I walked to the back yard. I heard her before I saw her. She flew low over the tree tops calling out to me. “See, see, see”

She took a hard right bank and I had to turn around quickly to follow her, spilling drops of coffee in the process. Another sharp right and she sailed out of sight. I had turned around to face my labyrinth. I heard the invitation. “Come and see. Come and be”

I set down my coffee cup. I walked clockwise around the labyrinth to open it and “warm” it arriving at the opening.  As I stood at the opening, I centered and took a few deep breaths. What do I need to let go of to take the next step for today, for the week, for the next month and so on? What am I invited to release this day?

And so I walked. Slowly. Listening. Feeling a slight breeze hinting cooler temperatures are on the way. I see the golden rays of light illuminating emerging yellow and red leaves. Two shag bark hickory trees and an oak hold space for me bearing witness to my solitary steps. Turn after turn.

That which is Center receives me. I am grateful for the seat my husband made from a stained and polyurethaned log. “Come sit a spell. Receive. Receive Grace, Love, Connection, Peace. Come and just be.” I remain. Doing nothing. Being everything. It is as if I’m being filled like my coffee cup. All being poured out in abundance. Mistakes and errors forgotten. I see. I hear. I sense. I breathe. “All will be well. All manner of things will be well.”

One more millisecond of receiving Goodness and Cosmic Grace and then I step to begin to return. Using the same path to return as I did to walk inward, I leave the center bringing with me a sense of peace, calm, and connection with Creation and Creator.

This is today’s labyrinth walk. Tomorrow’s walk may be different. It probably will be because I will be different. Everyone’s experience of the labyrinth is unique to them. There is no “right” or “wrong” way to walk the path of the labyrinth.

The last of my coffee is cold sacrificed for the sake of a walk in the labyrinth. No worries! It was worth every last drop.

Journal or Reflection Prompts

What calls you to “just be”? What is your favorite part of the day? Are you in tune with your natural rhythms? If you could change one thing to get closer to your natural rhythm, what might that be?

What contemplative prayer/meditation practices affirm and nourish you? Are you being invited to explore and “play” with other practices?

What do you need to release or let go of to take the next step for today? Tomorrow? This week? This month? For your life?

You can finger “walk” a labyrinth using a paper labyrinth or a lap labyrinth. https://www.relax4life.com/download-paper-finger-labyrinths/

Veriditas Labyrinth trainer Catherine Anderson offers a self guided online workshop to create a 12”x12” collage labyrinth which you can walk using your fingertips.  https://vimeo.com/159389186 I am in the process of creating my own collage labyrinth.

Shake the Dust

For the past several weeks, I’ve been reflecting on passage from the Christian scriptures that came up as I walked the labyrinth in my backyard. The words tumbled and skittered around in my mind for a while and I’ve contemplated them for quite some time, reflecting on their meaning for me at this juncture. Perhaps it is the physical prayer of walking and turning or maybe it’s an urging, a sense of growing beyond confines I’ve imposed on my life. Perhaps it is the process of releasing, receiving and returning when walking.

As you’ve probably recognized, my spirituality is nourished from a variety of sources and traditions. From time to time, I return to my roots in Christian theology and scripture in which I formally and earned two college degrees.

What is that I’m being asked to release, to let go of, to abandon and shake the dust from my feet and move on? How to we let go of what we know and reach for what is unknown?

The words which arose for me while walking the labyrinth are from the three Synoptic Gospels – Matthew, Mark and Luke. Matthew’s version “If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet.” (Mt 10:14) Luke writes “If people do not welcome you, leave their town and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.” (Lk 9:5) and Mark “And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, leave that place and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.” (Mk 6:11) (NIV translation)

A little lectio divina . . . read the passages again . . . and again . . . and again. What does this mean for me today? What am I being asked to release so I can receive and return? What habits, thoughts, or actions am I being asked to “shake” from my being?

We all experience rejection and being unwelcomed for a variety of reasons which we don’t understand. We all encounter situations we are asked to release or “shake” off. It is especially painful when we are forced to let go by being pushed away and rejected. We aren’t heard. Seen. We haven’t been able to be our authentic selves.

It’s hard to let go of relationships and situations where we once felt safe. Situations change. People evolve and grow apart. How are we to respond when we become aware that we aren’t safe any more? What is the wisdom to be learned from continually knocking on a door that remains closed in a place or with an individual which does not want us? What do I need to release, to “shake off” in order to turn the corner, head in another direction and step toward the Center?

It seems “shaking the dust off” from one’s feet was not only symbolic but also quite provocative in Biblical times. When leaving Gentile or non-Jewish towns, Jews who followed the letter of the law would shake the dust from their feet to show their separation and their difference from the Gentiles and Gentile practices. (Anyone who was not Jewish, was deemed a Gentile.) I’m sure it caused some hurt feelings to the townspeople and villagers. And it’s all so dramatic! Taking your shoe and literally shaking dust and dirt from it at the outskirts of town as if to say I’m done with you!

I don’t intend to be that dramatic. But how should anyone respond to a closed door or window, or the ending of a long relationship?

Jesus, who was Jewish, seems to say in this passage disconnect yourself from those who reject you and don’t hear you yet he doesn’t distinguish between Jew or Gentile. Everyone is invited to hear the Good News – Jew and Gentile. Not everyone can hear it or does. But Jesus creates a condition precedent which must be met before He says to disengage from the situation. He tells us – if you’re not welcomed, if they won’t hear, if they won’t listen and so on then and only then, disengage and move on. Thus, giving the people in the town every opportunity to meet hear and receive the gift. Because if they welcomed and heard the followers of Jesus and the Good News, they would receive so much more than shaken dust. Their lives would have been enriched by all the apostles and followers would have offered.

But if they reject you, Jesus seems to say, shake off the rejection, the negativity, the feeling of not being heard, turn away and head toward the Center in a new direction.  

I imagine men – and some women – in leather sandals traveling dusty and rocky roads walking into a town bubbling over with joy of knowing The Prophet who spoke of Light and Grace from an All Loving, non judgmental Creator. They shared their gifts. Brought healing and comfort to those in pain. Deeply listened to those who felt alone and forgotten.

And yet, town officials, merchants, and even the religious leaders rejected them. They were told to leave town. “We don’t want your kind here”, they say. “You preach heresy contrary to the traditions of our faith. You must leave here at once.” Or in some cases, the followers of Jesus were chased out by stones thrown in anger and out of fear.

The labyrinth, for me, is an ancient and rich archetypal symbol of the path of life. We think we are headed in one direction, we see the center and then we encounter a turn which looks like we are now moving away from the center. I imagine that is some of what Jesus’ followers and apostles felt, turning this way and that.

They intimately knew the Center, the beginning and ending point of everything. They longed to share that experience with others. Some in the town were healed, some joined them. Others remained in the town as planted seeds of the great Grace, Love and Light they encountered.

They were rejected and turned away.

Shake the dust from your feet. Leave this place. End this relationship. It’s extremely painful but it’s more painful to remain. Leave a blessing of loving kindness, good wishes, and mercy and move toward people, places and situations where you will be heard, seen and welcomed. Remain open to the possibility of reconciling with those who hurt you.

Journaling questions:

Have there been times in your life when you wanted to share your talents and gifts with your neighborhood, church or community and were rejected? Write what you felt with as much specificity as possible. If words aren’t coming, I invite you to make a collage of images on a 5×8 mat board, index card or manila folder which convey your feelings.

How have you “shaken dust from your feet” and moved beyond situations in which you were not heard or seen? Perhaps this is a question to “ask” of your created image and write the response.

Who are the individuals who accept you and your message of who you are without rejection or conditions? This week send a handwritten note of gratitude to those people.

If you would like to work more with images in your spiritual life, please message me or sign up for one of my virtual SoulCollage® workshops. The next Beginner Workshop is Saturday, September 12, 2020 from 1 PM to 4:30 PM EST. Please visit my events page for more information.  https://listening-heart.com/events/

(This blog is not intended to serve as individual spiritual direction. Spiritual direction and spiritual companioning is typically done face to face in a confidential setting or can be done via Zoom or other virtual platform. If you would like to explore one on one spiritual companioning, group companioning, SoulCollage©, the Labyrinth or Reiki, please contact me. If you, your faith group, your church or your book club would like to know more about spiritual companioning, please contact me to schedule an informational workshop. In the meantime, my hope is that the photos and this 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 prayers, vibes, positive energy and support.)

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