Musings after a retreat . . . Best Possible Life

Late Autumn when Ice Storms Come

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.)  


Nuttin’ Lasts Forever

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“It is not impermanence that makes us suffer.  What makes us suffer is wanting things to be permanent when they are not.” — Thich Naht Hanh

A couple of weeks ago, I snapped this photo of the hornet nest in the woods because I noticed it was getting a little shabby.  I suspect the cooler temps prevent the hornets from tending to their nest and that is the reason for the disrepair.  I didn’t observe any hornets around the nest.  Since this photo was taken, we’ve had a fair amount of rain so I haven’t ventured through the mud and leaves to further observe the condition of the hornet nest.

I eagerly watched the progress of the buzzy builders through the summer.  Layer upon layer of hornet saliva and wood fiber meticulously applied as the heart-shaped nest developed.  They were doing what hornets do – without worry, stress, or concern for the future.  They simply existed in the moment. They were what they were meant to be and do.

And at the end of summer, all their work and effort began to disintegrate and fade.  It caused me to stop and reflect on the impermanence of things.  It is the onion of a life truth of which I continue to peel layer after layer.  Things wear out and do not last forever.  Seasons end. Relationships end. Jobs are lost. Friends move away. Pets die. Loved ones die. Nothing lasts forever. “This too shall pass.” “Remember, that you are dust and to dust you shall return.”

No, we won’t last forever.  We will wear out and die.  We will experience friends and loved ones wearing out and dying as well.  BUT I believe our Matter will not be destroyed.  I’m not completely sure about this.  I may be completely wrong. I believe our matter converts to energy.  Perhaps that is what we mean by the Soul, the Essence, the Spirit.  I believe our Life-Force continues after our body has become raggedy and then stopped functioning.  That matter “goes” somewhere.  It just doesn’t cease to be or does it?  Some believe at some designated time in the future, our bodies will be resurrected.  I’d like to think that the future time is not constrained by our concept of time and so this resurrection happens when our body transforms into energy which then expands into the Universe and returns to star-dust. I think we go home to the Universe.  I think we are “resurrected” to our cosmic home. We go back to being star dust.  I don’t know about you but I plan on making it to full stardom! Yea, I’m gonna be a star!  I wish churches would change that prayer usually said on Ash Wednesday during the distribution of ashes to something like “remember that you are STAR dust and you shall return to STAR dust”.

Well, at least that is how I see it.  That’s kinda “out there” isn’t it.  It helps me to appreciate the tireless, busy work of a colony of hornets building a nest all summer only to see it become a raggedy mess in the fall.  I am sad because I’ve known the “wow” of watching their work all summer. The ending and dissolving of the nest is as much a part of the cycle as the first crepe paper walls in early summer.  It’s that yin/yang thing. Embracing and holding the “both/and” and loving the tension it creates.  We suffer because we want things to stay the same, to remain permanent.  Thanks to impermanence, though, there are endless possibilities.  Anything is possible because nothing stays the same. The only constant in the Universe is change – and that is a good thing!

But it’s normal, natural and necessary to experience feelings of sadness, loss, or grief when things end. Should we avoid building, creating, and being in relationship because the cold winds might end what we’ve created? No.  Should we avoid Love because people die or relationships end and our hearts get broken? No.  All of those experiences can be transmuted and transformed into Grace.

I try to live in the present moment.  Sometimes I do okay and sometimes not so much.  Sometimes I worry too much or wish things were different.  And sometimes I’m stopped in my tracks in the woods as I observe hornets building a papery home without a care in the world. I join them in that moment. Sometimes the impermanence of things causes a little sadness.  Sometimes I realize I will be a Star one day! Nuttin’ lasts forever.

For your reflection: What helps you to stay present in the present moment? How does focusing on your breathing help you to dwell in the here and now? How to you feel when you hear “nothing lasts forever”? 

Are you challenged by limitations in your life? How do you pray with the feelings of loss of something you once had? What gives you a “wow”? How do you hold the tensions of “wow” and sadness?

How do your views about life, death, resurrection, expansion into the Universe, life after death, etc. shape your spirituality? Are you able to appreciate a belief you don’t share?

If you could create a ritual symbolizing your letting go of something you feel should last forever, what would that ritual look like?

Blessings all,

Christy

 

(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 would like to experience group spiritual direction, please contact me. I would be more than happy to set up a time to talk with you. 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.)

 

 

 

Survive or Thrive?

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I had the honor and pleasure of attending a meeting of hospital and hospice chaplains in my area earlier this week where I had an opportunity to listen to folks who to the work of ministering to our sick and dying in our greater community.  They were asked to reflect on several questions designed to get them to look at how they reflect, refresh and thrive in doing the work they do which in my opinion takes a very special breed to do.  I was invited along with several others who have been a part of a ministry education program for people interested in providing volunteer hospital pastoral care ministry.

We were challenged to ask ourselves several questions I’ve paraphrased here.  How do you take time to reflect? What do you do to facilitate reflection? As part of reflecting ask yourself why do you continue to do what you do? Why are you here as a hospital or hospice chaplain?  What is live giving in your work, play and personal time?  What are the values which allow you to do what you do? What is your purpose, your passion, your calling?  What accomplishments, events, or areas of growth in the last 12 months fill you with gratitude and self affirmation?

Secondly, how do you create time to refresh?  What is the thing that keeps you grounded which enables you to show up each and every day to do the work you do?  How do you cultivate time for life giving activities, for reflection, and for family?  What is the one thing you could do over the next 6 months that would have a significant positive impact on your life, your well being, and your spiritual life?

Thirdly, how do you take time to thrive?  What are a few things, tangible or intangible, large or small you would be thrilled to achieve over the next six months?  How do you cultivate resiliency in yourself?  How do you engage in your life and your work with purpose and commitment? How are you able to stay true to your authentic self and engage with purpose and connectivity to your calling, ministry or mission?  And my favorite question – how do you stay connected to your internal GPS?

GPS is a global positioning system which uses satellites to beam information about our locations to a GPS or phone.  It guides us by providing instructions to turn, change directions, make u-turns, shows us routes to travel, and when we find ourselves completely off track, recalculates based on our current position.  When the facilitator asked this question I had one of those “aha” moments.  I believe we all have an internal something which guides us and if we pay close attention we are able to navigate the twists and turns and detours of our lives.

How we stay connected to that internal guide was the question of the day for me.  Through meditation, prayer, reading scripture and the writings of spiritual writers I connect to my inner guidance system.  I also remain connected when I see nature through the lens of my camera and create a slice of time in a well thought out shot.  I am connected when I blog or write in my journal or collage with images or color mandalas.  Purposely being aware, being mindful of moments is another way I connect to that internal guide.  Last but certainly not least, I connect to my own internal guide with help from trusted spiritual companions, a peer group, and a spiritual community which encourage me and give me life.

How do you stay connected to your GPS? How do you thrive? What gives you life? What do you think are the qualities of a thriver vs. a survivor?  What does it feel like to survive? What does it feel like to thrive? Are you surviving or thriving?

I encourage you to spend some time reflecting on these questions and others which may arise. You may want to reflect on these questions over several days.  Journaling your responses will give you an opportunity to revisit them later.

Finally, I would be honored to companion you on your journey if that is something you desire.  I believe we are meant for so much more than simply surviving this life.  We are meant to thrive.

Thank you for reading and for your prayers and good vibrations. May you be filled with passion, compassion, humor and a little bit o’ style! Namaste.

Blessings,

Christy

P.S. Several years ago, I was introduced to the music of Casting Crowns, a Christian Rock group and discovered several songs which resonated with me.  One is titled “Thrive”.  You can listen and watch the video here Casting Crowns “Thrive” Live (I also recommend “Just Be Held” from the same album.)   

Rewriting our stories

Tell me the facts and I’ll learn. Tell me the truth and I’ll believe. But tell me a story and it will live in heart forever.” – Native American Proverb

Clarity through the Fog – (c) Christy Wesselman 2018

I attended a workshop about story telling sponsored by Spiritual Director’s International this past week in St. Paul, MN.  The presenter and facilitator was Diane M. Millis. (Discover Diane at http://www.journeyconversations.org/who-we-are/project-partners/) Diane enabled us to dig into our own stories and discover how they impact our spirituality.  I had been feeling for several weeks that I needed some retreat time and the Spirit provided.

I wish I could recreate what I experienced for all of you.  I really enjoyed meeting other spiritual directors and spiritual companions from across the country and getting to know them.  In addition, I couldn’t ask for a better traveling companion than Sister Marj. The hospitality of St. Catherine’s University of St. Paul was warm and generous.  Our lodgings with the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet were simple and cozy.  And to top off the few days, I was able to reconnect with old friends who had relocated to the St. Paul area.  All in all, it was a much needed reflection time, a blessing to meet new friends and reconnect with old ones.

What did I learn? How did I evolve from the experience?  To be honest, I am still processing and playing with all of the ideas and images and the feelings.  It has been some time that a workshop has fed my intellect and my heart.  It was part graduate level class in that it was packed with research data and part retreat because the process invited us to dig under and into our own stories.  I had anticipated more of a “how to” help those I companion with look at their stories and dig under them to experience the spirituality within them.  Sometimes it is best to experience the process so we can appreciate how challenging that might be for those with whom we companion.

What did I learn?   I learned that the spirituality of some of our stories are fogging but they continue to burn clear like light through the fog.  When we revisit an old story and tell it a new way with new eyes and new vision it is redeemed and transformed.  Rewriting my story in the third person or as a fairy tale helped me to see old stories with a bit more objectivity.  I no longer attached my ego to the story as Truth but saw truths within it each story.   By Grace, I saw my stories differently.  By Grace, I flipped the script on a story or two. Where I was lost once in a story, by Grace, I was now found.

For your reflection:  How might you rewrite you stories? What needs Grace? How will you invite Grace into your stories? Find a photograph or picture that speaks to a part of your story? What stories hold you? What stories do you hold? What stories reveal you being held?

Blessings,

Christy

(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 companioning or your faith community would like to experience group spiritual direction, please contact me. I would be more than happy to talk with you.  In the meantime, my hope is that the photos and 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.)

 

 

Creating our own monastery

When we take the one seat on our meditation cushion we become our own monastery. We create the compassionate space that allows for the arising of all things: sorrows, loneliness, shame, desire, regret, frustration, happiness.” —Jack Kornfield, “Take The One Seat”

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Soulight (c) Christy Wesselman

Consider how you can create a compassionate meditation or prayer space – what Jack Kornfield, Buddhist practitioner and writer of numerous books on Buddhism calls, your own monastery. It is within a quiet, contemplative and compassionate space that allows you to lean into your feelings especially the ones we think of as “negative”.  It also allows you the space and time to disentangle from feelings and simply observe them.

The same contemplative monastery on the cushion allows for the space to send out compassion to our communities and our world.  I don’t think I need to state the obvious about the rampant lack of basic civility in our society at the moment. I have practiced my own form of loving-kindness meditation and share it here.

The Practice:

Begin by sitting comfortably in a chair or on a meditation cushion in stillness and uprightness.  Sit quietly breathing normally. Notice your breath.

As you breath in, say in your mind. “May I be filled with loving kindness” and on the exhale “May I be well.”

On the next in-breath “May I be at peace and at ease” followed by the out breath “May I be happy”.

Do this several times. Rest in the calmness. Focus on the breathe.  Where there is any anxiety, shame, loneliness, unhappiness, etc. continue to breath in and out saying the meditation. When thoughts and stories pop up in your mind – and they will – acknowledge them and let them drift by.

After a while choose someone or your community and change the wording from May I be filled with loving kindness to May he/she/they be filled with loving kindness and so on. You may go on to meditate for your state, your country and finally including the world and then the universe.  You may feel you want to breathe in loving kindness for yourself for weeks or months before moving on to an individual or community.

Through all of the practice allow yourself to be relaxed and at ease. Allow thoughts to float by and focus on breathing in and out. Let go of the “story”, the narratives, the thoughts and feelings and simply float along the breath.

You can also use a mantra like The Centering Prayer following the breath in and out, a piece of scripture or a psalm, the Jesus Prayer or simply a word like “peace”.  I have “breathed” the Peace Prayer as a practice.  Recently, I breathed the refrain from a song composed during a spiritual director’s workshop with Carrie Newcomer “it’s ordinary, extraordinary.  It’s a true soul story and it’s holy.  It is holy.”

I’m here to support you in the creation of your own monastery and your seat of compassion and would be happy to talk with you about your journey.  Please feel free to email or call me.

In the meantime, Namaste, peace and all good, and blessings,

Christy

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