The Question

“Are you ready?”

You wait patiently
as I drink another
cup of coffee
and check
today’s news
and get up once again
to look at some
or other
inconsequential
happening.

The gentle question
holds the hint
of a smile

As you wait
for me
to find my
way back to
you.

Welcoming Empty Pages and Spacious Places

Spaciousness is a place of grounded possibility.

I’ve been contending with empty pages for a while now. Empty journal pages—pen poised in my hand for 30 minutes and the page still blank. Empty word documents—cursor blinking and not a word to type. Empty pages sometimes feel like failure.

In a few days, I will be staring down another blank page. For the first time, all of my kids will be leaving for school, and I will be here at home. I feel a little panicky. What will I do with my time? Will I actually start writing in earnest? What would I write about if I did? What projects will I actually have time to tackle? What will I volunteer for? What kind of jobs will I seek out?

When I look into that emptiness, I find fear. Fear of not being enough. Fear of wasting my time. Fear of being nobody. Fear of losing my purpose. I fear the emptiness.

This fear of emptiness might compel me to fill all of the empty spaces as quickly as possible with work, volunteering, social outings, organizing, and all sorts of other things.

Emptiness begs to be filled.

I have started to think about this blank page in another way though, a way that settles me and inspires me.

What if this blank page isn’t an emptiness? What if this blank page is actually a place of spaciousness?

Emptiness and spaciousness can look similar. Blank. They can both be unsettling places.

But where emptiness seeks something to fill it–approval, attention, validation–spaciousness makes room. Spaciousness is a place of grounded possibility.

Space is opening up before me. Space that is full of possibility and promise. There will be space for something new to grow. Space to find a new rhythm. Space to tend to what is growing in me. Space for deepening relationships. Space to discover my unique way to contribute to the world at this time. Space for living creatively and intentionally. Why rush to fill up all of the blank spaces?

One of my key tasks in this life is to discover what it means to be a spacious person.

Henri Nouwen describes this spacious quality in his book The Wounded Healer: 

“When our souls are restless, when we are driven by thousands of different and often conflicting stimuli, when we are always ‘over there’ between people, ideas, and the worries of this world, how can we possibly create the room and space where others can enter freely without feeling themselves unlawful intruders?

…. [W]hen we have finally found the anchor place for our lives within our own center we can be free to let others enter into the space created for them, and allow them to dance their own dance, sing their own song, and speak their own language without fear.”

 I think this is what it means to be a spacious person. This kind of spaciousness requires time and intention. It requires leaving room in my actual schedule to tend to my own soul and to welcome other people. It requires intentionality in the things that I do put on my calendar and in the way that I use my time. It requires an open heart and a mind that is willing to unlearn and learn again.

When I look at these empty pages as a place to practice living spaciously, they no longer frighten me. I welcome them.

 

 

Poetry Unfolding

I witnessed poetry
unfolding
this morning
in the gray sky
above my backyard.

This backyard that is
every suburban
plot of cut grass
and swing set
nestled between
busy streets.

I wish you could have seen it too

because words will
never convey
the catch-your-breath magic of
one hundred herons
in swirling dance:

black-tipped wings
bending in unison
to form one v
and then another v
in pure, synchronized
grace.

 

 

Heart Exercises: Stretching your heart with lovingkindness

May you be rooted and grounded in Love (1)

Can you imagine what the world would be like if everyone started their day by cultivating lovingkindness in their hearts? (I’m an idealist. I like to imagine these things. I like to think that anything is possible.)

Maybe that’s too big.

I should start smaller. How would my day, my interactions, my heart change if I started my day by cultivating lovingkindness in my heart? What effect would this have on my family? On the people that I encounter? Who is to say that this ripple effect can’t ultimately change the world in some fashion? (See what I mean about the idealist thing?)

What changes the world? Transformed hearts.

What changes hearts? Love–the knowledge that you are deeply loved, held in love, and that you are asked to receive and give this Love. This Love is foundational to our being. It is what holds the universe together. This is God’s love for you.

Love changes how I treat myself and how I respond to others. Being grounded in this Love changes what I need from others and what I have to give. Something that would have hurt my feelings last year has less power to do so now, because my heart is grounded in Love. I don’t feel the need to hide who I am; I’m not so desperate for approval or afraid of making bad impressions; fear and shame have less power in my life—when I am grounded in Love. I can be myself—my deep down self—because I am grounded in Love.

I’m trying to pay attention to the state of my heart. Is it open? Is it spacious? I’m trying to recognize when it starts to close down, harden, and tighten. I’m learning to pause in these moments to look at what is going on and ask “why?” The openness or tightness of my heart is like a barometer to my soul’s well-being.

I’m trying to cultivate practices that help train my heart toward love. I’m trying to make space in my heart and in my life for Love to grow in me and to ground me; I’m trying to make space so Love can do Love’s thing. (Or God can do God’s thing.)

One practice that I’ve found beautiful and powerful is called Lovingkindness Practice. It’s something I’d like to practice everyday.

The first time that I tried it was after a serious wrestling match with shame. I needed to spend the entire time in one step—finding that love for myself and sitting with that love for quite some time. It was profoundly healing.

I’ve adapted the practice described below from Pema Chödrön’s description of the practice in her book The Places That Scare You. Richard Rohr also describes the practice here. Don’t be afraid to the make the practice or prayer your own.

“Each stage gives us a further chance to loosen up the tightness of our hearts.” –Pema Chödrön

Lovingkindness Practice

  1. Sit quietly for a few minutes.
  2. Identify the place of tender lovingkindness in yourself. It helps me to think about the love I feel toward my child in a tender moment. You can begin with any loved one. Recognize and honor that feeling in your heart. Begin by blessing that person. Maybe you will want to say: “May [loved one] be rooted and grounded in love.” Send lovingkindness toward that person.
  3. Can you bring yourself into this place of lovingkindness? The you of today? If you are working through shame, you might want to picture who you were in that moment that brings you that shame. It might help to picture yourself wrapped up in God’s love. Or to picture Jesus holding your hand, and you holding your 18-year-old self’s hand (or wherever you need healing). Sit with this for as long as you need to. Extend that blessing to yourself: for example, “May I know love and be rooted in love.” Extend that lovingkindess toward yourself.
  4. Come back to that tender place in your heart. Think of a friend–the relationship might be more complicated than the one in which you identified your tender love. Bless her and send lovingkindness her way.
  5. Think of a neutral person. Someone you don’t really know and don’t feel much toward. Maybe it’s the mail carrier or a neighbor you don’t know but see walking their dog by your house every evening. Bless them. Watch to see if your heart opens or closes down. If you can, send lovingkindness her way.
  6. Think of someone who is difficult for you to enjoy or is difficult for you to be around. This might be easier during election season. Don’t overwhelm yourself by starting with the most difficult person you know. Bless them. If you are able, send them your lovingkindness.
  7. Vizualize yourself, your loved one, your friend, the neutral party, the difficult person. Try to connect with the feeling of a kind heart for all of these individuals. Bring them all into the stream of flowing love and hold them there for a few minutes.
  8. Expand this lovingkindness toward all beings, bless as far as you can.
  9. Come back to a place of quiet and just be.

 

Have you tried Lovingkindness Practice? What helps your heart to open? I’d love to hear about your experience.

Do You Want to Talk Books? Nurturing your inner monk and inner artist with the Artist’s Rule

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I love books. I love contemplation. I love creativity. I love talking about these things with friends. I recently picked up Christine Valters Paintner’s book The Artist’s Rule: nurturing your creative soul with monastic wisdom. It’s a twelve-week course that draws on the insights and practices of Benedictine spirituality to explore the interplay between contemplation and creativity. This book is an invitation to nurture our inner monk and our inner artist.

Christine writes: “What I have discovered in my own journey is that the contemplative path allows my creativity to flourish in ways it never did before I embraced monastic practice. This book is for anyone who longs for ways to more deeply integrate his or her spiritual path and creative longings.”

“Creativity and contemplative spirituality nurture and support each other in their commitments to the slow way, to a close attention to the inner life, and to the sacred being revealed in each moment. When I use the word “artist” I include poets, writers, cooks, gardeners, and people who use all manner of creative expression; we are all called to be artists of everyday life.”

“The purpose of this book is to invite you into a process of transformation…. Art can reconnect us with our childlike sense of wonder. When we engage art as prayer, we can remember that play is also an act of prayer, praising God out of sheer delight. We can learn to take ourselves—our art and our spirituality—a little less seriously.”

Each week is only about 10 pages long. It explores a practice or two and invites us into both contemplative and creative responses. I’m really looking forward to beginning, and I was wondering if any of you might be interested in joining me.

Does this book sound exciting, intriguing, or interesting to any of you? Would you be interested in reading it along with me? If you are, let me know in the comments or by shooting me an email through my contact page. We could create a group to share what we are learning and creating. We could cheer each other on.

UPDATE: We will be launching a book discussion group the week of August 22 through Facebook. I will begin reading chapter one that week. Feel free to join us if and when you are able.