I have many sacred places I go to refresh my spirit. Some are simple and serene, others spacious and grand. My favorite will soon be renewed—my garden. While this muddy, messy piece of earth hardly looks like a sacred site in early March, it slowly reveals itself as an urban sanctuary. I clear tangled stems and sodden leaves from autumn’s late blooms only to find tender shoots of this season’s new beginnings.
“Cindy” felt buried and in the dark when she first came for spiritual direction. She had been divorced two years earlier. Her daughters were estranged and siding with their dad. She had a manufacturing job she hated. And, her friends had stopped calling; “I wouldn’t want to be my friend either,” she quipped.
She walked into my office for the first time with eyes and shoulders that slouched. “I’ve been in therapy for a year, and feel worse than ever. My sister told me to come, but I don’t know why I’m here.”
Hopelessness loomed around Cindy like a dense fog.
She recounted her losses and failures in a monotone. Her prayers and her God had dried up years before.
I once read a definition of spiritual practice that continues to guide me: “Spiritual practice,” said that long forgotten writer, “is habit made holy.” And so, I ask myself, if we are to consider the quality of forgiveness as a spiritual practice, how do we first, make it a habit, and then second, let it be holy, particularly in our current cultural climate? There are so many wonderful words written about forgiveness as an action, but what about forgiveness as a way of life? How do we let it be habitual, a state of being, not just an item on our checklist?
We are in the midst of the Christian church season of Lent, and I have been reflecting on the theme: Let fear become love. Love, I realize, is not some warm and fuzzy feeling inside, but a deliberate step out of fear and self-centeredness. My reflections have revolved around a series of questions I want to share.
What am I afraid of? We live in a world filled with fear, especially fear of those who are different, yet most of us are afraid to confront our fears and overcome them. We barricade ourselves behind walls of hate and self righteousness.
Every day, I get a text with three things my Dharma buddy is grateful for. Today it was the snow day, the home cooked meal, and the snow plows and shovels. Other days it might be a lunch with a friend, a run, or the chance to begin again.
I love these texts.
My Dharma buddy is a friend I met at our local Insight Meditation Center. At the beginning of a meditation class we were taking, the teacher gave us the option to be matched with a Dharma buddy. The purpose was to have someone to check in with about practice and to support each other in cultivating qualities of mindfulness and joy.
“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.” —Exodus 20:8
This commandment reminds us of the holiness of rest. Not only does it refer to God resting on the seventh day of creation, but it also guides us to the awareness that resting is a sign of freedom. Moses proclaimed his wisdom when the Israelites were in the desert after their escape from slavery in Egypt. Choosing to rest is not possible for a slave who is oppressed by a master. Only the one who is totally free can take time for needed rest. Resting becomes a sign of our freedom.
Last fall, we installed a Little Free Library in front of our house. Eager to make it look inviting, we created a little landscaped square at the base, with a couple of decorative pepper plants surrounded by stones. We lined the area with landscaping fabric, intent on keeping weeds out of our little stone garden.
The car veered toward the fence post and I had less than a second to react. There was no ice, and the driving conditions were near perfect. “Look over there,” I blurted and pointed my finger in the direction we needed to go. The car swerved back onto the driveway, and we passed by the fence without incident.
I was the driving instructor and the passenger. Experiences like this are not uncommon with new drivers. The student driver was fixated on the fence post, thinking that she did not want to hit it. Fortunately, I developed a sixth sense about things like this and so I was able to redirect her gaze. (And yes, I also had one foot covering my own brake pedal.)
It was one of the most difficult weeks I’d ever known. The depression that’s shadowed me for most of my life had come on with a vengeance. One afternoon it left me completely immobile. All I could do was lie still and breathe.
Call it a moment of grace, or a fortuitous firing of the right neurons. Whatever the case, my breathing quietly caught my attention. I thought: Well, I can breathe. And something within me said in reply: That’s good. That’s very good.
Such a tiny response, sounding so much like the whisper of God, started my recovery. Strangely, it also said something to me about myself: You are resilient.
“I could never have handled this so well if I hadn’t had you in my life.”
This message came from one of my spiritual directees recently, after they had addressed a particularly difficult family situation. The text surprised me, because the work we had been doing in our sessions didn’t feel related to the family situation, and I wasn’t sure why this directee connected it with our time together.