Sitting in the Simple Gratitude

by Amanda Petersen

Gratitude does not need to be complicated. In fact, practicing gratitude for the simple things actually helps one simplify their life. Acknowledging something simple, like breathing, can heighten one’s awareness of the places where things get complicated. This is especially true for one’s spiritual practices. As beautiful as a practice can be, it can become complicated very easily. Prayer lists can grow very long. The sense of ritual can take over. Certain positions or postures, times, and order can complicate to a point where heart of the practice can be lost. Coming back to the heart of a practice with gratitude is a very powerful spiritual practice. Beginning the prayer list, reading, examen, meditation, or physical practice with gratitude for the heart or why of the practice can shift the whole experience.

One of the main points I like to bring forth in meditation is the most important part of this practice: the fact that everyone there chose to come and sit. It is the act of sitting in my opinion that is the important. Whether the mind clears, or one stays with their breath or mantra, or one leaves feeling peaceful or enlightened, there is a nice benefit, yet the real power in the practice is the choice to sit. I believe that because we choose to sit, and step out of the norm or complications of life, the world is literally a different place when we leave. Beginning with gratitude, appreciation  and acknowledging the Source of one’s life changes the practice from one of doing the practice to one of being with the practice.

Beginning a spiritual practice with gratitude takes the focus off of the doing and moves us into the participation and relationship with God/Love/Divine. That is a wonderful place to dwell. It helps one come back to noticing, savoring and to the gift of Life. I encourage you to begin your spiritual practices grateful for the gift of showing up, sitting down, using time, or just breathing. See if you notice anything different in your practice.

I’d like to end with a poem by Mary Oliver from her book A Thousand Mornings:

Poem of the One World

This morning
the beautiful white heron
was floating along above the water

and then into the sky of
this one world
we all belong to

where everything
sooner or later
is part of everything else

which thought made me feel
for a while
quite beautiful myself.

The simple act of gratitude can change the world. A thank you to Diane Owens for the inspiration of this week’s writing.

Sitting In It

by Amanda Petersen

Ever have one of those weeks?

What does this bring to mind when someone asks you that? Does your mind go to a week filled with upset and trouble? Does your posture and mood change the moment you get a chance to share? How does one sit in the “I wish it were different” and practice “This is the way it is”?

The key word is to sit in it. Again the contemplative journey invites the person to slow down, not solve or ease the pain right away. Instead, the invitation is to get one’s bearings, own where they are, live in the tension. It is so easy to find ways of numbing out. In fact, once one is aware, sometimes all that can be done is to admit they are numbing out right now. Learning to sit in that tension of “I’m not where I want to be right now and I want to immediately get up and fix it” is a deep, deep spiritual practice. So is listening to the questions that come up from that staying still. I think the biggest gift in learning to sit with an imperfect life is, instead of running from it or fighting against it, one can use their energy to be free and learn from it. In a sense, “here you are again dissatisfaction, tell me about yourself today.”

Teresa of Avila spoke of reptiles one must deal with when entering the Interior Castle. Reptiles are the pieces of life, like dissatisfaction, that distract from the Love and Enoughness of God. At first it feels like they are everywhere, yet once on the journey for a while, they only pop up occasionally, not to distract, but to remind the journeyer to listen to their life. Something is calling them to pay attention to the tension of some distraction.

When dissatisfaction or the reality of an imperfect life becomes more of a truth than a problem, or when one gets comfortable in the uncomfortable, then true movement towards Love and Enoughness can happen. There are so many things in the world to create a sense of dissatisfaction that there will be plenty of opportunities to practice. The next time you find yourself in “one of those” weeks or feeling dissatisfied, try just sitting in the uncomfortable and listening to the deeper questions. Let me know what you notice.

As always, you may turn to one of our spiritual directors and coaches to help you hear the deeper invitation.

A Transgender Trinity

by Karen Richter

Have you ever noticed what happens in the gospels when Jesus gets asked a question? The people ask “Jesus, THIS or THAT?” and his reply comes from the side always like a quick and sly slanting pass, pushing the question back on his audience. How many times does Jesus respond to a question with, “well… let me tell you a story about that…”? He has a tendency to leave everyone a bit bewildered, especially the disciples.

  • Who sinned that this man was born blind?
  • Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?
  • Why does this Teacher eat with sinners and tax collectors?
  • Are you the One we have been expecting or shall we wait for another?

In his responses, Jesus begins the training of the disciples in non-dual thinking. Duality thinking that we find so natural and easy is the tendency in the human brain to see things in opposing pairs: good and bad; dark and light; male and female.

Easy, right? If I write the word up, you think “down.” It’s the way our brains are on auto-pilot.

Getting past this is tough work, and I have a lot of empathy for the disciples. In our own time, the Holy Spirit has taken over our training in non-dual thinking.

And the gentle leading of the Spirit over the generations is a gift to us – a gift that includes a strange and wonderful idea: that God’s nature is simultaneously 3 and 1. This seemingly esoteric and even outdated dogma can stretch us into new ways of thinking, if we let it.

There’s an Episcopal mystic whose books I sometimes muddle through – Cynthia Bourgeault. She talks about Trinity as PROCESS rather than PERSON. In other words, the Trinity is about how to think about things rather than about creed and doctrine. Trinitarian thinking is a reconciling approach that interweaves what at first appears to be a dichotomous choice. This kind of thinking is a spiral upward, beyond the either/or. When we get to an impasse – a problem, disagreement, decision – when we feel stuck, it’s an opportunity to look for a reconciling path, a third way.

And it’s this Trinitarian thinking, this PROCESS of sitting with mystery, that is so helpful when talking about gender. We have long misunderstood gender as an either/or scenario, driven by chromosomes and anatomy. The lived experiences of our friends tell us that we are wrong.

Knowing when we are wrong is useful information. What do we do next?

Well, moving away from the gender binary is a SPIRITUAL PRACTICE. If I have friends reading this, they are laughing at this point because I sort of think everything is a spiritual practice.

As with most spiritual practices, getting beyond the gender binary is about building a pause of awareness before our response. When we practice listening to others, when we practice holding open the question of another person’s gender (often this looks like letting go of our curiosity), when we let go of the need to put people into little boxes marked M and F, when we are willing to be vulnerable, willing to admit we’re going to get it wrong sometimes and we hate getting things wrong, when we practice – we train our brains to take a deep breath.

Breathe, and let go.

Over and over.

With much practice and patience, this makes us into a gentle welcoming people. We grow into the welcome that we profess, with trans and gender non-conforming people and with everyone!

A pediatrician friend and I were talking recently about kids who are late bloomers, shorter and smaller than their peers. She said that with her late blooming patients, sometimes there’s an appointment, after a period of growing, that their height and weight finally appear as dots on the standard growth chart curve. And they pause for a little celebration: “Yay! You’re on the chart!”

Just like the disciples, we’re beginners in the Trinity way of thinking – that kind of nondual thinking that led Jesus to respond to questions in that wacky way we love so much, the nondual, Trinity-shaped thinking that can be part of our learning about gender. WE ARE BEGINNERS, but we’re on the chart. Thanks be to God.

Notes and sources:

Cynthia Bourgeault’s book is The Holy Trinity and the Law of Three: Discovering the Radical Truth at the Heart of Christianity.

For fantastic transgender educational resources, see PFLAG’s Straight for Equality project at straightforequality.org/trans.

Detangling

by Amanda Petersen

Recently we have been asking people to leave their cellphones in a basket while events are happening at Pathways of Grace. One of the side effects I had not anticipated has been the realization that when I am not thinking about activity on my phone I become aware of the all the other “attachments” I have. It seems the phone is the first layer, yet there is a deeper layer under that.

The phone connects me to family, friends, work and schedules. With each text, email, and pull to social media, I easily connected to all of it. Yet when I leave my phone at home or in a basket at work, I notice those connections don’t end. My mind is spending a lot of time thinking about family, friends, work, and schedules without the phone. The only difference is that I don’t unconsciously and frequently connect and in so doing not really know how connected and powerful some of those connections are.  Without the phone, I notice that maybe I am spending too much time thinking about certain things and taking on more than I should. I also find that  rather than immediately connect, I can instead trust the person or situation to God and offer a prayer. In addition to all of that, I get to make a choice – to create some space between my thoughts and all the aspects of life. In doing this I engage the Divine on where my thoughts are being invited to go in a way that brings light and love.

Who knew that leaving a cell phone behind would be a type of contemplative meditative practice? I am very excited about some of the new opportunities happening at Pathways of Grace to take a breath and listen deeply to life. I invite you to have some phone unplug time and use it as a spiritual practice. Let me know what surprises you.

Blessed Stillness

by Amos Smith

The writer Kathleen Norris tried to get some kids in a classroom to sit in silence. When asked to sit silently a second time one fifth grader retorted, “I don’t want to!” He continued, “It’s like we’re waiting for something, it’s scary.” 1 Silent prayer is not only scary. It’s exceedingly difficult. On the surface, it seems simple, yet anyone who’s tried it will attest to its difficulty. It’s perhaps the hardest thing I’ve ever undertaken. Yet, it’s also the most rewarding.

The nature of the untrained mind is like a wild monkey, jumping from branch to branch. The mind’s always clinging to one thing or another. Rarely, will it let go of the numerous stimuli and settle into silence. Because of its distracted nature, the mind has to be trained to focus. This training takes time. A challenge is that training the mind is less tangible than training for a marathon or practicing a musical instrument. Training the mind is more primal and less concrete than other kinds of training.

Because training the mind seems insubstantial and doesn’t produce any immediate measurable results, the Western mind usually dismisses it as “navel gazing” or “self-hypnosis.” “Don’t you have something better to do?” Yet, the mind is the root of our existence and our experience. Our state of mind is everything. So changing habits of the mind is powerful! At times it may seem insignificant—as if anything else is a better use of time. Yet, mystics the world over tell us this kind of training is the key for dismantling hidden addictions and the key to freedom.

The Desert Fathers and Mothers retreated from all worldly affairs. They sojourned into the desert to behold blessed stillness. And Quakers through the ages have written that deep listening to God requires stillness and silence. We can’t pray unless we pause and listen for the “still small voice of the Lord” (1 Kings 19:12b, NKJV).

1 Norris, Amazing Grace, p.17.

image credit: Rich Lewis

Walking in Misty Blue

by Amanda Petersen

One of the most amazing gifts of walking early in the morning at this time of year is the gift of what I call the “misty blue time”. I leave in the dark, and just before the sun comes over the horizon, there are a few minutes where everything turns a misty blue. Everything looks different during this in-between time. I know the neighborhood when it is dark, and of course I am familiar with it when it is daylight. Both have their own unique looks and I notice different things at both times. During this misty blue time my brain does not know what to jump to. Everything looks surreal and different. It is as though I am in a different world altogether and I get to enjoy my neighborhood in a whole new way.

In the contemplative walk, this misty blue time could be seen as liminal space. That space that says one time is over yet the next season has not quite arrived. Liminal space is a whole new world of noticing, practicing, and waiting for the sun to rise on the new season of life. I often witness the discomfort of this liminal space. It is easy to want to skip this space by taking what was known in the past and overlaying it on to the future and calling it good. The challenge in doing that is it limits the possibilities of the future with old patterns. The truth is the space yet to come has not been lived yet and the signposts are all new. With just our past knowledge, it is difficult to navigate. Yet, if one allows the liminal space to teach them, one can begin to learn how to live into the new place and releasing what no longer works. By remaining in misty blue, and allowing the knowledge of the past and anticipation of the future to guide one’s way, one is open to visions of life and God in a whole new way.

This August is a misty blue place for Pathways of Grace. We have more people using the space. New facilitators will be providing opportunities to experience growth. The website is getting a face lift and Mind Body is our new home base for scheduling and signing up for classes. At the same time we will be celebrating the past and your support in it, while providing the same safe place to experience your own liminal spaces. I have no idea how all of this will look, yet I am excited to see what I notice and live into the experience of what the next sunrise for Pathways of Grace will look like. Won’t you join me on this great adventure??

The Power of Pretend

by Amanda Petersen

I just spent the morning on a beautiful island eating very juicy oranges and sipping tea. All of this was done on my living room floor with my granddaughter.  She is just learning the power of pretend. We laughed and giggled as the imaginary oranges squirted all over us. As I watched the light in her eyes as she figured out this pretend game, I thought of all the other places she will imagine in her lifetime.

Practicing imagination is a wonderful contemplative practice.  I know I have spoken about the power of the moment and getting real as contemplative practices, yet  giving oneself permission to imagine possibilities is also a great practice.  The imagination can lead one to a bigger picture of God, life, and community. For example, one may say God is male, judgmental, or disappointed. Maybe the vision is there is no time for prayer, life is stuck or things could never improve.  This is where the gift of the imagination is a Godly pursuit. Think of Martin Luther King saying, “I have a dream.”  What if one’s imagination could allow for a kind, beyond gender, forgiving God?  The contemplative imagination allows one to sit in a pretend world where one can find the time to pray, where life is full of possibilities beyond what is happening. Who know where it can lead? It also gives the space to try out life in a different way without having to upend everything.

The imagination is a very powerful prayer practice, not to be taken lightly, because it can also lead into places of limits and lack of possibility. When the time of imagining is over, the individual is different, whether the circumstances change or not. The door to life as it is known is open because one has seen it. Then comes the work in the real world. How does this time of pretend make its way into this life? How does imagining a more loving world help one create a more loving world? How does imagining a bigger God help one begin to examine the God they are encountering now?

My time this morning on the island has created a connection and a memory with my granddaughter that will continue to shape our lives together. The world just got a little bigger for both of us. Where do you go in your imagination? How can the power of pretend be a prayer practice for you?

In Relationships, Small Things Count

by Amos Smith

Recently, I dreaded weekday mornings. Getting Luke up and ready for school was a chore. We butt heads. I would wake him, then he would get mad and say he was tired. Then I would prod him. Eventually he would start the day reluctantly and grumpy. It was a gridlocked negative pattern.

Then one day it dawned on me that I could change the dynamic. So now, instead of wake him, I set my iPod in his room and turn on his favorite songs at moderate volume. Then after a few minutes I lay beside him on his bed and talk to him about the day ahead (he likes to know about plans ahead of time). Now he wakes up happy.

Most people do creative problem solving in their relationships like the example above. Yet, since my centering prayer practice has deepened, I’ve noticed that habitual letting go and out-of-the-box ideas come more frequently.

Advent: Living in the Dark

by Amanda Peterson

The beginning of Advent is a time to stop and make a choice of how to enter this Holy season.  The darkest time of the year is an invitation in many traditions to celebrate and acknowledge the Presence of God in several forms.  As a contemplative Christian, the invitation is to dwell in the dark, unknown and not yet.  It’s a call to dwell in the reality of darkness. Darkness has a way of surrounding and causing a sense of coming within.  It slows life down and is the invitation to sleep.

When I lived in Alaska the winter darkness did not have a good effect on this desert rat.  I had to sit under a lamp that mimicked the sun so many hours of the day just to stay sane.  Even though my life was busy, I knew if I didn’t take the time to bathe in that light, my life would totally stop with depression.  Too much darkness without the promise of light can kill.

I can also remember summers in Alaska with 24 hours of daylight and the challenges of trying to put a 1-year old to bed.  To be honest, in a way I was glad when long days were coming to an end I was given a chance to rest.

Too much light can kill, also.  I tend to think in our age we are bathed in too much light.  Any time in our lives there can be light.  Even when the darkness calls, switches are flipped and work and business continues.  

The same principle applies for the darkness within. When anxiety pops up, TVs are on, phones are checked, or some other distraction is available to shoo it away.  For some there is a sense of being out of practice with what to do when it’s dark, whether literal darkness or internal darkness of death, terror, pain, or loss. It is overwhelming and frightening.  There is a desire to control it, yet sometimes in life there is no light switch to flip.

The honoring of seasons like Advent gives an opportunity to remember that darkness is just the other side of light; that God is in the midst of it all.  Rather than using it as a count down to Christmas, it is an opportunity to dwell inwardly, learn how to see in the dark and look for the little candles of light.  Learning to stand in the dark heightens awareness and creates vulnerability , empathy, and trust.  In my home we always turned out all the lights in the living room when we lit the advent candles.  Those flickering lights created a hush and an instant dwelling place in the reality that life is so much more when we take the time to be quiet in what is.  It was a time to remember that God has entered this world, one of dark and light.

Practice:  Take an evening and don’t turn on any lights or other electronics.  Use alternative light like a candle or a flashlight.  See what is noticed as you dwell in what is.

Gratitude

by Amanda Peterson

Gratitude is an important practice of anyone who wishes to walk with God. Seeing all things as gift can change one’s entire life. Expressing gratitude can literally change the world. Religious leaders, mystics and scientists all agree that those who practice gratitude attract a fuller and happier life. Those who dwell in negativity and lack attack more negative things into their lives.

Keeping a gratitude journal is a powerful practice. If you are experiencing hard times I highly encourage you to keep a gratitude journal that each day lists all that you can be grateful for. Even if it just states that the day is finally over!

There is an abundance of blessings in our lives, if we only look. Yet often there isn’t any discussion of gratitude and challenges. A grateful heart is not always a “happy” heart. That is why I believe it to be one of the most sacred spiritual practices. Gratitude lifts us into the Presence of the Holy. One can be grateful and grieve or grateful and overwhelmed and grateful and frustrated. This poem below addresses that. After you read it what are you thoughts about being gratitude and your spiritual walk? What are your reactions to the poem? Too simplistic or spot on? How does God and the comma connect with gratitude in all thing? This Thanksgiving, whether you are surrounded by an abundance of friends and family you love and/or avoid or you are alone, how can you let the day be one truly filled with gratitude?

Be Thankful

Be thankful that you don’t already have everything you desire,
If you did, what would there be to look forward to?

Be thankful when you don’t know something
For it gives you the opportunity to learn.

Be thankful for the difficult times.
During those times you grow.

Be thankful for your limitations
Because they give you opportunities for improvement.

Be thankful for each new challenge
Because it will build your strength and character.

Be thankful for your mistakes
They will teach you valuable lessons.

Be thankful when you’re tired and weary
Because it means you’ve made a difference.

It is easy to be thankful for the good things.
A life of rich fulfillment comes to those who are
also thankful for the setbacks.

GRATITUDE can turn a negative into a positive.
Find a way to be thankful for your troubles
and they can become your blessings.

Author Unknown