Category: Spirituality

Joan Chittister: Presence and Perpetual Goodness

Sister Joan Chittister is an American theologian, Benedictine nun, and the author of more than 50 books. For over 40 years, she has passionately advocated on behalf of peace, human rights, women’s issues, and church renewal. This week’s podcast shares with you an excerpt from Sister Joan’s audio program, Catching Fire: Being Transformed, Becoming Transforming, a seven-hour conversation with Tami Simon intended to spark the fire of the divine within each one of us.

Guided Meditation: Accepting Your Experience Just as I...

If you have traveled on the spiritual path even a little way, you have probably come across some version of “love what is”—a reminder that you should accept your experience as it is. However, this teaching easily becomes another injunction. Notice the should in the earlier sentence—it is always a red flag that the judging mind is at work.  

The conditioned mind cannot accept unconditionally. It always has an agenda, even if it is well hidden. It secretly bargains and sends the message, “I will accept you [sotto voce] if you change or leave.” This approach is akin to welcoming guests at your front door while secretly hoping they will exit out the back—the sooner, the better! Guests—our unwanted thoughts, feelings, and sensations—will certainly feel this conditional invitation, even if it is unspoken. As a result, they will be much less willing to enter, relax, and reveal themselves. The result? What we resist, persists. So when your new arrivals show up at your door, put away your timer and share some aromatic green tea and a raspberry scone with them. Settle in and let them tell their stories and share their feelings. They just want to be heard and understood. Once they feel genuinely received, they will be open to a new perspective.

Are you willing to be with your experience just as it is, even if it never changes? This is a critically important checking question. Take a few minutes to inquire with the following practice.

MEDITATIVE INQUIRY

Are You Willing to Accept Your Experience Just as It Is?

Sit quietly where you won’t be disturbed, close or lower your eyes, and take a few deep breaths. Feel the weight of your body held by whatever you are sitting on and relax. Feel your attention settling down and in.

Think of a troubling aspect of your conditioning—an unwelcome pattern of behavior, reactive feeling, bodily tension, or invasive thought. Then ask yourself: “Am I willing to accept this just as it is?”

If your response comes from the strategic mind, there will be an honest no. This is good to see. If this is the case, try asking the question a little differently: “Is there something in me that already accepts this just as it is?”

If your attention has settled into the Deep Heart, you will find a yes.

Journey into the depths of your own heart with Dr. John J. Prendergast’s guide, The Deep Heart: Our Portal to Presence.

Giving Thanks to the Earth

Many indigenous cultures refer to the more-than-human worlds as people. Clouds, trees, stones, plants—all belong to their own community, speak their own language, and have their own relationship to the spirit that moves through all things. The first time I recognized these more-than-human communities and felt their presence strongly as an adult was when I had spent a lot of time in the woods and became fascinated with trees. I noticed that in some places, many American beech trees grew together, while in other places, eastern hemlock congregated. In the beech groves, the simple-toothed leaves quaked in the breeze; their smooth, grey trunks reminded me of the mallorn trees from The Lord of the Rings. I couldn’t help but feel the presence of elves in those beech groves!

In the hemlock groves, the shadows were deep and the earth moist. The deep green boughs stretched and gently bobbed on the breeze, light, buoyant, and mysterious. The hemlock groves were hushed. Silence and watchfulness permeated the hemlocks’ shadows. Families of white pine created sun-toasted auburn carpets of needles, soft and aromatic in the afternoon light. Their trunks climbed high into the sky, and their bluish-green pine needles shone bright and happy in the sun. A feeling of optimism and joy seems to ring out when white pine needles shimmer in the sunlight. Under these mighty trees were perfect places to lie down or to sit and lean against trunks, perfect places to take in the tranquility of the land.

Looking into the distance, I could see patches of forest green on mountain slopes where communities of evergreens lived, and then the grey patches in the fall from oaks and maples that had lost their leaves. Suddenly it hit me: these are communities, tribes, families. Before this, I had not really seen or felt the profound reality of community that exists among trees of the same species, trees that congregate. Now, when I look out at hills or mountains in the distance, I see the tribes of tree beings whose presence creates a tapestry of color and texture all across our forested lands.

Trees communicate and support one another. Forest ecology expert Peter Wohlleben refers to the nutrient and information exchange that exists among trees in the microbial network underground as the “wood wide web.” There is evidence that trees work together to keep elder trees alive and that they warn one another of danger. We are symbionts with trees, relying on the oxygen they provide while they rely on the carbon dioxide we exhale. There is a give and take, a reciprocity, that binds us to the trees, plants, and other members of our earth community, all of whom share the atmosphere, nutrients, and waters of this living earth. To think of trees as objects denies what they are. To think that way minimizes and flattens the complex and mysterious reality of their “treeness.” This objectification of the living earth, whether it be trees, minerals, or animals, also flattens our consciousness and experience, causing us to miss out on so much of the beauty, love, and wonder to be found in relationship with the earth. When we think of the earth as composed of so many life-less objects, we give ourselves permission to treat them as such. If we take the time to slow down, to be mindful and observe the land, trees, and other crewmates of spaceship Earth, we strengthen our ability to see the reality of life’s living connections.

Reciprocity

Keep close to Nature’s heart … and break clear away, once in a while, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean. 

JOHN MUIR

Rewilding is a way of seeing and being in relationship to life, and it can include learning ancestral skills for survival. Tom Brown Jr., a great tracking teacher, emphasizes the profound role gratitude and thanksgiving played in what he learned from his teacher Stalking Wolf, a Lipan Apache tracker and spiritual teacher. To truly feel and connect with the miracle of any living thing, any gift of the Creator, whether a piece of wood being carved into a sacred pipe or a plant or animal being harvested for food, one must honor the other being’s sacrifice and give thanks for what is received from that being. All of life is an exchange of energy. To live, all living things must consume, and in turn, be consumed. There is no escaping this.

Of all the world’s wonders, which is the most wonderful?

That no man, though he sees others dying all around

him, believes that he himself will die. 

YUDHISHTARA, The Mahabharata

To be awake to the wonder of life is to be in a state of constant thanksgiving, for this breath, this bite of food, this caress of wind, this sunset, this chance to grow and serve others. A society whose people are involved in harvesting their food from their environment will likely be a culture that appreciates and that values thanksgiving. I believe that our collective loss of reverence for nature is in part due to our disconnect from the origin of our food. Pulling a potato or carrot out of the soil provides a sensual, embodied experience of taking life. When we take life, we have a natural inclination to want to give back, to restore balance.

We all need to embrace the ethic of thanksgiving again so that we don’t take the biodiversity of earth for granted. We can’t pretend that the water and air we pollute aren’t the water and air we rely on for our survival, for our health and well-being. A great start for a thanksgiving practice is with the breath, the thing we rely on most and most immediately. The birds who fly in the sky fly on our very breath. The air sweeps all around us, moving clouds, bringing snow and rain, making waves, and flowing in and out of our bodies with the oxygen that allows us to exist. The air we breathe moves the leaves in the trees, creating beautiful sounds that soothe our souls. We can go weeks without food and days without water but only a couple of minutes without the gift of breath. Throughout the world, there are cultures that hold the air and the wind as holy, as life-giving forces. The entire yoga tradition revolves around the fundamentals of breath, which can unlock expanded states of awareness and foster deep insights.

Giving Thanks

When I exhale, I know that the carbon dioxide flowing out of me will be absorbed by plant life and that the oxygen they exhale will flow into me. In my lifetime, I will ingest many living things, fruits, vegetables, animals, and water, and one day, my body will return to the earth, and other living things will eat me.

We are only stewards of our bodies for a time. Every seven or so years, every molecule in this body will have been replaced, so that the me I think of as me is stable only in my mind. Who I really am is living in a dynamic state of reciprocity with the cosmos. Our planet, which includes us, is made up of elements generated in ancient star explosions. So, when we walk barefoot in the grass, stand at the entrance to a forest, or look up at the cool moon on an autumn evening, we can acknowledge that we are not simply receiving beauty from a heavenly body, that there is more going on. Through mindfulness we can hold an awareness of our situation, one in which we are suspended between using and being used, between eating and being eaten, between enjoying and being enjoyed.

When did people stop talking to the earth? How does one thank the moon for being all that the moon is? I’ve made a habit of speaking to trees, stones, salamanders, the wind, and any other relative I see outside. I speak to everything in nature. Why? When I speak to the forest, it feels as if my words are resonating not only in the cavities of my human body but also through the air, back into my eardrums, and bouncing on trees, leaves, and stones. When spoken from the heart to the living earth, my words express love for what I experience as my greater self. I know that hemlocks and stones do not understand the English language; I am not anthropomorphizing them. Yet I feel fuller and more connected when I give myself permission to speak to the land. When I converse with the earth, sometimes the wind blows suddenly, as if in response, or a squirrel will throw a pine cone out of a tree, which also feels like some kind of answer. I don’t think we need to feel so isolated on this earth, so cut off and separate. We can honor our reciprocity with all of life by opening up the channels of communication with the more-than-human world.

Practice of Giving Thanks to the Earth

The next time you experience a perfect sunset, a refreshing walk through new fallen snow, or the gift of seeing a wild animal, consider offering a gesture of gratitude to the living earth. Drawing your hands to prayer in front of the heart and bowing to the light in that manifestation of the universe, you can simply say “thank you.” You might offer a small token, such as an acorn, pine cone, crystal, or small pebble, to show your thanks. You could also make an earth mandala, creating a circular symbol with natural objects you gather, and offer it with gratitude. As the days and months go by, the mandala will be received into the earth. You could also take a handful of water from a pond, lake, stream, bay, or ocean and speak your words of love and gratitude into the water, allowing your prayer to slip through your fingers and become one with the water of the earth. Maybe you would like to burn sage, palo santo, dried cedar, or another ceremonial incense of your choice, placing your intentions in the burning ember so that the rising smoke carries your prayer of gratitude and love to the heavens. These are small gestures, but they are powerful. These actions build a habit of focusing on the many ways we are in a deep state of interbeing with all of creation.

This is an excerpt from Rewilding: Meditations, Practices, and Skills for Awakening in Nature by Micah Mortali.

Your Body Is Not What You Think: Looking Beyond the Ph...

This model of a multidimensional body applies directly to the theme of the Deep Heart. I would not write about the importance of the heart unless I knew it intimately firsthand and also understood its critical role in psychological healing and spiritual awakening. If there are, as I propose, layers to the heart ranging from the relatively gross, through the refined, to the transcendent, then many of us will be able to directly or indirectly sense this in some way.

One of the easiest ways to sense the emotional and energetic reality of the heart area is to notice what we sense and feel when we fall in love or, conversely, when we lose someone we have loved via death or a painful breakup. Heart openings are intoxicatingly joyful, and heart breaks are extraordinarily painful. Have you ever wondered why this is the case? Are the opening and closing of the heart purely physiological, or might something else be going on? We will explore romantic love in a later chapter, but for now I’ll just acknowledge the central role that the heart area plays in human relationships and in genuine spiritual openings. The majority of popular songs and a large number of our most compelling stories revolve around love found and lost.

In order to explore your heart in any depth, it’s helpful to sense your whole body with as few ideas as possible. Clear the slate—be open to the possibility that your body is not what you think it is. Rather than approaching your body as a familiar solid object made up of skin, bones, muscles, organs, tissues, and cells governed by neural and hormonal networks, I encourage you to approach it differently—as a field of vibration filled with space.

In the next exercise, you will experience the body as a field of vibration. This meditation is inspired by the Vijnanabhairava Tantra, a key experiential text in Kashmiri Tantric Shaivism that was authored over a thousand years ago. It’s a good idea to record this guided meditation on your smartphone, and I recommend pausing between the steps outlined below for at least twenty seconds. Including the pauses, please allow for at least ten minutes in total. Find a quiet place where you won’t be disturbed, sit comfortably, and close your eyes.  

BODY SENSING PRACTICE 

Sensing the Body as Vibration  

Take a few deep breaths and allow your attention to settle down and in.

Feel the weight of your body being held by whatever you are sitting on and let yourself be completely held.

Sense the bottoms of your feet, the tips of your toes, and notice a lively vibration. Imagine it growing stronger, gradually enveloping both feet, and then moving up both legs.

Sense the palms of your hands and the tips of your fingers. Notice a subtle vibration—a sense of aliveness.

Feel it enveloping both hands and slowly spreading up both arms.

Feel this sense of vibrant aliveness growing into your hips and shoulders.

And then into the belly and the chest, including your back.  

Sense this lively vibration moving up the neck and into the head, suffusing the mouth, ears, eyes, and brain. Take your time.

Now let go of any focusing and sense your entire body as a diffuse field of lively vibration. Notice that it is difficult to tell exactly where your body ends and where the so-called world begins. Allow this sense of vibration to extend out into space in all directions: front … back … left … right … up … and down.

Rest in and as this expansive sense of vibrant spaciousness as long as you like.  

Journey into the depths of your own heart with Dr. John J. Prendergast’s guide, The Deep Heart: Our Portal to Presence.

Theresa Reed: Monkey Mind

They say that animals often come to resemble their owners. Or maybe it’s the other way around. I am not sure where that statement came from, but I would probably say there is a nugget of truth to it. Perhaps we do become more like our critters, or more likely, we simply learn from them. 

A decade ago, my husband and I adopted a little black cat from the local shelter. As soon as they plopped him in our hands, he began to purr like a motor. We bundled him up, took him home, and named him Monkey.

This name seemed to fit him much better than his original moniker, Phantom. Monkey wasn’t a cat who liked to hide away, and he wasn’t very stealthy either. Instead, he was restless, animated, and liked to play rough. Always in movement, he could barely sit still long enough for a picture. He’s got a true “monkey mind.”

I hate to admit this, but in a way we’re a lot alike.

Like Monkey, I am easily distracted. I blame this on my Gemini ways, but the truth is that’s not an excuse for having too many projects running at the same time with all the technology in the world clamoring for my attention. The blips and dings that alert me that I’ve got mail or texts or other such things keep me in a state of high alert. “What’s happening? What’s going on?” Or, more accurately, “What did I miss?”

Like a pinball whizzing around the flippers and bumpers, my brain is in constant motion. Sometimes I’ve found myself amazed that I was able to get anything done at all.  

My writing sessions were punctuated by petting sessions, and cooking a meal required one hand on the spatula while another held a laser pointer to keep Monkey from biting my heels. Disruption via feline was a way of life around my house, so, as you can imagine, it wasn’t easy for a focus-challenged person like myself to remain present much of the time.

One day, I was tapping away on the computer when I noticed Monkey staring down a bug. He was poised to pounce, eyes wide, and completely still. The bug wasn’t moving. Neither was Monkey. This was a total showdown between cat and bug—and neither was going to move until the time was right.

Fascinated, I stopped what I was doing to watch this duel unfold.

The stare-down continued for a few minutes. This cat wasn’t going to flinch until he witnessed a glimmer of activity. Finally, I saw a flicker of movement as the bug slowly lifted his leg. Monkey’s eyes widened as he wriggled his bottom. Suddenly he pounced on the hapless bug, and in an instant, it was over. The bug was lying face up, with no sign of life. Monkey sniffed around it for a second, then sauntered away. The job was done and now it was time for a nap in the sun.

I found myself pondering this long after the deed was over.

How could this cat, who detests the house rules and who seems to be in constant squirm motion, remain so deeply engrossed? How is it that Monkey was able to deftly finish his work while I sat at my desk, still stuck on finding the first opening sentence for my latest project?  

The truth was staring me in the face as the little familiar beep that alerted me to an incoming text pulled me away from my work.

I had created a maelstrom of technology and distraction around me. This was preventing me from effectively “killing the bug.” If I was going to be prolific, effective, and calm in both my work and my spiritual practice, I needed to set myself up for success. It was time to commit to making my world distraction-free so I could tame my own monkey mind.  

This is an excerpt from a story written by Theresa Reed and featured in The Karma of Cats: Spiritual Wisdom from Our Feline Friends, a compilation of original stories by Kelly McGonigal, Alice Walker, Andrew Harvey, and many more!

Theresa Reed has been a professional, full-time tarot reader for more than 25 years. A recognized expert in the field, she has been a keynote presenter at the Readers Studio, the world’s biggest tarot conference, and coaches tarot entrepreneurs via numerous online courses and her popular podcast, Talking Shop. Theresa lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. For more, see thetarotlady.com.

Michael Singer: Living From a Place of Surrender

Michael Singer is a spiritual teacher, entrepreneur, and the bestselling author of the spiritual classic The Untethered Soul. He has collaborated with Sounds True to release the online course Living from a Place of Surrender: The Untethered Soul in Action. In this episode of Insights at the Edge, Tami Simon speaks with Michael about the core idea of his teachings: that it is only through complete surrender to the essence of the moment that we experience life’s full potential. They talk about what this sense of surrender actually means when it comes to decision-making and day-to-day activities, as well as how to recognize when we are still clinging to resistance. Michael explains how to take a “witness position” and let go of the arbitrary attachments that inhibit surrender. Finally, Tami and Michael discuss the application of these ideas to those things we truly value, including bringing the idea of surrender to social and environmental activism. (63 minutes)

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