Friday, April 30, 2010

Sit With Me

Instead of going to Curves to work-out this morning as I usually do, I decided to walk in the conservancy. The prediction is for thunderstorms later today, making a walk later a possible problem. Besides, I felt pulled by birdsong. I was there early and only passed one huffing and puffing jogger as I strolled easily, stopping occasionally to pinpoint the locations of the tweets, chirps, trills and honks. I've noted this spring how I hear sandhills frequently, almost every time I walk out the front door, but only rarely see them. Maybe this morning.

The skies didn't reward me with sandhills, but instead with a red-tail hawk soaring, swooping, almost swooning in his love of the early morning softness. I pay attention to hawks. They are one of my totems. Hawks are messengers, visionaries, reminders of the bigger picture and the ability each of us has to look deeply within for the inner light that guides us. I pay attention to hawks, and this one chose a sky-path over the springs in the conservancy. I followed, realizing what I most needed to do this morning was to sit in my own silence and open to the spiritual practice of centering prayer.

Centering prayer is a contemplative practice of opening to God, consenting to God's presence within, finding repose and resting in God, and moving beyond thoughts, images, and emotions. Centering prayer requires intention and patience and practice. There is a reason spiritual practices are called just that!

I've walked to the springs before and stood at the railing, watching with fascination the bubbling from the bottom of the shallow water and the forming of spirals, temporary labyrinths. I told myself to bring my journal here and sit and wait and allow whatever needs to be expressed to come bubbling forth. The hawk told me to be here today. I sat on the bench, set the timer on my i-phone for 20 minutes, took a deep breath, closed my eyes and offered my intention to rest in God. Of course, many thoughts appeared. I am overloaded with thoughts, but I kept returning to the sacred word I have found as my touchstone for centering prayer. Again and again--and again--I return to the sacred word, resetting my intention to rest in God. Sooner than I expect, the harp music of my i-phone timer plays. The 20 minutes are up, and I head back towards home and my plan for the day.

Was it a "successful" time? Yes, because I practiced and accepted God's invitation to open, but was there a moment of experiencing union with God? No, not really. There have been moments during centering prayer or doing T'ai Chi or walking a labyrinth when I have felt God's presence almost tangibly, but the moment I recognize it, it is gone. That knowing is seductive and hard not to grasp greedily. Today, however, was much more about intention, following the hawk, and trusting that the space I create within myself through this practice allows healing to occur. I have no idea what the fruits will be, but Father Thomas Keating, the founder of the Centering Prayer Movement and author of Open Mind, Open Heart, The Contemplative Dimension of the Gospel says, "God is patient and waits for the right moment in which you are ready for the insight that will free you."

Oh, and by the way, as I turned toward home I spotted two sandhills retracing the hawks highway.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Spring Sorting

Yes, I am still sorting. Once is not enough apparently. Just as cleaning my closet of clothes that no longer fit my body, my lifestyle, or my imagination needs to be done periodically; sorting in the rest of my life is an ongoing process as well. Here is what I have learned during my most recent sorting process: Surprise! I am retired.

I didn't know that's what happened when we moved here from Ohio. I just assumed I would continue to do in some fashion what I was doing there--some spiritual direction, some teaching, some facilitating of groups. I didn't know I was retiring without the gold watch, the pension, the farewell tea for this year's class of retirees. I didn't set a retirement date and count the days till it arrived. But here I am, RETIRED, a by-product of moving here so my husband could accept a challenging and exciting position and so we could live closer to our Minnesota family. No regrets, but I am amazed at my cluelessness about what this would mean for me.
In fact, a friend expressed surprise that I didn't recognize this change in my life, since I am a person who seems to be in constant reflection. It wasn't that I resisted the word. I simply did not recognize the obvious. Instead, I have been trying all this time to find a pat phrase for the question, "What do you do?"

For the first year or so I tried answering by stating what I did in my former life. "When we lived in Ohio I had a small private practice in spiritual direction, and I worked part time for a support organization for those touched by cancer." It was awkward, but it worked for awhile. However, now I have been here for over two years and speaking with tongues of the past no longer works. Frankly, it's not even that I am asked that often (Shouldn't that in itself be another clue, along with the fact that the AARP magazine shows up in our mailbox?) and if I am asked, I can slip easily into a conversation about things I am doing and like to do without too much stumbling. I refer to participating in a writing group and a book group/class or volunteering in the bookstore at the arboretum or attending a centering prayer class at Holy Wisdom Monastery. "Did you know they have the greenest building in the US?," I say, and successfully change the focus of the conversation. Oh, and, of course, there are the grandkids to bring into the conversation.

Obviously, I need to come to terms with the word "retired." I think there is intense pressure on my generation, even in our retirement, to do great things. "So what are you doing now that you are retired?" Golfing, sleeping late, and reading romance novels is not a good enough answer. We are expected, it seems, to respond with a passion, a dedication to a cause, a discovery of a new talent, or even commitment to a new career. Have you noticed how many books there are on the topic?. I have a few of them myself.

Leap! What Will We Do with the Rest of Our Lives? by Sara Davidson

Claiming Your Place at the Fire, Living the Second Half of Your Life on Purpose by Richard J. Leider and David A. Shapiro

The Third Chapter, Passion, Risk, and Adventure in the 25 Years After 50 by Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot (EEEK! I only have 13 more years before that book has no more relevance for me!)

Inventing the Rest of Our Lives, Women in Second Adulthood, What Matters, What Works, What's Next by Suzanne Braun Levine

Creating a Spiritual Retirement, A Guide to the Unseen Possibilities in Our Lives by Molly Strode.

I am tempted to answer the retirement question by saying, "My goal is to read all the books on retirement." I know there is good advice in these books, reflections that resonate with me, and spiritual practices that will enrich and enhance my life in the 60's and beyond and perhaps it is a good sign that I have these books on my shelf already. I'll go back and reread what I have underlined already.

What I am beginning to realize is that the filling up, the testing and trying, the believing that the next big thing is just around the corner has not been all that successful. I find myself stuck in what was, what is not, and too permeated with it all to just BE. I am not sure what that will look like, but I hope to ease from Spring Sorting to Summer Savoring.