Monday, April 25, 2011

Spiritual Practice 911

I am just completing the first year of a three-year Spiritual Direction Formation program.  It is called Prairie Fire.  This class is part of a certificate program of The Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center.

When I began Prairie Fire, I was delighted to learn about Centering Prayer.  This practice, formalized by Father Thomas Keating, a Jesuit Priest, is based on the contemplative practices of early Christian Mystics, or the Abbas and Ammas, of the dessert.  In this simple practice, one chooses a word that resonates peacefully with them.  Words like peace, love, light, one, help, om, or Jesus are often used.  One starts by repeating your chosen word over and over.  When you might find your mind wandering, you return to the word.  This was a change from the two kinds of meditation I’d learned earlier.  The first meditation I learned to do was based on Eknath Eswarin’s instruction of learning a rather lengthy mantra like the St. Francis prayer for peace or a passage from the Bible or Bhagavad Gita.  Repeating that long passage over and over was the meditation.  Later I learned zazen, a type of Zen meditation.  Simply put, the goal in zazen is to empty the mind, to not think of anything.

While all three of these ways of meditating are wonderful, powerful and potentially transformational, they require a discipline of finding a regular time to do them.   I have tried for extended periods of time to set aside time upon waking or before going to bed to do these kinds of meditations.  I have committed to being with groups who are engaging in these practices.  And, more times than I want to admit, I have abandoned the practices when life, ordinary or dramafied, got in my way.  And always, a pang of regret and guilt accompanied the abandonment of the practices. 

Ah – enter Welcoming Prayer – the answer to our spiritual practice emergencies. The history of the Welcoming Prayer is a little surprising. It’s not an ancient practice, though it’s an ancient idea. Mary Mrozowski of Brooklyn, New York — a friend of Father Thomas Keating — developed the method. She was inspired by Abandonment to Divine Providence, an early 18th century spiritual work by Jesuit priest and spiritual director, Father Jean Pierre de Caussade.  Here is how it works:

            Letting In - This is not about indulging, justifying, or amplifying bad happenings or feelings.  Rather, this part of the process allows you to name and feel your experience.  Feel the emotion or the feeling in your body and take note of where it is.  Are you tense, fearful, lethargic, fidgety, hot, sleepy, confused?  Just acknowledge what you are experiencing and take note of where you are feeling it in your body.

            Welcoming – We are talking about feelings and emotions here.  We are not going to welcome things like illness or injustice.  We can, however, acknowledge that these things can cause fear and other emotions that become a part of us.  We welcome our feelings and emotions because we can only start from where we currently are, and we can only move forward when we accept where we are.  We say, “Welcome fear (or sadness, or grief, rage, or whatever your emotion or feeling is called).” 

            Letting Go – Once we let in and welcome our feelings and emotions, we can let them go.   This is the part of the prayer when we understand that there are motivations, often that we are unaware of, behind our feelings and emotions.  Letting go means that we are willing to spend time in the great unknown.  We understand that we can experience our emotions and feelings without having them interfere with ours, or other people’s well being.  We say:
             “I let go of my desire for security and survival.

            I let go of my desire for esteem and affection.

            I let go of my desire for power and control.

            I let go of my desire to change what I can not, or should not, change.”

Welcoming Prayer is not my spiritual practice, but rather a supplement to my meditation and journaling.  It is like a first aid fix for me because I can apply it anywhere until I have time to ponder the deeper, more complex places where my feelings and emotions may be coming from.  It can also help with breaking negative thought patterns and it can get you through a tough spot.  If you find yourself struggling with the same emotions and feelings, try Welcoming Prayer. 
Until I post again I’ll be Letting In, Welcoming, and Letting Go -   Lori

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Waiting for a Spark to Ignite

Waiting For The Spark  - A song about the struggle to write, and then realizing that this in itself is fodder for a song.

And I'm Waiting For The Spark
Spark to set my mind aflame
Waiting for the Spark
To burst to flame
                                                                      by Gayla Drake Paul