I asked my dear friend, Linda, what she thought the difference between "simplicity" and "settling" were and her answer surprised me.
"Simplicity asks, 'What do you truly want?''"
She went on, "With settling, I may settle for what I don't want and since it's not what I want, I keep looking for it.'"
Then she shared an example from her own life.
Many years ago, a woman asked if she wanted a certain set of dishes for her wedding and if she did, this woman would buy them for her. She really did not want them, but she felt uncomfortable saying "no" so she received them as a wedding gift. Since she had them and could get more pieces to match, she expanded her collection of dishes she did not want but settled for. But she noticed something.
Whenever she was at a store that sold dishes, she looked at the patterns. Years of time and energy were spent on looking for dishes when she already had a full set! Her longing was left unsatisfied because she had settled so many years ago, afraid of offending the gift-giver.
Now having retired, she decided it was not too late and she knew what she wanted. Much to the surprise of her family (who never knew she did not like the dishes!), she decided to box up her collection and put them for sale on a neighborhood social media site . Then she went out and bought the dishes she truly wanted, a beautiful butterfly pattern. Another woman happened to see the dishes she had for sale and was overjoyed for she had been looking for those exact dishes because they reminded her of her mother!
Both were full of joy and satisfied with their purchases.
Guess what happened after that? My friend stopped looking for dishes!
We went on to talk about how we tend to buy things that are only on sale or we get what is cheap because we can have "more" of the item. Sometimes this is okay, but when it becomes a pattern, our collection of unwanted, unused stuff grows along with our dissatisfaction which compares and wants more.
What do you truly want?
It can be a difficult question. We need to stop and think rather than compulsively or fearfully say "yes" to what we do not want (or allowing others to decide for us or think we should want what others have).
Jesus often asked people like blind Bartimaeus, "What do you want me to do for you?"
It's not that Jesus could not see what Bartimaeus wanted, He wanted Bartimaeus to "see" and say for himself!
It is a simple question.
Yet answering honestly may just simplify the amount of internal and external stuff that becomes a burden--now that's a gift!
It’s what the old Shaker song says, at least! In fact, some lyrics say 'tis "the” rather than “a” gift to be simple.
But nothing seems simple anymore.
We live in a world of information (and misinformation!) at our fingertips. We're bombarded by choice at the grocery store and online. Constant comparison is exacerbated through social media. And stores like HomeGoods, Tuesday Morning, Ross, Overstock.com, Lowe's, Home Depot, and others are happy to feed our "more and better" obsession.
"Complex" is more apt to describe our times rather than "simple." This is not necessarily a bad thing, it may be important to look at the complexities at work under the surface, rather than oversimplify an issue or situation (or even a person or group of people!).
So in our cultural context, what is the gift of simplicity? And if we do discover it to be a gift, how do we go about receiving it?
I began to return to simplicity in my blog last week, but I want to explore this question over the next few weeks as I glean from others' insights and experiences. Maybe you have some wisdom to share with me as well (my daughter sure did)!
On a walk with my young teen earlier this week, I asked her, “What is the difference between simplicity and settling?”
“I think it has to do with what changes,” she replied.
She went on, “There can be all kinds of changes on the outside. But when a person settles, there’s no change on the inside.”
“So for you, simplicity is a gift or practice that changes us…how interesting! And, would you say that simplicity helps us deal with the changes on the outside of us?”
“Yes, I mean, that makes sense to me.”
“What a good perspective! I’m going to be thinking about simplicity and change for a while.”
What does the dance between simplicity & change offer you?
I am invited to continue exploring simplicity as both a gift and a practice that offers deep change—peace and inner transformation.
Simplicity may change me by changing the way I view “all the things.”
Perhaps it gives the gift of discerning eyes when faced with a storm of choice and change!
Our self-talk can be mean.
In clients young and old, I notice how they often beat themselves up for not living up to their spiritual ideals.
In their voices I hear the longing to “be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). And I also hear the guilt, self-blame, and even name-calling that result when falling short.
I listen with empathy. Why? I resonate with the 1 on the Enneagram (those who can be perfection-driven and overly familiar with an inner critic) and I grew up in a culture expecting high-level morality as a reflection of being a "good girl" and following Jesus, so I get it.
One of the reasons I love being a Spiritual Director is the experience and wanting others to experience the gift of new eyes to see.
For instance, we will always fall short and give the inner critic plenty of fodder if we read that scripture in Matthew in terms of moral perfection rather than wholeness or “shalom.”
Shalom is Hebrew (the language of the Jewish lineage of Jesus) for “peace, wholeness, & completeness.” The Greek language used in the writing of the New Testament chose "perfect" as the translation of "teleios." Another look into the original language reveals that it has multiple meanings—“perfect, whole, & complete.”
Reading this same line from Matthew, substitute, “perfect” with “whole” and notice your inner response:
Be whole as your heavenly Father is whole.
Being whole includes our imperfections (which, like the Chinese symbol of yin & yang, includes both darkness and light to complete the circle).
God is fully with us in both. The Psalmist discovered this in wondering if he could hide from God's Presence, but finally declared, "for darkness is as light to you" (Psalm 139:12). The prophet Isaiah, went a step further with God proclaiming that “I form the light and create darkness” (45:7).
We humans often do not know which is which and not seeing from a deeper, nondual, perspective, label one good (light) and the other bad (darkness). The natural world can teach us how light and dark are interrelated, complementary parts of Creation. Be outside on a blistering hot day without any shade and you will long for the goodness of darkness and bemoan how too much light is bad.
In the same way, we rush to label our own imperfections as “bad.”
But Saint Paul had a different experience, he saw an inseparable relationship between his imperfections and God’s strength. In II Corinthians 12:9, he exclaims “I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
More times than I can count, I have experienced God working through my weaknesses and failures. Looking back I can also see how God was present with me in darkness, though I may have been unable to see it at the time. As I recall these stories, I soften toward myself and my self-talk reflects the gentleness of the Spirit of God.
I imagine the same is true of you. As you look back at times of darkness, weakness and failure, what goodness can you find that came from it or occurred right in the middle of it?
Perhaps you are being given new eyes to see how the Spirit has been (and is) working in and through every part of you—that’s wholeness. That’s the perfection of God.
And knowing this, perhaps you soften toward and speak to yourself with gentleness—and experience “Shalom.”
Sometimes it takes the gentle guidance of a Spiritual Director to help you see your own story and the Sacred Presence in a new way. To find out more about Spiritual Direction, go here.
is the heart of Spiritual Direction
A holy welcome saying,
"Your soul is safe here."
Free of judgement or agenda
Suspending disbelief and storylines
at the Table within
for the wild, unpredictable Spirit
Who certainly knows you
better than I know you, and even
better than you know yourself
Who has always been
and yet is always being sent
To companion, comfort, heal,
grow, and guide
Helping you notice and taste
goodness and truth
in, around, and through you
That you may learn to trust
(maybe be surprised by!)
and the invitations of
this Inner Voice of Love
Who brings good fruit
from the Wisdom Tree
to the celebration of
your Authentic Presence
who knows what you need
in this moment
at the Table
of Divine Nourishment.
Do you feel safe in your own body? Do you feel at home?
Embodied spirituality is spirituality with skin on. After all, any kind of experience we have, spiritual or otherwise, is because we exist within these bodies of ours!
An authentic spirituality is one in which we tend to both the inner and outer world. Our body is tended to as part of the whole where spirituality and physicality are intertwined.
We see this gift and mystery of incarnation in John 1:14, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” Several thousand years before these words were penned, the Hebrew Bible spoke of the “nephesh” or “soul.” Rather than the Platonic idea of something that is separate from the body, "soul" in the Hebrew language indicated a unified, living, breathing physical being (so “soul” is not something we have, but something we are!).
Viewed this way, our thoughts about and tending to our bodies can (and need to) be part of our spiritual practice.
Our bodies can also tend to us by offering wisdom and guidance.
As I participated in the spontaneity of Authentic Movement one day, my right hand effortlessly went to my heart while my left hand went to my back. I stood there for a moment, wondering what was being communicated to me. It took a few minutes for my rational mind to catch the meaning and make it conscious: “Support your heart” was my body’s message to me.
This led me to purposely engage some heart-opening stretches and heart-grounding exercises. The message still stayed with me until I realized that it was another season in my life that I needed to pursue a therapist, one who could help me with some painful relationships and the release of stress and grief related to those relationships.
Tears came to my eyes with this moment of recognition. My body felt like a caring friend.
I often do not treat it as such. Especially when I get caught up in judgement and critique, then I'm apt to be harsh toward or ignore my body.
As Father Richard Rohr has said, "How we see anything is how we see everything!"
If I'm evaluating, judging, and critiquing my body, I'm more apt to be evaluating, judging, and critiquing everything (& everyone) else!
And the opposite is true, as I welcome and listen for Wisdom through my body, I'm more apt to welcome and listen for Wisdom in everything (& everyone) else!
In listening and tending, I become a safer, more hospitable place--and not just for myself.
This is no selfish pursuit...for when we feel at home in our own bodies, we can help others feel at home in their bodies, too. If you do not feel at home in your body, you are not alone. There are many reasons why we may not feel safe in our own bodies. There are stories of wounds behind our reluctance to listen to, or even believe, our bodies hold Wisdom.
Maybe, it's time to schedule a session with a Spiritual Director or a therapist!
The first time I engaged Authentic Movement last month, I knew it was the spiritual practice I had been looking for during this particular season of my life!
While I appreciate a variety of moving meditations and body practices such as qigong and yoga, Authentic Movement invited me to be surprised by spontaneity.
I had no idea how my body wanted to move and I was not going to tell it how to move...I was going to let it show me!
Following the gentle promptings of Spiritual Director, Julie Leavitt, during her workshop on "Authentic Movement and the Sacred Body" at Spiritual Directors International's virtual conference, I was curious as to why my body was moving like an inflatable air dancer.
After the time of movement, I sat down and wrote these words,
"I am the one who is encouraged to move big and freely, to move in the natural way my body leads rather than listening to or moving according to 'shoulds.' God says to me,
'You are free.
You are free to move.
You are free to speak, create.
Follow what is natural.
You are grounded,
do not be afraid.'
This is a practice I've been looking for! A way of trusting the inner wisdom flowing through the body."
It spoke right into what had been weighing heavy on me. Who knew that in moving like an inflatable air dancer, my body would offer me such grounding and affirmation?!
After that, I decided to not only continue a weekly practice of Authentic Movement, but keep this in my spiritual toolbox for any directee that needed to get into their body.
Not surprising, the following week, two people were in need of listening to the wisdom flowing through their bodies. Their experience of Authentic Movement is best summed up by one who afterwards, sat down and much to her mind's surprise said, "Whoa, I just had a mystical experience!"
No matter how large or small the movement, the Spirit of God can speak.
Want to give it a try?
*If you have a compassionate witness present like a Spiritual Director, you might allow them to simply share with you what they observed and/or continue with what you experienced in your time of Spiritual Direction.
When was the last time you listened to the wisdom of your body?
If you’re like me, you may tend to ignore or put off its signals for rest or even a bathroom break, much less listen to its wisdom!
This is a lifelong learning for me, but I continue to pursue it because like dreams, the body tells us the truth even as our ego, survival self keeps plowing ahead checking off items on our to do list.
When in my ego, survival self, I find my body a distraction. When not pushing through or ignoring it, I tend to be critiquing and evaluating it instead.
BUT, when listening from my more compassionate Self, I discover awe and gratitude for my body’s wisdom. My body becomes a gift from God and in those moments when I receive that gift through attentiveness, a shift happens. I am taken to a deeper, more authentic place where I’m much kinder to myself and others. A perspective comes that I was not aware of prior to listening to my body. Or, some expression like a cleansing cry allows for a much needed physical and emotional release.
And it can happen in a matter of moments!
So here is an easy way to begin to offer a listening ear to your body & hear what wisdom it holds:
Let yourself stay with and in the moment with your body for as long as you are able or desire. You might pause for a moment and say, “This is what incarnation feels like” realizing the Spirit of God dwells within you. Then place a gentle hand on your body or speak some gentle words of gratitude to and for your body before you continue with your day.
Sometimes I begin my sessions of spiritual direction with a poem.
Poetry has a way of guiding us into the Deep with its rhythms, words, pauses, and images.
People hear the same poem differently, particular words and phrases catch their attention and "speak" right into the particularities of their lives. The "deep calls to deep" and they respond with an authenticity that surprises them. This very much reflects poet David Whyte's definition of poetry-- "Language against which we have no defenses."
The latest poem I have been reading to people who come for Spiritual Direction is one from David Whyte, Just Beyond Yourself. I offer it to you here to read or listen to. Slowly read through it a few times or close your eyes and listen to the recording of me reading it twice. After all, that was the original way of Lectio Divina--hearing the sacred Scriptures being read!
As you read or I read to you, listen for the word or phrase that catches your attention. Then allow that word or phrase to speak to your heart. How does it connect with what is going on in your life right now? Listen for the invitations being offered to you through that word or phrase. Let it shape your prayer &/or journaling (even your next conversation in spiritual direction!).
JUST BEYOND YOURSELF
Half a step
and the rest
There is a road
When you see
the two sides
at that far horizon
and deep in
of your own
it’s the road
how you know.
need to be.
The Bell and the Blackbird (2018)
What do soil, dough, or oysters have to do with reading a text prayerfully?
Meditative or prayerful reading is just one way to read sacred texts like the Bible or the Tao Te Ching.
From studying the context within the text itself and the cultural context the text was written in to word studies and devotional reading, you could stay with one passage for a very long time, especially if you add Lectio Divina to the mix!
Lectio Divina (Latin for “Divine Reading”) finds its roots in the ancient Jewish practice of meditating on Scripture but was formalized by Saint Benedict of Nursia in the 6th century. It was a cornerstone for spiritual development for the first sixteen centuries of Christian history and has been in the process of recovery since the Reformation left it in the monasteries.
And while it has been brought out of the monasteries and even has found its way into apps like Lectio 365, it seems we have to go through a bit of recovery ourselves like letting go of the idea that "more is better"! As we do so, we are ready to enter into the meditative practice of Lectio Divina.
By chewing on and resting with a single word or phrase that grabs our attention after slowly reading a short portion 2-3 times, we open to the divine wisdom offered through that word or phrase. We listen to how God is speaking through it and respond to the invitations and insights through prayer and/or journaling. As it takes up residence within us, the wisdom becomes embodied in our inner and outer world.
But after years of facilitating groups that practice Lectio Divina, it can still be difficult. Why?
It is hard for us to give up control (even when it comes to prayerfully reading Scripture!).
It’s much easier to study a text than allow it to study us! We want it to stay in our heads by looking up the passages before and after the text, by comparing it to other translations, or looking up what words mean in the original languages…all of these are very good practices, but they can be a way to by-pass the heart.
Instead, what if we imagine ourselves to be the soil that a single mustard seed is planted in? Or the dough that a woman worked a little yeast throughout? Or the oyster that allowed an irritant to stay within its shell?
What do these have in common?
Lectio Divina invites us to become soil, dough, or oysters.
Be receptive to the power of a single word or a little phrase (whether it delights or irritates). Spend some time with it, allowing it to spend time with and in your life.
In time, you may discover the “pearl of great price” dwells within you!
In time, you may become the nourishment (or beauty, medicine, wisdom) the world is waiting for! And all of that through a single word or phrase.
Spiritual practices, like meditation and even church-going, can become spiritual bypass—ways of bypassing reality both outside and inside of us, dissociating from wounds within and without, ignoring the healing work that needs to be done in our inner and outer world.
But spiritual practices can also be vehicles for transformation of both ourselves and our world.
How?—by giving us new ways of seeing and being (which is the whole point of authentic spiritual practice).
Let’s take a look at a few practices...
Conscious Breathing: With as little as 10 slow, complete exhales and 10 full, relaxed inhales, we can calm the fight, flight, freeze survival impulse, allowing us to move from a reactive, closed off, defensive place to a receptive, open, deeper place.
Centering Prayer: Through daily practice of 20 minutes of silent surrendering to God’s presence & action, we let go of our ego-drivenness and receive inner healing of compulsions and soul wounds. Not only does this bring personal freedom but it releases us from projecting our compulsions and wounds on others and passing them down to our children.
Lectio Divina: Spiritual reading allows a word or phrase in a small portion of inspired text, whether sacred Scriptures like the Psalms or a poem, to speak to us. Rather than bringing what we already know or studying it, we allow the text to study us! As we bring our story, our lives, to it, we humbly listen for the wisdom and guidance being offered (which may be encouragement to see a counselor or write a letter to your senator!).
Awareness Examen: Looking over our lives at the end of the day through the eyes of God helps us become aware of God’s life-giving presence and action (and the times throughout the day when we were unaware or resistant). The patterns of what is life-giving and life-draining help us discern who we are and what we are to offer this world.
Silent Retreats: Extended time in silence and solitude creates space for our souls to rest and play which opens us to better hear the “still, small voice” which may be drowned out by the external noise of daily life or the internal noise of comparing ourselves to others.
There are so many practices I could list here but the point isn’t the practice itself, it’s the “fruit.”
Seated meditation may not fit you. You may desire some kind of moving meditation, like dance or qigong. Or you may prefer to spend time in nature or doing art.
What practices have you found that cultivate love in you? What helps you have eyes to see and tend to the suffering both inside yourself and in others? Which ways of wisdom help you discern what is yours to offer this world (not out of compulsion but compassion)? A Spiritual Director can companion you on this journey of discovery of spiritual practices.
But remember, it’s not necessarily the practices, it’s the humans who are transformed by these practices, that this world needs. What do spiritual practices like Centering Prayer offer a hurting world?—YOU!
Kasey is a scarf, ball and club juggling spiritual director just outside of Nashville, TN. Play helps her Type-A, Enneagram 1 personality relax, creating space for poetry and other words to emerge. She also likes playing with theological ideas like perichoresis, and all the ways we're invited into this Triune dance.