Friday, 11 February 2022

The Elusive Dunnart

Since our beautiful dog, Ava, died in September last year, wildlife has returned to our garden. The birds linger longer. The king skinks and blue tongues slither about with more courage. The possums seem more active at night. And, unfortunately, we have had more mice and rats. There is one little critter, however, that avoids a positive identification. This little fella only appears as the light is fading and skips along the fence and branches in our front courtyard. He is fast. He is small. He could be a small rat or a rather fat mouse. But we suspect he is a dunnart. For those not familiar, a dunnart is an Australian, nocturnal, carnivorous marsupial. It looks rather mouse-like - especially when it hops briskly past the window at dusk. It has become somewhat of a family challenge to get more than a brief glimpse of this critter to positively identify its species. 

A few days ago, I had my best sighting yet. It was a rare evening where I was the only one home. There was none of the usual background noise associated with family time and getting a meal prepared. I sat in the lounge chair closest to the front courtyard. It was quiet. It was still. The elusive dunnart appeared and, unusually, lingered a while. It sat on the fence - waiting. I sat still trying to focus on the sillhouette. Definitely a dunnart - - I think! I was reluctant to move closer, knowing I would startle it and send it hopping. It was but a moment. A moment of stillness and clarity and wonder.

This experience reminded me of my desire to live a contemplative life. I know, from experience, that when I am able to be silent and still I am more likely to see the Divine with more clarity. There is still mystery and the unknown, but for a moment we meet. It is not something that can be captured or repeated, but it beckons us to return and be still again. It is very easy to become caught up in the busyness of life and completely miss the "dunnart" living amongst us. It is when we intentionally find the space to be still and wait that we may be surprised by the presence already in our midst.

Monday, 10 January 2022

I Can See Clearly Now

 Back in 2017 I attended a week long workshop with Pace e Bene on non-violence. Things were shifting and changing for me at the time. There were many great aspects to that week, but the one super significant thing I walked away with was a short story from Scripture. The five-verse narrative of Jesus healing a blind man in Mark 8 captured my attention. It became like an analogy for my current situation and has continued to speak to me since that day.

Last year, I facilitated a day retreat for the World Community for Christian Meditation in Perth. I based the day's reflections on this story and chose the theme 'I can see clearly now'. I approached the day with a little apprehension, as is often the case when I prepare for an unknown audience. The day was a delight!! About 50 people attended and participated with both contemplative intent and great enthusiasm. The day included discussion, personal reflection, immersing in the story through movement and even a bit of singing! We journeyed through the story together exploring what it means to see clearly in our faith life.

The WCCM group of Margaret River have asked me to repeat the day in the South West. The date is fast approaching and I am excited to see how a different group repsonds to this narrative. This retreat day will be held on the 5th of February at the Margaret River Uniting Church. You can see further details in the flyer below. If you would like to register you can click here. Why not make a weekend of it?! In case you haven't heard - Margaret River is a great place for a getaway.

Friday, 31 December 2021

2022 Word of the Year - Accordance

My word for 2021 has been 'presence'. This word, and my reflections upon it, have served me well throughout the year. I have tried to be more present in different aspects of life which, in turn, have enabled me to be more available. I have also reflected on my own gift of presence which I still struggle to fully comprehend, but I end the year more aware and able to celebrate it.

Those of you who have read previous years' word of the year posts know the word is not always easily  forthcoming. This year is different. This word came to me over a week ago and has not left me alone. It is also a word I would have never have imagined myself choosing. The word 'accordance' seems quite legalistic and judgmental to me. I imagine a judge declaring that someone has not lived in accordance with the law, or some pious person informing me I haven't quite lived up to the expected standard. Although I am not a particularly rebellious person, I have spent the last few years attempting to fight the perceived need to conform and keep the peace. So, this word has come as a surprise.

Looking into the etymology of the word 'accord' has helped me understand its importance in my life at this point. The Old French origins, dating back to the twelfth century, are about agreement and harmony. It is however, the Vulgar Latin origins that ring true: to be of one heart or to bring heart to heart. For me, this is about integrity. Over the last decade I have spent a lot of time discovering my true self - the me I was before I was. While living life in accordance with your true self should be the most natural thing in the world, I find that the expectations of our society convince us to be something else. The lure of success, wealth, admiration and a myriad of other things constantly divert me away from my centre and stability. 

So, in 2022, I want to live in accordance to the heart of my life that I know to be real. I want to bring the heart of my living in line with the heart of my life more and more. But to be clear - I am not going to do this in a legalistic manner. I know I will stuff up. I know there will be times when I get caught up in what the world expects of me. But, in all my imperfection, if I can come to the end of 2022 and say I gave it a good shot I will be content. To live in accordance with my true self, who I was created to be, takes a lifetime of humility and unlearning. 2022 will be just a small step along the way.

Friday, 1 January 2021

Presence - My 2021 Word of the Year

 Happy New Year to you all!! As is my tradition over the last ten years or so now, January 1st is the day to name and explore my word for the year ahead. My word for 2020 was "horizon". Despite my own personal reasons for choosing this word, it seemed particularly relevant with the uncertainties we all faced throughout the year. It is a word that could have quite happily continued journeying ahead into 2021, but this new year calls for a new focus. Over the last week I have been searching for a word that will ground me in my last year of my PhD, that will bring me back to the core of who I am and will provide a positive focus forward to the unknowns of 2022. The word itself had remained elusive until last night.

One of the benefits of living in Western Australia is the free television reviews available on my Facebook feed from friends in the Eastern states who are three hours ahead. At around 7pm, my Facebook feed was aflood with praise for Paul Kelly's performance on the New Year's Eve concert broadcast on the ABC. I trusted these people's judgment and tuned in. I was not disappointed. As I listened to familiar tunes and watched the tweets roll along the bottom of the screen, I pondered this man's presence. There were no big flashy lights. No specky visuals. No dancers. No fancy costumes. Just him, his band and the camera operators capturing the moment for all of us. Due to COVID restrictions there was no crowd hyping up the atmosphere. Just Paul Kelly being Paul Kelly. This man has presence.

Presence is a word I use often. In the practice of spiritual direction we constantly talk about the importance of presence with the person who sits before us. In the mystical tradition, the presence of the Divine is an enduring theme. While talking about the contemplative way of life, presence is a vital part of the conversation. This "talk" has become second nature to me. But what about the practice? I recognise that it is easy for me to get caught up in the "What next?" of life. I am constantly searching for the next challenge, the next adventure, the next horizon (hmm). Perhaps a year of holding presence at the forefront might be very timely.

Another aspect of this word that I find more difficult to reflect upon is the gift of presence. I recall being in an interview situation some ten years ago now. Someone in the meeting asked me what gifts I felt I would bring to the role. I floundered a little, speaking of some practical skills I felt I could offer this community. After my attempt to answer the question, a member of the group who had known me for some time spoke up. "Presence" she said. "She has a presence that will be a gift to you". I have pondered on this comment for many years wondering what it means and how this "gift" is useful. Others have said the same thing in different ways. Is it something impossible for me to see and know? Isn't presence just being yourself? Isn't it something everyone has? How do you nurture and use such a gift?

And so, as I venture into a year where I will need to have confidence in myself and what I have to say, a year when I will explore the giftedness I take into the next chapter of my life and a year when my youngest will begin to spread her wings changing my role in her life - presence seems an appropriate word to hold close. As I journey with this word into 2021, I will endeavour to find time to practice presence more intentionally and to explore the gift of my own presence and what on earth that means. 

Monday, 5 October 2020

Tricking Myself into Self-Care

 Recently, I have been reading and writing a bit about the importance of self-knowledge as part of the spiritual journey. Getting to know myself has been an an extremely significant aspect of my spiritual life. Learning to accept who I am, with all the joys and struggles that holds, has been valuable and formative. So, after being on this path for some time now, what have I learnt? 

1. Learning and new experiences are near the top of my priority list. I am a perpetual student, which has its advantages, but also locks me inside my head at times.

2. I have to be really attentive to what my body is telling me. Listening to my 'gut' and slowing down and looking after myself don't come naturally.

3. I can be very in tune with the emotions of others, but when it comes to my own I am quick to retreat to my bubble. Being vulnerable is something I have to practice.

My list could go on and on. But the reason I am sharing this is I have figured out a way to trick myself into looking after myself a little better - I hope.

In the past, I have tried being self-disciplined, creating some program of exercise in order to live a healthier life. Each time I have centred my goals around weight loss or particular fitness goals. None of these have been successful beyond a few months. I pondered, what would motivate me to get outside and start walking? My immediate reaction - if someone invited me to walk the Camino de Santiago, I would make sure I was fit enough and ready. A new experience! A spiritual pilgrimage! Travel and learning about a new place! Perfect!

But then, there's COVID, and money, and time, and family, and study, and...

So, I have found the perfect solution. Today I begin a virtual walk of the Camino. It's cost me $50. I don't have to leave home for weeks and weeks. And I can do it over a longer period of time. I'm giving myself 6 months. Sure, it's not quite the same as being there (maybe one day), but the app I have chosen shows

me where I am on the map, sends me postcards telling me about the different stops and sends me a medal at the end (not so fussed about the medal). It is the perfect way to trick myself into self-care. This is not a weight loss program or a get fit for Summer goal. This is a spiritual pilgrimage - a new experience that is the best I can do anyway in these non-travelling times.

And the final part of my cunning plan - I have now put it out in public. Another thing I know about myself is I hate to look incapable. So, if you happen to see me, hold me accountable. I won't be sharing how many KGs I've lost, but I might share about the wonderful places I've been.

Friday, 26 June 2020

Methodology of Life

A lot of my writing energy in the last few months has been spent writing my thesis and other related projects. The current task is completing the draft of my methodology chapter. I anticipated this to be a dry, boring section to write, but, to my surprise, I am thoroughly enjoying the challenge.

Yes, there are some parts that are simply outlining the details; making sure all the t's are crossed and the i's are dotted. However, there are also those big question to answer. What do I believe about the nature of knowledge? How is knowledge formed? And what are my non-negotiable underlying principles? I am using a lot of big words that a few years ago would have me running to the dictionary.

I am also asking deep questions about who I am, particularly in the context of my research. What does it mean to be a woman? A contemplative spiritual director? A church minister? These ponderings are especially significant as I see my self as co-creator of the knowledge I am seeking. The answers to all of these questions determine how I collect data, how I approach my sample group, how I analyse the data and the shape of my final thesis. Creating my framework of reference will colour all of my research. It will be the foundation to which I will refer when questions and doubts arise. Justifying my choices is a little like "soul searching". In grappling with this chapter I am addressing issues of integrity, good relationship, and my view of the spiritual life.

My thesis may be large and looming in my life, but in the whole scheme of things is a mere speck. I am wondering what our world would look like if we all had to create our methodology of life. What if we had to examine, in the same way, what is truly important to us? What if we really had to question how we were involved in the lives of others? What is we truly understood the underlying principles in our own lives that hold so much significance? 

I dare say it would be extremely confronting.  Instead of reacting to life around us, each choice made and each interaction or conversation would be held against our plumb line. I wonder what would change. I wonder what parts of my life I would need to look at closely in the mirror. If I'm honest, the "thesis"of my life would not pass. I am not saying this in a defeatist or "Woe is me - a sinner" type of manner, but more an acknowledgment of human nature.

The methodology I have chosen for my research comes from a subjective viewpoint. I am acknowledging that, as the researcher, I cannot be a passive, unbiased voice. This requires me to be extremely transparent in my writing about my insights and reactions to the data. It demands moving beyond reflective practice to a high level of reflexivity where I examine myself as I engage in my analysis.

We cannot go through life as an objective observer and, therefore, this same transparency and reflexivity is needed in a methodology of life. Perhaps knowledge of our own nature, an awareness of strengths, weaknesses and passions, is a great place to start. Recognising when we are not operating at our best and  knowing how our own needs trigger unhealthy responses all affect how we relate to others and our world. Taking a step back from the to-ing and fro-ing of life is a bit like asking those big questions. What is it that makes me tick? It may appear like a dry and tedious task, but perhaps surprises await just around the corner. 

Wednesday, 1 January 2020

Toward the Horizon

Happy New Year!! Today many people will begin their year with steely determination to achieve their new year's resolutions in order to be a better person. I discovered long ago that such resolutions were counterproductive for me. Being a person who already sets the bar too high for myself, the last thing I need is another unreachable expectation forced upon myself. Instead, I have enjoyed the tradition of giving myself a word for the year. Rather than a challenge that seems to set me up for failure, my word of the year is a constant, gentle reminder throughout the year. Some years it seems more present than others, however, when I reflect back over the year, I can always see how the word has formed and guided me. My word for 2019 was "behold". It is not a commonly used word, but I have been surprised how many times I have heard it and been reminded of my intentions in choosing this word. 

This year the word came easily. I began reflecting a few weeks ago and thought the process was going to be difficult. In many ways, the words of the last few years have served me well; courage, integrity, awaken, cherish. The coming year holds many uncertainties and I seem continually plagued with the question of what lies beyond it. While being very peaceful about the path I am following, it still feels like a journey into the unknown. I was pondering this as I was driving last week. Looking way out ahead of me, I wondered how many people have headed towards the horizon a little unsure of their destination. 

And so, I have chosen the word "horizon" for 2020. It is that perceived line where earth and sky meet. It is not something you can touch and one could argue it doesn't physically exist
Eden Beach Sunset - Christmas Day
. The horizon is a place of mystery and beauty. It is here that we watch the sun rise and set. But, no matter how ambiguous the horizon may be, it still offers direction and draws people to explore further. The horizon is always beyond our reach, but is the steadfast point that helps us to get our bearings, orient ourselves in the world and foster a sense of wonder in life.

In 2020 I need a horizon to remind me of the journey ahead. The horizon will remind me to pause and appreciate. It will serve as a catalyst to draw me onwards to an unknown destination. That imaginary line will give me direction and orientation when I feel a little lost. But even though the horizon may seem unchanging, the points along it change from day to day. I am hoping that this word will carry me through 2020 with a wider vision, a broader hope and an everpresent spirit that will guide me through the uncertainties.