Tuesday, 19 June 2018

Incredibly Blessed

Yesterday, I had the privilege of conducting a memorial service for a truly extraordinary lady. It was not her life achievements, or her public profile, or even her acts of service that made her extraordinary - it was her humble and grateful way of living. This woman suffered with poor health in her later years, bringing exhaustion, frustration and a loss of independence. Despite all of this, each and every time I visited her over the last five years or so, she would tell me, "I am incredibly blessed, Cathie." As she sat in the hospital chair, unable to support her own body weight, carrying the pain and hurt of her life, the first thing on her lips was gratitude for her family and the life she had led.

It is a choice to live this way. Some may call it a "Pollyanna" way of life and dismiss it as unrealistic. But seeing how it brought joy and peace to this woman's life, I see it as admirable. Robb Hillman, a life coach, once said, "I don't think Pollyanna was simple and na├»ve to reality. I think she was a badass who bent reality to her will. Optimism isn't lazy, it is a fierce battle of consciously choosing the perspective that best serves you". Living a life of gratitude, counting your blessings each day and finding the good in things is hard work. 

In today's world, we need people who will not fall prey to playing the victim. We need people who will see the good in our world and talk openly about it. We need people whose hearts are not hardened by the hate and fear in our societies. And more than anything, we need people who have hope. I certainly know that this is what I want in my life. Goodness knows, there is enough negativity and bad news around us to last a lifetime. 

There is a book on my "to read" list on this very subject, Diana Butler Bass' "Grateful: The Transformative Power of Giving Thanks". One of the quotes I have read from this book is, "Gratitude is not about stuff. Gratitude is the emotional response to the surprise of our very existence, to sensing that inner light and realising the astonishing sacred, social and scientific events that brought each one of us into being. We cry out like the psalmist, 'I am fearfully and wonderfully made!'"

And so, today, I want to give thanks for the life of Belle that was fearfully and wonderfully made and hope and pray that her inspiration will help me to find that inner light that keeps me counting my blessings and remaining grateful.

Monday, 11 June 2018

Mandala Workshop - Perth

On Friday 3rd August, I will be holding a mandala workshop in Perth. The workshop will be more than simply an introduction to mandalas. We will explore together how they can be used as a spiritual tool in our own personal lives and how they could be used in the faith communities and groups to which we belong. 

The workshop will commence with a presentation and discussion, followed by a time of meditation and creation of a mandala. We will conclude the evening with some sharing time about the process. Supper will be available during the workshop and all materials will be provided. The cost of the workshop is $30 per person. Registrations are essential as places are limited. To register, please email deepwaterdwelling@gmail.com and payment details will be provided.

I will also have copies of my new book "A Mandala a Month Workbook" available on the evening. If you would like to pre-order one before the night this can be arranged. The workshop is at Noranda Uniting Church, Camboon Road, from 7-9.30pm on Friday the 3rd of August. Look forward to seeing you there!!

Tuesday, 29 May 2018

Mandala Book Available

Over the years, while running mandala workshops many people have asked about resources to continue learning and engaging with mandalas. Mandala colouring books are readily available and there are a few books that provide information about mandalas in general. I saw the possibility of producing a workbook that would guide people in creating their own mandalas, whilst learning more about their use in a variety of traditions and disciplines. 


A number of months ago, I began compiling the resources I had developed for Mandala a Month in 2013 and adding to them. I took the time to create a fineline mandala for each theme. I took the plunge in submitting this material to be considered for publication. I was absolutely staggered when I was informed that they would be very interested. Well, I am very happy to say that the book is now available.

The workbook contains twelve chapters, one for each month of the year. They do not have to be started at the beginning of the year, but take the participant on a journey through a whole year. Each chapter contains introductory material which outlines one aspect of the use of mandalas, followed by a meditation on the theme. These meditations are also found in the form of an enclosed CD. These meditations are accompanied by the beautiful music of Cath Connelly on the Celtic Harp. There is a space for people to create their own mandala and a fineline mandala for colouring.

The workbook emphasises the use of mandalas as a spiritual practice and the format encourages regular use throughout the year. The book is available from Mediacom for $32.75. I will also have copies available at mandala workshops in the future.

Monday, 28 May 2018

Women's Weekend Away

Yesterday, I returned from a fantastic weekend away with 30 women from around Perth and beyond. The Women's Weekend Away is an annual event that has been happening for a number of years now. I was first asked to facilitate the weekend in 2007 and was invited back this year.




The weekend was held at the Swan Valley Adventure Centre and the theme I chose this time was Meeting the Mystics: Meeting Me. The weekend began on Friday evening with establishing our groups and introductions. We then began exploring mysticism and the characteristics of mystics. The hope was to debunk some myths about these words and prevent anyone running away in fear over night.

The women all returned on the Saturday morning to begin exploring four women mystics through history. Our first was Teresa of Avila and her interior castle. The women were able to reflect on their own spiritual journey in light of what we learned from Teresa's works. After morning tea, we spent some time with Julian of Norwich and her reflection on a hazelnut. After some personal quiet time, we shared in groups about our experience.

Following lunch, we met Hildegaard of Bingen. While
listening to some of her music, we created mandalas and walked in nature between the showers of rain. The evening was a little more lighthearted as we met Theres of Lisieux. As we explored her "Little Way" we practiced seeing the world as a child with much laughter and fun.


What would it mean for us to see ourselves as mystics, that is, those who have known a real and authentic experience of the Divine? It was such a privilege to hear the stories and experiences of some of the women throughout the weekend. Some of these were painful, sharing of times when their experiences had been dismissed or devalued. Others shared their stories of God's presence in their life for the first time. There were tears, laughter, blossoming and opening up. 

If you are interested in holding this retreat theme with your group, please get in contact and we can talk about the possibilities. It would be wonderful to share it with another group.

Thursday, 17 May 2018

O, Exquisite Risk!

On a dark night
inflamed by love-longing-
O, exquisite risk! -
Undetected, I slipped away,
My house, at last, grown still.

Secure in the darkness,
I climbed the secret ladder in disguise -
O, exquisite risk! -
Concealed by the darkness,
My house, at last, grown still.


These words are from 500 years ago from the pen of St John of the Cross. They are taken from the poem later titled, 'The Dark Night of the Soul'. Recently, I watched a recording of Mirabai Starr reading these words as part of her talk at the Spiritual Directors International Conference, firstly in the original Spanish followed by the English translation. After the sheer beauty of how she read it, Mirabai continued explaining that this is precisely to what we are called. 

Mirabai was sharing her vision of the new wave of spiritual leadership in the world. She described it as less hierarchical and more relational, inclusive, feminine, embodied and creative. According to Mirabai, this is not a new structure ready for us to step into, but a great unknown. The 'exquisite risk' is calling us to not know and to drop into this space of mystery. This place was described as an arid landscape where all are conceptual constructs come undone. It is an ambiguous space of radical unknowingness. 

In a world where some people are seeking black and white truths that emerge from more authoritarian leadership, I feel the challenge to fall into a more vulnerable space that is more disruptive and uncomfortable. This is a place of yearning and longing, where hearts can be broken and held in loving kindness. It is a place of unknowing and uncertainty. It is a space of exquisite risk, where my house, at last grows still.

Tuesday, 15 May 2018

Untangling from the role

Some of you may recall, while travelling to the UK a year and a half ago, I travelled with a question. "Who am I, if I am not a minister?" Since finishing my placement two weeks ago, this question has come back to me in unexpected ways. I anticipated the boundaries being a little blurred, as I would remain in the community rather than moving on to some place else. I knew I would have to be clear about what I would be willing to do and not do. But I didn't expect it to be such a catalyst for self reflection.

There have been small, perhaps insignificant 'loose ends' to deal with over the last couple of weeks. Requests for little pieces of information, or phone calls from people unaware I have moved on. All of this was to be expected, I guess, and would ease off after a few weeks. But there are other aspects more difficult to simply walk away from. In my last week, a lovely lady from one of my congregations deteriorated quite rapidly. I made a decision to continue to walk with this lady to the end and have continued to visit her. 

Much more difficult, however, has been my response to a horrific tragedy in our community this week. I don't want to comment on the situation itself. There are no words that could capture the sorrow and grief of the community, particularly those closer to the people involved. My email inbox, Facebook messages and texts have been full of people thinking of us from afar or co-ordinating support services close by. 

All my natural instincts would have me jumping in, attending meetings, organising responses and caring for people. Of course, it has also been easy for people to turn to me as I am still part of the community. This has raised many questions. What makes me want to jump in? Is it a need to be needed? Is it about being valued? Who am I in this community if I am not in the role of minister? How do I just be me in this community? How do I be within this situation without finding something to do?

These are questions that may have taken a few months to emerge otherwise, but the circumstances have forced me to take time to reflect now. The untangling from the role of minister is happening rapidly, a bit like a bandaid being ripped off. It feels a little like a stripping back to discover who I am under all the layers of what used to be my role. 



Wednesday, 2 May 2018

Autumn Leaves (and other endings)

Yesterday, I drove to Bunbury to attend a Quiet Day. About a month ago, I saw the day advertised and recall thinking how fortuitous it was to be on that particular date as I wrote it in permanent ink in my diary. Knowing myself a little too well, I was aware that if I did not do something like this soon after completing my placement, I would rush straight into the busyness I would create. Sure enough, yesterday morning, many other things seemed more appealing than driving to Bunbury.

It was an important day to reflect on this in between space in which I find myself. We were given the seasonal readings to ponder on, and it struck me that we are in that in between time, after Easter and before Pentecost. I then walked outside for a while and was captured by the autumn leaves on the ground. Creation is in that in between phase also, summer has ended and winter hasn't quite begun. I gathered some of what I found on the ground, tried to capture the colour in a mandala, and wrote these words.

Autumn Leaves

Crimson and amber
tongues of fire
layer the ground
like an earthy Pentecost.
Dry and crisp
spent and worn
from the journey
but here they lie
detached
from where they once
soaked in the sun.
Transformed in the falling
transfigured in the breeze.
Sweep them together
as one
let them be beds
where children 
play and fall.
Leave them to decay
and may the seeds
among them
find strength
to die
and find life.