As a teacher of contemplative practice, it’s easy to forget the WHY behind all the lesson planning, writing, emails, scheduling, budgets, meetings, etc. Since I’ve made a conscious decision to make this commitment not just a vocation (in a general sense), but also a career (and the means of my livelihood), it means I get caught up in all the mundane details that are required of making a living and doing it professionally.
But then sometimes we get those reminders about why we do what we do. That moment came last week at our quarterly Board Meeting (or as my kids call it, our “Bored Meeting”) for the Trust for the Meditation Process. Martha Bolinger, our Executive Director, read the following hand-written card that had been sent to our mailbox. Between tears, sniffles, and wiping her eyes, she read the following letter out loud:
To whom it may concern at the Trust for the Meditation Process:
I am here at Spirit Mountain Retreat Center in Idyllwild [CA] at the “Return to Yourself” retreat for women veterans with PTSD.
This has been exactly the right place for me, these past 4 days, and I want to extend my thanks to you, as I have had some breakthroughs, met some amazing women, and deepened my meditation skills and practice. As a combat vet, finding stillness in my mind has been very difficult and I am so grateful for your donation that made it possible for me to attend, as I have made positive strides.Anonymous
People frequently ask me for tips or advice on how to begin a regular practice. And it makes sense – breaking old habits, and establishing new ones, takes both time and a certain amount of will-power. Inertia calls us back, even – perhaps especially – when we start to have insights or go deeper into practice. Fear is not an uncommon experience. That’s why when I asked Cynthia Bourgeault to fill in the sentence, “Contemplation is…” she responded with: “not for sissies!”
Those who cultivate a long-term meditation practice (and by long-term I mean a daily practice for several months, extending into years) stay with the practice for lots of reasons. But everyone I know who has a long-term practice keeps with it because they’ve experienced some kind of healing.
That healing is different for everyone. For me it has been a gradual, but palpable, reduction in severe anxiety and compulsive behaviors that has freed up energy for creative pursuits and more healthy, intimate relationships. Whenever people ask me – usually with a sense of doubt or frustration – about how to get into a daily rhythm with practice, I want to be able to bottle up the healing that can come from contemplative prayer and meditation, and just give it to them. Because once you taste and experience that kind of connection, release, and healing, everything changes. Daily commitment becomes as natural as breathing, because why would I want to live cut off from the very Source of life, vitality, and love?
And that’s why those of us who have been gifted with a practice, who have experienced healing and transformation, have no choice but to teach and share the fruits of contemplation with others. It is intrinsic to the very nature of the great Spirit (what Lerita Coleman Brown calls her intimate friend, “Sophia”) that is breathing and expressing through us.
If you’re struggling with beginning a practice and making it a permanent bedrock and foundation for contemplative prayer and meditation – indeed, for your life, and for the life of All – then I hope the simple gratitude emanating from this combat veteran’s letter leaves with you with a little bit deeper craving to reconnect with your Source, to find healing. Then go out and share it with All.
Be who you were meant to be and you will set the world on fire!St. Catherine of Sienna