Embracing a Surplus (a love note from your online Abbess)

sacred rhythms for creative renewal - karen newe

Dearest monks, artists, and pilgrims,

I was delighted to receive the image above the other day from fellow dancing monk and artist Karen Newe. The text comes from my book The Artist's Rule, specifically the fourth chapter, which is one of my favorites on the importance of sacred rhythms for creative renewal. Seeing my words appear in such a visually delightful way was a gift.

I have been pondering the gifts of sacred rhythms and my own creative renewal a great deal this summer with time to rest and heal and nourish myself deeply. This is a part of my own annual rhythm, allowing summer to be spacious and unstructured. Last summer my word was "sustainable" as I leaned into how to make this work I love so much sustainable energetically. Even with work that arises out of passion, we bump up against our limits of what we can give and how much renewal we need.

This summer, my word has shifted to one even more generous: surplus. I am not just thinking about how to have enough energy and resources to meet the needs of this flourishing community, but to have more than enough, a surplus, an excess of reserves.

My word is inspired by a quote I read a couple of years ago by Jungian analyst Robert Johnson in his book The Fisher King and the Handless Maiden:

“Nothing happens, which is enough to frighten any modern person.  But that kind of nothingness is the accumulation or storing of healing energy. . . to have a store of energy accumulated is to have power in back of one.  We live with our psychic energy in modern times much as we do with our money—mortgaged into the next decade.  Most modern people are exhausted nearly all the time and never catch up to an equilibrium of energy, let alone have a store of energy behind them. With no energy in store, one cannot meet any new opportunity.” 

Those words have stayed with me ever since I read them, because I have recognized the call of the monk in them. What makes this monastic path so counter-cultural is the active resistance against living a life of busyness and exhaustion, of not making that a badge of pride, of having an abundance of time to ponder and live life more slowly and attentively.

How many of us feel our energy is mortgaged into the next decade? How many of us can never catch up with the rest we so desperately need much less feel like we have a "store of energy" behind us?

There are, of course, seasons of life which sometimes demand more from us energetically. It has been two years since John and I embarked on our life pilgrimage which uprooted us from our long-time beloved home in Seattle and sent us to Vienna, Austria for six months and then on to Galway, Ireland. So much moving and transition over time demands a lot of inner resources. In some ways, I feel as if we are finally landing in Ireland, as if my body finally trusts that I am not going to make it uproot and move again for a long while.

I am entering a new season of life, not one marked by so much change and wandering, but one committed to stability for the long season ahead. One where I fall back in love with the sacred ordinary details of daily life: cherishing old and new friendships, shopping at the market and cooking for nourishment, long walks along Galway bay noticing something new each time, showing up to my computer each day to write from my heart.

The wisdom of the seasons is that they invite us to become aware of the cycles of our lives as we move through each day, each year, and ultimately a lifetime.

Seasons remind us that there is a time for each thing, and when the season shifts we do best not resisting, but embrace the new call.

Seasons reflect the deep insight of creation that everything follows a pattern of blossoming, flourishing, releasing, and resting, and we flourish best when we allow the fullness of that rhythm into our lives in a variety of ways.

Being a monk in the world is in part about learning to tend to these inner and outer seasons, and discover in creation a mirror for our own flourishing and resting. Praying the Hours is one way of honoring the ancient rhythm of the day's rise and fall, and so our own inner rise and fall as well, and how they facilitate our creative renewal.

For me, it is a season to right now to rest up for the demands of the work I love so much. It is a season to gather a surplus, a store of energy to meet this work with joy and generosity. And it is a season to root deeply into the earth of this beautiful land which has called us to make our home here.

What is it the season for in your own life?

If these ideas spark your imagination and you want to join with others in exploring the wisdom of your own inner monk and artist, join us for Way of the Monk, Path of the Artist (September 1-November 23, 2014), a 12-week online journey through my bookThe Artist's Rule (chosen as one of the 50 Best Spiritual Books of 2011 by Spirituality & Practice).

Scroll down for more details in this newsletter about upcoming live programs as well including our brand new retreat in the Northwest Coming Home to Your Body: A Women's Contemplative Embodiment Retreat (April 17-21, 2015) where we will tend to ways of discovering a generous surplus within.

We also have just one space left in the October 20-28, 2015 Monk in the World pilgrimage to Ireland, all other 2015 dates are full (email me to be placed on the waiting list).  There is still room in our pilgrimage for young adults (20s and 30s) March 18-25, 2015 in beautiful Glendalough and journey with us to Vienna May 23-31, 2015.

We also have two upcoming dates for Awakening the Creative Spirit in the United Kingdom (November 9-14, 2014) and in the Pacific Northwest U.S. (April 26-May 1, 2015). If you are a soul care practitioner wanting to deepen into the creative arts for your own inspiration and to bring these tools into your own practice of ministry, we welcome you to join us for a deep creative dive among kindred souls! These will be the only dates until 2016.

With great and growing love,


Christine Valters Paintner, PhD, REACE

Way of the Monk, Path of the Artist online journey this fall!

Fall 2014 Session: September 1-November 23, 2014

A 12-week online class and intimate soul journey in community limited to 20 participants

Details and registration here>>

  • Would you be nourished by a twelve-week commitment to exploring the place where contemplative practice and creative expression support and nourish each other?
  • Are you an artist or writer seeking more grounding for your creativity in ancient spiritual traditions?
  • Do you find yourself drawn to contemplative ways of being including silence, solitude, wonder, and presence?
  • Do you have a hunger to discover what emerges from being a contemplative artist and a creative monk?

This class is for anyone seeking to make more explicit connections between their spiritual practice and their creative expression. You might consider yourself an artist, a poet, or simply someone who experiences joy in the process of creating. You might consider yourself a contemplative or have experienced a longing for more presence to each moment.

This class is also for those who are looking for an online community – a kind of virtual monastery – to support your creative and contemplative practice.

Our primary text for this class is Christine's book The Artist's Rule: Nurturing Your Creative Soul with Monastic Wisdom. You will need to purchase a copy of the book in addition to your registration. It is not included in the program fee.

The guides and facilitators for this journey will be Cheryl Macpherson and Stacy Wills, both are trained as spiritual directors, and have studied extensively with Christine. They will be present to hold the space as sacred and encourage and support the participants. You will be in wonderful hands.

Details and registration here>>

Happy Feast of St. Benedict (a love note from your online Abbess)

dancing st benedict iconSt. Benedict and the Rainstorm

Early February evening.
Benedict and his twin sister Scholastica,
talk for hours about dealing with wayward
monks, childhood memories, regrets, and how they
sometimes steal away to the forest to dance.

The beeswax candle extinguished, she
went to fetch another, dinner plates
pushed aside with drips of grease left from
roast chicken, celebrating this yearly
time together, the extra jug of wine nearly emptied.

He gets up to leave but she protests.
Benedict’s own Rule, requires him
to be back at his monastery overnight.
Perhaps she knew she would die only three days later.
Or maybe the rose-hued glimmer of evening astonished her.

Or this was one of those moments she just wished
would linger on, her brother’s beard shining
silver in the growing moonlight, wanting to
remember the great brown kindness of his eyes,
feeling the rough warmth of his hands in hers.

Her tears rise up, falling in great splashes,
her weeping calls forth a fierce rainstorm.
Cosmic forces come down on the side of love,
demanding that self-set rules be broken.

I imagine the two of them listening to
the relentless rain beating down around them,
Benedict yielding to the moment, suddenly
seeing the necessity of riverbanks, but also the
widening expanse into the sea.

Perhaps that night they each dreamt that the river
swelled so high it lifted them to the blue bowl of sky,
until the horizon hallowed them.
Until he could see far beyond the stone walls
he had so carefully built.

—Christine Valters Paintner

Dearest monks, artists, and pilgrims,

July 11th is the feast day of St. Benedict. Benedict's impact has carried on through fifteen centuries because of the wisdom and gentleness of his Rule of life, still shaping the life of communities around the world.

And yet, I have always adored this story about him and Scholastica, which appears in his biography written by St. Gregory. His Rule is good and wise and worthy of its endurance, and the story says that we must hold this Rule lightly. It is a guide, not a tyrant, a trellis gently directing the soul's growth, not something so restrictive that life and love cannot flourish. I like to imagine the love shared between these two siblings for the soulfulness of the monk paths they both chose, their support of one another.

Whatever ways we shape our lives through commitment to practice, we are also called to hold it with enough spaciousness to let love have the final say. I think the sharp rise of fundamentalism in the modern world is a desperate attempt to rest in the security of rules. It is so much easier to point to an external authority than to follow the risky path of love. It is not one or the other, the contemplative life demands we hold both in tension.

I have been having an unexpected summer in many ways. My rheumatoid arthritis, which has been well-controlled with medication for years started to flare in my hands, gently at first, and then I awoke on my birthday unable to move my right hand because of the pain. I was incredibly grateful to get in to see the doctor that morning and to address the pain and inflammation right away. I also had a food intolerance test and discovered I am reactive to many things including dairy, wheat, eggs, nuts, and shellfish. Instead of feeling victimized by this turn of events, however, I have actually felt quite galvanized. My summer was already committed to self-care, but now it has taken on even deeper dimensions as I tend to the ways I nourish myself, I have rejoined my swimming pool to yield to the grace of water on my joints and deepened my commitment to my morning yoga practice as a place of being present to what my body needs in this moment. I listen for how to keep this work sustainable in a loving dance with my body's limitations.

One of my favorite definitions of the artist is the one who creates out of the materials given. This is really how we make art from our lives – responding to the truth of what is, rather than how we wish things to be. We can spend our time wishing things were different, or we can respond with great love to the circumstances as they arise.

My main work task this summer was to complete the manuscript for Coming Home to Your Body, a book on contemplative embodiment due to my editor later this summer. I am so grateful to Ave Maria Press for their flexibility in allowing me to turn in a different manuscript on the theme of pilgrimage, which was already close to completion, and extending the other until next year, so allowing me some more freedom to tend to healing. It feels very honoring of the subject matter as well.

Often our expectations of how life should unfold get in the way of meeting things as they actually are. I know this is true for me time and again, so I am savoring this opportunity to meet my life right now with more gentleness and ease. When we meet the unexpected with love, rather than opposition, we open the way for a more soulful path through life. In yielding my resistance I already find great healing. In softening my internal rules about what should happen, I discover such an invitation to grace.

The space opened up for me has also led to some fabulous conversations with many of my Abbey co-conspirators about online retreats for this coming year. I feel incredibly blessed to have such talented monks and artists with whom to collaborate on bringing you meaningful programs. More on that in August! We have some wonderful things in story for you.

To celebrate Benedict's feast day, you might reflect on the practices which nourish and sustain you and honor those as the great riverbanks of your life. And you might ponder your own widening out to the open sea. How might you dance in that delightful tension?

Pilgrimage is a beautiful opportunity to step out of your daily expectations and habits and see the world in new ways. Please join us in Ireland or Austria in 2015, some dates are full or only a couple of spaces left. It is always an amazing experience of joining with kindred souls to explore sacred landscapes.

And if you are a soul care practitioner, please consider joining us for Awakening the Creative Spirit, our 5-day creative soul-dive through the expressive arts. Dates in the U.K. and the U.S. below.

If you are a monk in the world living in Ireland and want to explore gathering with others committed to this way of being, please save Sunday, September 14th for our first coming together in Galway. It will be an afternoon of learning, conversation, meditation, ritual, and gentle creative exploration. Please email Christine to receive more details including meeting location.

With great and growing love,


Christine Valters Paintner, PhD, REACE

St. Benedict Dancing Monk Icon by Marcy Hall

New Self-Study Classes + Solstice/Birthday Gifts for You!

New Self-Study Classes Available and Solstice / Birthday Sale!

We have some new self-study classes available. Our Soul Care Institute is changing format and so we are making some of the classes which have been a part of that program available to a wider audience.

Register for any one of these by the end of Tuesday, June 24th and also receive a free digital art journal titled Season by the Sea. This was one of the favorites of the series when I had them printed.

Register for two or more and receive Season by the Sea plus a $20 discount coupon good toward any future program (including live retreats).

To claim your gifts register for the class(es) you want by the end of June 24th and then send Christine an email with your request.

Choose from:

Register now and start them at any time in the future.

**For these first three classes, you also have the option of adding individual spiritual direction (with Christine) or individual coaching (with Kayce) for an additional fee.

Solstice Blessings + How to Be a Pilgrim (a love note from your online Abbess)

To receive this love note straight to your in-box, subscribe here (and also receive gifts!)

Jurmala-225x300How to Be a Pilgrim

Air travel is like
ancient pilgrims walking on their
knees, flight delays and narrow seats
offer their own kind of penance.

You jettison excess baggage,
leaving behind the heavy makeup case,
knowing the rain will
wash you free of artifice.

Books you wanted to carry left too,
no more outside words needed,
then go old beliefs which keep
you taut and twisted inside.

Blistered feet stumble over rocky
fields covered with wildflowers and you
realize this is your life,
full of sharp stones and color.

Red-breasted robins call forth
the song already inside,
a hundred griefs break open under
dark clouds and downpour.

Rise and fall of elation and exhaustion,
the tides a calendar of unfolding,
a bright star rises and you remember
a loved one waiting miles away.

A new hunger is kindled by the sight of
cows nursing calves in a field,
spying a spotted pony, you forget
the weight and seriousness of things.

Salmon swim across the Atlantic,
up the River Corrib’s rapids to the
wide lake, and you wonder if you have
also been called here for death and birth.

This is why we journey:
to retrieve our lost intimacy with the world,
every creature a herald of poems
that sleep in streams and stones.

“Missing you” scrawled on a postcard sent home,
but you don't follow with
"wish you were here."
This is a voyage best made alone.

—Christine Valters Paintner

Dearest monks, artists, and pilgrims,

I wasn't planning on writing to you again so soon, and yet I couldn't let the Solstice go by without a mention as I so love the wisdom of the seasons. Here in Galway last night the sun did not dip below the horizon until after 10 at night and full darkness did not descend for another hour. The golden glow of the sun's light so late in the day was beautiful to behold and a reminder of how far north we live. As someone who loves the quiet of darkness, I am glad that the earth is shifting today and beginning the long slow journey back toward the womb of night.

Of course, in the southern hemisphere, our fellow monks are experiencing quite the opposite as the descent to winter has reached its peak in terms of sun hours lessening, and now the shift is moving toward welcoming in the growing light. It is amazing to think that our planet is experiencing such diverse movements at the same time.

I think of all of these seasonal shifts as a cosmic pilgrimage. The sun's journey across the horizon, her arc over the sky, always shifting and changing and reminding us that the journey is ongoing. Sometimes we might think of pilgrimage as a voyage to a destination, but the ancient monks knew it reflected something much deeper, the always unfolding quality of life.

The solstice also reflects the call to pause in this midst of the journey. It is a threshold, a resting place in the midst of life's ever onward flow, a place to reflect and savor all that has come until that moment. A time to let go of the busyness which sweeps us in its clutches and commit again to a more slow and present way of being where other wisdom can emerge from beneath the productive and logical mind.

I have a great fondness for this time of the summer solstice as my birthday is on Monday, June 23rd and John's is Tuesday on the feast of St. John the Baptist. We are actually born a day apart on the same year, so our birthdays are usually a two-day long celebration of us. :-)

Even more remarkable is that several years ago in our early travels to Europe together, we discovered that the solstice here is often celebrated on June 24th because of St. John's day, and begins the night before, on the 23rd for an all-night festival. In Latvia, where my father was actually born, it is their biggest national holiday, so the year we turned 40 we made an ancestral pilgrimage there for our birthdays as the whole country celebrated.  Many other European countries hold this Christianized tradition as well.

These pilgrimages we made to places like Latvia, Austria, Germany, Belgium, England, and Ireland over the years were all journeys to make ancestral connections. But they also opened up inside of us a deep appreciation for the way that pilgrimage calls us back to ourselves and helps us to "retrieve our lost intimacy with the world" as the poem above says. These journeys help to awaken a new kind of attentiveness to the way the world acts as inner catalyst and calls forth our inner transformation. And even if you make the journey with a loved one, it is ultimately something which calls us to our own solitude and search for inner meaning, our unique gifts to be broken open.

Pilgrimage also leads us to surprising places, to make other journeys we didn't expect. Certainly when John and I began our soulful travels together we didn't imagine ourselves one day living in Ireland and we definitely didn't imagine at the time the grace of welcoming other pilgrims to this place we have now rooted ourselves.

What journeys are calling to you? How might you awaken to the way the world is inviting you deeper into yourself? Can you offer up a holy pause at this threshold time to savor and remember?

Sheila Massey Connor, one of our pilgrims from our May journey has been writing wonderful reflections on her experience at her blog, you can see some of her posts here and here. (Click here for more details on the pilgrimages we offer - spaces available in some of our 2015 dates.)

The next time you hear from me will be in mid-July (July 11th is the Feast of St. Benedict!) when we announce the lineup of online classes for the coming year. We are very excited about what we are dreaming up in the spaciousness of our summertime, plus there will be an opportunity to subscribe to the series of online retreats for a discount and with extra gifts. (Hint: the dancing monk icons will be featured for Advent!)

In celebration of the solstice and our birthdays, we are releasing some new self-study classes below, along with free gifts for registering (now through June 24th)! See below for more details.

And if you live in Ireland, John and I are also holding the possibility of starting some monthly gatherings for monks in the world here, so please email me if you are interested in finding out more.

With great and growing love,


Christine Valters Paintner, PhD, REACE

Photo by Christine (Christine and John on the beach in Jurmala, Latvia on the eve of St. John's Day)

New Self-Study Classes Available and Solstice / Birthday Sale!

We have some new self-study classes available. Our Soul Care Institute is changing format and so we are making some of the classes which have been a part of that program available to a wider audience.

Register for any one of these by the end of Tuesday, June 24th and also receive a free digital art journal titled Season by the Sea. This was one of the favorites of the series when I had them printed.

Register for two or more and receive Season by the Sea plus a $20 discount coupon good toward any future program (including live retreats).

To claim your gifts register for the class(es) you want by the end of June 24th and then send Christine an email with your request.

Choose from:

Register now and start them at any time in the future.

**For these first three classes, you also have the option of adding individual spiritual direction (with Christine) or individual coaching (with Kayce) for an additional fee.

Aligning with the Season of My Soul (a love note from your online Abbess)

seashell mandala
Dearest monks, artists, and pilgrims,

I am relishing the slower rhythms of summer, time for unstructured schedules when I can follow my own inclinations, noticing what my body and spirit need in a given moment. I have much work to do on my manuscript to have it ready by August, but what nourishes the writing process for me is allowing time for diversions like making seashell mandalas, writing poems, and going for long walks when things in my mind need a little shaking loose.

John and I went on a spontaneous trip out to the island of Inisbofin (Island of the White Cow) last week. It is a place we visited last summer and felt smitten with. The requisite monastic ruin on one end close to beautiful beaches with lots of shells for gathering, the other end wild and more rugged with evidence of inhabitants dating back to 8000-4000 B.C. This is an ancient and thin place, revealing the veil to be very diaphanous between worlds.

We went because we have been inspired to create a new pilgrimage itinerary in Ireland for next year, one that is part writing retreat, and focuses on some of the stunning islands off the coast of Connemara. On our overnight trip we felt drawn even more strongly to bring others to that place, and others we have fallen in love with. (You can find out more about Writing on the Wild Edges of the World: A Creative Pilgrimage and Retreat in Ireland - August 30-September 7, 2015 and we have new dates for our Monk in the World Ireland Pilgrimage - October 20-28, 2015).

John and I have returned to our daily practice of lectio divina, after falling away because of so much travel and groups arriving. The beauty of the monastic path is that we are simply called to begin again.  To remember that we are always beginners in this spiritual life. And in that return after absence I remember with even more vigor the gifts this practice offers to me.

We are practicing lectio continua, which is rooted in the ancient monastic tradition of choosing a book of the scriptures and praying with a couple of verses each day, working slowly through it. In this way you pray with texts you might not otherwise, you read the words in context. We did this with the Song of Songs, and have recently begun praying through the Psalms, knowing this will be a long-term commitment.

Our text the other morning was Psalm 5:8-9 and the words that shimmered were "make straight the path before me." I resisted at first, because I am not one to seek things laid out in order. I prefer peripatetic wanderings and following the thread. I love meandering and holy pauses, the questions rather than the answers . But as I sat with the text in the silence I realized that it was lifting up a longing I have been having recently: to be in alignment with what is ripening within me.

I am a big believer in seasons of the soul. And of course, moving overseas two years ago and starting new lives on this side of the ocean ushered us into a brand new season. When we moved six months later from Vienna, Austria to Galway, Ireland another new season broke open as we focused on getting to know this landscape that had beckoned us.

In recent months the season has been shifting again, or revealing more of its contours and invitations. I have a deep sense of longing to root myself even further here. I am remembering the delights of the sacred ordinary each day in new and sometimes unexpected ways. And I am being called to spend more energy on bringing groups here who want a soulful and intimate experience of this place we have fallen in love with.

Summer will allow me to keep listening to how this wants to unfold. The season ahead is calling for a deeper alignment, a sense of being in congruence with the movements of the Spirit in my life. This is what the biblical text means for me, a longing to see the new grooves being formed in my soul and follow them. My sense is one of coming into alignment with something deep inside of me that I cannot yet name, but I trust more than anything. There is a rightness in letting go some of what worked before, some of the patterns and rhythms which carried me to this point but are no longer necessary and in fact get in the way of true alignment. This is what living the questions and the mystery means for me.

What would coming into alignment with your own soul's ripening mean for you?

Our rhythm at the Abbey this summer will be much slower, the newsletters will be a little less frequent. We are pausing our weekly invitations to lectio divina, poetry, photography, and dance, as well as the monk in the world guest posts until September again.

With great and growing love,


Christine Valters Paintner, PhD, REACE

Photo by Christine of seashell mandala

Summer scripture course starts tomorrow!

Our online summer scripture course which John is co-teaching with some amazing colleagues begins tomorrow, so if you want to dive into conversation with others around these sacred texts sign up here. It is going to be a fabulous course and the registration will be closing in the next couple of days, so this is your last chance to join the community.

Join us this fall in the Northeast U.S.

This fall I am delighted to be traveling to the Northeast to teach two different retreats. My dear friend and colleague Kayce Stevens Hughlett and myself will be offering Exploring Archetypal Energies through the Expressive Arts October 1-5, 2015 in Reading, PA with only 1 space left!  Kayce has written a guest post for the Abbey on Clues and Curiosity, if you are feeling the nudge to join us stop by to read her reflection (or even if you can't come, I recommend you read her wisdom anyway). My other retreat Sacred Rhythms Writing & Movement Retreat September 20-24, 2014 in Cape May, NJ is officially full but please feel free to contact me if you want to be added to the waiting list.

Clues and Curiosity:
Considering ways to explore archetypal energies
(guest post by Kayce Stevens Hughlett)

I am delighted this fall to be traveling to the Northeast and leading a retreat with one of my favorite people and dear friends, Kayce Stevens Hughlett, on the archetypes and expressive arts. There are only two spaces left, so if you would like to join us in Reading, PA October 1-5, 2015 click here for more details.

Kayce has generously offered us some of her wisdom on clues and curiosity as the trails we follow:

All you get on your life way are little clues.” Joseph Campbell

SoulCollage - Kayce 2I’ve been on a bit of a writing sabbatical this summer. It wasn’t intentional or something I’d named in specific words, but as I began to prepare this blog post for Abbey of the Arts I noticed that my fingers felt odd on the keyboard and an inner voice beckoned for me to toss aside my obligations and run outside to play in the sunshine.  Being the curious sort that I am, I stopped typing, paused and considered, “What clues do I see here?” Hmmm. My inner child appears to be close at hand —the one who loves loose schedules, ice cream for dinner, breaking rules, and dancing barefoot in the grass. My internal caregiver says it’s time for nurturing which includes lots of rest, fresh foods for my tummy, and bike rides or long strolls through the park and countryside. Nurturing means time with friends and space for laughter, lots and lots of space.

“What is the point of all this?” you might ask.

The answer? My curiosity is combining with the writer within as I attempt to share about one (or two) of my favorite topics: archetypes and expressive arts.

“(Archetypes) live in us, but even more importantly, we live in them. We can, therefore, find them by going inward (to our own dreams, fantasies, and often actions as well) or by going outward (to myth, legend, art, literature, and more).” Carol S. Pearson

SoulCollage - Kayce 1I see archetypes as patterns and ways of being, thinking, or observing the world that reside in all of us. Jungian psychology defines them as “a collectively inherited unconscious idea, pattern of thought, image, etc. universally present in individual psyches.” Archetypes are recognizable across cultures, time, and belief systems. A few examples we see throughout time and place are the archetypes of Mother, Hero, and Ruler.

“Archetypes help us connect with the eternal; they make the great mysteries more accessible by providing multiple images for our minds to ponder.” Carol S. Pearson

Archetypes help give categories and meaning to our own life journeys by exploring internal and external movements. They help us decipher our personal “clues” in the world. I adore playing with archetypes, and the expressive arts make an excellent playmate.

Last month I had the privilege of leading a small group of women on their own journey of internal and eternal discovery. The city of Paris was our backdrop and the archetype of the Pilgrim was our container. The rhythm of our days included deep listening and intention setting, and, of course, lots of play and laughter. It was magical to see how the qualities of the Pilgrim spoke to each woman in her own unique ways. We incorporated movement, writing, art, culture, and nature to explore our Pilgrim’s voices.

Curiosity is one of my strongest attributes, therefore I love searching for clues to deepen my own life and helping others experience their personal discernment. Archetypes and art help do both of those things. This form of combined exploration is one of the reasons Christine Valters Paintner and I created “Exploring Archetypal Energies through Expressive Arts.”

Incorporated in this retreat is one of my favorite forms of artistic expression – SoulCollage® – a process for accessing your intuition by creating collaged cards. Each card is filled with personal meaning that can help you explore life’s clues, questions, and transitions. And what’s more fun than playing with scissors, glue sticks, and lots of images?

Christine and I are delighted to be bringing archetypes, SoulCollage®, and expressive arts to the Mariwald Retreat Center in Reading, Pennsylvania this coming October. I hope you’ll consider joining us.

My Writing Self may currently feel like she’s “on sabbatical,” but the Teacher and Lover in me can’t wait to share more experiences with you!

Join us for Exploring Archetypal Energies through Expressive Arts October 1-5, 2015 at the Mariawald Retreat Center in Reading, PA. Only two spaces left!

Kayce Stevens Hughlett, MA LMHC is a soulful aKayce Hughlettnd spirited woman. In her roles as ponderer extraordinaire, spiritual director, life muse, author, creative coach, and speaker, she invites us to playfully and fearlessly cross the thresholds toward authentic living.

Kayce holds a Masters in Counseling Psychology with additional emphasis in spiritual direction and experiential learning practices and is a Certified Martha Beck Life Coach. She is the author of As I Lay Pondering: Daily Invitations to Live a Transformed Life and the co-author of “Arts Centered Supervision” published in Awakening the Creative Spirit: Bringing the Expressive Arts to Spiritual Direction. Kayce is a trained SoulCollage® facilitator, a founding member of the Soul Care Institute, and has worked with groups and individuals for more than 30 years in a variety of settings.

Monk in the World Guest Post: Courtney Pinkerton

I am delighted to share another beautiful submission for the Monk in the World guest post series from the community. Read on for Courntey Pinkerton's reflections on the practices which nourish her path as a monk in the world, including the wisdom of the Enneagram:

I used to be quite happy in the righteous do-gooder camp. Fresh out of college working with homeless women and children or later in the Peace Corps in Nicaragua, I was comfortable dividing up the world. There were the social activists and the complacent ones. Those awake to the deep and juicy registers of life and the other people, walking yet asleep.

Increasingly I recognize myself in all the above categories and see my life as a Mobius strip where the inner and outer connect in surprising ways. As I walk this strip I experience moments of freshness, moments caught in the grip of a habitual filter worrying what people think of me, moments of kindness, moments of fierce inner static or exasperated comments to my kids such as “Go to sleep or mama is going to lose her mind!” And that was just last night. Yet somehow this whole package of creative tension is held in the Compassionate Embrace.

Mobius stripTo be a monk is to walk such a Mobius strip of awareness in our lives. It is to practice non-dual seeing, moving beyond the impulse to evaluate our experiences & responses as good or bad, right or wrong and instead to peer into the hidden wholeness of each moment, what Richard Rohr calls “seeing as the mystics see.”

Now this non-dual seeing is far from my dominant mode. In fact, I have mystic-envy. I long for such abandon and surrender. I get fleeting tastes of it and wonder what it would be like to experience the world that way more often.

Yet I have needed non-dual goggles to make sense of my life the last few years as I transitioned out of a role as lead pastor of an emerging church and into one of soulful entrepreneurialism. Two plus years ago I launched Bird in Hand, a web-based watering hole for the spirit, through which I write, offer holistic life coaching and teach the Enneagram. My goal is to tell the truth about the soul journey in an invitational way and to interpret spiritual wisdom so that it is digestible in daily life. Transformational work has its own cadence and rhythm, and requires both deep dives into the Mystery and attention to quotidian realities, like cleaning out the closet, investing in nourishing food, or making space in a busy schedule for a green hour outside after dinner.

Starting a daily meditation practice was a big shift for me toward finding more ease in daily life. I went from doing lots of “contemplative-like” things throughout my day to a regular morning meditation routine which grounds and revitalizes me. Learning two key points helped me step over the final obstacles to starting this practice: 1) thoughts are evidence of stress leaving the body and 2) the moment of noticing a thought and gently re-orienting to the breath is actually the moment of practice which rewires the brain to be more stress-hardy!

My personality is more comfortable when I get to be the expert or the one serving others so it is vital that I practice receiving. That is my favorite definition of meditation: it can be anything, even a moment outside with coffee and the birds, as long as it allows you to “go receptive.” Now I approach meditation not so much as something to do as something to drink: a nourishing tonic which detoxes the nervous system.

In particular the loving kindness meditation reminds me that the love I want to offer others and even the whole world is as indiscriminate and nourishing as the rain. It falls also on me. The traditional loving kindness phrases (which are really a blessing offered first to yourself and then outward in expanding circles) are four: 1) May you be safe, 2) May you be happy 3) May you be healthy, and 4) May you live with ease. I especially like the first phrase which can also be interpreted: “May you be free from danger.” This refers both to outer danger (in the obvious ways) but also to inner danger from thought patterns or dialogues with the inner critic which leave us depleted and weary.

Other simple (but not necessarily easy) practices which help me live as a monk in the world:

  • Sitting on my porch and holding a hot lunch in my hands, looking out at the trees while I chew.
  • Turning off screens (including my iPhone!) when my littles come home from school and surrendering to their pace and agenda as well as the call of the house to attend to its dishes and laundry with care.
  • Giving all my weekly tasks a home in my calendar. This comforts me in that I know I have Sabbath time of deep rest, but also specific focus days to tend to the business aspects of my work, to write and create new content, to coach clients, and to enjoy family and couple adventures.

All of these little things add up to a big thing: a life which feels deeply resonant (at least most of the time.) And on not so good days these practices breathe for me.

Lastly, the Enneagram, an ancient map of the human experience, opens the door for me to show up authentically in my spiritual life and day-to-day relationships. I find it comforting that there are only nine different ways, or personality types, through which we can lose and subsequently find ourselves.

Whether your type leads with the head, heart, or gut/body center of intelligence the goal is not to eradicate your humanity or even to heal your type but rather to dance with it. And to trust that this shift from being constricted in our type energy and then remembering and relaxing is actually a process which develops our consciousness.

I find it helpful to distill the Enneagram down from where it normally lands (as a cognitive framework) to where the magic happens, which is in living it! Our personality is our partner and there is something meaningful about noticing, for example, when I get all stirred up about what people think of my work or writing (I’m a type 3 so this is a big trigger) and to simply allow that sensation to settle in my body. It usually lands as a squeeze on the heart. Making space for that squeeze to be there and simultaneously finding my feet, connecting to the ground and to Source, helps the nervous system digest the stressor.

One of my Ennea teachers says that the only way to maintain an undefended heart is with a grounded presence. That rings so true to me. Given my natural orientation I will kind of float off in the ethers. This is when a Zen teacher would whack a student on the arm and say, "Kill the Buddha and wash your bowls."

This is harsh language but I understand the sentiment. To not allow the mental construct or vision of oneself as a certain kind of practitioner to lead one out of the present moment. Instead to ground the power of spiritual truths in daily living.

This is the monk’s path.

As is finding a life-giving community of practice.

I am grateful for the Abbey of the Arts and each of you monks in the world for holding such a space.

courtney pinkertonCourtney Pinkerton is the founder of Bird in Hand Coaching and the publisher of a weekly enewsletter on meditation, the Enneagram and soulful living. She lives in Oak Cliff, Texas with her husband Richard Amory where they try to keep up with their three young children and remember to water their garden boxes. Courtney can be reached through her site, www.courtneypinkerton.com. Also her Summer of Meditation Challenge, a free eight-week training program, starts in June! Watch the video to learn more and sign up if you would like support to keep your meditation practice going strong or to explore its benefits this summer.

Stopping by the Holy Well (a love note from your online Abbess)

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kilmacduagh window

Stopping by the Holy Well

Gentian blue sky,
dandelion seed clouds play
hide and seek with the sun.

The long walk on the pilgrim
road, across blooming limestone
to this flowing fissure.

Brightly colored ribbons hang
like old party streamers
from branches, banners

of longing: a prayer for healing
the great divide of the heart,
or a beloved consumed by cancer.

Or simply an echo of the psalmist’s
ancient cry, “How long, O God?”
into the vast and thunderous silence.

No pronouncements in reply,
no choruses of Alleluia.
Only moss and streams and birdsong,

only the knowing that life still
burgeons here on the edges of
our own landscapes of loss.

I plunge in my hands.

—Christine Valters Paintner

Dearest monks, artists, and pilgrims,

Over the last two weeks my days have been filled with journeys to holy wells and the sacred ruins of monasteries hundreds of years old. My days have been filled with the companionship of fellow pilgrims, who traveled here to Galway, Ireland from the U.S., Canada, U.K., Ireland, Australia, and New Zealand, making the global community of the Abbey so very real and alive.

Together we sang chants inspired by the Psalms, read poems aloud, walked in sunwise circles around the wells and other holy sites keeping ourselves in alignment with ancient practices and the forces of the cosmos, we hung ribbons on the rag trees to ask for prayers, and we plunged our hands into the healing water rising up from beneath the earth.

We also ate beautiful meals together and shared what was stirring in each of our hearts, how the journey was calling forth something both new and very old. Pilgrimage is often about remembering something we have forgotten while also embracing the act of self-forgetting so that we become one with the thousands of others who have made this journey before us.

When I started the Abbey 8 years ago now, I never could have anticipated all that has unfolded. I did not know this would be become a global community and movement of hearts committed to a different way of being in the world. I did not know that I would be called to uproot myself and make the journey to the wild edges of Ireland and then welcome other pilgrims there. As the poet David Whyte writes, "what you can plan is too small for you to live."

Ireland has offered us so many gifts and has been calling us to plant ourselves even more firmly here, to travel away less, and rediscover the gifts of the sacred ordinary in our daily lives. Ireland has been a muse for my own poetic heart, sparking a new dance of words in my imagination.

Ireland also has a troubled history, like any land, and like other places it carries both wounds and blessings. It is such a privilege to be a part of the healing of memory through acts of love and devotion to the sacred so alive in this place, as well as part of the reclaiming of ancient wisdom for our times.

The poem above was inspired by one of my favorite holy wells, St. Colman's, at the site of his hermitage cave. It requires a twenty-minute saunter over the rocky limestone of the Burren and across a threshold of hazel trees to reach this sanctuary. Within the circle of hazelwood, and nestled into the base of the mountain, is a gushing well flowing into a stream of living water. The rag tree stands guardian over the space and invites prayers to be tied to her branches.

If you make a short climb up the hill past the oratory, there is the small cave where St. Colman is said to have retreated to with a rooster, a mouse, and a fly. The rooster awakened him for morning prayer, the mouse made sure he did not fall back to sleep, and the fly walked along the page of his Psalter to keep his attention on the lines of the text. He lived in communion with creatures and there are dozens of delightful stories of these Irish saints and their intimacy with creation.

I was aware these last few days of journeying with our private group who arrived soon after our pilgrimage group left, that I was on a threshold. I was about to enter the holy space of summer's spaciousness, where I have made a commitment to nourishing my body and my health while I finish writing my manuscript. So I asked for blessings myself in these places, I asked for the wisdom to savor my time, I asked for clarity and courage to really listen to what wants to break through in this season ahead.

What are the prayers on your heart as we pass across the threshold into summer (or winter for our southern hemisphere monks)? What is it the season for in your own being?

We have a special summer gift for you! Subscribe to our newsletter for the next in our series of digital art journals, this one on Illuminating Mystery: Creativity as a Spiritual Practice. This is one way I offer my gratitude to you for your wonderful support of this work and your commitment to an alternative way of being in the world.

For more reflection this week, stop by Richard Bruxvoort Colligan's guest post on psalms. The Abbey is thrilled to be offering a summer online class on Exile and Coming Home: An Archetypal Journey through the Scriptures and Richard is one of the main teachers along with John Valters Paintner, Ronna Detrick, and Roy DeLeon.  And we have a new Monk in the World guest post by fellow monk in the world Robert Rife.

With great and growing love,


Christine Valters Paintner, PhD, REACE

Photo by Christine at Kilmacduagh Abbey

Monk in the World guest post: Robert Rife

I am delighted to share another beautiful submission for the Monk in the World guest post series from the community. Read on for Robert Rife's wisdom on finding the sacred in the most ordinary moments:

I-You-Holy Ground
By Robert Alan Rife

I am the dusty ground, low and dry
thirsty for the imprint of holy feet.
Despoil with radiant prints, this virgin ground.

You are the rain, falling deftly
upon my brown soil. Now is left
your footprint on this ground.

I am the ashen leaves, curling and broken
awaiting but a whisper. For only then
can I fall on solid ground.

You are the soundless wind, howling, still.
You creep up behind me and
exhale me to the ground.

I am the snow, disembodied worlds of cold
and chance encounters with hand, or tongue,
eye-lash or palm needing ground.

You are the frozen air in which I am held
aloft, drawn slowly down
to meet with others on the frozen ground.

I am the waning autumn death
soon to give way to the long silence-when one Voice
becomes the loudest ground.

You are the Voice that speaks
heard best in dying, power given for
rising from this shivering ground.

I am the distant hours, the midnight passing-
the refusing minutes, trapped in hours,
running from the years of ancient ground.

You are the many, and the one, and all time
and nothing and everything from nothing
where time has no ground.

I am the weeping, the squalid groaning,
the unrequited miseries of misery’s company
laying crippled and diffused in the ground.

You are the end of tears and years, the question
and the answer, the sutured nerve of joy, not suggested
but present, here, on this Holy Ground.

A Celt in a kilt and the beautiful mundane

For me, the term ‘monk’ used to mean ‘one safely cloistered away from the cares of normal life in dimly lit, echoing stone hallways where hooded men sing hauntingly beautiful music and basically float just a bit off the ground. A single, piercing glance from their crystalline eyes means healing, they have superpowers, can read your thoughts, never need to eat, and speak once a year whether they need to or not.

Since leaving behind my roots in evangelicalism for headier waters elsewhere I’ve since discovered that monks often have the sauciest senses of humor, the bawdiest stories and, not surprisingly, the deepest delight in the world around them. My kinda fellas. They’re as non-dualistic as they come; a life to which I aspire. Apophatic meditation one moment. Bodily noises the next. Welcome to my world.

I am a dreamer; a philosopher-poet capable of romanticizing even the most mundane banalities. To a guy like me, cutting the grass has the potential to be a portal into the nether regions of the universe, awash in liminality, where mythic faeries ride unicorns on their way to Celtic slumber parties. But, I’ve been known to overstate a little.

Clearly, I’m a favorite among type-A corporate headhunters (tongue super-glued to cheek). Rather, stereotypical songwriters, tree-huggers, poets, unfocused A.D.D. artsy-fartsies, and contemplatives love to love me. They’re my peeps. My homies. They know my psychic address.

These overly romanticized sensibilities haven’t always promised smooth sailing for me. In fact, more often than not they’ve brought more than their fair share of woe and disillusionment. The world has precious little patience for those like me, preferring instead the multi-tasking, power-doers with ambitions larger than the moon upon which they hang their coats (but generally not their egos). It’s a challenge in our super-charged, winner-take-all culture to prove real value in lighting candles and pursuing silence when time is money and money is god and god keeps shrinking or running away.

My earliest recollections of spiritual awareness contained the following simple elements: surprised by joy moments, generally unasked for and seldom expected; a sudden awareness that the world was not really as it seemed – that from God’s perspective all was well. Specifically, I was drawn to all things ancient, mystical and Celtic. As a bagpiper/Irish whistle player who has toured extensively it makes sense that, for me, the world is seen through green colored glasses, smells just a little peaty, telephone poles were meant for tossing, and “ladies” is misspelled on the restroom door (insert look of shock and consternation here).

Although a mystic from a very early age, despite a decided lack of language to articulate such things, my fate was forever sealed when, for the first time I heard the Great Highland Bagpipe. I was seven years old. I was gobsmacked. Mere weeks later, in the basement of St. Andrews Presbyterian Church, I started learning to play the pipes. I have played ever since.

Something else happened however. It christened a liminal journey of my inner mystic and forever sealed my fate as a lover of all things Celtic, monastic and artistic. It also began an almost unassuagable thirst for the monastic realities of thin-place living. Puddles become holy water. All time, whether singing, snoring or snacking, can be wrapped up in a ball of quivering holiness. It is the essence of Celtic spirituality. It is my essence (especially if we had haggis the night before).

Now, a gazillion years and as many prayers later, to be an artist, a mystic and a monastic-wannabe is for me to see myself less as a dreamer and more as a waking dream. Life is to find the holy in the banal; the glorious mundane. The perfect, daily moments of nothing-special that, simply by virtue of noticing them, become possibilities of inherent wonder. The greatest gift I’ve received in the past few years, something particularly attributable to the Celts, is that of awakening to these shimmering possibilities in the blasé and dull. How brightly they shine under the light of the God of order and magnificent delights.

Robert RifeRobert Alan Rife was born in Calgary, Alberta but presently serves as Minister of Worship & Music at Yakima Covenant Church in Yakima, Washington. He is a singer-songwriter (his CD, “Be That As It May” is available on iTunes), Celtic musician, liturgist, speaker, poet, and a blogger herehere and here. He is a graduate from Spring Arbor University with an M.A. in Spiritual Formation and Leadership. 

See in each herb and small animal, every bird and beast, and in each man and woman, the eternal Word of God.   ~ St. Ninian ~

Click here to read all the guest posts in the Monk in the World series>>