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.
To 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 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.