Monk in the World Guest Post: Elaine Breckenridge

I am delighted to share another beautiful submission to our Monk in the World Guest Post series from the community. Read for Elaine Breckenridge’s reflection on the Refuge Practice.

“The Spirit will bring the selves of the self into a unity around the center of the indwelling Christ. The New Self will be a kind of inner community based on the principle of love in which there is room for everyone.
-Martin Smith, A Season for the Spirit, Cowley Publications,1991

Thanks to Martin Smith, Thomas Merton, Richard Rohr, Christine Valters Paintner; I have thought about the selves of the self for some time now, longing to experience healing of an inner split I carry within. Thinking has not got me very far. Contemplative prayer using creative visualization and dream work have been my lifelines in my ongoing healing process.

Recently, I have found a new spiritual practice that is supporting my recovery, using an adaptation of the Buddhist Refuge Practice. Following the teachings of Lama Yeshe and Lama Zopa Rinpoche, I met someone who invited me to try a very simple version of it. The heart of the Buddhist practice is calling on the divine, (Buddha) teachings (Dharma) and the community (Sangha). I have adapted the practice by calling upon my selves of the self and the communion of saints. Below, I share my first experience of praying in this way.

As I prepared myself to enter into stillness, in my imagination I found myself entering the chamber of my heart thru Newgrange, the Irish passage tomb. I visited that place a decade ago but the profundity of that experience has been imprinted on my brain. It is an easy place to both recall and return to.

On passing through the corridor I found myself in the pitch black burial chamber until a simulation of the winter solstice light shot through the darkness illuminating myself as well as the room. There in the room, I had the experience of meeting the many selves of myself and Jesus. Though the little “i”, my false self, resisted what was happening, grace invited my surrender and I found myself engaged in a beautiful circle dance with community of my selves and the communion of saints. I was reminded of the beautiful mural of the Dancing Saints on the walls of St. Gregory’s Church of Nyssa in San Francisco  pictured here.

Shortly after having this experience of contemplative prayer, I wrote the following poem so that I would both remember and carry it my heart.

Enter the cave of longing,
a burial chamber and birth canal
where dampness and darkness
give birth to new life.
Held close in the spaciousness of silence
light shoots through the corridor of my heart,
spilling and splashing
over, around and within me
outing my golden shadow.

She comes. The little child asking me to play.
“Play?” I ask. “I’ll do some research and get back to you.”
(What the hell do I know about playing?)
“No, don’t leave!” she says, stomping her foot. “I will show you.”
Hmm…“and a little child shall lead them?”
With hands up, I surrender.

She takes them and we twirl together
swirling like two spinning tops.
Faster and faster, until we break apart–just
in time for Jesus to appear, to take one of our hands into his.
Others appear, beckoned by his invitation,
taking our empty hands.
I look into the eyes of the would-be mother hen
“Really Jesus?” I protest. “Them? No!”

I stomp my foot because I see them–
Yeah, the parts of myself who I’d rather not see let alone be seen with.
But we’re caught by the love of she who would gather us under her wings.
The False Self, the child, the banished ones all hold hands.
And we move. Awkwardly. Stepping on each other’s toes,
noticing that Jesus has once again done his disappearing act.

Who will deliver us from this folly?
Right on cue, we are joined by my mentors, teachers, priests, healers,
lovers, poets, artists, friends and family, the True Self at the center.

I’ve found a place of refuge
Where I breathe Spirit’s breath
and the selves of the self, my committee of critics
are pulled into the circle dance of love and celebration
with angels and archangels and the whole Communion of Saints.
We are one!

The refugee has found a home
In the lovely gift of Refuge Practice.

This adaptation of Refuge Practice has offered me hope and a new tool to use in my spiritual practice. Where will it lead? I am not sure. But the journey involves Jesus, companions who love me, dancing, and Ireland. It is a compelling inner community to return to again and again; a community in which “there is room for everyone.”


Elaine Breckenridge is a dancing monk and an Episcopal priest currently serving St. John the Baptist Church in Lodi, California. Her passions include incorporating Celtic and Creation Spirituality into traditional liturgical forms, the music of Kristopher E. Lindquist (Kelmusic.com), yoga and living the Abbey of the Arts Monk Manifesto.

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