I am delighted to share another beautiful submission to the Monk in the World guest post series. Read on for Wisdom Council member Kayce Stevens Hughlett’s reflection on her path of becoming a monk in the world.
When I first met Christine Valters Paintner at a Seattle coffee shop in the spring of 2006, there was no Abbey of the Arts. No official dancing monks or manifesto. The “Awakening the Creative Spirit” program was one year old. If anyone had called me an artist or even creative at that time, I would have laughed it off as silly and impossible. The only writing I’d done was Julia Cameron’s morning pages, plus term papers for my recently acquired Masters in Counseling Psychology. In my family of origin, art was only in museums and a waste of time for those unwilling to color inside the lines. Travel was always within driving distance or a domestic flight. No way was I a pilgrim. My passport had one stamp: England.
My earnest monkhood began that fall of 2006, although the life journey had begun 50 years earlier. Monkhood greeted me in a simple and singular moment when I took one deep breath within a safe circle of witnesses and said aloud,
I am the pain of the world, covered with blue scarves & white.
I am the beauty of the world, bare-shouldered with upswept hair.
I am the fire of the world, burning with desire and hope.
I am the joy of the world, reaching toward the heavens.
In that moment I was exquisitely held. Divine – connected – blended with the Universe – no separation. God and I were one. Inside that parish room on Capitol Hill, I knew that I knew. My life had shifted, my eyes were opened, and I had finally seen my whole self … if only for a moment.
The moments between then and now have been immense and mundane. Monkish experiences and not. Ah, to see the Eiffel Tower for the first time and know she is a symbol of my feminine strength. To witness a coal black butterfly dance across my notebook on my 60th birthday and hear the greeting from my dear departed father. Ritual. Writing. Rest. Feet on boggy ground in the Burren, arms widespread to the raging wind. Watching the last breath of my beloved dog, Curry, leave his body. Hearing my Alzheimer-riddled mother say, “You remind me of my daughter, Kayce.” The crush of 200,000 pilgrims in Lalibela, Ethiopia to celebrate Timket (Epiphany). Exquisite silence in those underground churches and the holiness of praying with a woman dressed in white, ruby red slippers beside her, a blue shawl wrapped around my own shoulders. Trees that cried out to me in the forests of Croatia when I swore I couldn’t take another step. Spirit tapping on my shoulder inside a Balinese temple. Dark shadows swooping through the night. Lightening in Oklahoma. Putting flame to flint on sticks of incense, offering up prayers of lovingkindness. Drawing my first Tarot card, fearing I’d be struck by that childhood lightening, but instead seeing myself once again in word and image, feeling God’s spirit inside and around me.
Throwing out the rules. Traveling alone. Studying multi-cultures and rituals. Leading and sharing with other pilgrims. Writing pages and pages of curves and scratches, pouring my soul onto the page. Trying to make sense of it all. Picking up stones and feathers because I swear they wave to me from their resting places. Experiencing a deep resonance when I met my buffalo-hide drum for the first time. With each resounding beat, I heard my ancestors speak to me inside the tiny shop in Portland … all because my internal whispers issued an invitation to Go see a man about a drum and I did.
In my role as monk in the world, I feel, follow, and experience the weight, whispers, and wings of life around and within me. I dance with the elements of earth, wind, fire, and water. Bursting with energy when the season calls and burrowing in like a badger on my own divine time. I am an artist! I write books and read poetry, paint with watercolors, collage, dance in my living room, practice yoga. I share the confidence of Greek goddesses and once proudly declared, I am Persephone, when a Zeus-like man threatened my well-being. And when I’m feeling weak and weepy, you could mop me up with a soggy tissue.
Being this monk in the world morphs and changes day by day, but one thing remains the same: My innate ability to listen and be present in the moment and find meaning in symbols. Yes, I meditate and pray and send lovingkindness into the world on a regular basis. Mainly, however, I first remember my breath … especially … essentially … in these challenging times. Breath is my direct line to the Divine … to the great I am … to myself. Breath is my pathway to being a monk in the world.
PLEASE NOTE: Kayce is facilitating an online program – Zoom program – Simple Practices for Extreme Times – on Saturday, April 4th through St. Placid Priory. Click here to register>>
Kayce Stevens Hughlett, MA LMHC is a tender, a healer, and an artist of being alive who believes in everyday magic and that complex issues often call for simple practices. Her 2019 memoir, SoulStroller: experiencing the weight, whispers, & wings of the world won the prestigious Nautilus Book award and Chanticleer’s Journey award. Co-creator of SoulStrolling® ~ a movement for mindfulness in motion, and creator of the SoulStrolling Inspiration Deck. A member of Abbey of the Arts Wisdom Council and co-leader of Awakening the Creative Spirit (Space Available – Fall, 2020) KayceHughlett.com