Monk in the World Guest Post: Bjørn Peterson

I am delighted to share another beautiful submission to the Monk in the World guest post series from the community. Read on for Bjørn Peterson’s reflection on hospitality and presence as the fruits of gratitude, awareness, and vulnerability.

They had just walked into Kaffeeklatsch along Lake City Drive in northeast Seattle. I’d been sitting there for about an hour, writing and listening to a podcast on the power of loving-kindness in everyday life. I felt deeply grounded, as if my heart were big enough for the suffering of the world in which I was seated. Perhaps the public solitude I had been practicing that morning prepared me, or something I had heard from the meditation inspired me to act. Whatever it was, Mystery held me as the couple came in through the door, ordered, and sat down three feet from me.

They weren’t a couple that you’d see on the cover of magazines or featured on television. But they were beautifully in love. They moved with a simple, authentic love for one another that captured my attention as a smile rose from my gut. I watched them out of the corner of my eye, trying not to weird them out. But I was smitten. I was in love with their love for one another, and I had to tell them.

So, leaning over, I said, “Pardon my interruption, but I’ve just watched you come in and I have to tell you, you’re beautiful together. I hope that’s not too strange to say, I was just struck by the two of you and wanted to tell you. So that’s all, you’re beautiful, and I hope you have a wonderful day. I’ll leave you alone now.” They said thank you and looked at one another with a deep recognition that only affirmed my original impression. Then, we all went on with our day.

This was not the first time I felt so moved to such an interaction. The truth is, I kind of do this all the time, even though I specifically don’t look for excuses to do it. It’s become a form of integrity for me, even a form of hospitality.

As a monk in the world who seeks solitude, community, and welcome, I have a deep personal awareness of the ways in which inhospitality characterizes so much of our public and shared spaces. And as a person who has lived a somewhat nomadic existence, I also know what it’s like to feel like you have no “where” to practice hospitality. These recognitions have led to the following questions for my contemplative practice: How does a nomad practice hospitality? When a space never quite feels like one’s own, how do we cultivate welcome in the world?

Being fully present to my vocation as an artist has implications for my daily rhythms. As an artist and writer, I am entangled with the power of words – both those given and those withheld. Contemplative practice as an artist means giving form to truth as it wants to be in the world. Sometimes that’s an essay. Sometimes that’s a poem. Sometimes that’s an academic article. But more regularly, it is the mobilization of words that are too often left unsaid because of self-consciousness and fear of rejection.

I have made it a part of my contemplative practice to cultivate presence to the profound nature of the mundane in everyday life and to celebrate its inherent beauty. And, I have committed myself, perhaps even more so, to naming the suffering, heartache, and emptiness that also make up our experience of the world. Lamentation and artistic presence to that which is crushing and soul-sucking is a major focus of my artistic contemplative practice.

But with that commitment to honoring that which hurts is also an embrace of that which delights. My practice is to cultivate full presence to all of human experience.

In the reality of isolation and loneliness, where is welcome and hospitality?

For me, it is at the bus stop when it is 114 degrees or pouring cold rain and I look lovingly at those standing with me and bring humor to the moment of shared suffering. Or it is when I sit in solidarity in violent spaces with those who are marginalized or dehumanized. Or it is at coffee shops when I take the time to tell a couple in love that they’re beautiful.

Hospitality and presence do not rely on our material resources alone, although they are important. To me, they are the fruit of gratitude, awareness, and vulnerability. And even as an underemployed, nomadic writer, I have these things to give:

For C, My Kin 

I see you
as I sit with you,
shoulder to shoulder
I care for you in a room
that oscillates from
hostile to hospitable
And I wonder
if you’re ok and
if you can feel my care and
if it helps
even as I know
it’s not enough
And I want to tell you all this
but I don’t want to
make this about me,
so I sit silently
by your side
I sigh quietly with you and
occasionally catch your eye and
I place my hand on your shoulder
and hope it’s ok
But mostly,
I want you to know that
whether you’re ok
or not ok
or really not ok,
I’ll keep sitting with you
and my shoulder will remain
by your shoulder,
and when you feel it there,
know that I am loving you
in the way I know how
But also,
that I will learn
still better ways
to love you
and keep you
in my heart

– Bjørn Peterson


Bjørn uses the mystical and mythic to take his readers and audiences on unexpected journeys to find wisdom and solace in difficult times. His current project, The Way A Bear Dances travels the terrains of justice, parenthood, depression, calling, integrity, and life together in community. Bjørn’s writing explores the dynamic geographies of solitude, belonging, identity, and place as he draws inspiration from the landscapes of his Pacific Northwest home and a lifetime of exploration. When not playing outside with his wife Elise and son Magnus, he teaches graduate courses on Transformational Leadership at Seattle University. You can read more and support his work at Patreon.com/BjornPeterson.

You might also enjoy