Dearest monks and artists,
It is hard to believe we are a year into this pandemic. Ireland has been under another lockdown since Christmas where we are unable to travel more than 5km from home which was just extended until Easter. Vaccines are being rolled out but the process is painfully slow. Even though there are some glimmerings on the horizon of hope, the patience and endurance that has been demanded of us this last year can be wearying.
One of the things that has broken my heart the most over the last many months is the proliferation of conspiracy theories and other forms of denial, and those who use them as an excuse to not care for the vulnerable. It seems like some are living in a very different reality and the chasm is vast between us. This has gotten me interested in trauma again and especially its impact on our spiritual journeys. What are the ways we try and cope when life becomes difficult and the path ahead is full of unknowing?
Often we tend toward what is known as spiritual bypassing, a term that describes when we use spiritual language or ideas to avoid dealing with the pain of what is happening in our lives. This is probably most obvious when you are in grief and people offer their platitudes without being willing to sit with you in the sadness. But we all participate in this in one way or another. We all have moments when we try to circumvent the struggles by avoiding the experience of pain.
One of the things Abbey of the Arts has long been committed to is promoting spiritual practices that help to sustain us in difficult days. The wisdom of ancient monks especially offers us guidance for ways to stay present when all we want to do is run somewhere else. When fear or grief or anger come knocking on our heart’s door, instead of slamming it shut, contemplative prayer teaches us to welcome these guests in with compassion and curiosity for what they might have to teach us.
This last season I have had the pleasure and privilege of teaching my Midwinter God retreat in January and February and now my Desert Mothers and Fathers retreat for Lent. There is a tremendous amount of wisdom in the Christian tradition for how to stay present to these wilderness experiences and how it is precisely in our commitment to stay with ourselves that transformation happens.
This path also demands that we make room for mystery. Rather than the linear path of setting goals and keeping control that is so valued in western culture, the contemplative way invites us to surrender and yield our own desires and rest into unknowing. It is in this space that we might begin to hold the tensions of paradoxes with more spaciousness.
In my own life, the challenge of living with an autoimmune illness my entire adult life and the great times of grief when I have lost loved ones dear to me, have thrust me into the wilderness of disorientation again and again. After I stop flailing about, reaching for some way to control the pain that accompanies this journey, and bring myself fully present, deep shifts have erupted in my heart. It is these experiences that have shaped who I am as a teacher and guide for others on the path.
I am really delighted to be leading a Zoom retreat online with Dr. Jamie Marich who is one of our wisdom council members, a trauma therapist, and the founder of dancing mindfulness. Many of you know her from some of our previous online retreats and how she invites you into an embodied place of receiving wisdom. Join us next Saturday, March 13th for Dancing with Fear in Troubled Times. We will also be joined for conversation with Dr. Kellie Kirksey and it promises to be an enlightening time when you will also be offered skills and wisdom in how to navigate life when it feels overwhelming.
With great and growing love,
Christine Valters Paintner, PhD, REACE
Photo © Christine Valters Paintner