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Monk in the World Guest Post: Jan Spragge

I am delighted to share another beautiful submission to the Monk in the World guest post series. Read on for Jan Spragge’s reflection on “Desert-ing.”

It’s 3am and I’m standing on my back porch looking out at thick fog edging the water. Somewhere out there is a lone goose. I hear her. I hear honking her plaintiff call. Does she hear mine? Does she feel my increased bodily restlessness in these nights, and the way I rise to meet myself with conscious intention to create the space to stay in this moment and let go of the old sticky ‘need to know’? 

My dog rustles somewhere in the yard. Maybe he feels it too, this tension between ‘knowing’ and ‘not knowing’ and the desire to drop old perceptions that feel like prying a pigtailed girl’s sticky hands off an icecream cone. At once, I want my camera in my hands, to take pictures into the night out over the water and see what emerges behind the mist. 

It’s not simple or easy to remind my long-trained staticy mind that I want to fall beneath it and move into my body and her wisdom. My mind’s need to freeze and lock things up is longstanding and well won, with lines of ‘how to’ books on shelves and courses to prove her worth. She’s been trying to keep me safe. Trying to understand and plan out life with her careful movements, I suppose. But, in the process it has felt like dying on the vine. My memory. My creativity. My love of life. Where did it all go?

Craving presence through movement and image instead of running ahead with a ‘need to know’ isn’t new for me. But, hosting presence and spaciousness on an ongoing basis is, and I am loving it. As an odd twist of fate, I am finding this new spaciousness through my allowance ‘not to know’ what method works best for me to access it, and instead to allow for a pulsing of a variety of practices that centre on the visual arts and movement, and approach them all with one intent – to ‘let go’ and ‘create space’. I call it desert-ing, and it is working for me in ways I have longed for. 

What is this desert-ing, you ask? Will you try this with me? Reach and push your arms out in front of you with an exhale, and spread your arms wide while a natural inhalation comes to you, moving the staticy world out of the way. And, feel that. The natural expansion and space that is formed in the newly created space in front of you, and in you. Spaciousness. Presence. That’s desert-ing. 

Some days and moments this takes the form of practices that look like opening my laptop to enter an offering of writing and image on the Abbey of the Arts course platform with curiosity, or meandering down a forest path with my dog trusting we will zig when the spirit calls us to. Trusting the pull to pick up the phone to call without knowing what cascading miracles will ensue, and stopping to breathe and pray deeply at the sight of God’s gifts in nature. Sometimes this cultivation looks like dipping paint brushes in rich coloured paint to depict some unknown feeling as it emerges, and leaving space between heartbeats when I can’t remember where I put my car keys yet again. It’s slowing down to the speed of life as I was meant to live it, and taking my body and creativity with me in tow. ‘Creating space’ where there was no room before. 

It took me a while to allow this, or perhaps better said, to ‘hear this’ need from my bodily core. The first few decades of intentional practice were wrought with trying too hard to fit into this practice of movement or that practice of art, and my mind making me stick with it, instead of cultivating my God’s grace as evidenced in trusting bodily emergence and a natural dropping away. To trust. To pulse intention and presence with the creativity of the body until they were one, much like a bird on bended wing that can hang on the wind forever in a dance of flow. Don’t get me wrong, I often land on terra firma with a thud and feathers flying, but hey, isn’t that life? I figure I am in good company. Those who have traveled paths of spiritual intention seem to have their share of wiggle moments on the balance beam of life.

In this moment while looking out into the nothingness of elephant grey fog I wonder about that pull for my camera and the twitching of my fingers to click away and find something ‘out there’. That old ‘need to know’. Instead, I drop down into my body by literally dropping down to sit on the porch beside my dog and look out at the nothingness. I close my eyes and feel the dewy air on my face as I listen and wait for the goose to cry. And there she is, somewhere in mist. Calling. I choose to stay in the spaciousness of this moment. And, I trust by lifting my arms and spreading them wide, that I am creating spacious room for the many unknown blessings already on their way to my life. 

As a contemplative photographer, Jan Spragge weaves divergent threads of experience into her trademark ‘Woven Images’. Her photographs have been widely displayed in galleries, and are utilized by therapists for their evocative qualities. Jan conducts her Spiritual Care practice from the north shore of Lake Ontario, Canada.

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