The gift of sadness

Recently I came across the writings of Australian author Ailsa Piper who is a writer, actor, producer and teacher.

Her reflection on sadness and the gifts that lie within it (see link below) deeply resonated with me. We so often want to understand immediately the meaning of our thoughts, feelings and life experiences. However, often the gift within requires silence, patient waiting and mindfulness before we can truely receive the lessons that await us.

The gift of sadness

In her ‘Lessons from the lighthouse’, Ailsa demonstrates that objects and places in our lives (in this case a lighthouse) have much to teach us. If we but look with open eyes, mind and soul these objects, places and the world around us will whisper, talk and shout at us lessons that can provide us with perspective and insight, guiding us forward on the journey as we stumble or stride through the here and now of daily life.

Lessons from the lighthouse

Ailsa has written many other articles that are found in newspapers and online journals. Amongst her writing is her first book, ‘Sinning across Spain: a walker’s journey from Granada

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Life is Grace

Source: Life is Grace

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Questioning

Hold the Vision

Hold the Vision

For all of my life I have been a questioner, a ‘why’ and ‘how’ person. I have sought to understand almost everything that has crossed my path, especially other people, human nature, cultures and the meaning of life. This constant ‘why’ and ‘how’ is what drove me to study English and Anthropology at university, to then train and work as a Librarian and a teacher and more recently to work in Mental Health. I have not kept my ‘why’ and ‘how’ questioning to myself, rather I have encouraged and worked with others to assist them to gently ask their own questions, to ponder and grapple with their answers and be open to who they are.

As a Librarian I learnt the skills of how to find information, to organize and use it and to impart these skills to others so that they were equipped to become independent life-long learners able to ask and answer their own ‘why’ and ‘how’ questions. As a teacher my goal was to honour and address the whole individual and to teach more than just facts. I worked to assist my students to ask questions as a means to identify and employ their preferred learning styles, their passions, their strengths and areas to develop, to better understand themselves and others, to experience the joy of learning and begin the process of discovering their ‘vocation’ in life. Now as a Mental Health worker I work with clients assisting them to question themselves and identify their strengths, values, and skills to achieve their life vision.

Living a life of purpose and meaning requires me to be open to questions, mine and others and to delight in and accept the oft challenging answers. Daily I spend time in reflection, living in awe of life, holding my vision of the life I want to live now and in the future, holding gently the tension of uncertainty, the not yet knowing or understanding and accepting with gratitude what is. Recently I came across a quote that has become a helpful mantra and guide to me, especially on days where I struggle with what is.

“Hold the vision, Trust the process” – author unknown.

These words assist me to willingly be open to the now, no matter how difficult the process. I embrace this process with joy, holding on to the vision as I continue to ask ‘why’ and ‘how’ to better understand myself, what drives me, what doesn’t, to claim my beliefs, values, strengths and fears believing that who I am and all that I experience and learn is part of the journey of becoming more fully the person I am called to be.

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The inner landscape

 

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The inner landscape

Since I was a small child, I have constantly been drawn to landscapes and their “thin places”, places of energy, where the divine is sensed. Here I am called to look, listen and learn, to take on board the truths that these places have to share with me, if only I am attentive. Over the years I have learnt to open myself to these places and their messages, whether the landscape is dry, hot, open gibber plains, inland waterways, remnant rainforests, my back garden or coastal beaches, for each has something to say me. Of all the landscapes that I have had the joy to experience it is Central Australia that has the strongest pull on me, providing me with the most powerful lessons. In the desert I am stripped to the core, open and vulnerable.

‘…being in the desert is … a reduction to a state of authentic existence when all the sham and gloss is removed, leaving only that which is real. ‘Now that I am nothing – I am’ (Brown, 1991).

Here I am opened to my inner landscape or “inner terrain” (Palmer, 1997), my authentic self, called to wait and listen not only to the land but to the still small inner voice that whispers truths to me and calls me to open myself to lessons on the journey.

On leaving Central Australia and moving to the coast I was racked with grief at the loss of the “thin places” that I experienced in the Centre. My grief has since abated, though an ache remains within me for this powerful ancient landscape that taught me so much. I have learnt since leaving Central Australia that this “inner landscape” has travelled with me to the coast, is part of me and is at my core. Now I have found new ways of opening to and travelling in this “inner landscape”, through connecting with other landscapes when I walk or camp in nature, grow vegetables, practise Mindfulness or write in my Gratitude journal about all the small things in life that I am grateful for. Sometimes this “inner terrain” is rugged, teaching me painful lessons about myself that I don’t always want to learn and which at times brings me to tears or even tantrums. At other times my “inner landscape” is balm to a weary soul, nudging me to identify my strengths, values and blessings in life that in turn equip me to travel further along the road.

This “authentic self” calls to me to honour and care for it, to spend time in silence reflecting on and taking care of the condition of my soul, to fed my spirit through time spent in nature, or time with family and friends, laughing, creating and celebrating. Life has taught me that self-care, both outer and inner is never selfish, for without self-care we become drained of energy, blind to our true passions and callings and ultimately we have little to offer others in both our private and work lives.

In my younger years I viewed work as a means to an end. Over time I began to feel empty in the work that I did, often taking days off, or wishing each moment at work away, unable to be fully present to the work at hand. Over time I began to question what was happening to me. I began craving for a job that I was passionate about, was true to my values and was fulfilling. In his book, ‘The Heart Aroused: poetry and the preservation of the soul in corporate America’, Whyte (1994) describes the soul as “the indefinable essence of a person’s spirit and being” that can “never be touched and yet the merest hint of its absence causes immediate distress” (Whyte, 1994, p. 13). This is the “inner landscape” our “authentic self”. The absence of soul is “sensed intuitively” although we may not recognize or understand that something is missing or lost or what has caused it (Whyte, 1994, p. 13). Palmer (1997) writes of the importance of knowing our “inner terrain” especially in the work that we do. He invites us to listen to our “inner teacher”, to know our “inner landscape”, to be open to and follow the leadings and nudgings of our heart that lead us to work that provides us with a sense of purpose and meaning. He employs an old Quaker saying, “Let your life speak”, listening to and honouring our “authentic self” and “what it intends to do” with us. Our “inner landscape”, if we listen, tells us about our truths and values (Palmer, 2000, pp. 2-3). This is “vocation”, hearing the call within us, listening to life telling us who we are (Palmer, p. 4) and directing us to our underlying “truer life” that is waiting to be acknowledged (Palmer, p.5). Vocation is the receiving of a gift, receptive to the treasures of true self that we already possess (Palmer, p. 10). Yet as humans we tend to look to others for advice, failing to listen to and attend to our “inner landscapes” and may become lost on the journey.

In today’s world being open to our “inner landscape” and accepting the gift of true knowledge and understanding of self is not easy. We are often called by what others perceive as the standards we ‘should’ live by, distracted by the everyday ‘noise’ and busyness of life, believing that it is unimportant to appreciate the simple things in life, increasingly divorced from the world around us and from our own spiritual nature. In addition we live in world full of fear and negativity, fear of failure, of risk, of death, of a hostile world and most importantly our own insecurity about identity and self-worth (Palmer, 2000, pp. 86-90). How then when we are closed to our “inner landscape” can we face our fears, distractions, our spiritual natures and open ourselves to our “authentic self”? Palmer (2000) reminds us that we are not alone, that although our inner work is personal it is not private and that this work can be helped by being in community, by finding others open to their own “inner landscape”, for we are made for community (Palmer, 2000, pp. 74 & 92). In sharing the journey we learn that we are not alone, that others too have places of fear in their “inner landscape” but that there are also places of hope, trust, beliefs and values (Palmer, 2000, pp. 93-94). In these places we can find a firm footing to move forward on the journey of self-discovery, to undertake our soul work.

Our journey in our “inner landscape” never ends. As Sarton’s poem, “Now I become myself” reminds us this journey to true self takes time (Sarton, 1974, p. 156) and for this we have a lifetime.

Now I become myself
It’s taken time, many years and places.
I have been dissolved and shaken,
Worn other people’s faces …
Now to stand still, to be here …
My work, my love, my time, my face
Gathered into one intense
Gesture of growing like a plant …
Grows in me to become the song,
Made so and rooted by love.

May Sarton

May you stand strong on the journey in your “inner landscape”
May you find your “vocation”
May you find your true self
and in finding your true self find peace.
Jenny 25/11/15

 

References

Brown, C. (1991). Pilgrim through this barren land. Sutherland, NSW: Albatross Books
Palmer, P.J. (2000). Let your life speak: listening for the voice of vocation. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass
Palmer, P.J. (1997). The courage to teach: exploring the inner landscape of a teacher’s life. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Sarton, M. (1974). “Now I become myself”, Collected Poems, 1930 – 1973. New York: Norton.
Whyte, D. (1994). The heart aroused: poetry and the preservation of the soul in corporate America. New York: Currency Doubleday

 

Parts of this reflection have appeared previously in an essay titled, “Journey to the Heartland”, which formed part of an assessment for a unit in my Master of Educational Leadership, ACU.

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The Good Life Spring 2015 By Ami Hillege

otwaylifemagazine

Now that spring is here, we wait in anticipation for an event that has occurred each year since we came to this little farm in the Otways. It’s swarming season. The bees are on the move.

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It is at this time of the year, if we’re lucky to be home, we experience a swarm. It happens so quickly, that ten minutes later you are non the wiser that ten thousand bees had just exited a hive, drifted around in a big black cloud then found purchase on the branch of an apple tree, about ten meters from the hive. The bees swarm when the hive becomes too populated and a new queen is crowned. There is no place for two queens, so one gathers her supporters and they find a new hive. From that one hive we began with, we now have five.

We like to impress people with the…

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Autumn Colors

Gallery post by @brmarincel.

Source: Autumn Colors

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I would love

Source: I would love

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Change

I have travelled a journey this last year of challenges, tears, joys, fear and growth, of becoming reacquainted with old friends and most importantly reacquainted with myself. Someone recently said to me quizzically that I was different, that I had changed. Initially I was shocked by their comment and their apparent confusion. Taking a deliberate pause in my day I stopped and reflected on change and my life. Change I have come to realise is a sly creature, tending to evolve in small increments, unnoticeable in its individual steps but obvious when examined and in its accumulation.

One year ago, after 29 years shared with my old love, I suddenly found myself single again as we went our separate ways in life.  Yes, I had been single before but that had been in my twenties! This was different, now with four adult children, one still at school and three at university and me the only bread winner. Fear kicked in and became my constant companion in every waking hour determined too to share my half empty bed at night, even in my dreams. Yet here I am one year later more at peace with myself and the world, still fearful at times but able now to welcome this guest called fear, opening myself up to finding out what it has come to tell me about myself and the new opportunities of growth that it has to offer.

Nature, breath, mindfulness, walking, visual journaling, counselling, problem solving, time in silence, prayer, old friends and new, my family and my dog have all in their own ways sustained me on this journey but most of all it has been my focus on gratitude that has been the biggest support and life lesson. Gratitude in the small things in life that until a year ago I had forgotten how to see although they were right in front of me. The gentle breeze on my face, the curl on the end of my dog’s nose that warms my heart, the smiles and hugs of my children, the sun peeping through a grey cloud, laughing at puns, the triumph of learning to back a trailer, paying bills, putting food on the table, a freshly made bed with clean sheets still smelling of sunshine, watching birds in the yard having a dust bath, these and all the other small wonders and joys that life presents to us countless times each and every day. Yes I have changed, I am more aware and appreciative of the blessings in my life, of the world around me, of living in the moment rather than the past or the future and of the precious gift that life is. I am here to savour what life has to offer me, to learn and to keep changing more and more into the person that I believe that I am and can be. Fear will be my companion on this journey but so too will growth, courage, laughter and tears, all there to nudge me to live in the moment, open to all that life has to offer.

Blessings to you all on the journey.

 

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The walk

Coastal Walk

 

Heart and mind

free of worries

dropped into stillness

comfort

joy.

 

Shoulders warmed by sun

Face brushed by breeze

Feet teased by grains of sand, seaweed, cooling waves.

 

Fully present

Feeling

Living

Now

 

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Journey to the Heartland

IMAG0721My journey into spirituality or rather my recognition of this journey began just over ten years ago. It was not an easy path that I took, rather as David Tacey describes it, I took the ‘left-hand path into depth and potential growth’[1] as I experienced burnout and depression. This was not a journey that I welcomed at the time for it forced me into solitude where I not only encountered my authentic self but also God, both of whom I had been fleeing across the years. Now I can recognize the gifts that depression brought me and I thank God for bringing me to my knees, for embracing me in my grief and enfolding me in love and forgiveness.

In breaking me open God re-birthed me as someone who welcomed and embraced their spirituality and who integrated this into their life. Ten years ago, when I was claimed by God in my brokenness and journeyed to rediscover self, I could find no one else who could understand what I was going through or whom could help me to understand and make sense of what was happening to me. In his book The Spirituality Revolution[2] David Tacey talks of authentic spirituality and provides a framework in which to understand spiritual growth in a secular world. He points out that what I was going through was the beginning of mature spiritual growth where I was questioning not only my childhood faith but also all that I had been through and had questioned since childhood.

Why is spiritual growth and its developmental stages not common knowledge in the wider society? Why as a society have we severed off our spiritual selves and any knowledge or understanding of life’s spiritual journey and the stages of spiritual development or lack thereof? It seems to me to be mainly in the Christian tradition, especially the Catholic and Anglican traditions and more recently writers such as Tacey, Marcus Borg, Kathleen Norris and others that acknowledge and seek to understand the human spirit’s journey. In our secular society we deny the spiritual. In so doing we fail to recognize or acknowledge the experiences of spirit that are a normal part of the human experience. We no longer understand the questioning of life, its purpose and its meaning and we fail to comprehend the struggles of the spirit that are part of life’s journey. As a consequence many stumble and lose their way on the journey, unable to find answers, feeling empty and believing that life is pointless. I believe that as a society we ignore our spiritual selves at our peril and are witnessing the symptoms of this ignorance and denial of spirit in the mental, emotional, physical and social ills of society including environmental degradation and the resulting climate change.

My life’s spiritual journey began at birth with my childhood and teen years spent in my nominally Presbyterian family. I attended Sunday school regularly (without my parents) and was strongly influenced by a very devout Grandmother who actively lived out her faith and whom I desired to emulate. Eventually though, in my late teens, I rejected my childhood faith and during my twenties and thirties sojourned through Buddhism and later the New Age. During these years I constantly felt empty and was unable to fill the hole that I felt inside. It was not until coming to my knees did I find a new home in the spirituality of solitude, encounter with self and with God. Through retreats in Franciscan, Cistercian, Ignatian and other Catholic spiritual traditions I began to open again to my spirituality. Here in confronting self and God in the silence I found a spiritual pathway that enabled me to open to God’s healing love. I was able to finally embrace my spiritual nature, to love and be loved by God and to rediscover not only my Christian faith tradition but to discover the richness of the spiritual traditions of the Catholic Church. This is the ‘born again’ experience that some Christians talk about although I do not place myself within the Fundamentalist view of being born again. Rather, I see this ‘born again’ experience as Marcus Borg does, as a process where I have come into a new way of being, with my life centred in God and in the Spirit[3]. As I have travelled further along the road of this spiritual journey I am now, more a more comfortable to rest in silence with God and to be in relationship with God. Borg sees spirituality as ‘… becoming conscious of and intentional about a deepening relationship with God’[4] and that this being born again is a process that occurs again and again. Since returning to ‘faith’ I have been very conscious of God in my life and have continued to deepen my relationship with God through regular silent retreats, prayer life, spiritual practices, study, spending time in nature, mindfulness and walking. I have ventured into the study of theology in an ecumenical institution, become a Catholic, qualified as a teacher of Religious Education in Catholic schools, worked as a Religious Education Co-ordinator and now work in a secular setting with people experiencing a mental illness assisting them to open to and address their spirituality. All these steps along the path of my spiritual journey I now recognize as typical stages in spiritual growth. God has been with me in all of these experiences and has planted within me a deep desire to share with others on the journey my experiences and the knowledge that I have gained on the way.

However, despite what I have learnt and experienced I still stumble, lose my way and even doubt my faith. As a person who only seems to learn the hard way, through repeated and oftentimes difficult experiences and hard lessons, I have once again found myself lost on the journey stumbling around trying to find my way back into relationship with Spirit. Tacey points out that many, like me, who go back to tradition and embrace it, lose in the process their spirituality![5] Here in Central Australian I have been blessed to rediscover my spirituality, my relationship with my authentic self and God in the desert.

The journey continues. At times I feel weary and buck and kick against God and life, asking why, why, why won’t you let me rest? I call out to God telling God that I don’t feel strong enough for the struggles and pain anymore. And yet God keep prodding me and leading me to experience a sense of God’s Spirit and presence in this harsh landscape. Here in the Centre I am being called by God to grow more and more, to live the sacred in daily life, to embrace Spirit and be open to what God has to tell me in Creation.

I have always found God through being in nature from my early childhood until the present; even when for twenty-five years I rejected the Church and Christianity. God has been present for me in the scent of gums and the smoke of a campfire, in fiery sunsets and gentle dawns, in the texture of gnarled ancient eucalypt tree trunks, the sound of gurgling streams and the chorus of chattering finches, warbling magpies and the laugh of the kookaburra. But never have I encountered God’s presence as strongly as I have here in the Centre. What is it about this harsh ancient land that hits me in the chest, takes my breath away and says listen, be still, I am with you? It is so hard to articulate, to quantify, and to really understand what happens or why. There is something about this harsh landscape that sears my soul and calls me to be fully present to God and to self.

In the words of Noel Davis:

There are places that call us

To still and be

Places of reflection

Quiet, wild, timeless

That overflow the soul

And draw us in

To the silence of our heartland.[6]

 

 

This land and its timeless places calls me to be silent and to wait on God. Here I cannot run from God or self. When I am out here, away from town, God calls me and pulls at me, confronts me with the beauty of the land with its rugged mountain ranges scoured and uplifted over millennia, cut through by callous riverbeds which when filled with the bounty of rain erode the rocks wearing a pathway through the mountain ranges. God is teaching me to look, to listen and to learn to see the streams flowing deep beneath the sands from which I can draw sustenance for the journey, even in times of barrenness. God is using these streams to erode the rocks of my resistance to take me further along the road of my life’s spiritual journey.

 

October 2010. Alice Springs, N.T.

Excerpts from a previously submitted essay for a Master of Educational Leadership, ACU.

[1] Tacey, D. (2003). The spirituality revolution: the emergence of contemporary spirituality. Melbourne: HarperCollins

[2] Ibid.

[3] Borg, M. (2004). The heart of Christianity. New York: HarperCollins

[4] Ibid.

[5] Tacey, D. (2003). The spirituality revolution: the emergence of contemporary spirituality. Melbourne: HarperCollins

[6] Davis, N. (2003). From the wilds of the heart comes the singing of the quiet. Narooma, NSW: Lifeflow Education

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