Nature Heals

Today’s post is by Leah Rampy

Nature heals. Numerous articles have reported on research documenting various healing properties of nature. Those recovering from surgery heal faster and with fewer relapses when they see a tree instead of a brick wall from their hospital window. Residents in Toronto reported feeling better and having fewer health problems when there were more trees on their street. Gardeners were no doubt affirmed to hear that a strain of bacterium in the soil triggers the release of serotonin that in turn elevates mood and decreases anxiety. Children who grow up on farms are less likely to develop asthma. The microbes in the soil beneath our feet contribute to our health by way of the foods we eat.

I find these studies fascinating; I love being reminded of the synergies of all living things. Still I wonder what more is possible. I notice that when I come openhearted and fully present to the beauty, complexity, and rawness of the world, I find healing beyond what science has quantified. Fully present, I open my heart to wonder and my spirit soars.

IMG_1984A new study suggests that a sense of wonder promotes loving-kindness and altruism, helps reduce inflammation in our bodies and improves our immune system. Pretty impressive! Yet, I’m speaking of a healing beyond even that. Awe and wonder bring us fully into the Presence of the Sacred; our sense of separateness vanishes as we bathe in this vast ocean of Love.

One of the reasons that I love Shalem’s pilgrimages is the opportunity and encouragement to experience wonder. As we visit sites that are drenched with thousands of years of prayer, hold our intention to be open and available to the Holy, and allow the natural beauty of these places to seep into us, we are ripened for experiencing awe and wonder. We grow ever more deeply toward wholeness and become more fully who we truly are.

While pilgrimages offer the blessings of extended time in nature, they are not the only way toward healing in nature! Moments of awe can be found by lying on your back looking at the vastness of the night sky, knowing that what you can see – as amazing as it is – is only a fraction of a fraction of what’s out there. Take a magnifying glass and really look at the richly and beautifully complex landscapes in a dot of moss. Watch the sunsets. There are a myriad of ways to open our hearts; being fully present in nature is not the only way, but it is a way. We have a choice to take this journey.

Reflect for a moment: what is inviting you? What part of the natural world invokes for you that sense of wonder in the presence of something so vast it transcends understanding? What walk, what vista, what tree or stone helps you know in your very being that the trouble that seemed so important moments ago is not insurmountable? What encompasses your senses so completely that there is no other moment but the present? What invites you to exhale long and deep and whisper, “All is well?”

“The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper,” wrote W. B. Yeats. We can choose daily doses of the magic and wonder of the world; embrace it with open hearts; and let it lead us through Grace to healing and wholeness.

Leah_FBLeah Rampy is a retreat and pilgrimage leader and the former Executive Director of Shalem Institute. She is honored to be one of the leaders for Reclaiming Our Oneness with Creation: Shalem’s contemplative pilgrimage to Iona, Scotland, in June. Leah and Jamie Deering, a Shalem graduate, have designed and will be leading Uniting with Earth’s Rhythm: Shalem’s first pilgrimage in the beautiful Pacific Northwest in September 2016. Leah and her husband David are working to restore the natural habitat on a small farm in the Shenandoah Valley. She blogs about nature and farming and shares photos on Facebook.

“I’m busy, how are you?”

Today’s post is by Leah Rampy (first featured in April 2015 Shalem eNews)

Lately I’ve noticed how often “I’m busy” is creeping into my conversations and into my thinking. “My family? Oh, everyone’s so busy?” “Yes, we are really busy at work.” Some years ago I vowed to eliminate “busy” from my vocabulary, but when I wasn’t paying attention, it returned. I hate to admit it, but there’s something a little self-important about having a full schedule. Could it be that I am mindlessly falling prey to the requests that come my way as I soothe my ego with a sense of being needed?

When I speak about being busy, it’s a sure sign that my mind is engaged more than my heart. I am leaning forward into all that I must do, lessening the chance that I will be fully present in this conversation with you. How can I be available to a “long, loving look at the real” when I am caught up in a long list of activities and planning what I must do to check them off?

stickynotesBusyness and its cousin, “multitasking,” are diseases of our time. Even though multiple studies have confirmed that our brains simply cannot handle more than one task at a time, we continue under the illusion that we have somehow managed to multitask and thereby have found a way to cheat time. There’s a seduction to this way of working, an adrenaline rush that leaves us feeling powerful and ready for the next round of near-crises over which we will prevail. And so we continue to over-schedule ourselves, trying to fit everything into our calendars, denying the need to make choices about how we use the time we have been given.

Yet paradoxically it’s also draining and stressful to be so over-scheduled. We have no time to let the answers find us, no opening to see beauty in our daily lives, no space to enjoy this moment. Our interactions with others take short shrift; our conversations become primarily transactional as people become a means to support the ends we wish to achieve. We disconnect from the wisdom of our spiritual hearts and miss the Holy moments.

It would be bad enough if we were over scheduling only ourselves; yet our attraction to the “busy” spills over into the various domains of our lives. How are we shaping our children and our families when we need extensive calendars and negotiations about who will drive whom where and when? What does it teach our children about what we consider important when getting to the next activity takes precedence over watching the caterpillar on the sidewalk or sharing about the day?

If we are invited to leadership in any aspect of our lives, I think we must consider what it means to us, to those with whom we work, and to the mission we serve if we are busy leaders. In 2002 Harvard Business Review published an article that caught my eye, the essence of which has remained with me ever since. In “Beware the Busy Manager,” Bruch and Ghoshal share the findings of a study done in a dozen large companies. They write, “Our findings on managerial behavior should frighten you: Fully 90% of managers squander their time in all sorts of ineffective activities. In other words, a mere 10% of managers spend their time in a committed, purposeful, and reflective manner.” The energetic but unfocused practices—the busyness—of the majority of these managers limit their effectiveness.

The purposeful few husband their energy, ensuring that they focus only on the most important priorities. The authors quote one manager as saying, “‘In the busiest times, I slow down and take time off to reflect on what I actually want to achieve and sort what’s important from irrelevant noise,’ he says. ‘Then I focus on doing what is most important.’” The authors go on to report that purposeful managers are also skilled at finding ways to reduce stress and refuel. “They commonly draw on what we call a ‘personal well’—a defined source for positive energy.

It seems to me that the findings of Bruch and Ghoshal actually offer support for contemplatively-oriented leadership! This from-the-spiritual-heart leadership isn’t about busyness, false pride in our work, or frantic action. Contemplative leadership invites us to take the time to listen deeply to the True Leader who works in a timeframe beyond our limitations and understanding.

We have been caught in the web of rushing and multitasking; it’s time to free ourselves. As we seek to live a life where we are ever more open, present and available to the Sacred, I think that we will have to look square into the face of busyness, smile at our gullible nature, and come home to spaciousness. Perhaps when we hear or think the word “busy,” we could imagine it as a bell, calling us back to the present. When we catch ourselves trying to multitask, we might see it as an invitation to a long, slow breath that brings us back to the present. When we notice that we are physically and psychologically leaning forward into the task ahead of us rather than attending to the work at hand, it may be time for extended silence. I’m reminded of the old Zen saying, “You should sit in meditation for 20 minutes a day unless you are too busy; then you should sit for an hour.” Wise words.

And so I am recommitting to eliminating “busy” from my vocabulary and from my actions. Certainly I hope that the next time you ask me how I am, I am not even tempted to respond, “I’m busy.” And if I do, I ask you to remind me that perhaps an extended time of silence might be invited!

Leah_FBLeah Rampy leads pilgrimages and programs on contemplative leadership for Shalem. From 2009-2015, she served as Shalem’s executive director. Leah enjoys writing and speaking about contemplative ecology. She has extensive experience as a corporate executive and as a leadership consultant.

Do you yearn to explore a way of leading that is more aligned with your heart? Are you seeking community and support for this heart-led way? Join Leah Rampy for an online Contemplative Leadership Seminar. In the six sessions, we will focus on shifting how you lead in the workplace. Available now through Oct 29. Sign up here.

Learning from the Mountains

Today’s post is by Leah Rampy

Forty-five minutes west of home, I drive over just the next hill and catch sight of them: the gentle layers of the Blue Ridge Mountains rise in the distance. I take a deep breath and “drop down” into the center of my being. The traffic has thinned by now and, captured by the tranquil beauty of this ancient geology, I feel my breathing slow and my shoulders relax.

I did not always love the Blue Ridge. I’m embarrassed to say that the first time a friend pointed out the distant “mountains” to me, I burst out laughing. Growing up in the Midwest, “the mountains” were the Rockies, dramatic and breath-taking! It took time and many visits before I came to appreciate the difference that an additional 320 million years had made to softening the Blue Ridge.

mountains_LeahWhat is it about these time-worn mountains that calms my body and opens my spiritual heart? Perhaps because they are among the oldest mountains on the planet, they instruct me in deep time. How can I fail to stand in awe of mountains that began forming before modern humans walked Earth? The breadth of creation simultaneously stuns me and infuses me with joy.

And yet it’s even more that these mountains offer. It’s almost as if I pause to match my breathing with theirs. I reflect on how easy it is to come into the present during our Shalem staff meetings when we gather in shared silent prayer for 30 minutes.   As a part of a spiritual community, my prayer is strengthened, sustained, and enlarged by the silence and prayer of others. And sometimes are graced to sense that our prayer is one prayer, and we are blessed with an awareness that we are truly one.

So too it is with nature, I believe. In the same way that one heart entrains to the rhythm of another’s heart, our hearts are fashioned to entrain to the rhythm of the natural world. The heartbeat of the mountains, the rivers, and the trees steady us, support our open presence, enlarge our compassion, and remind us of our unity with all of creation.

In my busy life, I too often forget that I am – that all are – woven into the amazing collective of being. I return to the life-giving trees, the verdant valley and the primeval mountains to remember to be present to our oneness. Job 12:8 reminds us: “Speak to the earth, and it will teach you.” May I become an ever-better student.

Leah_FBLeah Rampy, Shalem’s Executive Director, has a background in corporate management and leadership consulting as well as a deep passion for contemplative living and care of the Earth. She has a PhD in Curriculum from Indiana University and is a graduate of Shalem’s Living in God: Personal Spiritual Deepening; and Transforming Community: Leading Contemplative Prayer Groups & Retreats Programs. Leah’s 5-day online leadership seminar is registering now.

Top mountain photo by Ana Rampy; inset photo by Leah Rampy

Peace on Earth: Contemplating the Possibility [audio]

Today’s post is an audio guided meditation by Leah Rampy. Feel free to tune in on your computer or your iPhone or other mobile device, and find a quiet place to listen. Click the orange arrow or the title above to listen.

The greeting cards arrive extolling “Peace on Earth.” They come as messengers, revealing the longings of other hearts. And for a moment, they remind me that I too long for peace to flood my soul and to encircle our fragile world. Then I consider the violence, injustice, pain and tragedies that surround us. My heart breaks for our dying oceans and all the species that have perished by our thoughtlessness. In the brokenness and chaos of our times, can we hope to live in a way that honors our longing for peace on earth?

LRampyLeah Rampy, Shalem’s Executive Director, has a background in corporate management and leadership consulting as well as a deep passion for contemplative living and care of the Earth. She has a PhD in Curriculum from Indiana University and is a graduate of Shalem’s Living in God: Personal Spiritual Deepening; and Transforming Community: Leading Contemplative Prayer Groups & Retreats Programs.

Traveling in the Fog

Today’s post is by Leah Rampy.

The fog rolls in softly, creeping over the hills and creating new folds of landscape as colors fade to black and white. No longer able to see clearly the road ahead, I slow my car. Sounds now muffled, I relish the shifting configuration of clouds, the new shapes of once familiar objects, and the quiet solitude of my journey. The fog intensifies and I slow again.

A term from a once-used drivers’ manual comes to mind: overdriving your headlights. Overdriving your headlights occurs when you go so fast that your stopping distance is further than the illumination of your headlights. This, the manuals tell us, is dangerous as you may crash into an object ahead. Indeed! And I note with chagrin that this is a good description of how I act all too often!

When I am blessed with a sliver of discernment and I can see just the next step I’m invited to take, I often have a moment of gratitude. Then curiosity – or could it be a need for control? – takes over; I want to know more. Where is my final destination? I could get “there” so much better/faster/more efficiently if I knew where “there” was! Indulging my thinking mind, I hypothesize the outcome: ah, that must be what God has in mind for me! Then, confident of my knowledge, I leap into action, running pell-mell ahead of the illumination of the Spirit. And I go astray – or I crash.

What is it in me that resists the fog of life? Can I not slow my speed, enjoy the shifting shapes present in the now, rest in the softness and quiet of the moment, and trust that the path ahead will be illuminated in its time? I seem to have a tendency to make transitions more difficult than they need to be.

Roaming the internet while reflecting on this topic, I came across a blog on PsychCentral that seemed beautifully serendipitous. Maud Purcell, LCSW, wrote, “Our complex thought processes help us to survive challenging circumstances. Yet these very same processes preclude us from thriving during times of change.” We over analyze and over worry. Take one day at a time, the author encourages. Take care of yourself, allow your emotions, accept the situation, and give yourself time.   In other words, don’t overdrive your headlights!

The blog ends with an admonition to have faith. Have faith! The promise is there in the manual. “We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won’t be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We’ll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us!” (The Message, 1 Corinthians 13:12)

Today I’m driving slowly in the fog, appreciating the journey though soft, shifting shapes, calm in the assurance that the Holy One who set me on this road will reveal what I need to see as I need to see it. How is your journey through the fog? I’d love to hear from you.

LRampyLeah Rampy, Shalem’s Executive Director, has a background in corporate management and leadership consulting as well as a deep passion for contemplative living and care of the Earth. She has a PhD in Curriculum from Indiana University and is a graduate of Shalem’s Living in God: Personal Spiritual Deepening; and Transforming Community: Leading Contemplative Prayer Groups & Retreats Programs.

Reference: Maud M. Purcell, LCSW, CEAP. “Don’t Think. Thrive Your Way through Transition.”

Photo by Christy Berghoef

Contemplative Leadership at Work

An excerpt on bringing contemplative leadership into the workplace, by Leah Rampy.

About 10 years ago, I was working as an executive coach in a large organization.  One of my clients was a senior executive; I’ll call him Don.  During one of our sessions, Don had just returned from a corporate training program that had had a significant impact on him and he was eager to share it with me.    He told me that during one part of the training program, participants were divided into pairs for role-plays that were to be video taped.  One of the pair was to role-play the boss, the other was to play an employee who was trying to influence the boss to buy into a new idea.

Don was given the role of the boss.  As his colleague tried to interest Don in a new idea, Don pretended to be distracted by his email.  He had to respond to “just this one message.”  A few minutes later, Don’s “phone rang” and he interrupted his colleague to “take this important call.”  As the camera rolled, Don’s colleague tried to get the attention of a very distracted, multi-tasking Don.

At the conclusion of the role-play, Don and his colleague watched the video together.  The intention of the training session was to consider how to influence those in authority, but Don told me that he saw something entirely different on the video.  He saw that his colleague – a smart, competent, normally poised individual – had come completely unraveled because of how Don had treated him.  And Don felt compassion for him.

Beyond that, Don knew that his behavior on the video, while maybe exaggerated, really wasn’t all that different from his day-to-day behavior.  And his compassion extended to those who worked with him, who he saw in that instance, must have all-too-often felt disrespected and demeaned.   As he watched the video play back, Don was seeing with the eyes of his heart.

In that moment, Don set an intention to be fully present in every conversation.  This wasn’t an easy commitment.  Especially in the beginning weeks, he felt the tug of “things to do” and the longing to try to “multitask.”  Yet as he practiced his intention, it became easier.

Don found that he genuinely cared about each individual.  And he no longer needed to assume all of the responsibility for problem solving and decision-making.  He was able to build on the knowledge and experience of the entire team as they built the trust and respect they needed to share more —–fully. Contemplative leadership is counter-cultural; it invites us to live with our hearts open.  Once he had experienced such compassionate leadership, Don could not imagine returning to the way he had led before.

This excerpt is a sneak preview from one of the presentations Leah Rampy will give during Shalem’s upcoming Contemplative Leadership Workshop: With Hearts Wide Open. The workshop takes place next weekend, October 9-11, and is flexible to be taken during those days on your schedule. Longing to learn to lead from the heart? There is still space if you would like to register.
To learn more, click here.

Leah Rampy, Shalem’s Executive Director, has a background in corporate management and leadership consulting as well as a deep passion for contemplative living and care of the Earth. She has a PhD in Curriculum from Indiana University and is a graduate of Shalem’s Living in God: Personal Spiritual Deepening; and Transforming Community: Leading Contemplative Prayer Groups & Retreats Programs.

Photo by Felicia Zwebner

Circling the World in Prayer

RedCandlesSmAnimatedBy Leah Rampy, executive director, Shalem Institute

This year marks the 40th anniversary of Shalem Institute.  How amazing and wonderful!  We have chosen to express our gratitude for these 40 years by holding a 40-hour contemplative prayer vigil on October 13-15.

As we began to discuss this vigil, I was struck by the power and possibility of thousands of people virtually joining hands to circle the world in prayer.  Joining together in such a circle of prayer offers a glimpse of spiritual community that supports and enriches our efforts to live into God’s invitation.

Sitting vigil is considered a time of intentional wakefulness.  While we might first think of simply “not sleeping,” I love the idea of us being together fully AWAKE to the Spirit!  As we meditate or pray, we can be open, present, alert, listening together for what is being invited in our world, for what is being invited for each of us.

The entire vigil goes from 7pm EDT on October 13 through 11am EDT on October 15. You don’t personally have to sit in silence for the entire 40 hours.  Yet you will know that during that time, someone somewhere will be in silent prayer on behalf of all of us.

What will you DO during the time?  You might find that a walking meditation is what seems invited, or perhaps softly chanting, a centering prayer, or simple stillness.  Listen to what calls you.

As I approach the Vigil, I imagine a cycle of gratitude for what has been given, openness to what is invited, and recommitment to what is asked of me.  I sense that I am called to hold our Earth in prayer.

Will you join in circling the world with prayer?  What prayers are being given to you?