Emergent Growth

bleeding heartsBy Stephanie Gretchen Burgevin. Stephanie is a writer and retreat leader. She is an associate faculty member of Shalem and a graduate of their Leading Contemplative Prayer Groups and Retreats Program and leads spiritual and secular programs. Stephanie manages Shalem’s blog. You can see more of her writing at blessedjourneyblog.com.

It’s the first really warm day we’ve had in this uncertain spring in Maryland. It’s lovely to be able to write on the porch this morning.

I thought I had a different topic brewing, but as I sit here listening to the birds’ spring songs and see the full, budding trees, I am led to an alternative awareness.

Emergent is the word that keeps whispering to me. Emergent.

We have been in the cold and dark for what feels like a long time. But it has not been a barren time. Sometimes it is so wonderful to shut off the brain, to let things be as they will and to even let go of our struggle for awareness. Let the universe work its wonders in the dark.

I was in the garden yesterday evening, pulling back the leaf cover and was overjoyed to see the bleeding heart I had forgotten I’d planted last year. Its robust green growth emerging while its mostly hidden white stalk and roots lay deeper in the soil. It always amazes me how even during what seems like an endless winter with late snows and single digit temperatures into March and April the flora and fauna are undaunted by the chill and just followed the light. That was their guide, not fickle, fluctuating weather. They had a deep knowing of what to follow.

While you and I were off with our busyness, living out lives, there were all kinds of miracles brewing, growing toward the light. It is the perfect metaphor of hope and then trust.

What miracles are working inside me, inside you that we may not even know about or have forgotten. What is emergent, reaching toward the light during this wonderfully tingling time? I’m reminded that I need to step aside and let it blossom for just like the plants, the light is what feeds us.

 

The Gift of Community

2014-03-20 13.06.01By Stephanie Gretchen Burgevin. Stephanie is a writer and retreat leader. She is an associate faculty member of Shalem and a graduate of their Leading Contemplative Prayer Groups and Retreats Program and leads spiritual and secular programs. Stephanie manages Shalem’s blog. You can see more of her writing at blessedjourneyblog.com.

Working on oneself takes courage and is utterly important in one’s life. Healing old wounds, learning new ways of being is a huge part of what this journey is about. There have been books and silent or personal retreats that have changed my world radically. But, have you ever had the experience where you think you’re “over” something only to have an interaction with someone and realize you still have work to do?

We can read all we want and work on our selves, but the rubber meets the road in community, when we are in the messy work of relationships. It’s kind of like the work we do on our own is going to school and the work we do in being with others is on-the-job training.

We don’t have to face anger or jealousies when we are alone because there’s no one to be angry at or jealous of. Then there is also the tension between caring for others and caring for oneself. Sometimes these two needs are opposed and what do we do then?

At one time I lived on the same circle as a family from another culture than mine. All the generations loved to be outside laughing and talking (and who doesn’t) well into the night. They were an open, friendly group, but what was I to do when my young children needed to go to sleep on a school night and the family’s activities were going on? Therein lies the rub.

Oh, but there is so much richness, so much delight and pleasure in relationship that we can’t reach on our own. Yes, it also brings with it the low, lows, but if we allow it and stay open it can be a mirror and we can learn more faster by being with others, being companions.

This is the part I have been focusing on of late. Remembering there is that of God in each of us and there is something to learn from everyone if I just keep an open heart and mind.

 

Receiving the Gift

2014-03-23 17.07.45By Stephanie Gretchen Burgevin. Stephanie is a writer and retreat leader. She is an associate faculty member of Shalem and a graduate of their Leading Contemplative Prayer Groups and Retreats Program and leads spiritual and secular programs. Stephanie manages Shalem’s blog. You can see more of her writing at blessedjourneyblog.com.

In a meeting with my spiritual director the other day  we were talking about how “muddled” life feels at present. I’m not clear on what’s next. Probably, most adults have experienced this fog, times when what to do is convoluted. But this was not the angry or panicked kind of muddle I’ve experienced in decades past. This is not a Dark Night. This time there is an undercurrent of trust here.

We talked about what my prayer is now amidst all this. After some silence we laughed, realizing that my prayer for quite a while has been for more time and space in my life, and now I have it. For so long I was rushing from one project and task to another, trying desperately to get everything done and longingly looking at the holy pockets of time in the candy store window.

Perhaps I’m not in a muddle at all. Perhaps it’s just that I’m not used to having time to just be present, to relish what I’m doing and to give it my all. Put down the need to write a presentation, cook dinner, be on a conference call, and thoughtfully answer questions my child has on current events all at the same time.

So now the trick for me is to relax into this space, to set aside any guilt I might feel over not rushing off to another project. Spirit has given me this time, so how about just receiving it?

At first I thought my prayer for now was, “Please help me to get clarity on my next step,” or “Please help me to understand,” but now I’m seeing it just needs to be, “Thank you.”

 

Sensing Our Way Back to God

By Stephanie Gretchen Burgevin. Stephanie is a writer and retreat leader. She is an associate faculty member of Shalem and a graduate of their Leading Contemplative Prayer Groups and Retreats Program and leads spiritual and secular programs. Stephanie manages Shalem’s blog. You can see more of her writing at blessedjourneyblog.com.

2014-03-23 17.36.11I’m guessing we’ve all experienced this at some point, where we find we have gotten to that place where we don’t connect to God as much as we’d like to. Perhaps we don’t feel like we’re connecting at all. We may know on some level that Spirit is there waiting for us, calling to us, but we might not know where the doorknob is in order to open the door we’ve created. So what do you do when you’re in that place? How do you get back?

I find that it’s kind of like when I wake up at 3 a.m. and I can’t fall back asleep. I try a whole litany of things to slow down so I can fall asleep: breathing techniques, mantras, meditation, putting a pillow over my head (!), anything to help me get back to that place where I let go.

When I’m awake I try going for a walk, being out in nature, that almost always brings me back to my spiritual core, especially on a sunny day. We’ve had so much cold weather and snow that at this point 50 degrees and sunshine feels like heaven. Sometimes I try extended yoga or qi gong to get back into my body and in sync with Spirit, to surpass my mind. It always seems easier that way. When my mind has set up a barrier between me and that constant sense of the Holy, my body knows the way home.

Trusting our bodies and using our senses is a wonderful way to get back to one’s spiritual center. I recently started a practice of mouth breathing where I inhale and exhale with my mouth slightly open (the way some animals do to sense their surroundings). Somehow doing this breathing through my mouth helps me to feel the aliveness of my surroundings. This brings me right back to sensing God.

What’s your experience? How do you get back to your soul’s center? It would be great to hear other techniques since I’m sure we could all use them!

Transitions and Thresholds

DSCN1542By Stephanie Gretchen Burgevin. Stephanie is a writer and retreat leader. She is an associate faculty member of Shalem and a graduate of their Leading Contemplative Prayer Groups and Retreats Program and leads spiritual and secular programs. Stephanie manages Shalem’s blog. You can see more of her writing at blessedjourneyblog.com.

There are transitions and there are thresholds. My experience has been that transitions take a chunk of time. I can nurse a transition, especially if it’s from a hard place: things like getting over being upset with someone, but also when trying to figure out how to BE in new way of living. The transition in itself is a process.

My prayers of late, since I have so many things in my life up in the air, have been something like: How should I be now? What do I do in this moment?

I’ve got no map for where I am right now, so the sense of taking a step of faith is constantly with me.

I haven’t gotten it all figured out, but I have had a new experience, a shift in my perspective. Instead of a long transition I’ve asked myself why not choose to change how I feel and act now? Why waste all that time transitioning? Why not just step across that threshold into a new way of being?

This means not sitting in the transition of being stuck in an old behavior pattern. Why not cut the cord and be free of that old baggage?

I’m normally a morning person, but found myself getting fussy and irritated with a family member the other morning. I was feeling he was being rude and I snapped at him. He got offended. We did that dance for about 5 minutes when I said, “We don’t have to keep doing this. We can choose to have a good morning. I am sorry for being snippy and curt.” He apologized for his return comment and we had a lovely morning.

I chose to step over the threshold instead of nursing old wounds.

I am working on a new way of being, of stepping away from old behaviors that I have grown out of or don’t serve me, and now that I’m in the middle of my life, I don’t want to waste any more of it dragging old junk around with me.

Now why has it taken me all this time to realize I can just flip the switch and let go of the hurt? Who knows, but Grace seems to be the answer. And I’m so thankful for it!

Relishing this Life

2014-03-04 15.29.08By Stephanie Gretchen Burgevin. Stephanie is a writer and retreat leader. She is an associate faculty member of Shalem and a graduate of their Leading Contemplative Prayer Groups and Retreats Program and leads spiritual and secular programs. Stephanie manages Shalem’s blog. You can see more of her writing at blessedjourneyblog.com.

My grandmother, the grand matriarch of the family, died last Wednesday just 10 days into her 100th year. When someone dies at that age the death is not a surprise, but there is still sadness for the culminating loss.

Her passing has left me with a deepened sense of the deliciousness of this life I am living, the simple gifts that grace each day. I am left with a renewed respect and love for this life.

We in Maryland, as with so much of the country, have been hit by yet another snowstorm and bitterly low temperatures. Instead of getting wrapped up in the feeling of “no more!” I am better able to fully feel the aliveness of these days.

I feel blessed by the bright sunshine and glare that melted the thick ice off my car windows before I had to come out and scrape. Winter sun somehow feels so penetrating and healing. I’m hungry to absorb as much as possible these days.

I feel blessed by the sound of the snowmelt tinkling along the road, gravity pulling it toward the Patuxent River near the house. Had I not been out for a walk I would not have heard this joyful sound. I feel the blessing of my healthy body.

I feel blessed by the crisp morning air that tastes clean and wakes me faster than any caffeine!

I feel blessed by the beauty of the untouched snow knowing that this too is fleeting. Although it’s March and I’d love to be focusing on the tulips and snowdrops starting to peek out of their winter covers, there are blessings and beauty right here. This life is precious and instead of getting grumpy over the latest storm, I am dedicated to loving THIS day as it is, knowing there is an end coming to the snow, to this day, to this time.

Just Love

2012-09-29 11.02.08By Stephanie Gretchen Burgevin. Stephanie is a writer and retreat leader. She is an associate faculty member of Shalem and a graduate of their Leading Contemplative Prayer Groups and Retreats Program and leads spiritual and secular programs. Stephanie manages Shalem’s blog. You can see more of her writing at blessedjourneyblog.com.

Have you ever seen that bumper sticker or button that says, “The answer is love. Now what was the question?”? There is truth and humor here.

As adults I think it’s safe to say that we’ve arrived this far with our share of thoughts and behaviors that make our lives bumpy and difficult. These experiences of hurt, loss, and anger are real and they have left their mark on our lives. So many of us spend a lot of time, energy, and money trying to figure out how to be better with books, classes, meditation, prayer, therapy. And through this we make our progress toward letting go.

But sometimes I think that we complicate this work, we feel like we have to DO these certain steps in order to come out whole. I do think we need to work on it, but I also think there is a lot to be said for just loving ourselves. For going into those dark places that maybe we’re not so proud of and surrounding it with love. “Love your neighbor as yourself” requires that you love yourself. I think that part can be overlooked and forgotten.

So maybe you’re working on getting over an early loss in your life and the anger over that. Could you just love yourself around that abandonment? Could you hold that pain and anger in the Light? Spread a little compassion on yourself?

Water is powerful and gentle and it takes the easiest route. I think that what we souls need to learn while we are on this human journey is also to take the easiest route, the one of love. It too is powerful and gentle. Because when we fill ourselves with love and don’t get mired in the sticky stuff of rights and wrongs but move and act and BE from that loving place, it is the easy way.

Dropping all I’ve carried

cropped featherBy Stephanie Gretchen Burgevin. Stephanie is a writer and retreat leader. She is an associate faculty member of Shalem and a graduate of their Leading Contemplative Prayer Groups and Retreats Program and leads spiritual and secular programs. Stephanie manages Shalem’s blog. You can see more of her writing at blessedjourneyblog.com.

About a year ago I started to feel restless in my job and knew there was change coming. I could not tell you what direction I was going in, but I knew something different was on my horizon. I was still drawing a regular paycheck so the faith was particularly easy.

Well, on January 1st my job of the past five years was outsourced. I’ve walked that thin line between joy (the opening up to what’s in store for me next) and fear (how will I make my daughter’s last tuition payment?). Over the past month I have done lots of praying about what is next: Holy One, I don’t know what direction you want me to go in. I am willing but have no roadmap here. Do I lead more classes? Do I pick up some more writing/blogging clients? What do I do with these degrees, coursework, and experience?

I’ve been professionally marketing and writing for the past 25+ years and leading classes and programs for the past 15+. So how do I use my gifts now?

This is hard work. Quotes like this one on the Three Intentions website keep showing up, “When all we’ve carried has served its purpose and now we must burn it for warmth and to see what’s next.” I thought, this is where I am.

Then, when I was reading my morning meditation the other day from Mark Nepo’s The Book of Awakening I again got the message: “Dropping all we carry…Dropping all we have constructed as imperative allows us to be born again into the simplicity of spirit that arises from unencumbered being. It is often overwhelming to imagine changing our entire way of life. Where do we begin? How do we take down a wall that took twenty-five or fifty years to erect? Breath by breath. Little death by little death. Dropping all we carry instant by instant. Trusting that what has done the carrying if freed, will carry us.”

Last summer my fiancé and I started a new plumbing company that is totally focused on service, on taking care of the customer. Well, when my main job went away we talked about me concentrating more on the company. I was thinking more of the same of what I’ve done in life: market, write, blog.

Then he suggested I come help him on a job. I thought, okay, I’ll learn something new and I know it’s a job that’s much easier with two sets of hands. But, I had an appointment later that day to meet with someone who wants me to write a blog for them. Well, the plumbing job was running a little long and I was starting to think about how I could help enough and get to my appointment when the woman called to tell me she couldn’t meet because of a family emergency. As I was talking to her on the phone the feeling that I was just where I need to be washed over me. I never guessed I’d be learning plumbing first hand, but the sense of rightness is palpable. Who knows what my days will look like in six months, a year, two years, but right now, Spirit has surprised me again and I’m “dropping all I’ve carried” for so long, “trusting that what has done the carrying if freed, will carry us.”

As a side note, I hope you can come to see Mark Nepo March 21-22 at Shalem’s Gerald May Seminar in Washington, DC. I’ve never heard him speak in person, but his writings have moved me time and again, and he’ll be sharing from his poetry and writings. I am going and hope to see you there!

What about being vulnerable?

2013-12-19 16.35.14By Stephanie Gretchen Burgevin. Stephanie is a writer and retreat leader. She is an associate faculty member of Shalem and a graduate of their Leading Contemplative Prayer Groups and Retreats Program and leads spiritual and secular programs. Stephanie manages Shalem’s blog. You can see more of her writing at blessedjourneyblog.com.

She said, “Are you really being vulnerable?”

Have you ever had one of those moments in a conversation, an argument, or while reading a book when you have the wind knocked out of you? That’s how that question hit me. It struck me to the marrow and vibrated my being in that moment and sat on my heart for weeks.

We’ve talked before in an earlier blog about the word “Surrender.” People often have a strong reaction to the word and the concept. Somehow this question about whether or not I was truly being vulnerable hit me even deeper. I could see how it related to a whole domino line of behaviors in my life.  Those structures I had erected suddenly didn’t have such a strong foundation.

Vulnerability, like surrender, requires a great level of trust. Am I willing to risk it all?

Vulnerability can be scary in our dealings with other humans, but we can often feel tentative about it even in our spiritual lives. I thought I was being really open, that I was comfortable with surrender, but being vulnerable was different. It felt more proactive, like I was choosing to put my naked self way out there. Even being vulnerable in my relationship with the Holy felt a little scary.

But then came the freedom. When I didn’t have to stay tucked in and protective, I could be free. I didn’t have to hold it all together, thinking I was in control.

Perhaps, if I can be more vulnerable in my spiritual life, I can be more vulnerable in my other close relationships. This growth is hard, but at least I’m not alone.

What is your experience?

The Holiness of Dry Times

2012-01-20 11.23.09By Stephanie Gretchen Burgevin. Stephanie is a writer and retreat leader. She is an associate faculty member of Shalem and a graduate of their Leading Contemplative Prayer Groups and Retreats Program and leads spiritual and secular programs. Stephanie manages Shalem’s blog. You can see more of her writing at blessedjourneyblog.com.

My guess is that we’ve all experienced them: dry times. Those periods when the well within you has no more to give. It can happen emotionally, professionally, spiritually…basically in any area of life.

I have been a writer since I was about 12. Getting it down on paper was how I got through middle school, high school, the struggles of growing up, joys, pains, and momentous occasions. Then one day I just couldn’t write. Whoa! This was a major shift for me.

I’ve experienced dry patches in all areas of my life and have found that it doesn’t matter how hard I try to get the magic back. I can push and go through all the regular moves that normally helped get my creative/professional/spiritual juices flowing only to be met by a hollow response.

Frustration, panic, anger, fear, sadness, dejection…yep, felt all of those. The darndest thing is that we can’t DO anything about it but maybe be open. It’s about Grace, and perhaps patience. Taking a look at myself and realizing that for reasons I don’t understand, now is not the time to write. Now is the time for something else perhaps, like stopping, and waiting, and being.

It eventually comes back, maybe in a different way or maybe as a different leading. There’s been an internal change that I may or may not be aware of, but something has shifted and thankfully Grace has visited again. Eventually peace is restored.

As always, it seems, the trick is being patient and staying in the trusting mode, knowing that Spirit is right there even in the dryness.

What has been your experience?