One Foot in Front of the Other

Walking is a spiritual practice that I am predisposed to. After all, photography would not happen unless I walked around! Simply putting one foot in front of the other, time after time, without expectation of arrival at an end point is a contemplative practice. Recently, though, I discovered a new way of viewing walking as a contemplative practice. This practice had an end point and I was completely aware of all the w’s – who, what, when, where, why. I was not letting go and receiving images (well a little). I was literally focused on my feet and putting my feet, one step at a time, on stable ground.

And this is a metaphor. Sometimes, sitting at our desk or listening to our loved ones, can be a practice of just being aware of what is now and putting your best effort towards arriving at the next now. One step at a time.

As you continue reading, consider the questions, “In what area of my life can I start (or continue) putting one foot in front of the other? What new story will be created?

Here is my story.

Monday, I went hiking to Bridal Veil Falls / Lake Serene in the Central Cascade mountains of Washington. It was a spectacular day. (The weather is forecast to be fabulous all week-long in Seattle leading me to believe somebody is playing with our emotions.) I felt confident I could do the +7 mile hike. BUT I forgot to look at the way the path is (smooth vs. rocky) and the grade or “up-ness.”

I started out on the popular path and asked a co-hiker what to expect and she told me it was steep but that it was worth it. And that there were a lot of switchbacks. OK. I can do this! I will just take my time and be careful.

In February of this year, I was going through a diagnosis of Celiac disease. Now most folks just think that this is digestive only. Well, it is not. It causes inflammation in every part of my body. It grew tumors in my ovaries. I had a period for 3 weeks. I was severely anemic. The test didn’t say, “Low,” it said “Alert!” I could not walk up a short hill without being severely out of breath because I had very few mature red blood cells to carry oxygen around. In short, it stank.

And, over the last few years I have had surgery on my left ankle (torn tendon) and my right foot (two! neuromas crowding out my middle toes). I couldn’t walk without pain until, oh, last year after the neuroma surgery. Generally, I count every pain-free step a success. Would my feet hold out? Always a question. And with the ankle surgery, I generally look for nice, solid, flat ground so my ankle will not roll.

Rats! This path is not smooth. Very rocky. Wet sometimes. Muddy sometimes. But mostly rock, rock, rock. Keep my eyes down and make sure my feet land on flat spots! That’s the plan.

Anyway, I started up the path at my own pace. I got a little less than two miles in and found the below sight. I tried really hard to capture this thing that was happening with the sun and the water! It looked like liquid sunshine was pouring off the top of the waterfall. My eyes received the beautiful image of sunshine being poured down the mountain, could my camera receive it? A little.

Walkabouts__2013-06-03_12-05-17

At any rate, it was astounding. And it was the second set of falls I had seen. This mountain is one big slab of granite! (Hence the rocky path) And there is water everywhere. Well, okay, not everywhere, but in a lot of places. It was hard to get a good picture, but earlier, there was a set of falls that were very tall and jagged. But the trees were very overgrown so you could only get glimpses of the splash of light and water. This is the very bottom of that series. I received beautiful images of flowing water.

Walkabouts__2013-06-03_16-17-40

I got past the falls and it was two miles to Lake Serene. I was feeling good so decided my body could do this! I kept on going. And going. Up and up. Picking my way carefully through rocks. Resting when I felt overwhelmed. Then there came a moment when I thought that I was not going to be able to do it. I grounded my feet to the earth and drew on the strength of my God and the strength of the earth. I breathed deeply. This had become a spiritual quest.

I kept on going. But at that moment, I felt like giving up. I soon encountered a woman and her dog. They were resting. (Yay for rest!). I asked her how much further. She said, “When you feel like you have been through the worst possible climb, then it is just a bit more up and a little down and you’re there.”

OK. The worst possible climb. I can surely get to this.

I went up and encountered massive rocky path, with only about a 9″ clearance to skinny through. Surely, this is the worst possible spot.

I kept going and encountered another massive rocky path, with water and slipperiness. Surely, this is the worst possible spot.

Add water and repeat.

Finally, I broke through the shadows of the forest into a sunny meadowy type area (is it a meadow if it is on the side of a mountain?). I looked up and my breath left my body. It. Was. Amazing. I received the most beautiful blues intermingled with a dark granite mountain and white fluffy clouds rising like steam. I remember the story of Moses going up the mountain to be with his God and going into the cloud. This is a place to connect with spiritual strength. I felt strengthened, encouraged, excited, and alive. A complete contrast to how I felt when I was in the shadows.

Walkabouts__2013-06-03_13-56-59

I was now in the sun, with this incredible sight, having passed through at least 5 stretches of the worst climb ever. And I saw another worst climb ever in front of me. But my spirits were jubilant. I was in the light and had left the darkness. Amen!

I kept on going. There was one more seriously worst climb ahead and then I was there. Lake Serene.

Walkabouts__2013-06-03_14-25-52

In fact, this lake feeds into the waterfalls pictured earlier. I had climbed all the way around to the other side. Here is what the top of the waterfall looks like from this same point, just facing the other way.

Walkabouts__2013-06-03_14-25-23

I clambered through the snow a bit and sat at the closest point I could get to the top of the waterfall. Ate lunch. Relaxed a moment.

Time to head back down. Surely, down would be easier! It always is. Mostly.

On the way down, I kept my head down looking to keep my feet planted so my ankle will not turn. I almost made it. Darn it. One misstep and a turned ankle. Choice – fall in a way to minimize injury or try to get that wobbly ankle to hold me up. Quick decision – my ankle will not withstand the effort to stay firmly up. Fall it is! Sheesh. I hate rocky, downhill, paths. Now, cuts and bruises, scratches and blood. I would hate to see what I looked like.

I crossed back in front of the amazing waterfall that poured sunshine and the woman I had met earlier was there with her dog! She was resting. Her dog decided to try to clean up the scratches on my legs a bit (ha ha!). We chatted a bit and she moved on. I stayed and tried to get some more photos of the falls and take a rest. Oh, and to use the water to wash my arm which has a pretty serious scratch(es).

But, gosh darn it, I did it! I am still on the path. I can still walk. My body is sustaining me. This is such a big deal, you have no idea. I was misdiagnosed for at least 20 years. To be able to do this is the most awesomely amazing thing ever. My muscles don’t even hurt as much today as they did on days the inflammation from being celiac made them hurt. (That was a bad sentence, sorry.)

I kept going. And I made it back to my car by about 5:00 p.m.

The quest was complete.

I am proud that I had the perseverance to keep on pushing through. My blood tests still say “alert” on the iron portion, but it is improving. My ankles and feet are okay today. My right arm and right shin are pretty banged up, but as long as nobody touches them (!) I will be fine.

The return hike took 2 hours. It took me 4 hours to go up.

Walking or hiking as a spiritual practice, for me, is typically about opening myself up to the images around me. Receiving images that I sometimes share here or on my blog. This time, though, it transformed into something else. Instead of receiving the beauty around me, I had to dig deep to connect to the strength of the earth, strength of my faith, and to the strength in my own body in order to find sustenance for the journey. This is a new kind of spiritual practice for me.  I had thought, Monday night, that I would not be eager to repeat this experience. But I am. Focusing on putting one foot in front of the other in this way gave me a faith in myself that I sometimes lack. Especially in my own body’s ability to sustain me. That is my new story. I trust my body.

Blessed be.

Shalom and Amen.

~Chaplain Terri

Adapted from a post at my blog. Trials on the Trail.

© 2013, post & photos, Terri Stewart, All rights reserved

terriTERRI STEWART is Into the Bardo’s  Sunday chaplain, senior content editor, and site co-administrator. She comes from an eclectic background and considers herself to be grounded in contemplation and justice. She is the Director and Founder of the Youth Chaplaincy Coalition that serves youth affected by the justice system. As a graduate of Seattle University’s School of Theology and Ministry, she earned her Master’s of Divinity and a Post-Master’s Certificate in Spiritual Direction with honors and is a rare United Methodist student in the Jesuit Honor Society, Alpha Sigma Nu. She is a contributing author to the Abingdon Worship Annual.

Her online presence is “Cloaked Monk.” This speaks to her grounding in contemplative arts and the need to live it out in the world. The cloak is the disguise of normalcy as she advocates for justice and peace. You can find her at www.cloakedmonk.com, www.twitter.com/cloakedmonk, and www.facebook.com/cloakedmonk.  To reach her for conversation, send a note to cloakedmonk@outlook.com

Connecting to Our Story

New Life, New Story
New Life, New Story

Often times, we look back at our lives and we can see the story. But is that story really the heart of the matter? How do we connect to the heart of our story in the present moment? Taking meaning from what is now to illuminate what was then.

At the core of every moment lies the heart of the cosmos, and my heart, and yours.

~Margaret D. McGee, Haiku–the Sacred Art

Today, I’d like to try a technique that Margaret McGee teaches in her book referenced above. She uses it to teach haiku. If you feel comfortable with that, I would definitely encourage you! If you feel there is another creative form calling forth from you, then use that–music, dance, poetry.

You will need up to 20 minutes for this exercise. Review all the steps before you start, unless you’re like me, in which case you just jump in!

Make a chart something like this (you probably will need extra room under sight!):

table

Now, if it is possible, find a nice place outside to sit comfortably and to take in your surroundings.

Relax, breathe deeply, look around.

  • Now–What do you smell? It’s spring–are there flowers blooming? Can you smell them? Not all smells are serene! It could be something else altogether!
  • Then–Close your eyes. Let go and stroll through your memories. Is there a particular scent from your past (last week? childhood?) that is arising for you?
  • Now–Write down the first thing you see! And keep on filling it in. Our eyes can take in so many things! We can see, arguably, over 100,000 different colors! What words can you create that describes the individuality in what you see?
  • Then–Close your eyes. Let go and stroll through your memories. Is there a particular color or scene from your past that is arising for you?

Continue on in this pattern for each category.

Now, get a fresh sheet of paper or use the back of your grid. Choose a few images from your lists that are resonating with you and with each other. These images may all be from the present moment or they may be from past moments. In particular, if you want to use the present to cast meaning on your past story, search for threads that connect across time.

Go and do! Create your artwork (or soulwork) in haiku, other poetry forms, photography, collage, painting, mandala, essay, etc. Whatever way calls to you. Take time now to make meaning and to add to the depth and meaning of your own story.

table2

For me, what is resonating is the bitterness of coffee, addiction, wind that is too strong. Yikes–what can I do with that?

stormy winds of spring

whistle through my breaking heart–

promises unkept

Aaah, well, this exercise today seems to have brought up some memories. What is clear to me is that our stories are never finished. We can continue to add meaning and to find new meaning and to have alternate meanings! A surplus of meaning.

The full story behind this new story has been started before if you would like to read it.

Shalom,

Chaplain Terri

© 2013, essay, haiku, and photograph, Terri Stewart, all rights reserved

Terri StewartTERRI STEWART is Into the Bardo’s  Sunday Chaplain, Senior Content Editor, and Site Co-administrator. She comes from an eclectic background and considers herself to be grounded in contemplation and justice. She is the Director and Founder of the Youth Chaplaincy Coalition that serves youth affected by the justice system. As a recent graduate of Seattle University’s School of Theology and Ministry, she earned her Master’s of Divinity and a Post-Master’s Certificate in Spiritual Direction with honors and is a rare United Methodist student in the Jesuit Honor Society, Alpha Sigma Nu. She is a contributing author to the Abingdon Worship Annual.

Her online presence is “Cloaked Monk.” This speaks to her grounding in contemplative arts (photography, mandala, poetry) and the need to live it out in the world. The cloak is the disguise of normalcy as she advocates for justice and peace. You can find her at www.cloakedmonk.com, www.twitter.com/cloakedmonk,  and  www.facebook.com/cloakedmonk.  To reach her for conversation, send a note to cloakedmonk@outlook.com.

What are you witness to?

tracy-arm-fjord-copy

What are you witness to? What story have you seen? Where has grace moved in your life?

I’ve just returned from vacation. There were so many stories told if I just slowed down and listened or watched. There was the mother holding a young child’s hands as he ran along the pool’s edge; the young man from Indonesia who works day after day with no days off; the staff who rush to the port side of the boat so they can see where we are going or have been, their only contact with a new world from a distance or from behind a camera.

Grace moved in my heart at every encounter with the people and with the striking depth of beauty that we encountered in the natural beauty of Alaska and the surrounding area. Grace moved in my heart when I was able to experience living through the eyes of compassion in this rarefied environment. Love, beauty, and grace coalescing in my rib cage.

I wrote a series of haiku witnessing to the stark beauty in the Tracy Arm Fjord that I offer here along with a photo from that day.  These haiku were primarily inspired by the waters while we were entering into the Tracy Arm Fjord, which were quite different from the waters once we were sitting still.  The arrival waters were deeper, grayer, more choppy and more mysterious.

The photo is from a moment of stillness in waters littered with small icebergs. Click on the photo to see an expanded view. To browse through the unedited photos, you can go to my flickr site.

glacier fed wind

whips across cresting waters

reflecting sun’s glory

frenzied wind

stirring waters to white peaks

be still my soul

shrouded grey waters

revealing iceberg tips

depths hidden

– Terri Stewart

© 2013, essay, haiku, and photograph, Terri Stewart, all rights reserved

Terri StewartTERRI STEWART is Into the Bardo’s  Sunday Chaplain, Senior Content Editor, and Site Co-administrator. She comes from an eclectic background and considers herself to be grounded in contemplation and justice. She is the Director and Founder of the Youth Chaplaincy Coalition that serves youth affected by the justice system. As a recent graduate of Seattle University’s School of Theology and Ministry, she earned her Master’s of Divinity and a Post-Master’s Certificate in Spiritual Direction with honors and is a rare United Methodist student in the Jesuit Honor Society, Alpha Sigma Nu. She is a contributing author to the Abingdon Worship Annual.

Her online presence is “Cloaked Monk.” This speaks to her grounding in contemplative arts (photography, mandala, poetry) and the need to live it out in the world. The cloak is the disguise of normalcy as she advocates for justice and peace. You can find her at www.cloakedmonk.com, www.twitter.com/cloakedmonk,  and  www.facebook.com/cloakedmonk.  To reach her for conversation, send a note to cloakedmonk@outlook.com.

Enter the Story

St. Ignatius of Loyola, Image from WikiMedia Commons
St. Ignatius of Loyola, Image from WikiMedia Commons

One of the spiritual exercises that St. Ignatius of Loyola recommended was entering the story of scripture using your imagination. Using all your senses, imagine yourself in the story. Today, I am offering this exercise to you.

Below is a story that appeals to me from the Gospel of John. You do not have to be Christian to appreciate the point of this story, I believe. But if you would rather gather another story and do this exercise, I would encourage you to do that!

Sit relaxed, place your feet flat on the ground and read the story. Then close your eyes and reconstruct the scene in your  imagination. What is going on with the men and women in the scene? What do the characters look like? How do the characters react to each other? What are the people saying to one another? What emotions fill their words? As you enter into the scene, sometimes there is the desire to be there. You could place yourself in the scene as one of the characters in the story or as someone brand new.

Early in the morning Jesus came again to the temple. All the people came to him and he sat down and began to teach them. The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery; and making her stand before all of them, they said to him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They said this to test him, so that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” And once again he bent down and wrote on the ground. When they heard it, they went away, one by one, beginning with the elders; and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus straightened up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”  She said, “No one, sir.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.”

What do you smell? See? Can you feel anything? Can you imagine writing in the dirt? What would you write? Are there smells? Can you hear anything? Is your intuitive sense telling you anything? Where are you in the story? Who are you in the story? What is your story?

Shalom and Amen.

Chaplain Terri

© 2013, post and video, Terri Stewart, All rights reserved

Terri StewartTERRI STEWART is Into the Bardo’s  Sunday Chaplain, Senior Content Editor, and Site Co-administrator. She comes from an eclectic background and considers herself to be grounded in contemplation and justice. She is the Director and Founder of the Youth Chaplaincy Coalition that serves youth affected by the justice system. As a recent graduate of Seattle University’s School of Theology and Ministry, she earned her Master’s of Divinity and a Post-Master’s Certificate in Spiritual Direction with honors and is a rare United Methodist student in the Jesuit Honor Society, Alpha Sigma Nu. She is a contributing author to the Abingdon Worship Annual.

Her online presence is “Cloaked Monk.” This speaks to her grounding in contemplative arts (photography, mandala, poetry) and the need to live it out in the world. The cloak is the disguise of normalcy as she advocates for justice and peace. You can find her at www.cloakedmonk.com, www.twitter.com/cloakedmonk,  and  www.facebook.com/cloakedmonk.  To reach her for conversation, send a note to cloakedmonk@outlook.com.

Candle Gazing and a Contemplative Tale

Today’s practice is two tales set to a video recording of three candles. I will confess that this was done in my living room and, well, the candles are not as flickery on the video as they were in my living room. I would suggest getting a candle and looking at it instead of the video screen! Or simply closing your eyes and listening.

Candle gazing is a contemplative meditation technique. In this manner, instead of closing your eyes, you let your eyes rest on the flame of a candle. Let your gaze rest softly, neither focusing too hard or letting the candle leave your gaze. Stay with the candle as it dances and let your mind be free.

This video is about 4 1/2 minutes long. There are a couple of brief moments of silence. Stay with the silence and get through to the other side.

The stories are from one of my favorite books, “Peace Tales: World Folktales to Talk About” by Margaret Read MacDonald. This book found us when my kids were in elementary school. (My youngest is graduating this year! Yikes!!)

Sit back. Relax. Get comfortable. Become grounded. Now listen with your heart.

 

Namaste, salām, shalom.

 

© 2013, post and video, Terri Stewart, All rights reserved

Terri StewartTERRI STEWART is Into the Bardo’s  Sunday evening chaplain. You can expect a special post from her each week. She comes from an eclectic background and considers herself to be grounded in contemplation and justice. She is the Director and Founder of the Youth Chaplaincy Coalition that serves youth affected by the justice system. As a recent graduate of Seattle University’s School of Theology and Ministry, she earned her Master’s of Divinity and a Post-Master’s Certificate in Spiritual Direction with honors and is a rare United Methodist student in the Jesuit Honor Society, Alpha Sigma Nu. She is a contributing author to the Abingdon Worship Annual.

Her online presence is “Cloaked Monk.” This speaks to her grounding in contemplative arts (photography, mandala, poetry) and the need to live it out in the world. The cloak is the disguise of normalcy as she advocates for justice and peace. You can find her at www.cloakedmonk.com,www.twitter.com/cloakedmonk, and www.facebook.com/cloakedmonk.  To reach her for conversation, send a note to cloakedmonk@outlook.com.

Why We Shout in Anger

377px-VishnuvishvarupaA Hindu saint who was visiting river Ganges to take bath found a group of family members on the banks, shouting in anger at each other. He turned to his disciples smiled and asked.

‘Why do people shout in anger shout at each other?’

Disciples thought for a while, one of them said, ‘Because we lose our calm, we shout.’

‘But, why should you shout when the other person is just next to you? You can as well tell him what you have to say in a soft manner, ‘asked the saint.

Disciples gave some other answers but none satisfied the other disciples. Finally the saint explained, .

‘When two people are angry at each other, their hearts distance a lot. To cover that distance they must shout to be able to hear each other. The angrier they are, the stronger they will have to shout to hear each other to cover that great distance.

What happens when two people fall in love? They don’t shout at each other but talk softly, Because their hearts are very close. The distance between them is either nonexistent or very small…’

The saint continued, ‘When they love each other even more, what happens? They do not speak, only whisper and they get even closer to each other in their love. Finally they even need not whisper, they only look at each other and that’s all. That is how close two people are when they love each other.’

He looked at his disciples and said.

‘So when you argue do not let your hearts get distant, Do not say words that distance each other more, or else there will come a day when the distance is so great that you will not find the path to return.’
-Author Unknown.

Thank you to Kris Lee for bringing this story to my attention.
Photo Illustration ~ Krishna (Hindu avatar)via Wikipedia and in the public domain.

– Terri Stewart

mailTERRI STEWART is Into the Bardo’s Chaplain, Sr. Consulting Editor, and Site Co-administrator. She comes from an eclectic background and considers herself to be grounded in contemplation and justice. She is the Director and Founder of the Youth Chaplaincy Coalition that serves youth affected by the justice system. As a recent graduate of Seattle University’s School of Theology and Ministry, she earned her Master’s of Divinity and a Post-Master’s Certificate in Spiritual Direction with honors and is a rare United Methodist student in the Jesuit Honor Society, Alpha Sigma Nu. She is a contributing author to the Abingdon Worship Annual.
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Her online presence is Cloaked Monk.This speaks to her grounding in contemplative arts (photography, mandala, poetry) and the need to live it out in the world. The cloak is the disguise of normalcy as she advocates for justice and peace. You can find her at www.cloakedmonk.com,www.twitter.com/cloakedmonk, and www.facebook.com/cloakedmonk.  To reach her for conversation, send a note to cloakedmonk@outlook.com.