Beginning to Become through Contemplative Practices

I’m pleased to share a guest post from Laura Cavanaugh of Sacred Pilgrim. I discovered Laura through her daily Lectio Divina podcast. Such a beautiful podcast that I highly recommend to you.

The first time I tried centering prayer, I cried.  I mean cried.  

Sobbed, really.  

I was finishing up my seminary degree, burned out and disillusioned, consumed with self-doubt and the uncertainty over that nebulous next step in my life.  My spiritual director sat quietly with me in her office that early autumn afternoon, wordlessly handing me a second box of tissues.  

After a while, when I had collected the broken pieces of myself into a little pile on the couch and sat there sniffling and twisting a crumpled tissue in my hands, she very gently said, “I’m sensing that you’re experiencing some emotion right now.”  

I laughed and wiped away fresh tears.  Understatement of the year.

Back in those seminary days, the experience of beginning to engage in the contemplative life was extremely painful.

Like a limb that has gone to sleep and is just waking up, I had unknowingly cut myself off from the life-giving blood supply of self-care and was dragging around the dead weight of those vital parts of myself that had gone to sleep.

Lectio Divina as a Bridge

Beginning a centering prayer practice felt like flooding those deadened parts of myself with life again – only to discover that those parts of myself were in sorry shape and deeply in need of healing and restoration.  

Lectio Divina, which is a Latin term meaning sacred reading, is the contemplative practice I first found to be most accessible to me.  

I’ve used it as a bridge leading into other practices like centering prayer, Visio Divina, and walking the labyrinth.

In Lectio Divina, my mind is allowed to play a role in a passive way by learning to release control and observe what word or phrase wants to be noticed without trying to analyse why.  Then, my emotions are engaged as I continue to observe what the word or phrase evokes in me.  

I can look at the feeling, the memory, the association that arises in a more objective way–simply noticing and choosing to be present with whatever arises without analysis or judgment.  

Finally, I am invited to respond in some way, however, small or inconsequential that response might seem.

What I like about Lectio Divina is the way it gently draws me from my overactive brain through my emotion, memory, and imagination into the deep center of myself where the presence of the Holy is actively working underneath the awareness of my conscious self.  

Instead of the overwhelming flood of emotion and swirl of unhelpful thoughts, I experienced in my first attempt at centering prayer, Lectio Divina’s structure helped me access those sleeping parts of myself in stages and begin to wake them gently.

Once I became grounded and centered through my gradual awakening to the invitation within me, I was able to return to centering prayer. 

I began to learn to rest quietly in the presence of the Holy as the hard work of healing and rebuilding is done within me. This is all any contemplative practice requires of us however tentatively and imperfectly we may attempt it.

The Contemplative Life is a Different Way

Today’s society is not designed for the contemplative life.  Our brains and our bodies are in constant overdrive and always running on empty.

Everything is hurried, rush, rush!  Everything is getting and achieve and one-up.

We fill up our days with productivity and have lost touch with the very basic and necessary practices of self-care that allow us to become our best selves in the world, our true selves.

The contemplative life offers a different way, inviting us to learn to simply be and to realize that be-ing is the most productive and effective way of do-ing.  But we can’t learn be-ing until we first un-learn that false message that do-ing is our true identity.  

We become our job titles and in the process lose touch with our true purpose in the world.  Deconstruction–down to the very foundations of ourselves–is required before we can begin effective reconstruction.

Contemplative practices, at their core, are a way of creating space within our days and within ourselves for this necessary work of deconstruction and reconstruction to happen. 

We begin to learn through these practices that we are not effective at doing the work ourselves.  

Our work is in the showing up, in the allowing, in the choosing to let go.  

Our work is in the getting out-of-the-way of the One who is breaking down and building back up within us.  Laura Cavanaugh

Our work is in the resting, in the be-ing, as we gently wake up to the true self just waiting to become in us.

So, my friends, what is being invited to become in you? Will you lean in?

Laura Cavanaugh

Find out more about Laura at Sacred Pilgrim. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

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