“If one has courage, nothing can dim the light that shines from within.”
By now many of you will have heard the story of Confections Bakery in a small East Texas town. An innocent post to social media of their rainbow iced cookies with the heading “More LOVE, Less Hate” in honor of Pride Month quickly led to cancelled orders, unfriending on social media and hate messages.
In the bubble I live and work in here in Austin, I often forget that there are people still so frightened by people loving people in ways unimaginable to them that they lash out in hate.
In reading about the initial reaction to Confections Bakery and the ultimate triumph of love and support beyond their imagining, I was reminded that courage is sadly still needed to support love in all its variations.
Reporter Cat Cardenas shared in Texas Monthly’s article about what happened: “In a screenshot posted to the shop’s Instagram story, one woman wrote, ‘I just wanted you to know that baking rainbow Pride cookies is an act of courage and love,’ signing off ‘Lesbian, grandmother, & cookie-lover.'”
Of course “More LOVE, Less Hate” also applies to how we respond to those with a different point of view. Sometimes confrontation is unavoidable when lives or livelihoods are threatened, but overwhelming an East Texas town with loving support for their bakery rather than challenging critics can touch lives and open hearts beyond anyone’s imagining.
May you find the courage to be more kind, loving, and open to those different from you. And may you remember the gift of all the colors of the spectrum of light coming together – while maintaining their individual brilliance – to create something beautiful beyond measure.
But the god of good taste demands sacrifices, and it’s always the weird, quirky, awkward parts of ourselves that are first to be thrown on the pyre. Yet the weird, quirky, awkward parts are where the surprises lie and, therefore, a great deal of joy.
–Ingrid Fetell Lee
Keep Austin Weird became a slogan and rallying cry in 2000 for all that made Austin unique. As the city population continues to rapidly expand, it will be challenging to maintain Austin’s quirky personality.
The importance of this call to celebrate being weird became clear to me while reading Ingrid Fetell Lee’s chapter on “Surprise” in her book, Joyful. She points out “While good taste wants things to be simple and normal, joy thrives out on the edges of the bell curve.”
We need those edges externally to help us have the courage to internally welcome and honor the “weird, quirky, awkward parts” of us to fully shine and share our gifts with the world. Too much focus on fitting in and having “good taste” causes us to shrink and be less. From graduates embarking on their adult lives to the elderly looking at how they want to experience their remaining years, we can all benefit from revisiting parts of us long buried and taking small steps to free them.
May you find the courage to reawaken, celebrate, and share (as appropriate) those weird parts of you that make you uniquely you. And may the welcome you give all of yourself in this process ripple out into generously honoring others’ unique ways of being.
As part of Eremos’ year-long celebration of our 25th Anniversary, we were inspired to create these 25 Acts of Contemplation. We hope you’ll join us in experiencing and sharing the gift of contemplation.
Help shine the light of Eremos by exploring these 25 Acts of Contemplation over the next year. Invite family and friends to join you.
Together we can infuse the world with contemplative awareness, opening us all to more peace, love, and joy.
1. Pause for 5 minutes of silent reflection each day.
2. Try walking meditation in a quiet place outdoors.
3. Practice imbuing ordinary daily tasks with sacredness by paying exquisite attention to every sensation and detail of the experience. Feel the presence of the Divine even as you wash the dishes.
4. Pray the World Peace Prayer at Noon.
5. Select a new poem each week and ponder it daily, observing how you experience it differently from day to day.
6. Try a new movement practice like Qigong, Tai Chi, Nia, or yoga. Or go deeper into your practice.
7. Sit by an open window at dawn with the intention to increase your sense of connection with the natural world and open to inner peace as a new day unfolds.
8. Consider a daily examen to thoughtfully reflect on the day.
9. Select a creative practice like coloring mandalas and set aside time to play with single-minded focus on the sheer joy of immersing yourself in the activity – without attachment to what you create.
10. Give yourself the gift of quietude by listening to soothing music as you wind down at the end of the day.
11. Visit a labyrinth. Walk it with the intention of listening deeply for the wisdom of the Divine.
12. Journal weekly with the prompt “How is Spirit guiding me?”
13. Pick something challenging happening in the world right now and bear witness to what’s unfolding. Without trying to fix it or change it, simply acknowledge that you see the suffering.
14. Create an altar at home with natural objects, candles, images, or prayers that centers you and connects you to the Holy One.
15. Using the tradition of Lectio Divina, let spirit guide you to a sacred passage or poem and immerse yourself in its wisdom.
16. Give the gift of deep listening to a friend over a cup of tea or coffee. Without trying to solve a problem or share an opinion – just listen.
17. Experience a retreat for a day, a weekend, or longer.
18. Practice mindful eating. Turn off your electronics, use all your senses, and increase your awareness of each bite.
19. Keep a gratitude journal to focus on the good things in life, both big and small.
20. Become aware of the sacredness of life by planting a tree or garden. Nourish that life through a practice of sacred watering.
21. Reach out to a friend you haven’t spoken to for a while. Appreciate the possibility of the gift of a renewed friendship.
22. Try the Buddhist practice of Tonglen, taking in others’ pain with each in breath and sending out compassion and relief with your out breath.
23. Embark upon a Prayerful Fast from news, food, or social media.
24. Explore the practice of Visio Divina with an inspiring image, object, or work of art calling for a deeper gaze. 25. Sit in nature. Find a special tree, creek, or patch of grass and then become comfortable with just being there, quiet and still. Allow nature to soothe and refresh you.
Thank you for making a difference in the world through the gift of contemplation!
“Even if you find yourself planted under some concrete at the moment, look for the crack in the concrete to find your way out. And despite all odds, choose to bloom anyways.”
–Smita Malhotra, M.D.
This time of reemergence in the world turns out to be more unsettling than most of us could have imagined. Everyone has different experts they trust and their own interpretation of the recommendations offered.
When you find yourself overwhelmed by the stress of it all, be kind to yourself and those you’re in disagreement with. And find your way out by shifting to what makes you happy, including helping others.
“Research has shown that helping others can make us happier at work. In fact, Dr. James Fowler has found that individual happiness benefits others up to three degrees of separation in social networks. So by helping others to be happy, you are not only increasing your own happiness, but also affecting an entire community as well.” – Smita Malhotra, M.D.
May you seek and find ways to be happy and joyful in this time of transition. And may the Holy One delight you with unexpected opportunities to witness your joy spreading to and uplifting others.
P.S. The dove I wrote about and shared a picture of in last Tuesday’s newsletter had her babies! As far as my neighbors and I can tell, we think there are two squabs (name for baby doves). They are certainly spreading happiness with their arrival!
“You have a whole world of joy right at your fingertips. There’s no method you need to learn, no discipline you need to impose on yourself. The only requirement is what you already have: an openness to discovering the joy that surrounds you.”
― Ingrid Fetell Lee
“Great ideas, it has been said, come into the world as gently as doves. Perhaps then, if we listen attentively, we shall hear, amid the uproar of empires and nations, a faint flutter of wings, the gentle stirring of life and hope.” –Albert Camus
Every day I walk by this dove (shown here sitting on her nest), coming and going from my 2nd floor apartment. She has become a beacon of hope, a respite from the turmoil in the world, and a harbinger of good things to come.
Marveling at her decision to build her nest on a narrow metal pipe, my neighbors and I are hopeful her babies hatch safely and thrive. Whatever happens, her faith, trust, and patience are blessed gifts to me.
Some days she’s the dove of hope. Other days, I have called her the dove of calm, peace, acceptance, or possibilities. What would you call her? What gift can she bring you today? Perhaps like Albert Camus, you will see her as a sign of “great ideas” coming into the world.
After a weekend with Mirabai Starr offering inspiring wisdom about Mother Earth, I gazed upon this precious dove as a gift from the Divine Feminine, saying all is well.
May you find signs in nature and all around you that give you great ideas, peace and hope for the future.
“have a mind so quiet,
that you can hear doves whispering
as they rest their wings
in the rafters your silent sanctuary”
― Kate Mullane Robertson
“May the sound of this bell
penetrate deep into the cosmos
Even in the darkest spots
Living beings are able to hear it clearly
So that all suffering in them cease
Understanding comes to their hearts
And they transcend the path
Of sorrow and death.”
–Thich Nhat Hanh, excerpt from The Great Bell Chant
Many traditions use the reverberating sound of bells, chimes, or singing bowls to call people to worship or the present moment. There is something about the sound of a bell that stops us — if only for a moment — to redirect our thoughts and sometimes actions.
Our founder, Jean Springer, often used a hand chime to call people into and back from a time of reflection. Now we typically use a beautiful small bowl or even a recording of a bell on our smart phones.
Whatever your faith tradition or experience with bells, I invite you to take a moment to listen to the profound prayer offered by Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hahn and chanted by Br. Phap Niem (link below) in The Great Bell Chant. Even if you’ve heard it many times before, what if this time you invited in an even deeper peace from the bell, the chant, and the words.
May you seek out the sound of the bell to invite you into a sacred pause, a deeper peace, and a reminder that the bell rings for all.
P.S. Eremos rings in the start of our 25th year this Saturday, May 8th! While some will be with us and Mirabai Starr on Saturday, we invite you to ring a bell in thanksgiving for the dream of our founder, Jean Springer, the men and women who helped her bring Eremos to life, and for each of you for being part of this community for years to come. Thank you for being part of our contemplative community without walls!
Mother of God Rejoicing
rejoice with me.
In the midst of the petty trials
and the profound sorrows of this life,
let me catch a glimpse of your face
and dissolve into laughter.
You who “come across the waters,”
float through the rushing streams of my preoccupations
and set my heart free.
The Great Bell Chant…
Listening to the bell
I feel the afflictions in me begin to dissolve
My mind calm, my body relaxed
A smile is born on my lips
Following the sound of the bell
My breath brings me back to the safe island of mindfulness
In the garden of my heart
The flowers of Peace
― Thich Naht Hahn, excerpt from his prayer featured in The Great Bell Chant. To read the complete prayer and hear this profound chant, click here
With our 25th Anniversary approaching (May 8th), I find myself pausing often to consider this gift of contemplation Eremos has been offering for so long.
Our invitation to stillness — in whatever way is right for you — comes out of the wisdom of our founder Jean Springer in understanding what Macrina Wiederkehr speaks of in the quote above.
I find my nine years in this community strengthening my ability to sit in silence without looking at my phone, picking up a book, or seeking out conversation.
This past weekend I drove out to Wild Seed Farms in Fredericksburg, walked the trails, and then sat at a table outdoors slowly and silently eating my lunch in gratitude for following the inner guidance calling me to go there to refresh my spirit. How does the gift of contemplation support you right now?
May you take time this week to be still enough to hear, sense, or witness the presence of the Holy One.
I was listening to a recording of a flowing stream of water. There were no words and no musical accompaniment.
In those few moments of total relaxation, the world was whole, the drama of these past months faded into the past.
–Jean Springer, Founder and Spiritual Amma of Eremos.
“Our souls have always understood that everything is interconnected. And radiantly beautiful. And good.”
While out walking a week ago, I stopped to view irises blooming in an obviously untended bed in front of a house that has been vacant for months. Showing complete disregard for the lack of support or tending from anyone, these irises chose to bloom for no reason.
So many are feeling the tension rising over when and how to safely emerge from the pandemic, and despairing over the news about another shooting or the crisis at the border.
And still so many people are blooming. Whether it’s a trip to be with loved ones now that they are fully vaccinated or joyfully making plans for other events, people are finding hope and beauty everywhere.
I like to believe as Mirabai said in the quote above that “our souls have always understood that everything is interconnected.” So when one of us blooms, we help others move closer to blooming when they are ready. I know those irises helped shift something within me.
May you bloom for no reason and may your blooming enable people you’ll never meet to breathe easier, smile a bit more, feel peace in their mind and hope in their heart.
“We always think of hope as grounded in the future. That’s wrong, I think. Hope is fulfilled in the future but it depends on our ability to remember that, like Jacob [Genesis 32:22-32], we have survived everything in life to this point – and have emerged in even better form than we were when those troubles began.”
–Sr. Joan D. Chittister
What gifts from the struggles of the past year are you bringing with you as you plan for and embark upon new adventures this spring and summer?
Taking time to pause, reflect, and plan can help us move forward with hope and confidence and make the most of this spring energy.
Cathey Capers offers a beautiful reflection on the March session of her new program, Poetry of the Present (see below). Within it, you will find poems, quotes, and wisdom to inspire you for your own weekend reflection.
May you remember the strength and wisdom gained this past year as you embark upon this next phase of life. And may these memories of what you have overcome to date give you hope when fears arise.
“And forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair.”
― Khalil Gibran
“Hope is what sits by a window and waits for one more dawn, despite the fact that there isn’t an ounce of proof in tonight’s black, black sky that it can possibly come.”
― Sr. Joan D. Chittister
I’ve been privileged by being invited to offer quarterly poetry offerings through Eremos this year. Our theme, Poetry of the Present echoes and helps to unpack the theme for Eremos throughout 2021, Unfolding: Being Present to Life. Because the poetry gatherings are limited to twelve participants, and because I found our time together to be so fruitful, I wanted to share with the larger community a taste of these fruits.
Meister Eckhardt offers this powerful suggestion about the power of images…
When the soul wishes to experience something, she throws an image of the experience out in front of her and enters into her own image.
We began, as I invite you to, by allowing an image of unfolding to reveal itself.
John O’Donohue left us with this beautiful image he offered himself in his poem, Fluent:
I would love to live
like a river flows,
carried by the surprise
of its own unfolding.
What is an image of unfolding that supports your desire for Presence? What is a quality you associate with that image that appeals to you?
What emerged in our group could be translated into a poem! Fluid as a fountain, solid as a small bud, ephemeral as light, morning, day, fragrant as flowers…images as varied as ourselves that help us embody this notion of unfolding. Notable as well were the gestures that unconsciously arose to echo the expansiveness and inclusiveness of the images, and the opening or unfolding of ourselves to embrace these personal images.
Inspired by the poem My Four Year-Old Poetry Teacher, we took a journey back in time to the childhood sense of noticing and unabashed descriptions that pour forth…
…blunt and new
like the colour of the girl’s hair
in your drawing
that is neither brown nor blonde
and you tell me
it is like a paper bag
which of course it is
and how you describe
and that a frog
would feel like a bird
if you held it tight
in your hand…
Do you remember a time when things seemed more obvious? Can you return to that open sense of noticing, those sensual descriptions from your experience that bring you wholeheartedly into the present?
As we live through this Easter season, and especially following our deep freeze, we are likely noticing, more than ever, what has come through, survived, is slowly resurrecting. Perhaps this is most evident in the landscape- the new leaves unfurling, a green stem pushing through the weight of dead brown leaves. Neighbors re-sculpting the agaves. What might this suggest to us as we approach post-pandemic times?
Derek Mahon offered us a vision in his uncharacteristically hopeful poem, Everything is Going to Be All Right, which has turned out to be one of the most sought after poems throughout the pandemic.
Everything Is Going to Be All Right
How should I not be glad to contemplate
the clouds clearing beyond the dormer window
and a high tide reflected on the ceiling?
There will be dying, there will be dying,
but there is no need to go into that.
The poems flow from the hand unbidden
and the hidden source is the watchful heart.
The sun rises in spite of everything
and the far cities are beautiful and bright.
I lie here in a riot of sunlight
watching the day break and the clouds flying.
Everything is going to be all right.
~ Derek Mahon ~
Is there a word from this poem (unbidden, bright, flows), or a line, that speaks to you now? That catches your heart? Begin there, and allow words to flow through you onto a page… While a new season beckons, it is good to pause and give voice to what has passed through you in this most unprecedented of times. As John Fox, Founder of the Institute for Poetic Medicine notes:
When we listen to or read poetry, when we respond to or write it, there is a chance to slow down and notice our lives. We reflect on what’s written on the page in order to integrate what’s living in the heart.
~ John Fox
May your heart remain watchful to the unfolding present and your soul stirred to pen new words!
Note: There are only two spaces left in Cathey Capers’ June 8th session of Poetry of the Present.
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