Thursday, October 24, 2013

October's Interview: Cindy Garis and Exploring Variety in Spiritual Practice

On the fourth Thursday of each month I will introduce you to someone whom I look up to as a spiritual friend and teacher. The focus of my questions is on their spiritual practices and what nurtures their deepening spirituality.

This month meet Cindy Garis whom I met when we were beginning our training as spiritual directors through Oasis Ministries for Spiritual Development. Cindy, who is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ, has been the executive director of Oasis since 2004. She received her M.Div from Lancaster Theological Seminary (Lancaster, PA) and served six years as co-pastor for a congregation in Lebanon, PA, before beginning her ministry with Oasis. Cindy leads prayer retreats for congregations and small groups, including a favorite one with the theme of Wizard of Oz. 

Please describe your spiritual practice? What do you identify as your main spiritual practice?

My main spiritual practice right now is mindfulness, but walking, forgiveness, and playing with the dog are part of my spiritual practice as well. 

Every morning and evening I practice the basic mindfulness breath meditation for at least five minutes, but perhaps up to 30 minutes. What that means is that I focus on my breath. I don't breathe differently, but am aware of my breath as it flows in and out and through my body.

How did that become your main practice?

It actually became my primary practice after I was invited to lead a workshop entitled "A Mindful Approach to Stress Reduction." I found it to be so helpful in the way it moved me to be present to what is, right now, not in the future or the past. 

I had a similar experience with meditation when I was asked to substitute for someone who was supposed to teach a class on meditation techniques. By preparing for the class, I converted myself to a practice of meditation. 

When I asked about your main spiritual practice you said mindfulness is the key one "right now." What other spiritual practices have been or are important to you?

Honestly, I find that I need variety in my life, and my spiritual practice is no different. So while mindfulness has become very important in order to keep my life grounded, I would say that many other practices have held the primary role at one time or another.

For example?

I find that walking in nature is very sacred to me. Hiking, walking a labyrinth, even walking the dog is holy time. It often clears my head and becomes prayerful activity...a chance to be reminded of God's creative presence on a grand and large scale, but also on a small scale. 

When I have led retreats, I have invited participants to make a hole on an index card with a paper hole punch and then take that index card outside and look through the hole with an "attentive gaze," focusing on something specific. What happens in that exercise is that we notice the Cosmic Creator in the very small. Perhaps it is a bug or a leaf or bark on a tree. The hole in the card helps us focus our attention. 

Similar attentiveness can be aided by using a flashlight at night to help you focus your gaze. Or if you are walking a labyrinth, wear a veil or head covering, so that all you are able to see is the next step.

I love this idea and can't wait to try it myself. Any other practices you care to mention?

Group spiritual direction or group contemplation. I am amazed at how much I enjoy sitting in silence WITH others. Again, it helps me remain focused and more centered. It also reminds me that being a contemplative in this world might make you a bit counter-cultural, but you do have company.

I remember when I was attending the Spiritual Direction for Spiritual Guides two-year program at Oasis, I could hardly wait for the morning circle time when we would all gather in silence. It was so powerful to sit in silence with others. You mentioned the practice of forgiveness. Say more, please.

Both the practice of forgiveness and the practice of play are important to me on my spiritual journey because they help me not take myself too seriously. They remind me I am not the center of the universe. Love is. They help me celebrate imperfection and connect with all of humanity.

What hints or advice do you have for someone developing a spiritual practice?

Don't give up! Spiritual practice is about "practicing," not "mastering." That's why I like the term "spiritual practice" a bit more than "spiritual discipline." I am not a very disciplined person, but I can practice again and again and again. 

Spiritual practices are about noticing...noticing the sacred in the ordinary. For me, it is recognizing how I notice God or the sacred in the everyday of life. 

 Noticing how we notice. Can you give an example? 

Well, I,  at times play Candy Crush Saga. Yep, an addicting matching game app. Recently, I found myself asking, "Now what does Candy Crush have to teach me about the contemplative life?" What I discovered is that it reminded me to be focused on the invitation, not on the distraction. In Candy Crush, if it asks you to "clear all the jellies," do not get distracted by the blinking candy pieces. In my every day life, I am reminded to focus on what God's 
invitation is, instead of focusing on other stressors or distractions. 

Any book titles or other resources you care to recommend that would support my readers on their journey?

The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown

Full Catastrophe Living by Jon Kabat-Zinn
Also, visit Ronald Siegel's The Mindfulness Solution website for more information and to listen to various mindful meditations.

Thank you Cindy for sharing insights into your spiritual practices and extending the invitation to notice what and how we are noticing. Not only are you are a blessing in my life, but so is Oasis Ministries for Spiritual Development. 

Oasis Ministries located in Camp Hill, Pa is an ecumenical Christian ministry that brings together people who long to listen for and encounter the Holy Spirit and invites them to center their everyday lives deep in God. Single-day gatherings, retreats, pilgrimages, short-term and long-term courses form individuals into communities that nurture quiet prayer and open up souls to discover and practice God's presence. Since 1988, they have been teaching people how to companion others on their spiritual journey, listening to people's longing for Divine Love.

An Invitation

What questions do you have for Cindy? What are you noticing as you are noticing your encounters with the Holy in your everyday life? Post your comments and questions. 



  1. I want so simply thank Nancy for inviting me to reflect on my spiritual practice. I welcome your questions and comments... and I also invite you to join in Oasis Ministries' 25th Anniversary Celebration -- you all are invited to dinner on November 24, 2013 in Reading PA. Learn more at

    1. I so wish I could join you at the special dinner. Oasis has played a very important part in my spiritual life, and I am very grateful. Thanks, again, Cindy for your willingness to be interviewed. I know Clearing the Space readers will benefit from your insights.


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