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 my current spiritual director, Carole Kretschman, whom I first met when I took a class about Centering Prayer at Holy Wisdom Monastery in Madison. Along with being a spiritual guide, Carole is a Benedictine Oblate. She graduated from the Spiritual Guidance Training Program in Racine, WI, and from the Spiritual Deepening for Global Transformation program at the Christine Center in Willard, WI. I am so grateful she has been willing to meet with me as one of her spiritual directees.
What do you identify as your main spiritual practice?
At this time my main spiritual practice is centering prayer/meditation for 20 minutes twice a day. I have been faithful to this practice since 2004. I do two different meditations: centering prayer and a meditation given to me at a retreat by Sadhguru, a guru from India. That meditation is a combination of breath work, chanting, and silence, preceded by a few yoga poses. Both centering prayer and this type of meditation have similar effects, bringing me back to that space within which is sacred.
You introduced me to both centering prayer and Sadhguru's meditation, and I have used each at various times, finding them both to be just the right practice at the right time. Please elaborate more about how this practice became integral to your spiritual life.
I longed for a meditation practice for at least 5 years. I first attended silent retreats about 20 years ago, and I noticed how whole and at peace I felt after being on retreat. I wanted to incorporate the practice into my daily life.
I was experiencing some health problems at the time, and I inherently knew that a meditation practice would be good for me. Of course, Thomas Keating says that centering prayer does not cure a thing, except maybe pride. I suspected my pride could use some work as well!
Just because I wanted to do this, however, did not translate into success. I tried starting with five to ten minutes a day with the intention of adding more time, but that technique did not work. I would start out with the best of intentions, just like a New Year's resolution, but was not successful. Finally, I came to the conclusion that just longing for a meditation practice was also a practice. I began to talk about the fact that no matter how hard I tried, I was unable to sustain a discipline. And yet, there was this growing desire within me.
So how did the jump for longing for a practice to practicing meditation itself happen?
In 2004 I attended a retreat in Ohio led by James Finley. On our drive home I sat next to a retired UCC minister. I told him how I wanted/desired to do this and yet, I was unable to envision arising before 5:00 a.m. since I was still working at the time. He turned to me and said, "Why don't you just do it on your days off?" I thought, "I could do that!"
An Ah-Ha moment!
Yes. The following Saturday I began, and I have been faithful to that practice ever since. When I told myself I did not have to do it everyday, I was able to do it every day. I think "grace" paid me a visit.
I love the paradox of not having to do it everyday leading to doing it everyday! What have been the fruits of this practice for you?
I have more energy and more creativity since adopting this practice. I am more in touch with my intuitive self. I feel my life's journey unfolding before me. It takes no effort. It just happens. And, I am more content to live in the question or the mystery of the moment and not need answers. I am more comfortable living in the "in between spaces."
Are there other practices that are or have been important to you?
I do free writing at least five days a week. This practice, which I do by hand and not on the computer, cleanses my soul. The thoughts come out of my head and onto paper. I find I have fewer traffic jams in my thinking and fewer compulsive thoughts.
Also, I would be remiss if I did not mention the spirituality of the 12 Steps. Being a member of 12 Step programs was and is key to my spiritual growth.
The 11th step is "Sought through prayer and meditation to improve my conscious contact with God as I understood God, praying only for the knowledge of God's will for me and the strength to carry it out." Working the steps helped me discover what of my faith tradition was helpful and what needed to be changed. It is a wonderful way to live. It encourages us to be honest with ourselves, to take the blinders off and appraise our role in relationships and life.
At a particularly difficult time of my life, when I was relatively new to recovery, I decided that I would pray the following for six weeks, kind of an experiment. I prayed for 1. guidance, 2. an open mind to receive it, and 3. the strength to carry it out. I did this twice a day for six weeks on my knees. I thought that it would be worth a try, and I would only lose 5 minutes a day, if it did not work. My life started changing almost immediately because I finally got out of the driver's seat.
I have so appreciated the wisdom based on the 12 Steps you have shared in our sessions. What hints do you have for someone developing a spiritual practice?
Be gentle with yourself. We are called to be who we are. Wherever you are on the continuum is perfect in God's eyes. You are loved deeply just as you are. If you long to be more and do more, be present to that. "Here I am, and I so want to have some kind of a spiritual practice and it is not happening." Just be present and give that part of yourself who longs for more a hug.
Any book titles or other information you care to share?
Lately, I have been reading and studying evolutionary consciousness, and I feel excitement about where we are going as a global community. In addition, here are some book titles that have supported me.
* Comfortable with Uncertainty: 108 Teachings on
Cultivating Fearlessness and Compassion by Pema
* In the Sanctuary of Women by Jan Richardson
* Reaching for Personal Freedom, the new Alan-on
Thank you, Carole, for sharing your insights about spiritual practices, especially the role of longing in the creation of spiritual practice in one's life. You are a blessing in my life, and I am so grateful you are an active and loving companion on my spiritual path.
What questions do you have for Carole? What are you longing for in your spiritual life? What experiences have you had adapting a spiritual practice in your life. Post your comments and questions.