Thursday, January 23, 2014

January's Interview: Penny Andrews, Collaborating With Life

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 spirit. 

This month meet Penny Andrews whom I met when we moved to Madison and Marian Methner, a dear friend from my spiritual direction training program, mentioned she knew someone in Madison.  (Marian was the subject of an earlier guest interview. ) What a gift meeting Penny was for my life in Madison.  Penny became part of the Wise Women spirituality group I started, lending her wisdom, broad experience and ever growing perspective to our gatherings.

Penny has worked in the fields of medicine, education and mental health and is certified as a chaplain and social worker. She has an M.A. in interpersonal communication and received her D.Min in spirituality. She has been a presenter at the national, state and local levels on topics related to self-care and families, aging, creativity spirituality, and mindfulness. In 2000 she founded the MinGei Center for Co-Creation Spirituality where the current focus is the meaning of the New Cosmology in our lives. She also delights in the study of permaculture, the Transition movement for communities, grandparenting, and cooking. Meet Penny.

Penny, I remember meeting you for the first time--how generous you were to take time from your busy hospital chaplaincy schedule to meet with me--and thinking, "This is a woman whose spirituality is not only wide and deep, but is becoming wider and deeper. What were the beginnings of that growth for you?
At age 25 I took a class in Human Consciousness and at 27 I attended an all day introduction to Zen Practice. Those two experiences opened wide the power of breath work. I began a journey to become present in my life with this exposure.

Breathwork has remained my primary modality for getting out of my own way. I use it with every activity I allow conscious self-awareness to accompany me. As this permission to empty grew with time and practice, it allowed me to see more and more aspects as spiritual. In so doing, it allowed me to follow the 'clues' or 'signs and wonders' along the way.

I know you studied with Matthew Fox at the University of Creation Spirituality as our mutual friend Marian did. Was that a 'clue' you followed?
Yes, especially the afternoon learning time which was called "Art as Meditation." That opportunity opened a door for ease and further breathing into my creativity. 

Life is my practice, whether I am connected to the present or distant from it…I am a student of Life and a student of my life.

I almost want you to say that again, slowly and loudly. Where has this commitment and revelation led you?
One of the directions this has taken me is to study the Universe Story and the lessons and alignment with Life this offers. At the University of Creation Spirituality I studied with Brian Swimme, a student of Thomas Berry and of the Teillhard de Chardin lineage. 

This direction invites us to look at ourselves through the Creation story that birthed the Universe. Since we are part of that lineage, what can the Universe's unfolding teach us humans about living in greater harmony with Life and our own life?

Our Earth is challenged by our human choices, we have become a dominant species, when in reality, we need to be collaborators with Life. This is a pivotal time in how we choose to evolve. We live in a time when so much profound understanding is being offered us, and it is both thrilling and heartbreaking.

How do you stay grounded to meet the challenges of this time?
I remember what Alan Watts said, 

      The self-conscious brain, like the self-conscious heart, is a
      disorder, and manifests itself in the acute feeling of separation
      between "I" and my experience. the brain can only assume 
      its proper behavior when consciousness is doing what it is
      designed for: not writing and whirling to get out of present
      experience, but being effortlessly aware of it.

This is a time that calls us to let our hearts grow larger, to become more fearless and follow where our own spark of the 'breath of God' leads.

What truly amazes me about you is not only your ability to be present to the Present we are living, but your ability to share and to open the present, the Present to others. Please explain the work you are doing now.
Paula Hirschboeck, a Zen teacher and retired philosophy professor, and I are offering workshops on the 10 Powers of the Universe. The 10 Powers are manifestations of an ineffable source Brian Swimme names as Seamlessness, the Ground or the Source of all being. These 10 Powers, such as Emergence or the ongoing sequence of creative events, are arising and changing simultaneously throughout the cosmos. 

These workshops encourage participants to know these powers AS ourselves, asking the question How do we 'touch' these power and then actualize them in daily life grounded in contemplative action for the world? 

It is life changing as one glimpses at the largest understanding of Life and apply it to my own life. It is the practice that will take the rest of my life to unfold.

Penny, I am so grateful for your unfolding and your willingness to share what you are learning and practicing.  

Empowered by the Cosmos, The Ten Powers of the Universe, An Opportunity for Personal and Collective Awakening is being offered by Penny and Paula Hirschboeck March 14-16 at the Siena Retreat Center, Racine, WI.

Penny recommends the following resources:
The Journey of the Universe, a DVD
The Universe Story by Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry

An Invitation
What intrigues you about the work Penny is doing? In what ways are you present to the Present you are living, we are all living? What 'clues' for discovery are teasing you? I would love to know. 

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