Love What it Loves

by Kate Gerwin

“You can’t have my heart and you don’t own my mind but, do what you want, what you want with my body.” –Lady Gaga

Lady Gaga is a singer whose shock value tends to come more from her over the top ensembles than her lyrics; her latest song however, struck a chord with me.

Undertones of sexual assault aside, the lyrics aren’t any more sexually provocative than others you hear on any pop radio station and Gaga has every right to decide what she wants to do with her body.

What upsets me is the fact that the song speaks to a larger cultural attitude towards the body; one in which the body is at best, a vehicle to further the needs of the “real” parts of us (the heart and mind) and one in which it is, at worst, treated with apathy and abuse.

Gaga is not the first or the only one to voice the belief that the body is “less than” the other aspects of the self; turn on the radio or the television or peruse social media and it is not hard to see that Gnosticism is alive and well in modern day America. As a culture, we are conflicted masters of our bodily selves, oscillating between stringent contempt and debilitating over-indulgence.

On the one hand, we judge our bodies for what they are not, restrict them, deny them the basics of what they need (food, sleep, rest, touch, nature, play), push them beyond healthy limits and then chastise them for not working “like they should.” On the other, we abuse our bodies with over-indulgence and addiction. Even the arguments made for healthy living tend to come back to looking better and living longer, implying that the only two things that the body has to offer are attractiveness and longevity.

Religion and spirituality are often in on it too. Whether it is through the condemnation of sexuality, harsh ascetic practices or even just the subtle implication that “real” spirituality lies beyond our embodied selves, spirituality can proliferate the belief that the body need not be as valued as our hearts or minds.

What about a view of the body that cherishes it just as much as one would cherish a child? What about a view founded on acceptance, curiosity, appreciation and joy? One that celebrates the body not just as an essential part of the self, but as the true meeting place of self? What about a spirituality that understands that holiness or enlightenment is an embodied process? A view that tells us, in the words of the poet Mary Oliver:

“You do not have to be good. You do not have to walk on your knees for a hundred miles through the desert; you only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.”

Living With Choice

by Andrea Noel

Often I live each day not considering the fact that I have a choice. I have the choice to be present to life or to avoid it. I have the choice to be compassionate with life or to be indifferent to it. I have the choice to obsess about being in control or to relax into the freedom of letting go.Instead of considering my choices, I typically get consumed by fear, haste and the need to react. However, the beauty of life is that we are always being invited back into right relationship with creation, God, and ourselves.

The fall season has impressed on me the need to cultivate a ‘pace for grace,’ and is inviting me to create spaciousness to better notice choices. This season of slowing down reminds me that I am invited to choose all the time, and that I need to be more present in the choosing. My choices give me power to manifest the life I want to experience. Noticing what I choose also holds me accountable to owning my experiences and gives me the opportunity to change them.

As fall slowly shifts into winter, I choose to continue nurturing a ‘pace for grace.’ I choose openness, to be more aware of what options are in front me. I choose patience, to be more present to process. Finally, I choose to be in my choices, empowering myself to live more passionately.

Coming Home

by Kate Gerwin

“After the Ecstasy… the laundry.” – Jack Kornfield

This past weekend, I went on a retreat—or perhaps more accurately stated, this past weekend, I came back from a retreat.

The retreat itself was one of the most soul-touching experiences I have ever had. I showed up on Friday, resistant and jaded (just the right temperature for cooking, my teacher would say) and left on Sunday with deep new wells of life. It was humbling, empowering and one of those rare moments where you realize you are watching your life change.

So overall, a pretty good weekend.

To give some context, I am somewhat familiar with retreats; I’ve been on more than a few and led many more and perhaps most importantly, I had finally learned the art of fitting a sleeping bag, pillow and all my clothes into one tiny duffle. My experiences have run the gamut, from deeply meaningful and life-altering, to extraordinarily empty and stale.

One thing about retreats that has always intrigued me is coming back home, as the experience is always different. At times I have been so raw and broken open that coming home has been like waking up under harshly lit florescent lights. Sometimes I have been so deeply moved that my attempts to share my experience have been totally futile. And on other occasions, I have been so frustrated, cynical or bored that I haven’t been able to make it to the car fast enough; impatient to get back to the distracting business of my ‘real’ life.

I think the greatest gift that this particular weekend gave me, was the gift of coming home.

Jack Kornfield, beloved author and meditation teacher, sums up the beauty of “coming home” in his book, “After the Ecstasy, the Laundry.” Kornfield writes about how moments of transcendence can be so powerful and life-changing; and yet, after such realization, we are faced, or gifted, with the day-to-day-living of our lives. These are the real moments of miracle and mystery. For Kornfield the moments of ecstasy and enlightenment are worth very little if they do not help the laundry become a luminous or sacred task.

As we were about to leave the retreat, my teacher, mindful that we would all be returning to our proverbial laundry, left us with this quote by Buddhist meditation master, Thich Nhat Hanh, from his sermon about the life of Jesus:

“The real miracle is not to walk on water. The miracle is to walk on the green earth, dwelling deeply in the present moment and feeling truly alive.”

I am off to do some laundry!

Walking with the Ancestors

by Rev. Shelly Mohnkern

Lo, there do I see my father.
Lo, there do I see my mother, my sisters and my brothers.
Lo, there do I see the line of my people back to the beginning.
Lo, they do call to me.
They bid me take my place on Asgard in the halls of Valhalla,
Where the brave may live forever.

-The 13th Warrior

As the year slips into cooler weather and the earth into dormancy, we enter in a time of reflection amidst our academic learning. This is the time where our thoughts divide between school and the upcoming season of celebrations, family, and light. It is a natural part of the waning of the year. We are reminded that, like the year itself, life is a cycle, carried on after us by our children or the children we know, and perpetuated before us by the ancestors.

The crisp smell in the air always puts me in the mindset of remembrance. This is the time of year when we remember those who went before us, and honor their journeys both in life and afterwards. We cleanse our sacred spaces, we light candles, we care for graves and spaces of memory and we gather together and share our histories. We celebrate Samhain, All Saints Day, Dia De Los Muertes, and All Souls Day. For some this is a solitary time, and for others, a time of community.

Honoring our ancestors cultivates a sense of kinship, family loyalty and lineage. It celebrates the great Mystery of who we are, where we come from, and where we go when the familiarities of living leave us. It deepens our sense of history and how it has shaped us. Honoring ancestors is a tradition that is found world-wide, in almost every culture, class, political system and technical stage of advancement. Even those who have never known their genetic ancestors can find ancestral connection through those that raised them, those that taught and shaped them, and the society that surrounds them.

My ancestors have led me here, to pastoral counseling, and to Loyola. The lessons given to me by my parents, my grandparents, my family history, the tales I have heard from my loved ones about their families, and everything my community brought me up to believe in, to feel and to seek, have culminated in this path, at this time, in this place. I open my ears, my heart, and my spirit, and I walk with them for a time, giving thanks and reconnecting and finding myself at the heart of it.

 

The Power of Language

by Dave Gosling

A single word can brighten the face

of one who knows the value of words,

Ripened in silence, a single word

acquires a great energy of work.

War is cut short by a word,

and a word heals the wounds,

and there’s a word that changes

poison into butter and honey.

Let a word mature inside yourself.

Withhold the unripened thought.

Come and understand the kind of word

that reduces money and riches to dust.

Know when to speak a word

and when not to speak at all.

A single word turns a universe of hell

into eight paradises.

Follow the Way. Don’t be fooled

by what you already know. Be watchful.

Reflect before you speak.

A foolish mouth can brand your soul

Yunus, say one last thing

about the power of words–

Only the word “I”

divides me from God.

Yunus Emre

Every major faith tradition warns against the uninhibited use of words. The wise understand that human beings possess a finite amount of energy. To speak is to use that energy, to direct it toward an object with intent. A hurtful word to a friend, a shallow or pointless conversation, an internal dialogue with one’s own egoistic agenda, a curse against the universe….these are all ways language can deprive us of energy otherwise allocated for the accomplishment of Good.  Like Yunus, we should hold our words until the right one approaches, the one that “changes poison into butter and honey”.

The magnitude of this challenge is clear in the current global landscape. The rise of technology has not only given us a variety of platforms from which to use our words carelessly and often; it has also opened our psyches and souls to the millions of meaningless words spoken by others. We are encouraged to push the entirety of our lives–our hopes, dreams, desires, and accomplishments–onto others, feeding our habits for constant attention, affection, and desirability. How, then, can we possibly withhold words until they ripen with meaning and compassion?

Counselors are blessed with a professional setting that encourages this process of patience and growth. Words, when they are spoken, must be carefully weighed and measured. They must reflect the professional knowledge of the speaker, but only in relation to the patient’s anguish and concern. They must also contain compassion and understanding. They may even be graced by the light touch of Spirit. Too many words and the power of the message is lost. Too few and the message remains unclear, muddled. May we all learn with Yunus how to “withhold the unripened thought” until the timing is right. It seems a great challenge, but one that also contains an immense blessing in its power to change and improve lives.

Letting Go

by Dayna Pizzigoni

“Slowly, she celebrated the sacrament of letting go.

First she surrendered her green,

then the orange, yellow, and red…” Macrina Wiederkehr

About two years ago I decide to let go. I let go of my insistence to predict God’s plan for my life. I had just experienced a falling apart, a heart-break that invited me into a profound surrender. I held on to only two things: hope and a desire to know God anew.

I let go of my idea of God’s will for me because I had no answers anymore and the search seemed too clouded by my fear and will to control it. My sacrament of letting go began with re-discovering the grace inside myself. I couldn’t start to get to know God any other way. I had to accept the Truth inside me before I could trust the Truth anywhere else.

I can’t tell you how I got to know myself again. I did not take on this self-discovery like a project or goal that I had to carefully note and analyze. I accepted the beauty of uncertainty and let the process unfold. (By the way, this feat, by this recovering perfectionist, would not have happened without the gift of being broken open.) I remember doing things like going to yoga, eating at a restaurant by myself, attending mass during the week, seeing my therapist, and allowing time and space in my life to do whatever I felt like (eg coloring).

“And then, the sacrament of waiting began

The sunrise and sunset watched with

Tenderness, clothing her with silhouettes

They kept her hope alive.

They helped her understand that

her vulnerability

her dependence and need

her emptiness

her readiness to receive

were giving her a new kind of beauty.

Every morning and every evening she stood in silence and celebrated

the sacrament of waiting.” Macrina Wiederkehr

In this surrender, I waited for whatever life would present. I practiced trusting myself more and waited for God to reveal Herself however She wanted. I risked greater vulnerability and let God love me.

I sit writing to you now on a small porch outside my apartment enjoying the autumn sun with my husband inside. From heart-break to heart-bounty, I rest in the grace of letting go and waiting for God to surprise me again. Let go of something this fall as the leaves surrender. Wait for God to surprise you. Life is not a statistical analysis where we predict outcomes. Life is unfolding.

Change

by Nicole Snyder

Change is a part of life.  Weather changes.  Last week it was warm and dry, this week it is cold and rainy.  Seasons change.  Summer is gone and fall is here with its red, orange, and yellow leaves.  A new moon gives way to a full moon.  Days are becoming shorter, with a little less sunlight each day.  These changes become a part of the rhythm of my life.  Changes that are predictable.  Changes that I look forward to.

There are also changes as a result of choice.  Some choices change my life in minor ways and others send ripples through my life in dramatic ways.  My most recent life altering choice was to leave my home in Portland, Oregon, pack my stuff into a trailer, and drive 4,500 miles in order to attend the Pastoral Counseling program.  This change, no matter its impact and therefore challenges, was by choice.  As a result, the stress associated with all the changes in my life is, in many ways, expected.  I also have expectations of when all of these major changes will become routine and when the sense of change will decrease.  Like a large rock thrown into a pond, I can count on the ripples eventually dissipating.

Then there are changes that are neither predictable nor by choice.  These changes have spun my world, shattered expectations, and caused me to lie broken on the floor in pieces.  I could never have predicted their appearance and I often cannot predict when the ripples will dissipate.  Yet these unexpected changes have also been the changes from which I have risen stronger, leaving behind in the ashes the parts of me I no longer need.

Since arriving in Maryland, my choice like Pandora’s box has quickly transformed into unexpected change.  My knee jerk reaction is to resist, minimize, and deny what the change is allowing me to learn about myself.  I have to actively work at resisting these urges and instead embrace this tidal wave of change as a window of opportunity for healing.  I have learned the hard way over the years that embracing change is the best way forward, but it has been highly inconvenient.  Lying in pieces on the floor does not go well with being in graduate school.  Despite the inconvenience, I attempt to be grateful for my inward desire to be whole, for the opportunity to heal, and my strength to continually change.

My faith (both in myself and the metaphysical) is what I hold onto in the midst of change.   Change is what I hope to be all about, changing myself, and helping others find the change they want for themselves.  It is why I have chosen this career field.  Change is terrifying, but it is also inspiring.  May the changes before us inspire us.

What’s the Invitation?

by Andrea Noel

I began working for the federal government on April 5, 2006, and since that fateful day my job connected me to one of my life’s purposes. This purpose is using my technical knowledge and skills as an engineer to improve the quality of life for individuals. The motto of my agency is “We save lives” and everyone in our agency wholeheartedly works daily to achieve the goals of our agency’s mission to live up to our motto. So, during this government shutdown I cannot help but wonder why House and Senate officials are not calling to mind how the work they do impacts the lives of others.

We are all familiar with where good intentions can lead as many of our political leaders coin their choices as good intentions for the American public. Author, Andy Stanley, in Principle of the Path, shares that, “It’s not that we fail to see trouble brewing on the horizon. It’s a lack of honesty. We have a hard time leveling with ourselves. We deceive ourselves about why we choose the things we choose. And then we spin a web of excuses to protect ourselves, excuses that over time we come to believe.” The entire world is witnessing the decision-makers of our country contrive their webs of deception in a poor attempt to create solutions to our countries very real problems.

As I sit at home listening to the political pundits, and trying to keep my anxieties at bay, I wondered if God was presenting an invitation during this government shutdown. Maybe there are areas in my life that need honest review? Or, there could be some choices I’ve already made requiring further consideration? Maybe, I need to reflect on how I am deceiving others or myself? Yes, the government shutdown is a huge issue that needs immediate resolution, but I believe real change begins with me and within each one of us. So, I invite you to reflect with me. What is God inviting you to consider during this Government shutdown?

 

The Need for Adequate and Appropriate Treatment and Care

It was breaking news that flashed across the screen just as I was about to turn off the television and head out the door:  An active shooter was at the Navy Yard in Washington, DC.  I was saddened by the news, but not shocked.  The occurrence of gun violence had happened so frequently in the last few years that a low-grade numbness had begun to take root.  As analysts talked to reporters and television cameras, the issue of the easy access to high-powered weapons was raised once again, and as expected, the state of the perpetrator’s mental health was called into question.

It turned out that the shooter did have mental health issues, and although he had been arrested twice previously, had gun related altercations, and had even sought help at two Veterans Affairs hospitals, he did not receive the necessary treatment that might have kept him and his twelve victims alive.  Maybe there was a concern about confidentiality, and while confidentiality is essential in therapeutic relationships, so is a duty to warn.  Could it be that his symptoms were masked, or were his treatment providers at fault?

As I mulled over this thought, I understood why it might be difficult to take the next step when dealing with the mentally ill.  Indeed, our Loyola community was affected by gun violence and mental illness when Mary Marguerite-Kohn was killed by a mentally ill homeless man in May 2012.   As social services are reduced due to budget cuts, the options for referrals are few, and mental health professionals are hard-pressed to work in a system with varying state laws, and a lack of public funding.  The result is that response to serious mental illness in many cases has been retroactive at best.

Yet I live in hope that eventually, maybe when the debate about gun violence is spent, the focus would shift towards addressing adequate care for the mentally ill.  The solution offered by the National Rifle Association executive vice president Wayne LaPierre on his recent appearance on NBC’s Meet the Press that “they need to be committed” could not possibly be the answer.  As more citizens are exposed to gun violence, some are becoming traumatized, providing a new demographic of citizens with mental illness.  Law makers should realize that mental illness is not a crime, and even when it may not be curable, it is treatable in the proper environment.   It is time for them to respond to the mentally ill with adequate and appropriate treatment and care.  This will be beneficial to both the patients and those whose paths they will cross.

 

How does Meditation influence the development of the Mind, Body, & Spirit: Five Reasons to Join a New Research Group

Meditation and Human Development Research Team Openings

meditationMeditation has long been a divisive conversation in interfaith discussions. There are some who believe meditation opens the mind and spirit to be present with the Divine, and others that believe it opens a person to opposing forces. As researchers, we are exploring the questions surrounding meditation and other centering practices; questions about the influence meditation and prayer have on development.

If you have interest in this topic, an experience to share, or more research questions, I wanted to let you know that we are starting a new research group here in the pastoral counseling department. The Meditation and Human Development Research Team we will be opening up the discussion to investigate meaningful questions about meditation.

Meditation and Human Development

This research group is devoted to understanding how meditation (and similar practices such as contemplative prayer) influences the development of mind, body and spirit. The goals of the group are to secure grant funding to support the research and subsequent peer reviewed publication and presentation of data investigating how meditation influences our lives and how it can be used to better the lives of clients who seek help in counseling. Students who are interested in becoming a part of the research team should submit a resume or curriculum vitae to Jesse Fox, Ph.D., at jfox1@loyola.edu.

Top Five Reasons to join this group:

  1. CONTRIBUTE to the research and development that is changing the social sciences understanding of spirituality and centering prayer.
  2. INSPIRE These ground floor discussions on the emergent research topic of mediation may just inspire your research as we cultivate ours.
  3. EXPERIENCE Be a part of a lively discussion, academic debates, and developing research
  4. ACQUISITION new skills, as the team is exploring grant funding, writing, and proposals.
  5. LEARN about applying for grant funding, writing a research proposal, and study outcomes