My spiritual director mentioned Martin Laird's book, Into The Silent Land, multiple times before I took the hint to read it for myself. I devour books, they are nourishment for my soul. So why did this one get put off for so long? Oh, I think we all know. This book was not a book to use as a "get away" as many of my historical fiction reads, this book was to take me inward and do some deep soul work. I was faced with the reality once again, I struggle with and often purposely avoid silence.
Silence is hard. And I'm not simply talking about being quiet. We can cease to speak and our minds still be quite noisy! Can you relate? When I finally read this gem of a book, Laird gave me encouragement in the first few pages. I realized, he understood. Laird explains the focus of the book is on the struggles we face when we enter silence and "the inner chaos going on in our heads, like some wild cocktail party of which we find ourselves the embarrassed host...we are not even aware of how utterly dominating this inner noise is until we try to enter through the doorway of silence."
Oh, wow. Yes, I indeed find myself not at all present but listening loudly to all the inner noise. That's why we practice silence. It doesn't happen on accident.
Why does the inner noise get so much attention? For one, I often think we don't realize we have the power to calm that noise. For another, the world has become so noisy that we allow ourselves to follow the crowd. So why not give into the noise?
Silence is fruitful. St. Isaac the Syrian wrote, "Enter eagerly into the treasure house that is within you and you will see the things that are in heaven."
Why wouldn't we choose to enter the treasure house within? If we believe God created us and is within, why wouldn't we choose to draw nearer in the quiet?
Silence can feel lonely. Silence is not the same as being alone. And yet, it's true that when we enter into the quiet, calming those often loud inner voices, we may realize that there is less distraction to keep us company. So at first, silence can indeed feel lonely. But, my oh my, are the treasures worth it. The connection with our Creator is cultivated in the silence, that's not lonely.
God is here, you aren't actually alone in the silence. So, why do we resist? Sometimes we simply need support. I find a regular contemplative prayer practice with quiet in the morning, time on my yoga mat, being in community with other seekers, and spending time with my spiritual director and soul friends to be the greatest support. These people and practices help me find the strength and courage to quiet the inner chaos and draw closer to God.
How are you embracing silence in your life in this season?
This month in our Peace Seekers online community and in my yoga classes, we're exploring what it looks like to enter the quiet. If you struggle with the inner chaos, I invite you to join us. I also currently have limited openings for private spiritual direction both in person at Bloom Yoga Studio and online.
Spiritual disciplines are opportunities to grow closer to God. I'm passionate that we see these practices as opportunities rather than things to check off our list, they should never feel or be viewed as legalistic opportunities. The spiritual disciplines we engage in are practices we choose to grow closer to God, on purpose.
Oftentimes there is not a lightning bolt moment of nearness to God in my practices of prayer, or meditation, or journaling, or scripture reading. Sometimes there is (and that's glorious) but mostly (at least for me) there isn't. Is this true for you? And if so, what's the point?
When we discover discipline in meeting God, we can continue to find God in every detail of our life, not just the obvious ones. We can walk with God in the unknown. We can sit with God in the grief. We can know God is near to us we feel lonely. As Oswald Chamber writes, "We can all see God in exceptional things, but it requires the growth of spiritual discipline to see God in every detail."
Think about it, it is easy to recognize God in the mountain top moments! Those times of connection with with our Creator give us obvious encouragement, hope, refreshment, and more. And yet it's in every single detail of life that we have an opportunity to meet God.
The consistency of finding discipline in our spiritual lives, offers us the gift of drawing near, even when we feel far, that's the point.
Need some companionship for walking into the unknown right now?
Listen to the guided meditation from the podcast below.
You may not know why the Exploring Peace Meditations podcast even began. But, it's because of you.
After Yoga & Silence retreats and Yoga & Meditation classes, you would often ask me to send you the meditation I'd read or even record it for a future listen. That was nearly impossible since those the majority of those prayers and meditations often began with only a word or a theme. From there, each meditation and prayer was a creative collaboration between God and the gift of my imagination. There wasn't a written script to send or a way to record the spontaneity of the moment.
At first I thought, surely you aren't serious. I would reply with gratitude and offer a, "please come back to retreat or class anytime." But, you wanted a new way to consistently interact with God that felt embodied amidst your daily life, not just while on retreat or in class.
And so, just weeks before we entered a pandemic and the opportunity to be together in the same ways came to a halt. I uploaded Episode 1, without any idea of what would happen or how much our souls would need this resource in 2020.
And here we are in 2021, as Season 3 begins (on January 29th). I want to thank you for inviting me into your meditation space, your bedroom, your closet, your yoga mat, or wherever you practice and pray. Because of you, the podcast now has over 13,000 downloads of it's 44 episodes. And out of this, has come a community of seekers.
If your soul has benefited from listening to the podcast meditations, I hope you'll consider joining our community this year as a Founding Member. The opportunity is more than simply committing to your own soul care in 2021. You're giving back too. The doors are open right now and for $4.99/month or $57/year, your presence as a Peace Seeker in our community isn't simply for you. For less than a fancy cup of coffee each month, your support not only enriches the spiritual journey of other Peace Seekers, it also supports the Exploring Peace Ministries podcast and the vision of a private retreat spot for seekers near a peaceful creek in rural Tennessee. This podcast has birthed a lot of connection in a time of disconnection. I'm honored to host this space and thank you for being here.
Tell me! What's your soul longing to hear in 2021? And if you want to check out our growing community first, there is a 7 day free trial, click here to find out more.
A decade ago, in 2011, I crafted my first rule of life in a spiritual formation course while pursuing my certification. When I look back now on that first "rule" I realize now how I've grown spiritually over these past ten years, where I've been stuck (pandemic, anyone?!) and how God has met me in each stage of my spiritual journey.
A Rule of Life is an opportunity to discover your own routine with God and seek wisdom for how you long to order your days. My personality is one that swings between the rule obedience (I tried to follow) In childhood and the longing never to embrace rules others place on me as an adult. Anyone else feel like a rule rebel? But when I find the rhythm of my own rules today and embrace them, I thrive. I think this is true for most of us. If we can honor ourselves with what works for us, we can embrace discipline that helps us grow. Yet that discipline isn't the same for everyone. Afterwall, we don't have "one size fits all" bodies nor do we have "one size fits all" souls.
In the Christian community, Saint Benedict is known for inviting the monks of his order to establish the rules that shaped their lives, giving structure to what we know today in spiritual formation as a Rule of Life. While those of you reading this likely are not monks, I'm guessing you could benefit from the simple structure of a rhythm for your own life.
Living in a pandemic has invited me to revisit my rule and discover new rhythms for connecting with God. The shifting of worship, small groups, personal connection, routine, work, and everything else that had given my life structure dissolved in 2020. I was left with a shapeless routine and someone in most every room of the house logging on to a device to go about their day. I soon realized a new routine was in order if I was to connect with God.
So I began updating that Rule of Life that's undergone quite a few revisions in the past decade. And this time, it looks completely different. My Rule of Life is less structured and more inviting than ever before in regards to my daily routine. It includes good books, hot tea and time in nature. It also includes reminders of my dreams and goals and how God made me. And here's a bit of irony, there are no rules for how you create your rule.
Need some companionship in discovering your own rhythm? I'll be sharing my Rule of Life in our Peace Seekers community next week on Friday, January 29, 2021. You're invited to join our community if you'd like to be part of that conversation. This year in our private online space, we'll focus on a theme each month for ways to meet God. And in doing so, we'll be working on our own Rules for the entire year of 2021. It's not an overnight project to discover the ways you best connect with your Creator. Rather, it's a journey. You can find details to join our community by clicking here.
Have you explored a Rule of Life? What has it offered you?
A Christmas Prayer
WHEN LIFE FORCES US TO WRESTLE with what's difficult, give us courage.
Teach us that there is a purpose in everything we experience, and everything is more than it appears to be.
This world is permeated by your Presence, and is your Presence in form.
May we be drawn to your Voice above the other, competing voices.
Great and Holy one, we pray for Peace.
Take us to the abode of Peace for which all hearts long.
WE PRAY TO FIND STILLNESS WITHIN our busyness, and
Rest in the midst of our celebrations and activity.
Show us how to walk more gently, more patiently, on the Earth.
Let kindness be born within all hearts.
Teach us to draw together as one people.
May our prayer rise up like fire and be Light for a troubled world. This we know, Something is trying to be born in us.
Take our hand as we set out anew.
From Advent: A Time of Hope by Paula D'Arcy.
Last year I purchased this adorable Christmas craft from Cozy Blue. And sadly, I've spent all of about 30 minutes working on it. I'm not sure why I was more excited about the idea of this piece than actually sitting down with my hands and being present while stitching. I was ecstatic with my purchase and have since looked at it and pondered, why have I paused in picking it up?
Maybe it's because I'm a recovering perfectionist and am afraid my final piece won't measure up to the Instagram worthy photos I've seen of the finished kit? Maybe I am simply distracted by life's responsibilities amidst a pandemic year? Maybe it's that silly puppy's fault I don't have space for thread and needles? Maybe I long for presence but don't always prioritize it? Maybe I have spent my time in other valuable ways besides crafting with my hands? There are a lot of maybes in life, aren't there?
If you haven't noticed, we are entering in to a season of giving! But here's what I'm reminded of... if we don't slow down long enough to receive, we won't have space to give. My hands can remind me to be open to and grateful for the way God allows me to both give and receive. Maybe I can practice that while crafting this season?
This Advent, I'm choosing to set aside all those "maybes" and enter in with open hands. I'm choosing presence over perfection. I'm choosing to slow down and prioritize the gift of this season. I'm choosing to ready myself for God's gift of Jesus. That may mean I end up with a finished craft and it may not. We'll see. Will you join me?
If you'd like to practice giving and receiving with your own hands today in prayer, savor this body scan meditation and a moment of gratitude for the ways you are giving and receiving in your life with God.
Since our puppy, Penny, joined our family this Spring, I've taken a lot of walks. A lot. Oftentimes I use our morning walk to listen to audiobooks that grow or stretch my faith. My recently played books include titles by Rob Bell, Glennon Doyle, Thich Nhat Hanh, Austin Channing Brown, Eckhart Tolle, and Jen Hatmaker. Through these recent (and yes, varied) listens I've been inspired to practice kindness with my neighbors, smile more often (I don't mean to always look so serious), slow it down, face my fears, realize everything really is spiritual, and truly strive to practice presence.
And while books and knowledge fuel, me, I don't always read and walk. Sometimes I pray when I walk, sometimes I listen to a favorite playlist, and sometimes I simply have to stay focused on training (AKA wrangling) our new puppy.
Walking has become a habit for me - twice a day, every day. I'm not quite ready for the Tennessee winters but I don't think Penny will let me break this habit. She loves walking, it's an automatic response to the start of her day. It took some practice for me to get on her plan but quickly it became a habit. I then realized our habit was becoming routine and at moments I dreaded it. Maybe like me, you often walk on auto-pilot. Do you ever wonder... How did I get to the other side of the house? Why is my face always in my phone? Or... What was I doing on my way to the mailbox?
Our minds wander and so having a focused purpose helps me stay present in my walks and break the cycle of worry (which I've carried my fair share of lately). Presence keeps us present! But we don't always need a book or music in our ears to practice presence. We can use our own bodies and breath to practice awareness with a purposeful walking meditation.
The first time I practiced walking meditation was on a retreat with a group of teens. It wasn't easy but it stretched us all and we learned a lot about ourselves. To start, I suggest practicing in your back yard or even at home if you can't get outside. It's nice to have some privacy to allow yourself full presence so you're not worried about being distracted or even stepping out in front of a car. Yep, that happens. Practicing alone gives you more confidence to start, then you can practice walking reverently throughout your day. Walking meditation isn't about exercising yourself or your pet but it is about healing, it is about being fully and completely present in your body.
In walking meditation you feel your feet hit the ground, each and every step. You notice how mindfulness in your body can bring you into the moment. You go slow on purpose. You walk and breathe in sync and allow your body the space to be fully present. While being present in this way is not easy, it is indeed transformational.
Ready to try it? Need some help in discovering presence with a short mindful walk? Listen to the Walking Meditation podcast below. Then use some of what you learn to begin incorporating presence and breath in all of your walking - about the house, to the car, or around the block.
Walking has become a natural way for me to destress and unplug. I have a long way to grow my mindfulness while walking (especially with a puppy in tow) but I'm glad to keep practicing.
How do you practice mindful presence while walking?
Will you take a walk with me?
We often get tips for our bodies or our business at the start of each new year. But, what about tips for your soul? We're not talking goals, we're talking soul care. What makes your soul sing?
Below is a transformational tip that if you embrace this one habit this year, I believe your soul will indeed sing. I use the practice of a morning ritual in my own life and encourage you to as well.
Already have a morning ritual? Share it with me on social media! Tag me at @WhitRSimpson and show us how you're #ExploringPeace in your daily life.
How to create a morning ritual:
Set aside a few minutes to ponder, what draws you nearer to God? Then make a list (journaling, savoring silence, reading, watching the sunrise, meditating on scripture, a healthy breakfast, practicing centering prayer, movement, etc.) and place that list in your planner, journal, beside your bed, or on your bathroom mirror (somewhere you will see it!).
Enjoy your morning ritual:
Once you have your inspiration, take action for your soul and enjoy it! Here's the tip: each morning dedicate the time you have set aside to one (or more than one) thing on your list. Whether you have 5 focused minutes (not every morning is slowly savored, I get it and remember the toddler days) or a slow and savory 75 minutes (on the best day ever of you being the only one to care for), enjoy YOUR morning ritual. Consistency is my key to a soul-filled morning ritual. Contrary to popular belief, there is no time limit required for drawing near to God and you do not need to do everything on your list at once (it may actually be better that you don't). For the benefit of your soul, choose to BE with your ritual rather than DO your ritual and start with just a few minutes at a time.
So what's my morning ritual look like?
My morning ritual:
It feels important to share I'm not what some would call a "morning person" which is why I believe my morning ritual is so valuable to my soul. This time set apart helps ground me and enter in to a day with a heart and a body that is set on God and not how little I love mornings.
Before my feet hit the floor, I explore a few simple yoga stretches and place my hands on my body for prayer. The normal morning hygiene routine takes place (Ayurvedic medicine has taught me about tongue scraping and I include this most days too, ever tried it?), then I cuddle into my prayer/meditation chair for either a few minutes of breath prayer, centering prayer, or a time of journaling (as an Enneagram 4, I like variety in my quiet time but I don't do all of these - I pick one). If it's a slow and savory morning, I include devotional and/or scripture reading. Note: while I prefer to draw out my mornings, many mornings are more hurried than others so this may take as few as 5 minutes, it's the intention of being present with God that is the focus of my morning ritual. Commit to pick one thing from your list and practice it daily, that's it.
Once I've enjoyed the quiet, I move from contemplation into some self-care action with prioritizing care of my physical body. Before bed, I try to prep my favorite green lemonade so I can sip on something good for my body first thing in the morning (my green lemonade recipe is lemon water with spearmint chlorophyll and green juice powder - it's an acquired taste and I love it now). A brisk walk does me good but it's true for me that my soul must be awake first. So while exercise is part of my day, it comes after my soul is awakened! Once I'm dressed and ready for the day, I visit the kitchen for two more important hydration elements. First, I brew my herbal tea then I blend my favorite smoothie (hemp protein, spinach, banana, frozen blueberries, frozen butternut squash, raw cacao, collagen, flax, chia, or whatever else I may have on hand). So yes, caring for my body is a vital part of my morning ritual. With practice, these habits have become a soulful experience to start my day for spirit rather than chores I must check off my list.
What do you do for your soul in the mornings?
Create a ritual of caring for your soul a few minutes at a time and you'll find encouragement to care for your self and grow in your spiritual practices in 2020.
During my spiritual direction practicum work almost ten years ago (I still can’t believe how quickly time passes as we age, can you?), I was introduced to St. Ignation (1491-1556) and the Prayer of Examen as a daily spiritual exercise. I first learned of this practice in a Companions for Christ study series but had not embraced the practice as my own discipline.
Now a decade later, I find my day is almost incomplete without this daily ritual. Why, you ask? Like no other spiritual practice, it invites me to notice God’s activity - in all aspects of my life. By pausing and taking a few moments at the end of each day to reflect and notice those moments I’ve either felt near or far from God, some patterns begin to emerge. Ignition spirituality invites us to notice both consolation (when we feel drawn toward God, inspired, connected, fulfilled) and desolation (when we feel far away from God, drained, disconnected, turned inward).
As I look back in my planner (where I log in just a few words my daily reflections), I begin to notice themes. I notice those “close to God” moments often become repetitive. For instance, “I felt close to God today while leading yoga & meditation class” or “in nature walking with my spouse” or “during a soul talk with a friend” that day. I may have felt far away from God when I “failed to be present with a friend” or was “juggling too many hats” or “overwhelmed by caregiving” that day.
This ancient practice is one that St. Ignatius encouraged the Jesuits to practice twice daily (both at noon and at the end of the day). While I have found that once a day (at the end of the day) works best for my life, you may wish to explore it more often as done historically or even simply once a week. Below, I’ll share my own “once a day” method for examining my life with God and an additional step I've added to the ancient practice.
This example is how the Prayer of Examen has manifested in my own life. I’ve made it a simple practice by using symbols in my planner and write only words or phrases. I find that if I have expectations for myself of journaling long paragraphs, I do not follow through with this practice on a regular basis. Some people reflect with these questions in silent prayer only without writing it down. However, I find that reflecting on paper allows me to notice patterns and themes in my life with God. The concept is simple, no matter how it’s structured. Ignatius invites us to become aware of God’s presence, review our day with gratitude, and commune with God as we look ahead to each new day of noticing our near and far away moments. I’ve added a step to this prayer practice to remind me that spirituality is an embodied journey. So, I also name one way in which I’ve cared for my body and soul to draw nearer to God that day - on purpose. The last step has become a vital one to help me move beyond spirituality as a concept in my mind and embody it with my whole self.
My practice looks like this:
Embodied Examen Prayer
Up Arrow: When did I feel close to God today (a moment of consolation)?
Down Arrow: When did I feel far away from God today (a moment of desolation)?
Smiley Face: What moment am I most grateful for today?
Heart: What is the prayer of my heart, for what would I like to pray to God about from today? (Note: this may be something already named from the day, or something entirely different)
Stick Person: What did I do to care for my body and soul to draw nearer to God on purpose today?
As I write this to share with you during Holy Week, I’m reminded of the emotional highs and lows of journeying with Christ. Ignation spirituality invites us into an ancient practice of noticing - the highs and the lows. This practice is as powerful today as it was hundreds of years ago for the Jesuits. If you’re intrigued with this ancient practice, why not explore this prayer during Holy Week? If you want to read more on Ignitian Spirituality, I’ve linked a couple of books from some of my favorite teachers. The second book offers wonderful insight on sharing this practice with others - including the children in your life. This practice is easily adaptable to be shared with small groups or around the dinner table with your family. How will you practice the Examen?
Inner Compass by Margaret Silf
Sleeping with Bread by the Linns
May you discover God in the consolation and desolation and be reminded of God's nearness this Holy Week!
In the past week I have had multiple conversations about prayer labyrinths and how prayerfully walking these over the years (some indoors, some outdoors) has shaped my faith journey. One conversation arose in a spiritual direction session, another after a yoga class with a student, and another at a meeting with a colleague. I find it interesting how God nudges me to return to the ways I best listen and hear when life feels distracted or I begin to feel distant. Labyrinth walk soon anyone? I am grateful for the reminder that this ancient prayer practice helps draw me nearer. So, I thought I would share this overview for those of you who aren't familiar with labyrinths and invite you to discover one near you (keep reading).
What is a Labyrinth?
For Millenia, pilgrimages to holy sites have been part of the Christian tradition. However, when a pilgrimage was not possible, the discipline of this spiritual journey was found on the labyrinth as a symbolic prayer walk. By walking the labyrinth today, we are rediscovering a long-forgotten tradition found in various traditions and forms around the world. While labyrinths have a history that can be traced back thousands of years and to a variety of religions, their beginning origin is unknown. No matter the style of the labyrinth, structurally, it has only one path so there are no tricks and no dead ends. The path winds throughout and becomes a mirror for where we are in our lives, each on a journey. Walk it with an open heart and mind as you allow God to touch your sorrows and release your joy, allowing your soul to sing.
What a Labyrinth is Not?
It is important to keep in mind that a labyrinth is not a maze. A maze is designed to confuse you, a cognitive puzzle (mazes only entered our world’s culture about 600 years ago). A labyrinth has only one path that leads to the center, designed to easily find your way making space for prayer and meditation.
Why Walk the Labyrinth?
The labyrinth offers a sacred and stable space to focus your attention and listen to your soul. It is a wonderful place to pray. However, the experience is different for everyone because each of us brings different raw material to the labyrinth. As with any spiritual discipline or prayer practice, we bring our unique beliefs, hopes, dreams, history, and longing of the soul. Leave behind what may not serve you as you journey toward union with God in quiet reflection.
How Do I Walk the Labyrinth?
Try to not have expectations, simply enter into the journey and use your senses to move your body forward in prayer. Before you walk, quiet your mind and become aware of your breath. Ground your feet and let go of any expectations. Simply have an open mind and do what feels natural. You may wish to choose a prayer, centering word, or phrase to avoid a wandering mind. Some find simply focusing on their breath helps them remain in the present. Allow yourself to find the pace your body wants to move forward (skip, dance, or walk very slowly). Those going in on the path will meet those coming out. You may "pass" people or step to your right and let others step around you. Do what feels natural. Afterward, you may wish to sit quietly and reflect, journal, create, or simply give thanks. You may find the following three stages helpful for your walk:
Find a Labyrinth Near You:
Click here to visit the World-Wide Labyrinth Locator. Note, not all labyrinths are posted at this website. You may also wish to do a simple search on the internet for locations in your area.
The above information was created and compiled by Whitney R. Simpson from the research of Lauren Artress using her guides, "Walking A Sacred Path” and “The Sacred Path Companion” as well as the Grace Cathedral Website. If using this information as a guide for others, please note these resources and also cite this post at www.ExploringPeace.com/blog.
Whitney R. Simpson
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Content @ 2010-2021
Whitney R. Simpson,
Exploring Peace Ministries, LLC