being human,  embodiment,  spiritual direction

Receiving the Sacred Tale

I let things be here. I show up. As myself. I have nothing to hide. It feels good. Training to be a Spiritual Director is life-changing and life-giving work. Below is my Reflective Expression for Modules 5 & 6.

‘Receiving the sacred tale,’ to me, is a lot different from ‘listening to a tale,’ or even ‘listening to a sacred tale.’ Receiving involves our whole being, and that is exactly what we are called to in spiritual direction, no matter on which side we sit. Pure presence is an amazing tool to cultivate  this capacity.

I loved all of the material in this module, and I love thinking about each of us going on a ‘hero’s journey.’ It’s something we rarely think about so thank you for giving voice to the physical thing we are doing (and have likely done several times over in our lifetimes). As I look back at my life, I see that I’ve always allowed my heart to lead me. It’s not that I’ve never been stuck—I have—but I learned at a relatively young age not to attach myself too much to what the world wanted from me. I’ve disappointed my parents more than once because of my wild heart and perhaps, what appeared to them as reckless abandon. That sounds extreme but as a free spirit, born of ultra-conservative, more-worldly-than-spiritual people, I see that lots of undoing had to occur to follow my heart, to follow spirit. I was a wounded girl on a quest of discovery; and that girl became a wounded healer. I sought healing for myself and extended it toward others at the same time.

Following my heart led to … the love of my life (a solid rock of a man who gets me (and lets me be me)), leaving ‘corporate America’ to become a yoga teacher, buying acreage we are now developing for ourselves AND for future generations, enrolling in the Living School and finally landing at SGTI. There have been lots of other smaller stories in between them, but all of these mentioned have been huge markers in my life. 

I’m particularly interested in where the current journey will take me. I absolutely loved teaching yoga during the decade and a half that I did full time, but since mom’s passing five years ago, I can’t bring myself to do it again and I can’t pinpoint exactly why. I know why I left initially—grief—but I’m in the middle of another story around it now that’s pulling me back to the possibility of teaching, to do so connecting my current learnings at SGTI and my previous study with Living School. I am just not sure how it all fits yet. These new teachings are so alive in me; they light me on fire. And in my experience, those are the things I need to pay attention to. How those stories come together, I’ve not yet realized.

Number five in the stages of the Hero’s Journey resonates deeply with me because I often find myself ‘knowing the place for the first time’ in relation to my spiritual studies and the various traditions I’ve immersed myself in. Each time I add something new, I go back to a previous learning and have even more openings and ‘ah ha’s’ around it, meshing the two. This line from Rohr’s chapter also gave me pause: “We almost naturally float forward by the quiet movement of grace when the time is right—and the old agenda shows itself to be insufficient, or even falls apart.” Spirit is active. Spirit moves. And spirit moves us.

My life is a story but there are lots of little stories along the way. I particularly like the way Chimamanda Adichie brought this to light in ‘The Danger of the Single Story.’ It’s true for all of us and if we categorize people into one story, one situation, one way of being, we miss the point (and them) entirely. To me, Walt Whitman in Song of Myself comes to mind, “Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.” We all do! I think this clearly illustrates the genuine need for compassion because we truly do not know what the next person is going through. Hell, we don’t often entirely know what those closest to us are feeling.

What I am learning more and more is that while we humans are so very alike, we are all quite different too. We feel similar emotions in many of our universal struggles but the ways we deal with these difficulties are quite different from person to person. I believe part of this has to do with the fact that we are all complex and ‘multiple-storied selves.’

Receiving the sacred tale prepares us to be present and active in the world because that is exactly what we are doing when we are with another in spiritual direction. We must be present to receive it and in that receiving, we too are changed. Stories inform and entertain us; they make us think. Stories show us what’s possible and stories show us where we don’t want to go. Nothing exists in a vacuum and this gift of spiritual direction clearly shows us that. It also gives us the opportunity to regularly check in with ourselves and others, watching how the Divine moves, and is moving us.

We read, watched and listened to  a variety of things for this module. From Phil Cousineau to Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes to Dr. Martin Luther King to Toni Packer … When I think about this module, I think of my word for this year: ALIVENESS. Each year a word chooses me, after a process of inquiry and reflection at the end of the previous year. Last year, my word was TRUST, and wow, did I learn some lessons with it. This year, ALIVENESS came to me as a word I should let unfold in 2023 and I believe this unit plays into it beautifully by demonstrating that each human life, each sacred tale has lessons for all of us. If we pay attention, we can learn all the time via the ‘curriculum of life.’

The people we read, watched and listened to had/have incredible stories, and yet they are all quite different. I love Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes’ words about stories, the way they ‘use symbolic language, bypassing the ego and traveling directly to the soul … they teach, correct errors, lighten the heart, provide psychic shelter, assist transformation and heal wounds … tales weave a strong fabric that is both personal and eternal.’

Stories, to me, give a similar gift to poetry. They take us outside of ourselves for a moment, into the eternal, out of our small stories and into the larger context of the world, showing us the oneness that our egos don’t see. As Pinkola-Estes shared, ‘a story (is) about what is enough. Questions are often answered in stories. And the first story often evokes another which summons another, until the answer to the question becomes several stories long.’ I also love how she ended with, ‘cajole the old grumpy ones to tell you their best memories, and ask the little ones their happiest moments, ask the teenagers the scariest times of their lives and give the old ones the floor, coax out the introverts, ask each person. Each one will be warmed, sustained by the stories you create together. Though none of us lives forever, as long as someone can tell the story, love and mercy will shine through, and it will be enough.’ It literally gave me a new approach, as I went to lunch with my daughter the day after I read it. Our lives are gifts we give to one another and story is the vehicle of transmission.

All of this plays into Phil Cousineau line in your interview with him, “Let’s travel. Let’s read. Let’s explore other traditions, but mostly let’s LISTEN to one another.” I also loved his point about using verbs instead of nouns to describe things, ‘Stop calling yourself a … poet or an author … stick with the verb instead of the noun … (I write. I sew. I hike …)”  

Toni Packer’s article gave me insight into the WAYS I listen, or don’t. “A mind that is occupied with itself cannot listen freely … Where is my listening coming from in this moment? … When I’m not really interested in what you’re saying, can I pause and listen within? … Hearing with one’s eyes and seeing with one’s ears.” How we do anything is how we do everything. If we can learn to pay closer attention to our lives, the story of our bodies, the way we listen, it can change everything. 

Finally, I am sad to say that I hadn’t read Dr. King’s ‘Letter from a Birmingham Jail’ until this module. His powerful, eloquent words made an impact in the sixties and continue to make an impact now. And thank goodness we have them in written form. While we’ve come so far since the Civil Rights movement, we have so very far to go (and in many ways we keep taking steps backward). Seeing, watching and listening to the horrific stories of brutality and racism in today’s world proves that. Sadly the words from the ‘statement from Alabama clergymen’ sounds similar to the way some evangelical and fundamentalists speak today. It’s easy for the privileged to choose not to see the complexity that exists in our society today, to ‘make peace’ by quieting, ignoring and attempting to maintain status quo while also claiming to want systematic change.

For me, this spiritual and healing journey I’ve been on for most of my adult life has changed me to my core. It’s changed me because I’ve been willing to listen; I’ve been willing to let that deep listening change me. We all get stuck inside of our small “I’s” from time to time but when we get out of that ‘little-me self’ and into the larger story that is all around us, we are transformed.

To me, “telling the sacred tale” means telling a story with reverence and awe. It shows me the importance of  paying attention to my life, to all of the small stories that play into the larger story of who I am becoming. It also shows me how important it is to pay attention to others as they tell their sacred tales. Often, when we are in the middle of life, we don’t see it with the grandeur that it will likely possess once the story has ended. 

SGTI Reflective Expression: Modules 5/6

(Photo by Artem Beliaikin on Unsplash)