¡Oh noche que me guiaste!
¡oh noche amable más que el aluorada!,
¡oh noche que juntaste
amado con amada,
amada en el amado transformada!
After nine months of torture and imprisonment, Spanish mystic of the middle ages, St. John of the Cross, established a model of contemplation. In a small, windowless cell and without human contact, St. John had only bread and water to sustain him. And though he had little to no human connection, he was acutely aware of God’s love and presence. In the now classic poem that spans the range of traditions, The Dark Night of the Soul, is a song with lyrics that describe the development of intimacy with the Divine.
The contemplative visionary’s dark night is less about difficult, doubting, lonely times (which is how it is interpreted today) and more about increasing faith and love. St. John of the Cross explains that faith is a practice that “gives light to the soul, which is in darkness”. According to juanist theology in his poem, the soul is on a journey to union with God: “Union of the soul with God is attained when the likeness that comes from love is produced”.
Embracing the dark night means getting acquainted with “the unknown and the experience of not knowing with an open and humble heart, much more full of wonder and willingness than fear”, writes Zen Buddhist monk, Deborah Eden Tull. Tull describes endarkenment as embodied and relational invitations to deep listening, slowing down, creativity, connection, and reciprocity. The dark night reminds us that we are dependent on each other and the more than human world, from our breath to the care we offer.
The dark night invites us to go slowly, gently and with self-compassion. When I muster the courage to explore the intimacy of the inner dark night of my soul, I feel more brave to pursue intimacy with the external world, including with distant and proximate relations as well as with the natural environment.
Oh, night that guided me,
Oh, night more lovely than the dawn,
Oh, night that joined Beloved with lover,
Lover transformed in the Beloved!
~ Jeanette Banashak
The Practice of Opening
Guest post. Words and image by SGTI alumnus Christine Hiester
“If your everyday practice is to open to all your emotions, to all the people you meet,
to all the situations you encounter, without closing down, trusting that you can do that–– then that will take you as far as you can go. And then you will understand all the teachings that anyone has ever taught.”
What if this practice of opening– this discomfort, this deep presence with exactly what is in each sacred moment (and they are all sacred) – is the only work?
What if understanding “all the teachings that anyone has ever taught” can be summed up in the everyday encounters with our inner responses to the mysteries, struggles, frustrations, and quiet joys experienced in the midst of this very human life?
What if trusting the moment-by-moment unfolding within us is the path that will also take us outward, to the edges of the cosmos, and the great insights of existence?
Or maybe these questions are too lofty. Maybe they remove us from our lives and place us in an ideal that is all too easy to ponder rather than live out. Maybe with feet on the ground, in the messy reality of life, we instead ask these questions:
Whom will we meet today?
What interruptions will derail our plans?
What conflicts will arise at work, or at home, that will push every button we have?
What physical pain will distract us as we go about the tasks of our day?
What if stubbing a toe, getting cut off on the highway, receiving a phone call with bad news, or being caught in a downpour which makes us late to an important meeting are each divine opportunities to open, open, open our hearts fully to the journey that will make us whole?
What would it feel like to resist the closing, and instead open to everything– everything! – with soft heart and deep breath?
How are you living into your holy “What ifs?” today? How can you invite others to do the same?
Christine Hiester is an interspiritual spiritual companion, retreat facilitator, artist, and musician. She finds her home in spacious places where contemplative and creative practice meet deep connection in community. You can find her on her website www.shapingtheriver.com and on Instagram at @shapingtheriver
As people on a dedicated spiritual path, we are always trying to do our best. We are not perfect people, but we are vulnerable human beings who play multiple roles and are beyond busy, so there will be times when we are off-balance and errors are made. Things said. Situations or people neglected. At times we may feel less than kindly toward ourselves— self-critical, judgmental, or disappointed.
Feelings such as these keep us separated from our innate peace. It is wise for us to remember that mind states like these are sourced in the ego—our small, immature, wounded self—and that when we hold on to them, we perpetuate our own suffering. The opposite of the virtue of peacefulness is aggression. When we entertain thoughts and feelings that demean the reality of our basic goodness, we are at war with ourselves.
When this happens to you, take a deep breath and make an adult-sized promise to yourself: a promise to thrive and be gentle with yourself. Feeling closed down, irritated, struggling with something you’ve said or done? Stop what you’re doing and open your heart to yourself.
Place your hand over your heart. Feel the warmth of your hand covering your heart.
With the inhale, breathe in understanding, With the exhale, breathe out concern.
Breathe in self-forgiveness. Breathe out your disappointment in yourself.
Breathe in a feeling of kindness. Breathe out relief.
Continue in this way until you return to a feeling of equanimity and balance. Rest in spacious awareness and trust that all is well.
Receive what your wise self knows: You are a good person.
Receive what your faithful heart says: You are doing the very best you can.
©2015, Janice L. Lundy
Excerpted from Portable Peace: A Weekly Guidebook
Six Mindfulness Apps
If you are wanting to cultivate presence and compassion in your life, here are 6 apps (out of the 1300+ that are out there these days) that promote mindfulness. According to wildmind.org, mindfulness is the gentle effort to be continuously present with experience. Amy Saltzman writes that mindfulness is paying attention here and now, with kindness and curiosity, so that we can choose our behavior. Jon Kabat-Zinn explains that mindfulness is paying attention on purpose, in the present moment and without judgment. Mindfulness cultivates calm, peace, and relaxation, all of which help us to lead happy lives.
1) Stop, Breathe, Think - https://www.stopbreathethink.com/ - offers 5 minute meditations that support mindful breathing and broadening the mind. They give 10% of their profits to Tools for Peace, a non-profit that helps at-risk youth.
2) Insight Timer - https://insighttimer.com/ - offers more than 8000 free guided meditations and provides meditations in 25 languages.
3) Simple Habit - https://www.simplehabit.com/ - an app for busy people that offers over 1000 meditations that last 5 minutes.
4) Calm App - https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/calm/id571800810?mt=8 - provides guided meditations between 3 – 25 minutes in length. In addition, it features
* Daily Calm: a new 10-minute program added daily to help ease you into the day or unwind with before bed
* 60+ Sleep Stories: adult bedtime stories guaranteed to lull you to sleep
* 7 day and 21 programs for both beginner and advanced users
* Breathing exercises to relax
* Exclusive music engineered to help you focus, relax or sleep
* Unguided timed meditation
* Open-ended meditation
* 30+ soothing nature sounds and scenes to use during meditation, yoga or to help you sleep
5) Take a Break! - https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/take-a-break-meditations-for-stress-relief/id453857236?mt=8 - provides you with step-by-step voice instructions. You can choose a work break relaxation (7 mins.) or a stress relief meditation (13 mins.) and listen with or without music or nature sounds.
6) Mindfulness Daily - http://www.mindfulnessdailyapp.com/ - is an app for busy people that helps you nourish a practice lasting a few minutes.
Whether you use an app or not, we hope that you find mindfulness practices that bring you relaxation, rest, and peace at any time of day, in any context.
Jeanette Banashak, PhD, EdD
About this blog
Deepening the understanding, practice and importance of spiritual guidance-companionship across traditions.