On April 1, 2020, in response to the COVID pandemic, I began to host twice-weekly drop-in meditation sessions for anyone who cared to take the time to join in. Those twice-weekly meetings continued through August, 2020, when I changed the schedule to once per week. After nearly 18 months of meeting online every week with some of the kindest people you can imagine, I’ve decided to bring these “Take a Break From Stress” meetings to a close. No, the pandemic isn’t over yet. The Delta variant has seen to that! But this year has been a year of endings for me, and it felt right to bring this to an end as well.
What sort of endings? I decided to retire my private practice after 25 years of pastoral clinical counseling. I have met so many wonderful people over those years! In my private practice I’ve provided many hours of counseling and clinical supervision, and enjoyed it all. I’ve been hard at work for nearly 50 years now, and with my 67th birthday approaching decided late last year to take some time to collect my thoughts and my spirit to discern “what’s next?”
There have been other endings for me and my family this year. In December of 2020 a close friend died, followed by the mother of another close friend in January of 2021. Then in April a second close friend died, and then in May my mother passed after many years of suffering from Alzheimer’s. The context of my endings includes saying goodbye to people I love both in my clinical practice and in my personal life.
In a way we are all dealing with societal level endings over these past two years. Gone are the days when we were not sure if climate change was coming or already here. The extraordinary extremes of weather turn out to be the leading edge of our changing climate. The pandemic and its power over our lives has ended any illusions that humans can conquer and control our relationship with nature. Finally, the past political year has ended any hopes that the impact of easy mass communication through the internet and social apps would not prove to have so much potential to be malignant.
Many endings for me; many endings for all of us. But the thing about endings is that if you lean into them, truly see and feel exactly what they are; if you yield yourself fully to all of the consequences of all of these endings, you find something beginning as a result. I’ll soon be without my private practice, but that free time begs me to reach out with new ideas and activities for the greater good. Dear friends have died, which only serves to make me cherish all the more the friends I have, whether I’ve met them yet or not. And my mother’s death fills me with anguish, but reminds me that I have such lovely family still with me, including my sister who was such a compassionate and dedicated presence in our mother’s life right until the end. These losses inspire me to pay attention all the more to the good friends and family that I have been blessed to have with me.
So today I post the video and audio from the final drop-in meditation session. I’ve posted many of these sessions over these past 18 months, but far from all of them. Over the coming months I’ll work on posting this backlog and maybe, just maybe, finally get around to actually organizing my website! Thanks for not complaining!
When I bring mindfulness to a group I like to cite poetry or some reading that I think captures something of this wonderful practice. For my final Take a Break session, I decided to go to a “greatest hits” list, or at least a few of my favorites. All of them are from books by Thomas Merton.
When I speak, it is a demand that others remain silent so I alone may be heard. When I am silent, I hear my true self and reach my soul. When I am silent, I hear with a caring heart. Silence teaches us to know reality by respecting it where words have defiled it. If our life is poured out in useless words, we will never hear anything because we have said everything before we had anything to say. . . . .
If a (person) is to live, he must be all alive, body, soul, mind, heart, spirit.
Ask me not where I live or what I like to eat . . . Ask me what I am living for and what I think is keeping me from living fully that.
— Thomas Merton, from “Thoughts in Solitude”
In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all these people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. It was like waking from a dream of separateness, of spurious self-isolation in a special world. . . .
Then it was as if I suddenly saw the secret beauty of their hearts, the depths of their hearts where neither sin nor desire nor self-knowledge can reach, the core of their reality, the person that each one is in God’s eyes. If only they could all see themselves as they really are. If only we could see each other that way all the time. There would be no more war, no more hatred, no more cruelty, no more greed. . . . I suppose the big problem is that we would fall down and worship each other. But this cannot be seen, only believed and ‘understood’ by a peculiar gift.
— Thomas Merton, from “Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander”
Every moment and every event of every man’s life on earth plants something in his soul. For just as the wind carries thousands of winged seeds, so each moment brings with it germs of spiritual vitality that come to rest imperceptibly in the minds and wills of men. Most of these unnumbered seeds perish and are lost, because men are not prepared to receive them: for such seeds as these cannot spring up anywhere except in the good soil of freedom, spontaneity and love.
— Thomas Merton, from “New Seeds of Contemplation”
Here is the video of today’s meditation:
Here is the audio: