On Mary Pipher’s “Seeking Peace” {This Is Not a Book Review…}

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I’ve only written a few book reviews in my day, mainly because I don’t really understand them. Or maybe I don’t appreciate them properly. Is one person’s opinion of a book supposed to sway me, even when I’m not familiar with the reviewer’s background or interests? What if I love the author and disagree with the reviewer’s take? (I will admit, when the topic is one I’m not familiar with, reviews have helped me understand better about the issue/theme at hand.)

So, instead of formal reviews, I’m going to be in conversation with the author’s words when I find books I’d like to share.

First up: Mary Pipher’s Seeking Peace: Chronicles of the Worst Buddhist in the World (Riverhead)

Mary Pipher: “Religions are metaphorical systems that give us bigger containers in which to hold our lives. A spiritual life allows us to move beyond the ego into something more universal. Religious experience carries us outside of clock time into eternal time. We open ourselves into something more complete and beautiful. This bigger vista is perhaps the most magnificent aspect of a religious experience.” (p. 176)

ALW: Just as we do with writing, or whatever our creative outlet might be, we want to move from the personal to the universal, to make room in the story or the painting for others. I love thinking about how religion, and art, both allow us to experience a wider world. (P.S. If you don’t yet have a creative outlet, get one. Holler and I’ll help you…)

Mary Pipher: “I had many meditation sessions in which I felt both joy and despair, and peacefulness and anxiety. I had moments when I disappeared into a connected golden universe, and others in which I raked myself over the coals and feared I would never be free. I would have weeks when I felt I had made no progress. Then I would have an experience of openness and compassion. I began to depend on meditation for emotional centering. My body responded to it at some level I didn’t understand. I was beginning to trust something other than reason.” (pp. 184-85)

ALW: This is not the only passage that makes me want to jump online and try to find Mary Pipher so we can be friends. I still have sits that make me want to give up, and meditation is not yet a daily habit for me, but I’ve done it enough to know it makes a difference. And her last line in that paragraph—“I was beginning to trust something other than reason”—speaks to one of my greatest challenges: learning to trust instead of trying to figure it out. And I’m open to whatever can help me do that: religion, meditation, walks around the lake, staring at mountains, writing.

Mary Pipher: “When we surround ourselves with beauty, we are likely to experience a moment. We have our ‘peak experiences’ on the beach or prairie, in a mountain meadow or beside a river. We experience moments at concerts, art galleries or the theater. … To create moments in our daily lives, we must have a new set of skills for making magic out of the ordinary. Psychology and all the great spiritual traditions teach these skills.

“Fortunately, the more moments we find, the more we learn to find them. The process is not unlike being receptive to the muse. Artists know that to access their creativity, they must somehow be curious and attentive. They learn not to reject the small openings, the little tugs on the sleeve, the miniature portals that open something vast and immediate.”

ALW: Some of my top big  moments out in the world–moments that let me know there’s a connection one to another, and all to the Divine Other–include listening to the rain on the grape leaves in France with my parents; hearing Van Morrison at The Ryman; and watching the sun rise and set in Boone, North Carolina. Smaller moments might include the red leaves I saw on my walk this evening; hearing my dog snore, spread eagled on the couch; the older woman at the bank last week who reminded me of my own precious mother.

As for paying attention, for several years now I’ve been all about creating areas in my home that bring beauty to my mind, appreciation to my heart, and peace to my soul. Little altars, in some ways. Curated collections that might contain some of my favorite memorabilia: pictures of loved ones; small art pieces; rocks and feathers; candles. The more I do this, the easier it is for me to notice inspiration, and give thanks, out in the world. For paying attention is key, yes? To our souls, to our communities , and to our fellow pilgrims.

Looking forward,

Amy Lyles Wilson

Here’s a proper review: https://www.spiritualityandpractice.com/books/reviews/view/18886

And, yay! Mary Pipher has a new book coming out at the first of the year, which I will surely read: https://marypipher.com/blog/2018/06/06/women-rowing-north/.

 

Gathering ‘Round Our Grief

IMG_1447This cabin in the woods is empty now, but on two rainy days in early June it embraced twenty-four souls who gathered together to write their hard stories, the ones they can’t share with just anyone. Sometimes not even themselves. Not quite yet.

When I preach, “It’s the sharing of our stories that saves us,” I mean it, whether you whisper your story to yourself, mail it to your Uncle Bud, or shout it out for the world.

Not everyone who came to write with us during the 2018 Haden Institute Dream and Spirituality Conference at Kanuga shared aloud what they’d written. They didn’t have to, and that was part of the deal.

“Come write,” I say to anyone who will listen. “That’s all you have to do. You don’t have to say a word if you aren’t moved to do so.”

Even that—the writing—is, of course, challenging. I tell clients that writing is as hard, and as easy, as “Just do it.”

After we wrote in response to prompts in the little cabin, when I asked for readers, three women sitting together would, all at once as if they had practiced, shift their eyes toward the floor. Like synchronized swimmers. They made it clear they didn’t want to speak. I didn’t compel or cajole or criticize. I let them be.

Later, two of the ladies would tell me they just couldn’t talk, but that afterwards, in the privacy of their room in the lodge or on a bench by the lake, the words—and the tears—came. They were grateful, they said, and I reminded them that they had done the work. All I did was invite them to try, make the space as safe as I could, and remind them they are not alone. That’s one of the best things sharing our stories can do: Connect us to others—those who grieve just like we do—which is everyone, if they’re honest. All of us have it, that thing that threatens to silence us and prevent us from engaging fully with the life that remains. The life that is.

You might miss your father, dead some twenty years, while the person next to you in the grocery checkout mourns the children he never had. Your neighbor regrets marrying her husband, and your yoga instructor hasn’t spoken to her sister in three years. We’ve all got something.

My goal is not to force people to dwell on what might have been or is no more. Instead, I encourage people to put into words those tender parts of life so that they might gain a little perspective, perhaps. Make a little space in which they can take a breath between the loss and the present day in order to better absorb and honor the gap. We live more fully when we take it all in, even the loss. Maybe especially the loss. I am among those who believe our greatest gifts are uncovered in our greatest tenderness, those places we hesitate to touch for fear something might break loose. Famous people have said it better than I can, like Henri Nouwen:

“Nobody escapes being wounded. We all are wounded people, whether physically, emotionally, mentally, or spiritually. The main question is not ‘How can we hide our wounds?’ so we don’t have to be embarrassed, but ‘How can we put our woundedness in the service of others?’ When our wounds cease to be a source of shame, and become a source of healing, we have become wounded healers.” (henrinouwen.org)

I believe that “service to others” begins with our willingness to connect to our fellow pilgrims through our hard stories. Heartache to heartache, soul to soul. Story to story.