Here are some personal reflections from individuals who have come through a Soul Care® spiritual formation program; a sharing of their experience in their own words. Individuals participating in these programs come from various backgrounds and faith journeys. Soul Care’s® roots are in the Christian mystical tradition and through our programs we seek to support those on their inner journey. To learn more about our spiritual formation programs go to spiritual formation circles.
Reflecting on My Soul Care Community by Dan R.
It seems to me that there exists around us, a sort of chaotic frantic pattern to our lives. This pattern urges us to plug in, update, keep pace with certain lifestyles that have been prescribed to us by God knows whom or what. Years ago, it used to be that these pressures where tangible, all within reach of us, and touchable by us. Those pressures would have been applied to us (consciously or otherwise) by family, church, work, or our social fabric which we called our community. While our mediums of pressure have changed over the past several decades, and the pressures are now applied by beautiful strangers or algorithms, the results have been and still are predictable. We are constantly being nudged. If we are not aware and attentive, these nudges can add up to a rather definitive push.
My wife and daughter first began participating in a small group called “Anam Cara”, an old Celtic phrase meaning soul friend. Through their experiences and encouragement, I also joined my own small group about two and a half years ago. It is not easy to describe what Anam Cara is even now. When others have asked me to describe it to them, they usually seem a bit more confused than they were before they thought to ask the question. I will speak for myself here, but I hope that others can relate to my story as it seems to also be our story in the culture, we find ourselves in.
After a couple months of joining Anam Cara, I began to notice myself overwhelmed by a feeling I was not familiar with. It was also one which I did not know how to live with. I knew how to live under my own intense scrutiny, and to constantly fail to measure up. I was used to feeling “less than”. It was familiar. I was used to feeling ashamed. This was also something I could live with. Developing patterns of busyness and background noises was easy, as it helped to mask the symptoms of not being aware of my feelings.
The feeling that began causing discomfort was grace. I didn’t know how to not be critical of myself. This grace was not just a simple grace, but a grace to accept the self as something desired and deeply loved. This was something that my soul was not wired to receive. Shame and failure were predictable. I knew how to feed them and care for them in a dysfunctional way. The gateway to living with them I have described at the beginning, but to live with grace and love was a bit terrifying.
My men’s group began spending the first year of Anam Cara by practicing quietness and attentiveness. This was so difficult that after the first year we decided to repeat Anam Cara again, the following year. Slowly over the following weeks and months we began to learn to unplug, and choose not to chase, if only for a little while. We learned how to slowly listen to our own heartbeats, to practice breathing, and to feel things that had been going on, previously unnoticed within our lives. We began to be more aware; to feel for things under our feet and fingers, and to allow ourselves to stop and look at our surroundings, even if our minds wandered.
Again, these processes were difficult. It is hard to slow down your mind. It is hard to choose not to turn on the tv or turn to a device and lose time. After all, these things have measured returns. What can we gain from choosing quiet? This is a difficult question to answer. Sometimes the things we find in our quiet can be unsettling, and sometimes they can be comforting. A phrase that comes to mind is, “I would rather be alone than pretend I feel alright.” In choosing to be alone and choosing quiet there is less certainty, but without daring to be quiet we may never learn to recognize our own voice. If we fail in that, how can we possibly know ourselves?
One of the phrases I learned during this time was, “The words you use become the house you live in.” Being a builder, this was an easy concept for me to grasp. By finally paying attention to the words that have been the soundtrack of my life for the past 30 years I began to get an image of the house I had been living in, and it wasn’t very appealing to me. I had been unconscious of this for all my life, with maybe a few brief exceptions. I now wanted to listen for a new soundtrack, and live in a brighter, fairer house.
The practice of the labyrinth has also been very powerful for me. When you walk a labyrinth, you are allowing yourself to figuratively trace your life’s steps on a winding path. This path often turns itself away from the center and pushes you back to the outside far from where you expected to end up. This showed me I was also believing a story that told me my life was a simple trajectory. If I was at a certain point, and I wished to be at another, all I had to do was apply certain principles. I could draw a line to my goal, and the line was invariably straight. My actual experience has never been like that for more than a year or so at a time. It was very liberating to accept that my life could return back to a place I thought I was done with, and not feel shame and defeat. To know that there is an allowable and acceptable tolerance in your pathway can be incredibly freeing.
This community has brought with it richness and complexity, darkness, as well as hope in the darkness that was not imagined before. In my soul care companions I have found a richness and a common ground that we all seem to share together. Often in our sharing we each see a different side to what we have been experiencing, but there is usually an echo in us all that feels at home or recognizes the other’s experience. Through our shared experiences we have woven a rich tapestry that has become something bigger than any one of us could have discovered on our own.
If you have come through a spiritual formation program and would like to share your experience, please contact Kristi by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.