Category Archives: Quaker Practice

What is God?

When I proposed the topic “What is God” for the February Reno Friends spiritual discussion, I was both excited and anxious. Would anyone come, and more importantly, would we have the courage to share from our hearts and souls about this big question? Fourteen of us met on Zoom last month, and almost immediately we opened into a gathered space of deep sharing. It was truly magical!

When I sent out the outline and queries for the discussion, I also attached a PDF of the June/July 2014 Friends Journal issue entitled Concepts of God (you can download it here: https://www.friendsjournal.org/private/FJ-2014-0607.PDF). It is filled with thought-provoking essays, poems and quotes from Quakers. The Executive Director introduces the issue by saying, “…to describe God is a vulnerable act. Like the blind men in the South Asian parable, we speak of the elephant we are touching in different ways, and only in the sharing of our own experience do we begin to piece together the full picture and also realize the limits of our perception.”

I began by reading that quote, along with a few excerpts from the issue. Then I opened the discussion and hoped someone would speak. To my surprise, over the next 90 minutes, EVERYONE spoke. We even went slightly over our time because the sharing kept flowing from us. At the end, I asked permission to share the essence of our discussion in this blog, while honoring everyone’s privacy, and they agreed. So, humbly I will try my best to capture what Reno Friends had to say about God.

What is God? God is all that is. God is part of us, and we are part of God. God is consciousness, movement, goodness, love, Light, life, kindness, decency, patience, peace, acceptance, openness, ecstasy, awe, the breath of Life, grace. God is the ground of being, the Source of the Universe (or Multiverse). We are the body of God experiencing Itself. God is immanent, transcendent and yet also intimate and personal. We are co-creators with God. God is a verb.

Most of us don’t identify God has having a particular sex, while some resonate with the idea of God the Father. We agreed God is in plants, animals, octopuses, water, and the very air we breathe. The Spirit flows through all of life animate and inanimate.

One Friend shared this quote from his brother-in-law: “Trying to talk about God is like an amoeba trying to tell another amoeba what a human is.” We all laughed and nodded. I realize as I type this blog that it is impossible to capture God in mere words, yet as we all spoke, I felt a current flowing through us that I can only describe as God or Spirit. Maybe we can only feel God. One Friend said it is an emotional knowing. Another said we are an offshoot of All That Is with all the powers It has. All That Is wants to know Itself and It does this through us and all of creation.

Experiencing God

Many of us connect with God in nature—watching a stream flow or waves breaking on the beach, sitting by a campfire, watching animals, tending plants, taking a walk. One Friend said that even mundane moments can bring you into the Divine if you are present and open. As Quakers, we experience God when we sit together as a community in silence, listening for that still small voice within that is also connected to that which is Beyond. Several shared that learning to listen to God has been a valuable gift of the Quaker path. A Friend spoke of having an epiphany in Meeting one Sunday, when she realized God is in her beloved community. A mother spoke of feeling like she was a bad mom and hearing God say to her, “Love them.”

A Friend spoke passionately of God in music and feeling the Spirit swell up as a piece moves towards a crescendo. Others spoke of experiencing God in great art, pictures, poetry and dreams. A couple of us spoke about quantum physics and seeing God in atoms – being blown away by the discovery that electrons can behave as waves or particles, often depending on what a researcher is trying to record. In other words, our consciousness affects the behavior of sub-atomic matter – it seems we really are co-creators with God! One Friend wondered if God was once the singularity that gave birth to the Universe (or Multiverse) in the Big Bang. Maybe God was bored with being all by Itself, so exploded into stars, planets, moons, us, everything, so It could experience Itself. Friends found God in epiphanies, eureka moments, mystical experiences.

One Friend shared that as a child she was afraid of the dark. Her mother told her God is with you. Later she was found skipping up and down the dark hallways in the house singing, “God is with me.” For her God is love—the love of the Father. Another Friend shared about awakening in the night filled with joy, peace, love and a feeling of infinite expansion.

A Friend shared that in his contemplations about God he was told, “Don’t worry about who I am, worry about who you are.” A couple of Friends spoke about learning to go with the flow of God working in their lives. “When I push the river, I’ve learned it isn’t meant to be.” “Ride the horse in the direction it is going.” One Friend said, “Follow your heart and spirit.”

Has your concept of God changed over time?

Some Friends shared that as children they viewed God as a judgmental man in the sky, but this changed over the course of their lives into a more subtle and personal relationship with the Divine.

Friends expressed gratitude that as Quakers we can have a discussion like this, where everyone’s perceptions are welcome, and we can learn from each other’s perspectives. In the past, many had either not had an opportunity to talk about God or were told by a religious authority figure what God is. One Friend spoke of being able to break out of the definition she had been raised with.

One Friend had a conversion experience in his teens which never left him. He experiences Jehovah through Jesus and has a close relationship with Christ, which has not changed over the course of his life. Another Friend shared he had been an atheist in the past and now sees God in everyone, in nature, in the magic of our planet.

A Friend shared her path of finding good and caring people who changed her concept of God as judgmental. She loves to heal people. She believes the best of us all together makes God, and that help is always there when we need it. She has followed several spiritual paths over her life and finds value in them all. She is grateful to have finally found a Quaker Meeting.

In Conclusion

There is never a conclusion. At least, that is what I have come to. We continue to evolve, to co-create with God, weaving this never-ending story through eternity. What I can’t capture here in words is the lit faces of the Friends who shared these thoughts, the nodding heads and smiles. I look forward to more conversations about God and I’m so thankful I was able to be part of this one.

By Rhonda Ashurst, Blog Contributor, Reno Friends Meeting

The opinions expressed above are not necessarily those of Reno Friends Meeting.

Domestic Noise

On a recent Sunday, our Quaker Meeting was gathering for our Zoom Silent Worship, when something lovely happened. As usual, there was a bit of chitchat as folks welcomed each other to the zoom session, and then people began settling into the silence.  As the session quieted (and before the host muted everyone) there was a short period when we could all hear domestic noise from each others’ homes: the clink of a spoon in a mug, the scrape of a chair on the floor, the whistle of a cockatiel.  It was intimate and wonderful.

Domestic noise can be comforting and reassuring, the sounds of a household functioning. When I was a young mother, I could work in the other room and listen to the kids chattering and usually know what they were doing. (When they went radio silent, I knew to drop what I was doing and go check.) Listening to each other – not just what we say, but listening to what we do – is how we keep track of each other in our respective caves. And as we continue to hunker down in our homes to survive this pandemic, all of us are becoming more aware of the domestic noise in our lives.

During Covid, who we share our domestic space with carries huge implications for our lives. For better or for worse, we have been locked in with our intimates, people whose breath we feel safe sharing. For those living in larger family groups – especially those with children stuck at home – domestic noise can sometimes be irritating and pervasive, something to be escaped. For those of us who live with a partner, small idiosyncrasies we may have easily ignored in the past can loom large in our confined spaces. And for those who live alone, our own domestic noise may echo through our rooms, highlighting our aloneness in this long lock-down.

In these strange days, it may help to become more alert to the domestic noise in our lives. What can these audible clues tell us? If my husband’s cough is becoming annoying, it’s probably no fun for him either. So instead of putting a pillow over my head, maybe I should explore what it means. Does he need a cough drop, a cup of lemon tea, or a trip to the doctor? If children are fighting with their siblings more, are there practical adjustments that might make them all happier? (And if not, do we have the ingredients for chocolate chip cookies?)

And what about domestic silence? What can that tell us? As much as Quakers are drawn to silence, we know that it can mean something more troubling, such as a distancing from each other, an avoidance, a protective barrier that needs examination. Sometimes we fail to say what we must because we don’t want to inflict our truth on a loved one and tension builds. It’s hard enough to live with unaddressed family problems in normal times, and very difficult when there’s little opportunity for escape.  So how do we keep our patience through the pandemic with those who share our lives, even as we all go slightly mad? Mental health professionals are reporting rising rates of mental illness and depression among students, who miss school, and married people in unhappy relationships, and lonely seniors who rarely get a chance to talk with someone face-to-face. And for those who may need to take action to protect themselves, rearranging our domestic situations right now can be painfully difficult and for some financially or practically impossible. Making one’s peace with an unhappy situation can be particularly tough in these circumstances.

So how do we manage, and find ways of appreciating, the domestic noise in our lives? Quaker Muriel Bishop Summers said this in 1990: “All of us… are diminished and dishonored when we do not meet each other half way. How can we love in truth and lovingly help one another in this? Because we must remember that truth without love is violence. And love without truth is sentimentality. We do need both.”

Here are some queries to consider in thinking about the domestic noise or silence in your life:

Do I resist the temptation to fill the quiet of my home with nonstop television or radio? Do I spend time listening to the noises that surface in the quiet?

Do I listen to the domestic noise my partners or children add to the crazy quilt of my life? What might that noise, or the lack of noise, be telling me?

Do I tend to those I live with in the spirit of tolerance and understanding? Do I make space for my partners and children to share messages that I may not want to hear but they need to tell me?

Do I stop to enjoy the simple pleasures of domestic life, such as a warm cookie or listening to the wind chimes out my window?

Do I stop to listen for God in the domestic noise of my life?

When I encounter discord in my domestic space, do I have the courage to speak with both integrity and love?

If I sense there is tension in the silence between us, do I ask if there is something we need to talk about?

By Wendy Swallow, Blog Editor, Reno Friends Meeting

The opinions expressed above are not necessarily those of Reno Friends Meeting.

Bringing Light into the World

This is the time when sunlight returns to our winter world and a new year begins. 2020 has been a year of retreat for many of us, clouded by uncertainty and anxiety. We spent more time with ourselves than usual. I have seen this year as an opportunity to go the “mountain”, to use a metaphor common to many spiritual traditions. There has been less outward activity and more inward reflection. But now the energy is shifting, and the time is coming to re-engage with the “marketplace”—to bring our inner Light into the world.

I am fond of spiritual metaphors like the ox-herding pictures used in Zen Buddhism to teach about the spiritual path. The seeker wanders a path up the mountain looking for the wild ox, then finds and tames it, rides it back down, comes home and enters the marketplace, bringing spiritual wisdom and helping hands to the community. The ox is a metaphor for taming the unruly aspects of ourselves, including our overactive egos and minds. Other similar metaphors include Moses bringing the ten commandments down from the mountain as instructed by God, Jesus spending 40 days in the desert before giving the Sermon on the Mount, the wandering of the Jews in the desert before coming to the Promised Land, and the vision quests of native peoples. In modern times, we go on retreats, withdrawing from our normal lives and taking time for spiritual reading and inner reflection. We hope to come back wiser, more peaceful and compassionate.

What I usually find is that it is easy for me to be peaceful and compassionate while on retreat; it’s when I return to the world that I have trouble! So, I’ve been reflecting on how this lofty idea might be made more accessible to us everyday folks. My experiment this last year has been to incorporate Retreat Days into my schedule. Sadly, I’m here to report that I was unable to retreat for a whole day despite the best of intentions. I did have success in unplugging from news, but not from life.

Then I started wondering if there might be a more practical way to do this ox-taming business, must be the Quaker in me… My new experiment is taking mini retreats and then re-engaging with the world throughout the day, seeking to bring Light and the Quaker testimonies into the world. I’m finding this approach works much better and is more realistic given the nature of my life. My hope is that over time I will be able to maintain centered-down peace while I’m engaged with the world.

Here are some of my mini retreats:

  • Silent Worship whether in community or alone—taking 30-60 minutes to sit quietly and listen for that still, small voice within.
  • Sitting in easy repose and staring out the window for a few minutes, turning off my brain.
  • Going on a walk or taking a swim and making it a moving meditation, where I focus on the movement and get out of my head.
  • Doing Qigong, Tai Chi and/or yoga practice with mindful focus. It helps to do this in a room set aside for this purpose or outdoors. If I’m near my desk or the kitchen, I can get endlessly distracted! It also helps to do just one pose or form if I’ve lost my center or need a break.
  • Taking several deep, belly breaths.
  • Driving in silence.
  • Petting the cat.
  • Breathing and repeating a mantra while waiting.
  • Observing nature and letting myself become absorbed into it.
  • Meditating using a mantra or following my breath.
  • Reading a spiritual book.

Here are some of the ways I try to bring Light into the world:

  • Smile.
  • Listen with total presence, seeking to understand.
  • Speak the truth from my heart, with compassion.
  • Be thoughtful in my actions and words.
  • Do random acts of kindness.
  • Practice peace, even when I disagree.
  • Seek unity; there’s usually some common ground somewhere.
  • Be patient.
  • Love my neighbor without exceptions.
  • Live simply and in harmony with nature and those around me.
  • Be a good steward.
  • Share generously.
  • Shine my Light, encouraging others as my equals to shine theirs.
  • Have faith and trust in the good in myself and others, and Life itself.
  • Stand in my integrity with humble courage.
  • Be open-minded and non-judgmental.

Like any human, I stumble a lot, miss the mark, make mistakes, get distracted. Then I get back on that ox and try again. I’ve come to the conclusion that this is an ongoing experiment without end. I find that comforting. Oh, and it helps not to take oneself too seriously and have a good sense of humor!

Queries:

What are your ways to retreat from the world and reconnect with the Light?

How do you bring Light into the world?

What distracts you from your highest intentions? Disturbs your peace?

By Rhonda Ashurst, Blog Contributor, Reno Friends Meeting

The opinions expressed above are not necessarily those of Reno Friends Meeting.

Are Quakers Mystics?

Last month, Reno Friend Doug Smith led a spiritual discussion about Mysticism on Zoom. It was well attended and stimulated a vibrant discussion. One of Doug’s questions was: Do you think Quakerism can be a form of mysticism? Some thought yes and others no. Defining mystics and mysticism is a tricky task, as mystical experiences are often difficult to explain. Here is the Oxford Languages definition of a mystic: a person who seeks by contemplation and self-surrender to obtain unity with or absorption into the Deity or the Absolute, or who believes in the spiritual apprehension of truths that are beyond the intellect.

Isn’t this what we Quakers do when we sit in silence during Worship and wait for a message beyond us to come through to the Meeting? Our spiritual practice itself is mystical. I personally experience an inner quaking when I am given a message to speak. My heart beats faster and my breath comes quicker. I feel shaky and cannot calm down until I rise to speak. Once the message is complete, the quaking stops. Other Quakers have shared similar experiences with me.

Here is a quote from New Studies in Mystical Religion by Quaker Rufus M. Jones (1927): The mystic, as I hope to show, is not a peculiarly favored mortal who by a lucky chance has received into his life a windfall from some heavenly Bread-fruit tree, while he lay dreaming of iridescent rainbows. He is, rather, a person who has cultivated, with more strenuous care and discipline than others have done, the native homing passion of the soul for the Beyond… The result is that he has occasions when the larger Life with which he feels himself kin seems to surround him and answer back to his soul’s quest…

Rufus Jones was fond of saying “the beyond is within.” Christ said, “The kingdom is within you.” Carl Jung likened us to an aspen grove, connected through roots he called the “collective unconscious”. He spoke of synchronicities that occur in everyday life which seem to reveal an underlying pattern and mystery to the Universe. Most of us have had an experience that gives us a glimpse into the Mystery.

For over thirteen years, I have been reading and writing for What Canst Thou Say? (http://www.whatcanstthousay.org/)—a Quaker publication featuring mystical experiences and contemplative practice. For the last three years I have been an editor. The writers for WCTS share stories of their experiences that have touched my heart and soul. They have helped me see that my own mystical experiences are not strange, but perhaps more common than I ever realized. Here are some examples:

  • Calling a friend who has been on your mind and they say: “How did you know I was just thinking of you and about to call?” I’ve had the experience of picking up the phone to dial a friend and they are already on the line—I’d picked up their call before the phone even rang!
  • Dreaming of someone and then running into them the next day.
  • Finding just the right book or article at the moment you need it. I once found a much needed book lying in the middle of the living room floor in a newly rented house which was otherwise empty. The same can be said of running into the right person at the right time who has an important message for us, or who may change the direction of our life.
  • Experiencing a series of coincidences that lead us down a certain path in life, which later appear to be intentionally synchronistic in explicable ways. My journeys as a therapist and Quaker were marked by many such coincidences.
  • Receiving important messages during meditation, Silent Worship or other times when we are still enough to hear the voice within. Sometimes these messages can come through like a lightning bolt and are accompanied by visions and hearing a voice that is not our own. From my experience, these are rare compared to the more quiet and ordinary messages.
  • Feeling yourself disappear and become one with nature, or music, or movement.
  • Becoming so immersed in the flow of an activity that you disappear and feel something is done through you. This has happened to me when writing, speaking and working as a therapist.
  • That little “tap on the shoulder” along with a message which guides you to what you need. For example, helping you find your car keys or something you need in a store. The other day my partner was led to a thrift store he never frequents to find an obscure lid for one of my mother’s pots. Sure enough, it was there! And it was only 45 cents.

As you watch practical saints operate, in a great variety of affairs and under very different conditions, you soon see… they seem to be lending their hands to a larger life than their own.  If they were asked, they would deny that they were mystics.  “No, I am not a mystic.  I have no mighty experiences.  I am too practical and too commonplace ever to be a mystic.”  My answer would be that there is no inconsistency between a mystical life and a practical life.  The more truly mystical a person is, the greater the probability that he will be effectively practical.” Rufus Jones, New Studies, p. 198-202.

Could we all be mystics and not know it? Can we open ourselves ever more to being conduits for the Light? Is Rufus Jones onto something when he suggests we can cultivate the “native homing passion of our souls for the Beyond?” What canst thou say about your own mystical experiences?

Postscript: If you have a mystical experience you would like to share, What Canst Thou Say welcomes submissions at any time, which you can send to rhondalou14@gmail.com.

By Rhonda Ashurst, Blog Contributor, Reno Friends Meeting

The opinions expressed above are not necessarily those of Reno Friends Meeting.

Continuing Revelation

The coronavirus pandemic has raised many challenges for society, but one of the most difficult are the restrictions on gathering for worship. Like many other church groups, Quaker Meetings have struggled with whether to meet online through Zoom, or outdoors, or in tiny groups – but for Quakers, it is all complicated by the fact that we worship in silence. There’s no service, no minister or choir, to videotape and upload to our website. Instead, we sit in silence and, occasionally, someone feels moved by a message rising in their heart, and they stand and share it with the group. But not always; many gathered Meetings for Worship pass without a single message. Despite that, however, we do feel the Spirit moving amongst us. There is something about being together that makes the Silence more powerful.

So how to worship if we’re also trying to keep everyone safe? At the moment, Reno Friends are sitting in silence in our Meeting House garden, separated by six feet and our masks, hoping it doesn’t rain. In the fall, when it gets too cold to sit outside, we may take our worship online, using Zoom to gather in silence. We are learning that we have to keep reinventing what we do.

For Quakers, that’s not a stretch. We believe that the spiritual journey is one of continuing revelation, which springs from our personal experience of the divine Inward Light. One of my favorite Quaker expressions is “way will open,” which means that the proper course will reveal itself in time. But it also means we don’t necessarily know what comes next. It takes patient discernment of leadings and insights to find our path. We each listen to the “still small voice” inside us, then share what we’ve heard with the others for seasoning and, hopefully, eventual unity. We keep becoming, over and over.

The idea that revelation is ongoing, rather than set in stone by a creed or biblical text, is fundamental to the Quakers’ understanding of God. According to Central Philadelphia Monthly Meeting: “Continuing Revelation” means that… the Holy Spirit’s creative activity among us did not end with the first generation of Apostles at Pentecost. The Spirit continues to speak and reveal God’s insight and wisdom to us if we are willing to listen. While God is ‘unchanging,’ our understanding of God’s wisdom is not, and may increase or diminish overtime and over generations.”

This pandemic is nothing if not an exercise in continuing revelation. One week we are told to disinfect our groceries, the next week it turns out that may not matter. But, as Quakers, we know we must keep listening and reading and weighing alternatives to figure out how to live within our Light and do what God calls us to do. We also know that we must sometimes turn over knowing to the Spirit, and live patiently with the little we can know for now. 

At the moment, it feels helpful to consider this guidance from British Yearly Meeting: “Be aware of the spirit of God at work in the ordinary activities and experience of your daily life. Spiritual learning continues throughout life, and often in unexpected ways. There is inspiration to be found in the natural world, in the sciences and arts, in our work and friendships, in our sorrows as well as in our joys.” In short, there is continuing revelation all around us.

Wendy Swallow, Blog Editor, Reno Friends Meeting

The opinions expressed above are not necessarily those of Reno Friends Meeting.

Settling Into My Natural Rhythms

As our extended Coronavirus retreat unfolds, I am settling into my natural rhythms. Delicious hours stretch before me, empty of outward commitments, allowing time to delve inwards. I am slowly coming home to myself. Why is it so difficult to create space for me in my own life? I can easily get lost in the tyranny of my to-do lists and the needs of others, ignoring my own needs in the process. These are lifelong patterns.

I was walking with a dear friend the other day who nodded and smiled knowingly when I shared that I’m grateful for my increased solitude. She said she was anxious about Coronavirus going away and having to return to her previous social life. I could relate. As we strolled along, we wondered why we feel captive to the social norms of society and the needs of others? What about our own needs for solitude, quiet, reflection? How can we speak for ourselves and still honor our more socially oriented loved ones? We are becoming aware of which relationships are important to nurture and where we may need to set better boundaries. I’m glad I can share this journey with a kindred spirit.

My partner is another kindred who reminds me that he deliberately avoids agreeing to as many engagements as I do. I fear I’ve been dragging him along into a busier life than he prefers. My other gratitude is having more time with him, alone. I adore his company and luxuriate in our longer conversations. The cat has stopped wandering around squalling for attention, since we are here most of the time and more attentive to him. He is grateful for more connection with us. I talk to my mother every day and there is more spaciousness in my heart for her. My social circle is drawing in closer as I focus on my most important relationships, rather than trying to be there for everyone and get everything done on some list.

I like the Quaker testimony of Simplicity and the query I most like is: Do I keep my life uncluttered with things and activities, avoiding commitments beyond my strength and Light? Though I have been diligent about uncluttering my things, I’ve been cluttering my calendar with commitments beyond my strength and Light. So, I decided to set Mondays aside as my Retreat Day where I schedule nothing and withdraw from the outer world. This has helped me remain sane and more serene during this uncertain time. I pray for continued resolve to honor my deep need for solitude and freedom from doing for this one day a week. How can I hear the song of my soul if I’m so busy I can’t even listen?

One of the struggles I am having is with my desire for some kind of scheduling formula. Spirit laughs at me from within and suggests, “Surrender.” I suspect I will find my way moment-by-moment by simply doing the next right thing. I trust my heart will show the way.

Rhonda Ashurst, Blog Contributor, Reno Friends Meeting

The opinions expressed above are not necessarily those of Reno Friends Meeting.

A Time for Reflection

Suddenly, we all have more time for reflection. Quakers are familiar with taking time in silence for reflection; it’s what we do! Now we are joined by legions around the globe. Schedules are falling away as we retreat into our homes and living spaces. This strikes me as an opportunity to settle deeply within and ask: what is truly important in my life? What do I wish my life to stand for now?

As societies, we are asking what is an essential service? I am grateful to all the people who are continuing to provide essential services so we can live. We are having to look at how we have structured our lives, our businesses and organizations, our communities, our societies. We are learning how inter-connected we all are with each other and all things.

My sense is our lives have been interrupted so that we might create a new life, one that is simpler, more balanced, and more in harmony with nature and others. My guess is that, deep down, we have all known our old ways could not go on.

I have always found the Quaker Testimony of Simplicity to be helpful when I consider what is truly essential in my life.

Simplicity

(This is the seventh in a series of 12 monthly queries developed by Pacific Yearly Meeting. All monthly queries are on this website under the All About Quakers tab in the main menu.)

Life is meant to be lived from a Center, a divine Center . . . a life of unhurried peace and power. It is simple. It is serene. It takes no time, but occupies all our time. Thomas Kelly, A Testament of Devotion, 1941

A life centered in God will be directed toward keeping communication with God open and unencumbered. Simplicity is best achieved through a right ordering of priorities, maintaining humility of spirit, avoiding self-indulgence, resisting the accumulation of unnecessary possessions, and avoiding over-busy lives.

Elise Boulding writes in My Part in the Quaker Adventure, “Simplicity, beauty, and happiness go together if they are a by-product of a concern for something more important than ourselves.”

Do I center my life in an awareness of God’s presence so that all things take their rightful place?

Do I live simply and promote right sharing of the world’s bounty?

Do I keep my life uncluttered with things and activities, avoiding commitments beyond my strength and light?

How do I maintain simplicity, moderation, and honesty in my speech, my manner of living, and my daily work?

Do I recognize when I have enough?

Is the life of the Meeting so organized that it helps us to simplify our lives?

Friends, I’m holding us all in the Light as we move through this challenging passage into new ways of being with each other and in the world. We all have Light within us and gifts to give, and we all need the gifts others have to share. May you shine your Light and encourage others, as your equals, to shine theirs. May you receive with gratitude and graciousness. May you take time to nourish yourself and your family, to play, to exercise, and to rest.  Envision what can be possible, and then put feet and hands to it! Your life is your example, your greatest testimony.

Rhonda Ashurst, Blog Contributor, Reno Friends Meeting

The opinions expressed above are not necessarily those of Reno Friends Meeting.

Trails

Last winter, a young couple from South Lake Tahoe visited our Meeting. When we ended Silent Worship and asked for afterthoughts, the man spoke. During the silence he’d been meditating on their work making snowshoe trails through the forest. It was a snowy winter, so there was a recurring need to set new trails to help people unfamiliar with the area find their way through the forest. In his reflections, he’d been pondering the deeper meaning of leaving trails for others to follow along the path of life.

A couple of weeks ago, my partner and I stayed a few days in a cabin, and cross country skied in the mountain meadows near Tahoe. The first thing we did was get a trail map with suggestions from a local expert on which trails would be best for us to try. We usually stick with a set trail our first time in a new spot. When we follow the trails of others, I don’t have to think about the path. I notice the sky, the mountain peaks, birds in the trees, the glint of sunlight like diamonds on the snow, the crisp feel of the air on my face.

As we become familiar with the lay of the land, however, we often wander off to create our own trail. This requires more focus on choosing a course over hills and through trees, and a willingness to take risks. Sometimes it works out beautifully and we find an awesome new way through the woods and meadows, enjoying new vistas and spots for lunch. There is a thrill to making fresh tracks in the snow, particularly when it has just the right firmness and you can float easily over the top crust without breaking through.

Other times, we don’t choose the best way. On this trip, the snow was hard-packed and icy. We decided to cut off the main trail and find our own way down to the meadow below. Unfortunately, I picked a hill too steep for me to get down safely. Sometimes you can’t tell that until you are committed. I fell. Assessing the situation, I pulled off my skis and went the rest of the way down on my hands and knees! At the bottom, I put my skis back on and we floated through the meadow, over shorter hills, and back to the car. Another time when we tried breaking our own trail, we had a lovely ski, but ended up on the other side of a river and had to walk a mile back to our car with our skis and poles over our shoulders! It was exhausting.

In reflecting on trails, I’ve come to see that sometimes it’s critical to follow a trail someone else set who knows better than you where to go. Other times, I enjoy the adventure of discovering a new path and seeing where it will take me. Some of those are delightful and worthy of sharing; others need to be marked with a big sign saying, “Don’t go this way!”

Here are several queries to explore this topic:

  • How do I discern when to follow the trail another has set vs. when to break a new trail for myself?
  • What blocks me from heeding the wisdom of those who have gone before me?
  • What blocks me from heeding my own inner wisdom and charting a unique-to-me course?

Please join us on Sun. Apr. 17 at 8:45 am in the Meeting House for a Spiritual Discussion session on Spiritual Paths and Breaking Trails.

Rhonda Ashurst, Blog Contributor, Reno Friends Meeting

The opinions expressed above are not necessarily those of Reno Friends Meeting.

Release the Fear of Suffering

I woke up this morning with a very clear message, “Release the fear of suffering.” I snuggled in with my beloved partner, Scott, and shared it with him. He then told me he was restless all night, convinced he was having a recurrence of chronic wrist pain. After work with a skilled physical therapist and healer recently, it had completely stopped, with only occasional twinges and some soreness if he used his hands a lot during the day. Finally, he got up and went to get his wrist brace. “As I was walking over to get it, I realized my wrist didn’t hurt. I must have been dreaming, afraid of the pain coming back.”

An example from my own life is my tendency to catastrophize and imagine the worst happening instead of the best. These days I often find myself awash in my fears for Mother Earth and what will happen in the future because of human activities which are seriously damaging the biosphere. I can lose myself in despair and hopelessness if I let my mind continue down this spiral of thought.

Isn’t this how it goes? We cause suffering in the present because we are fearful of suffering in the future. We can become obsessed with trying to control our future to avoid suffering or become frozen with despair. Oftentimes, that which we fear either doesn’t come to pass or is much less scary than we’d imagined. How much more suffering do we endure because of our fear? How much of our life do we waste worrying, strategizing, controlling, withdrawing, isolating ourselves, bracing against pain (which can cause more pain due to chronic tension from muscle guarding) and despairing in hopelessness?

One of my favorite teachers is Ekhart Tolle who wrote The Power of Now. He asks, are you in danger now? Are you in pain now? What is true in this moment? He encourages us to live more in the moment, the only one we truly have. He asks us to trust that if we are fully present right NOW all will be well and we will clearly know what response to make to whatever is in front of us. It is the only space in which we can transform our own lives and the world in which we live.

How might our lives be different if we released our fear of suffering in the future? Waiting for the other shoe to drop? The pain to return? The bottom to fall out? The world to end?

In my experience, we create in our life and our world that which we dwell upon in our thoughts. What if we spent more time focusing on what we would like to create instead of what we fear? What if we embrace hope, peace, loving kindness? What miracles could happen if we act from that place?

Rhonda Ashurst, Blog Contributor, Reno Friends Meeting

The opinions expressed above are not necessarily those of Reno Friends Meeting.

Lying Fallow in this Season

The idea of “lying fallow” comes from agriculture. It is an ancient practice used by farmers to rest and restore soil. The idea is to take a field out of production, plow it under and let it lie fallow for a year or two. During this time, nutrients in the soil are renewed so the next crop planted will thrive. As I’ve observed nature, I’ve noticed lying fallow is not just for soil.

As the leaves fall, days shorten and temperatures cool, I find myself craving rest and quiet time at home. I long for spacious hours to draw inward and restore my energy after the exuberant activities of summer. I’m not the only one. The cat spends more hours curled in his baskets, preferably in the sun or on the heated bathroom floor. The bunnies and squirrels in the park appear less often, spending most of their time underground, only coming out when it is warm and sunny.

Yet, this seems to be the busiest time of year for social gatherings and community events. Our calendars fill up with holiday parties, get-togethers, lunches, dinners, coffee dates, shopping, and travel to be with family. Our mailboxes fill with annual holiday greetings and we have a list of our own to get out.

Something in me rails against this busyness which appears at the exact time that I want to be lazy, stay home and rest! In recent years, I’ve become more mindful of how I do this season. I examine every request that comes my way and ask myself if it is an absolute YES; if it isn’t, I politely decline. At times I make exceptions – sometimes what someone else needs is more important than my preferences. I strive to balance my energy, my Light, as Friends like to say.

This year I’m trying something new, a Retreat Day once a week. On this day, I keep my schedule free so I can stay at home and float through my day, doing that which restores me and allows me to settle deeply into myself. I’m an introvert, meaning that I need alone time to restore my energy after I’ve been out and about in our extroverted and busy world.

Here’s what I am noticing about my experiment: I am calmer, slower, more peaceful and thoughtful this season. Knowing I have a Retreat Day to look forward to every week helps me be more present to others, as well as to myself. The bucket I’m giving out of is fuller, so my giving is fluid and easy. I don’t feel drained, over-obligated and resentful. I know I will have the time I need to rest and recharge. I wonder what took me so long to give myself this gift of a day of rest! Like the fields, lying fallow restores me so I can nourish others with joy, and isn’t that what this season is all about?

Rhonda Ashurst, Blog Contributor, Reno Friends Meeting

(The views expressed above are not necessarily those of Reno Friends Meeting)