Since roughly puberty, one of my life's struggles has been intermittent bouts of depression. Maybe it’s inherited, maybe it’s just my portion, or maybe it’s connected with long-time sleep issues. Whatever its source, in daily life, I work hard to counterbalance the onset of periods of low energy, negative thoughts, and aimlessness with contemplative practices, spiritual readings, exercise, music, family, and meaningful work. Or as much meaningful work as I can muster.
In 2005, after completing a Masters in Theology and the Arts, I took a job teaching High School in downtown Los Angeles. I learned a lot in teaching, growing and stretching in ways I never could have imagined.
At breakfast with a friend recently, we talked about some of the challenges of parenting young children. He has a four year old and our family has different children in the house as we wrap up requirements for foster-adoption.
Beyond the obvious challenges of taking care of practical matters like feeding and naps, negotiating parenting styles, and lack of sleep (our son didn’t sleep through the night consistently until the age of four), there’s another subtler factor that drains energy.
In contemplative circles, we often talk about cultivating ongoing practices. Given what the term “contemplation” means for so many with no training or familiarity with the tradition, this seems antithetical.
“Wait, doesn’t contemplation mean sitting and thinking about something for a very long time?” It’s inactivity par excellence. If you fool yourself long enough into thinking that kind of inactivity matters in the world, well, you turn it into a lifestyle and call yourself a contemplative.
There is a concept in Heidegger’s writing called Sein zum Tode, roughly translated as being unto death; it’s more an orientation than a concept. It’s a persistent awareness.
From that philosophical vantage point, life is given sweetness and poignancy, given meaning in ever-present awareness of its transience.
Since relocating to the West Coast of Ireland from the U.S., abbess, author, and poet Christine Valters Paintner has been immersed in Celtic spirituality, and her new collection of poems Dreaming of Stones, is an opportunity to follow her into that space as a kind of guide, but with the sensibility of a mystic.