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The discipline of stillness

Spiritual retreats can be experienced daily in the outside world

By Ina Teves

APRIL 2011

Weekends are no longer sacred. The Internet and advanced technology have made work, home, and everything else seem interconnected. We catch up with our office mail and check on the kids through our smartphones, or enjoy a virtual game during a drawn-out meeting. Everything, no matter how trivial, demands our immediate attention, and impinges on the few quiet spaces that we have in our lives.

What does one do when the world invades one’s sanctuary? One creates a sanctuary in the world.

Finding refuge

A few years ago, I discovered the Retreat in Daily Life (RDL) with the Center for Ignatian Spirituality (CIS). Back then, I was a busy, successful independent organizational development consultant who felt a strong desire to be more present to my young family.

The RDL is a version of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola which, like physical exercises, are designed to strengthen one’s spiritual muscle. It has two versions: the 10-week RDL for Beginners and the 35-week Spiritual Exercises RDL. It is based on Ignatius’ realization five centuries ago that not everyone can take 30 days off from work to do a spiritual retreat.

During the RDL, a spiritual director is like a coach who meets you once a week to guide you through the program. He or she is someone you are comfortable with—religious or lay, married or single, male or female, Jesuit or non-Jesuit, or a combination of those. 

Pray as you can

Throughout the exercises, we are never asked what we think perhaps because it is easy to explain away anything. Our feelings, however, hold the truth about our hearts’ deepest desires. You learn to pray as you can, not as you can’t. I had the freedom to choose what time of day to pray and where, but I had to commit to at least half an hour daily. 

What happens when I don’t have the desire to pray at that moment? Then just be there and pray for the desire to pray. 

I learned that I can be honest before God in prayer and tell Him about how I don’t want to talk to Him at that moment. Yet, by committing to the 30 minutes of not talking to Him, I ended up sensing God as a presence that waits. That was time-stopping grace enough for someone like me who had a project list peppered with deadlines that could not wait.

Living it out

During our weekly meetings, my spiritual director would give me a set of readings and guidelines for prayer. She would listen to anything I shared and asked very few questions, but those moments of sharing were like a sacred conversation. The more I shared about my feelings and experiences during the week, the more I became aware of how God was moving in our lives in a very real way.

Attention is then paid to feelings that flowed throughout the day. When was I at my happiest? My lowest? Where did I feel God’s presence the most? The least? I then choose which among these strong emotions to talk about with God, as with a friend, and remain open to where He is inviting me.

This is what I learned from the exercises: We notice God when we are present, when we are where we are, when we manage our attention. When we are present, we open ourselves to the flow of grace in our lives and through our lives to others.

For more information about the discipline of stillness, check out the April 2011 issue of Health Today now available on the newsstands.

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