The Voice of the Heart

Listening to the voice of my heart has never come easy for me. I’m usually quick to assume a present feeling is final, an agony is forever, or that all of my questions should have answers and answers NOW. Yet, I know better. And, the more I grow through those fleeting assumptions–the more I find myself truly pausing and listening to the utterances of my heart–the more I’m truly in touch with those parts of myself that so softly speak my own truth.

…Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.
Just keep going. No feeling is final…” Rilke, Book of Hours I, 59

I’ve found sacred pauses to buoy up my ability to hear those quiet whispers of myself: from going to monasteries, to turning off my car radio, and even truly sitting still in order to tend to “nothing”. Most recently, I returned from my second visit to Snowmass Monastery in Colorado where through the solitude and silence I was once again brought face to face with that interior whisper of who I am. Though the clarity is never striking or certain, it seems to offer a meeting place with the great unknowns and mysteries that somehow always know more, if even unspoken.

On this occasion to Snowmass Monastery, I arrived for more than just a notation on pilgrimage or for space and time away. I was attending the solemn profession of monastic vows that my friend, Brother Aaron, was about to take. He’d been a monk now for nearly eight years and was ready to make his vows of stability, obedience, and conversion of manners (Trappist/Cistercian Monastic vows*). Though I hadn’t seen him for nearly three and a half years, we’d been in touch via letters nearly every week since our initial meeting in 2013.

Much like all of my monastic trips, I settled in and rested for a moment before taking a familiar saunter into the church and meander around the accessible monastic grounds. Snowmass Monastery’s bookstore was a special stop for me to make, as it was where I’d met Brother Aaron nearly three and a half years ago. There, I sat on a bench, admired the new collection of poetry, and breathed in the beginning of a precious friendship, a sacred space of growth, and a familiarity with knowing I’m right where I should be in this very moment.

Just as I began making my way out of the store, a strangely familiar yet unrecognizable voice called out from the lawn near the bookstore, “Cassidy?” It could only be one person, someone that could know me so well to know my demeanor and recognize me by way of just that. Sure enough, it was Brother Aaron, and I finally received the true to word sign-off on each of his letters, “Big Hug”.

As we made our way back towards the guesthouse, we talked about all the friends and family pouring in from all over the map to see him on his special day. He spoke about how he was deeply moved by this and joyfully overwhelmed with all the love he was encountering. He explored with me the meaning of his choice in vocation, his decision to move forward with vows, and his sense of overflowing love with all those from his life who had come together for this important day. He told me that it seemed, “the closer I get to love in my own heart, the closer love comes to me.” That as he continued to be true and loving towards himself and love in his own life: his calling, his vocation, his personal truth–the overwhelming way in which love came to him left him speechless.

These profound words fastened to my attention throughout my time there and beyond – two weeks later they’re still searing into my being in a way that elevates my curiosity of what it really means to be true to oneself and one’s calling or vocation in life. How can one listen and be true to the heart’s quiet breathings, loud speakings, and miscellaneous messages in-between?

This dear monk has taught me time and time again of the great love we’re all capable of giving and receiving in our own unique ways and through our own unique vocations, but coming around to what that means for me certainly continues to evolve, as it does for each individual. Seeing his world come together in a way that renewed and fortified his own view on this was wondrous. As he was following his truth, listening to his call, exploring his heart – love flowed in from around the world for him, literally and figuratively.

Needless to say, I won’t soon forget seeing the solemn profession of monastic vows by my dear friend Brother Aaron. I can only hope to continue to strive towards those sacred pauses that continue to be a meeting place with the voice of my heart.

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Temescal Gateway Park, photo by Cassidy Hall

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*For more about Cistercian Spirituality, check out author Carl McColman’s Befriending Silence.

St. Benedict’s Abbey • Snowmass, CO

St. Benedict’s Abbey is delightfully tucked away in the mountains of Snowmass, Colorado. The view, fresh air and incredible sunshine was a nice change after the recently overcast skies. Coming across St. Benedict’s Abbey was like arriving at a silver lining – both in appearance and experience. Not because Snowmass seemed ‘better’ or ‘more beautiful,’ but because things had become tiring and difficult nearly midway through my journey and the hope provided by Snowmass in all realms was not only refreshing but much needed for this weary traveler.

Immediately upon my arrival I was greeted by the following quote just inside the front door of the guesthouse:

“To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender oneself to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything is to succumb to violence. More than that, it is cooperation in violence. It destroys his own inner capacity for peace. It destroys the fruitfulness of his own work, because it kills the root of inner wisdom which makes the work fruitful.” Thomas Merton

To be honest, I walked by the quote that first day, ignoring its intentions. It wasn’t until the second day that I truly read and embraced what this meant – that my indirect cooperation in violence both diminishes my ability to be fully engaged in who I’m meant to be and decreases opportunity for true meaningful interactions. One might suggest Merton’s quote is a little bold to imply that these things lead us to a place of ‘violence,’ but I think the only way of truly recognizing his point is by engaging in the opposite of those things, engaging in the solitude, silence, and stillness that can be found nearly anywhere we’re willing to strip away the layers.

I was encouraged to consider the main connections of solitude and silence – “solitude is, in a way, intentional silence.” A discussion I recently had, reminded me that solitude sets the scene for entry into silence. “To me, silence is the immersion in God’s eternal now.” This concept that God is eternally now – that everything was and is – omnipresence. Our discussion had a lot to do with the concept of time as a human construct that we project, whereas, to God – everything is now. Therefore, to enter into God’s eternal now is to enter into silence.

I was fortunate enough to stumble upon Snowmass during a Centering Prayer event. Because centering prayer is focused on quieting one’s mind and heart, this happened to be strongly connected with those discussions on silence and solitude. Participating in the experience allowed me to come away with more awareness of new ways to pray and/or meditate. Furthermore, the experience was helpful in increasing mindfulness and deepening my own understanding of meditation and prayer.

Overall, my experience at Snowmass was not only aesthetically pleasing but also internally enlightening. These great slivers of truth I have been able to encounter – often clothed in contradiction or oxymorons – seem to continue coming my way and engaging my mind. I’m often amazed that some of the most profound words, lessons, people, knowledge, interactions, phrases – leave me with such a sense of wonder that I am only left to smile, laugh, or let them resonate wherever they need to. I’ve found that even the painful and challenging things that come up in the midst of silence and stillness are not only good but important to learn and (God willing) get through in order to continue to grow and learn more about my true self.

((SIDE NOTE: Interestingly, just before my departure – I met a friend who is also on journey of sorts, Larry Braak (check out his website at vagabond-quest.blogspot.com), who is not only taking some incredible photos, but writing on some incredible insights along the way.))

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“The meaning of living in fidelity to the present moment, neither retreating to the past nor anticipating the future, is wonderfully illustrated by a Zen story about a monk being pursued by a ferocious tiger. He raced to the edge of the cliff, glanced back, and saw the growling tiger about to spring. The monk spotted a rope dangling over the edge of the cliff. He grabbed it and began shinning down the side of the cliff out of the clutches of the tiger. Whew! Narrow escape. He stared down and saw a huge quarry of jagged rocks five hundred feet below. He looked up and saw the tiger poised atop the cliff with bared claws. Just then, two mice began to nibble at the rope. What to do? The monk saw a strawberry within arm’s reach growing out of the face of the cliff side. He plucked it, ate it, and exclaimed, “Yum-yum; that was the best strawberry I’ve ever tasted in my entire life.” If he had been preoccupied with the rock below (the future) or the tiger above (the past), he would have missed the strawberry God was giving him in the present moment. Children do not focus on the tigers of the past or the future but only on the strawberry that comes in the here and now” The Ragamuffin Gospel, Brennan Manning, Page 53-54

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The Cup in Your Hands, from Thich Nhat Hanh’s The Miracle Of Mindfulness:
“In the united states, I have a close friend named Jim Forest. When I first met him eight years ago, he was working with the Catholic Peace Fellowship. Last winter, Jim came to visit. I usually wash the dishes after we’ve finished the evening meal, before sitting down and drinking tea with everyone else. One night, Jim asked if he might do
the dishes. I said, “Go ahead, but if you wash the dishes you must know the way to wash them.” Jim replied, “Come on, you think I don’t know how to wash the dishes?” I answered, “There are two ways to wash the dishes. The first is to wash the dishes in order to have clean dishes and the second is to wash the dishes in order to wash the dishes.” Jim was delighted and said, “I choose the second way – to wash the dishes to wash the dishes.” From then on, Jim knew how to wash the dishes. I transferred the “responsibility” to him for an entire week. If while washing dishes, we think only of the cup of tea that awaits us, thus hurrying to get the dishes out of the way as if they were a nuisance, then we are not “washing the dishes to wash the dishes.” What’s more, we are not alive during the time we are washing the dishes. In fact we are completely incapable of realizing the miracle of life while standing at the sink. If we can’t wash the dishes, the chances are we won’t be able to drink our tea either. While drinking the cup of tea, we will only be thinking of other things, barely aware of the cup in our hands. Thus we are sucked away into the future – and we are incapable of actually living one minute of life.”

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“… now this is the important point. If you know that all things are impermanent, all your thinking will gradually unwind. When you reflect on the uncertainty of everything that passes , you’ll see that all things go the same way. Whenever anything arises, all you need to say is, “oh, another one!” if your mind is peaceful it will be just like still, flowing water. Have you ever seen still, flowing water? just that! you’ve seen flowing water and still water, but maybe never still, flowing water. Right there, right where your thinking cannot take you, right in the peacefulness, you can develop wisdom. your mind will be like flowing water, and yet it’s still. still and yet flowing. so i call it “still,
flowing water.” wisdom can arise here. …”
Ajahn Chah (Food for the Heart)