20 quotes by Phileena Heuertz, co-founder of the Gravity Center, from her book Pilgrimage of a Soul: Contemplative Spirituality for the Active Life. One of My Favorite Books of All Time!

by Mark Votava


  • Avoiding or trying to escape our pain

1. “Cloaked by overactivity, a typical day in the life of many of us is marked with avoidance and escape.  Busyness sometimes serves to help us evade the vulnerable places in our hearts that are wounded and afraid.  Perhaps we numb the pain within by filling our lives with commotion and workaholism, we create a full social life to avoid the interior life, or we try to dull the ache by eating, drinking or exercising too much.  Others do the opposite – in an attempt to avoid pain they suppress or control it by not eating and by other repressive behaviors.  Indulgences of most kinds are often signs that we are avoiding or trying to escape our pain.”

  • Communing beyond words, thoughts, feelings

2. “Contemplation is the development of one’s relationship with Christ to the point of communing beyond words, thoughts, feelings and the multiplication of particular acts…”

  • Distinguishing between the false and true self

3. “Awakening allows for the initial stages of distinguishing between the false and true self…”

  • Sitting in the ache of longing

4. “It’s difficult to sit in the ache of longing, so sometimes we avoid it.  But when we embrace that gut-level discontent, we are moving and growing…”

  • The dream for a better world

5. “In, with and through community the dream for a better world is realized.”

  • A crucial time for listening

6. “The season of longing in our lives is a crucial time for listening…”

  • A life-shattering experience

7. “A dark night of the soul is not an intellectual exercise but a life-shattering experience.  This kind of experience cannot be crafted or sought after – it can only be submitted to.  Darkness of the soul, though terrifying, is a profound grace.  It is an invitation by the Spirit to transformation.”

  • Death is a necessary part of life

8. “Though most of us shun it, death is a necessary part of life…”

  • Standing in opposition to the status quo

9. “Decisions that stand in opposition to the status quo are not for the faint-hearted; they require courage, honesty and risk…”

  • Providing nourishment for the true-self seed of life

10. “Death provides nourishment for the true-self seed of life that has been incubating in darkness.”

  • A necessary season of sitting, walking, living in our pain

11. “In life we sometimes wish our pain would not linger so long.  But for our benefit there is a necessary season of sitting, walking, living in our pain.  When we embrace our pain, own it, we let it transform us.”

  • Getting back in touch with the elements of our own nature

12. “Primitive agrarian cultures teach us something of the value of becoming native to our place – helping us to get back in touch with the elements of our own nature that thrive on rhythm and balance.”

  • Stillness, solitude and silence are not valued today

13. “In our modern world, it is much too easy to overextend our limits toward activity and productivity.  Stillness, solitude and silence are not valued today like they may have been for our ancestors whose days were filled with these qualities simply by the nature of their life’s labor and limitations.  We tend to see restrictions to activity and engagement as something to be avoided.  But limitations and restrictions can be a grace for us.  Within the context of our limitations, God can do for us what we cannot…  Remember, we cannot make ourselves grow; but we can choose to submit to or resist the process.  And though much growth takes place in our active lives, all elements of creation are subject to contemplative stillness as an integral part of our growth and transformation…”

  • Critical conditions to transformation in our lives

14. “Rest, stillness, solitude and silence are all critical conditions to transformation in our lives and the world around us.”

  • The one who neglects contemplation

15. “…the one who neglects contemplation is at risk of being motivated and driven by false-self compulsions…  True acts of service do not build up our egos but bring us into deeper solidarity with the poor, marginalized and victims of injustice…”

  • Transformation is a slow process that takes time

16. “Transformation, which essentially involves healing, is a slow process.  It is rarely full and complete in an instant.  It takes time.  And during that time, it demands cycles of awakening, longing, darkness and, yes, even death…”

  • The very part of ourselves that we are most embarrassed by

17. “Often, the very part of ourselves that we are most embarrassed by or feel most vulnerable about is the exact gift others need from us.  Regardless, embracing these parts of ourselves is crucial to intimacy.”

  • Feeling as if we are being wounded

18. “Love leads us and at times it may penetrate us so deeply that we feel as if we are being wounded.  But that ‘wounding’ is actually for our healing and transformation.”

  • Actions of embodiment are extremely important

19. “In relationship with a God whom we struggle to grasp with our senses, actions of embodiment – being present in our body as well as our mind – are extremely important.  Sadly, Western culture has so prized the mind over the body that the two have been divorced…”

  • Being free of our ego and rooted in love

20. “Living into our true self, being free of our ego and rooted in love allows for true acts of peace and justice.  Without attention to our internal motivations and attachments, we are at risk of imposing our will on the world – deceived into thinking we are doing a virtuous thing – only to find out we need forgiveness for our action…  The ways we interact with the world can be connected so deeply to our false self that we cause more harm than good.  In our misapprehension we do not realize that what we are doing may actually be reaping destruction cloaked in virtue.  The greater our leadership and influence, the greater the potential domination and devastation…”

Which quote do you love the most if you had to pick one?  What do you think of contemplative spirituality for the active life?