Believing In My Compassion
by Mark Votava
It has been a few days now since I got back from Nebraska from an amazing silent retreat. In my home at the Tacoma Catholic Worker I am learning to breathe deeply, walk mindfully, and live from my true self. A day before I went on the deepening retreat with Gravity, a center for contemplative activism, I wrote in a journal on April 14, 2016 the following thoughts.
- Journal Entry: April 14, 2016
Staying present in the now takes me to a place of courage, compassion, honesty, humility, and groundedness. When I have feelings of frustration, anger, pain, and grief I need to step back and believe in my compassion. I need to be more “selfish” in a way, to be aware of my deepest needs and feelings, not to get focused on others, but lean into my own “selfishness” and my own truth. I want to be so grounded in this with sensitivity, intuition, and honesty.
This is where my gifts lie. My experiences always leave a trail of gifts behind them that come out in beautiful, mysterious ways. Sometimes I can see them and sometimes I can’t. Generosity, patience, humility, sensitivity, and responsibility are so alive in me in these moments.
I believe in my gifts, in the intuitive, sensitive, and compassionate person that I am!
- The joy of the true self
At the retreat, I experienced a lot of joy and that joy is coming from my true self. My life has been so bombarded with melancholy the past several years and often it leaves me confused, disorientated, and lost. I feel like the prodigal son who has lost his true self. My expectations have made me resentful, angry, and depressed.
- Dying to all my idealistic expectations of life
So I am learning to die to all my idealistic expectations of life, to be grateful for what is, to take joy in the present moment. This is so hard and painful, but beautiful. I seem to hate the dark nights of the soul that God seems to be leading me to. I don’t understand them at all.
- Am I completely lost?
Am I losing my faith? Am I completely lost? Am I really loved by God? These are the questions that I am living in.
- Living in my vulnerability
Maybe I’ll never have answers and I am coming to see that I am okay with that. Living in the humility, vulnerability, and loss of it all is leading me to find the kingdom of God within. My feelings and needs are speaking to me of something deeper, something I don’t quite understand yet. Maybe it has something to do with community, engagement in the world, and a practice of contemplative spirituality.
- Seeking God in my pain
The deepening retreat has brought to my attention that I need to seek God in my pain, especially when I am embedded in loneliness. As I remember Dorothy Day and her autobiography, The Long Loneliness, it is always comforting to know that her presence and legacy goes before me to create some kind of path for authenticity, peace, community, and hope.
- Learning to smile a little more
But I am learning to smile a little more, be more gentle with myself, and connect with what I love in life. These are some of the fruits that have come from this beloved deepening retreat. I am thankful to God for the possibility to become a contemplative activist in the world!
- We can’t skip over or outrun darkness
Phileena Heuertz writes, “When I set out on the Camino, I hadn’t fully realized what I was getting into. Darkness came in waves. I couldn’t avoid or go around the dark physical and mental feats I faced. I had to pace myself with it and go through it. We can’t skip over or outrun darkness; neither can we hide from it in the busyness of life or in a time of extended rest…”
How have you been running from the difficult stuff of life?
My new book The Mystical Imagination: Seeing the Sacredness of All of Life (2015) is finally done! It is available on kindle and paperback!
“Our crowded, overly-consumed, hyper-active, digitally-addicted lifestyle is draining the life out of us. We are desperate to transcend the chaos and find a better way to live. We need a mystical imagination. Get ready to be transported into the depths of meaning as Votava breaks open the contemplative path and shows you how to live your life to the fullest.” Phileena Heuertz, author of Pilgrimage of a Soul: Contemplative Spirituality for the Active Life and founding partner, Gravity, a Center for Contemplative Activism
My first book The Communal Imagination: Finding a Way to Share Life Together (2014) is available on kindle and paperback also!
“Inside everyone there is a longing for community, to love and be loved. We are made in the image of a communal God. But in our hyper-mobile, individualistic, cluttered world… community is an endangered thing. And community is like working out – it takes work, sweat, discipline… without that our muscles atrophy. Everybody wants to be fit, but not too many people want to do the work to get there. Mark’s book is sort of a workout manual, helping you rediscover your communal muscles and start building them up slowly. It is an invitation to live deep in a shallow world.” Shane Claiborne, author and activist