Interview with Sister Florence, a practicing Franciscan for 40+ years. She founded Kairos Contemplative and Meditation Retreat Center
This is a summary (not a full transcript) of the interview
How did Sister Florence get started with a spiritual practice? She started reading about catholic needs for houses of prayer. She wanted to have a place for retreat. She got approved to look into houses of prayer. She went to Detroit to help figure this out.
It is like a dream to Florence, she was not the carpenter, or organizer, but helping hands came to do what needed to be done. She credits God with wanting the work done. She wanted a place out in the country. In 1976 she bought the place in the Northwest for $51K, with 27 acres. Her intent was to offer a place, (she believes we’re all directed by our unique history) the silence will be number one, withdrawal time from the busyness.
She makes a home for groups and individuals. With groups “they’re already on the train”, they respect and honor that. For individuals they make a home, and provide love and caring, so that they too know the “truth of their own wonderful being”. She and Rita want to do “God’s work”.
How did you pick the name Kairos?
14:30: She asked for input, and then she went to the chapel and picked up a book. And the author used the word Kairos in contrast to Chronos. Kairos is always momentary, always present moment. No past, no future, can’t use either. Present moment is the sacred of saintly living. She can pray sweeping the floor, or whatever else task. Inner attitude of service and love. It’s an atmosphere more than telling.
16:00: What is your meditation practice like?
They start their day with quiet contemplation, reads scriptures, and then listen to various sound good teachers on spiritual practice. Some is Tibetan, or Buddha, some Christian. They are just here to facilitate in whatever way that occurs to them. Being human, we like to feel good and accomplished.
There’s an inner attitude that says that whatever the moment holds, you hold it in a prayerful way. Because to want the pleasures or the consolations, and they don’t come, then we usually don’t go back. We want things to satisfy the human person.
We learn to live the way of the cross, resurrection joy. To enter the human suffering. There is a place for us, because of our fidelity to the journey. A lot of that is just plugging away. We may not get anything for weeks or months. Don’t expect anything, receive what is given, with thanks. Everything has a purpose.
20:00 What is your advice for folks who go to retreats, and they losen up destructive habit patterns, but then they struggle a week later when they’re out of the retreat. What do you do when you struggle to integrate what you learn into their daily life?
“You have to will it, you must find a way to enter the silence.
Let nature teach you the wisdom, that is within nature
To broaden the inner scope.
We’re here for one another
What you do, or you do.. Ups me, or Down’s me.
We’re one human spirit in different bodies.
If you chose to continue in this, it’s important to watch your judgments.
Say Yes to the moment, no matter whether it is painful, or whether it is glorious.
We vacillate between good and down, but if we enter all , we enter the suffering of Christ.
You clear the mind, and sit in a state of receptivity, “get behind the thinking mind”.
If we stay true to the course, we’ll change.
We’re more than our bodies, we’re more than our thinking mind.
We don’t get it because there are so many distractions, materialities, and other things that draw us. We complicate things by putting our time and effort into things that are passing. It just means the journey has to go on.
We put our wisdom traditions in a pot and mix it together. We touch that sacred moment, wed the human spirit to that person. It’s a sacred moment. I haven’t come anywhere in 45 years, I’m still very much as I was, but my insights taught me to be faithful to the journey, don’t seek the good, don’t seek the destructive. But put your spiritual eyes towards “God”. She talks about Finley and how she likes listening to this teacher.
24:30 How has this practice helped you through times of struggle?
Yes, because you know everything is transitory, everything passes. Next second it’s gone. But what people struggle with is how things emotionally grab them. You are not your emotion. Repetitive negative reactions depend on how they were wounded. So much pain for some people. Sometimes she’ll recommend someone with suffering first go to a therapist, counseling, before taking the next step with them.
No matter who she is, does not make her better than anybody else. Because the infinite love has no time to look at sinfulness. The brokenness that we walk in through our live. Everyone has a place where nothing has ever invaded, it’s sacred, the temple of our bodies. You don’t talk this way in Buddhism, but you seek the way beyond thinking.
27:30 The kingdom is spread right here, nirvana is right here, the kingdom is within already, what happens if people don’t realize that it’s already here?
Sin for her is contrary to love, but we’re all broken, we all have our shortcomings. Some of the most wonderful people she knows are recovering alcoholics.
We have pictures and words of God, but of course none of that is really god, we really don’t know. All unloving things in the world, are because of human pain. We don’t know what we say is heard. We all hear the same things differently because of our backgrounds. If we all do something loving, we help lift them up.
32:00 Violence in life
33:00 What has she learned from all the groups that have come to Kairos.
We can find a way to let them to who they are. Everything good is given. We were at one (Adam and Eve), but we thought we could do it on our own. But we can’t. We can see after a while that there was a purpose for that. In order to see light you have to go into the dark. And that is why in groups you can do it, without having to do it alone.
34:00 Sister Florence then talks about her parents. Her father gave her the spirit to simply let things be, and to know love. Her mother made her do things she didn’t want to do, which was also good. You become that love, let it through you. She never met a person that she didn’t like. She may not like their dress, etc, but she never met a person that she didn’t reverence.
36:20 What do you say to folks who don’t have time to go to retreats? What advice do you have for them?
Take walks, and feel the in-breath and out-breath,
Let the body be an instrument of quieting
Take a scripture, or Zen reading, and sit 15-20 minutes, and stop when something strikes you, and then stop and journal it.
Journaling helps us objectify our inner thinking. After a week or 2-3 you start to see growth.
She gives some examples
You have to work at it, not as a labor, but a labor of love.
Do it daily
What do you do with the time you’ve been given, those 24 hours?
Put away your gizmos away for a small period of time every day
Just let “God” love you, don’t worry about deserving the love, or doing praying to “get something”.
Mentions the Prodigal Son. The last verse is the most powerful, I’ve done everything you wanted me to do, but you didn’t give me a feast. “Son, all these years I’ve given you everything I have”. Right now, every moment God is loving us. When we know God’s love, we will see a new creation.
She’s positive at the end, and thinks we’ll get through as a human species.
Russell Kolts Compassion Focused Therapy Interview
This is a summary (not a full transcript) of the interview with author and professor Russell Kolts
Russell began with an intense study of Buddhism; reading, meditation, and doing retreats after three years, he realized that a compassionate, mindfulness practice had been life changing.
He says that it was the birth of his child about how he was motivated to start a a meditation mindfulness practice after his son was born. He taught compassionate therapy, and since he struggled with negative emotions in his own life such as anger, and irritability. He observed himself not following his own advice. So he deepened his practice. He realized, “if you want your child to become a good parent, become the person you want your child to be”. What message do your children get from their parents? So he started doing meditation practices, and learning from Buddhist teachers like the Dalai Lama.
He was then later also more able to bring what he learned in his meditation practice and into his psychotherapy work work, by focusing on, “Compassion Focused Therapy”. He then had a scientific scaffolding for working with the mind.
Some examples of practices that would work for him in the moment during.
Mindfulness meditation helps notice what is moving in the mind, such as anger and irritation. This practice helped him recognize it earlier, so just by naming the emotion, it reduces it’s hold on the person.
Meditation and cultivation of compassion have gradually transformed his experience so that the destructive emotions came up less, due to ongoing work with with deep awareness.
Switching out from “that’s a bad emotion” and judgments, looking more deeply, what’s going on here, and other habitual responses.
Working with close family members shows that it is not easy to not be reactive.
Insight is hugely trans-formative
From a scientific perspective, those destructive threat emotions such as anger and fear where designed by evolution, so we can make a rapid response.
The compassion work is by seeing how the threatening person also wants to be happy and maybe our goals conflict at that moment. And at that moment. Shifting from judging and labeling to understanding.
Things don’t always go your way. It takes practice to react with compassion and understanding.
He brings mindfulness and compassion into his classes. He has a course on Compassion Focused Therapy, which involves compassion meditation and mindfulness meditation. Students are meditating in the class, because there is just no other way to learn about it.
He sees how it affects the classroom, students feel safer, they can think better, and more reflectively, and they can have dialogue, since there is a container there. It helps the students with difficult course subjects, helps them to center themselves. They don’t necessarily struggle with the problem, but more with the idea, a self-limiting belief. “There’s something wrong with me” is the most threatening idea, very distracting. Meditation helps you recognize these experiences that come and go in the mind, and not necessarily see them as real or true. Notice them, and let them go.
Slowing down their breathing helps the students. They’re not just techniques on the pillow, but at some point it needs to come off the meditation cushion. At some point it has to come into our lives, and begin to transform. It begins to happen behaviorally, and neurologically.
Other Benefits of meditation practices
Russell thinks that because the world moves so quickly, we’re constantly connected. When he was growing up there were just 4 TV channels, now hundreds, tweeting etc, is all wonderful and convenient. But we’re training our brains and minds to expect a certain high level of stimulation. And we’re not designed to function like this all the time. Just sitting and breathing is hard enough! We’ve trained our brains to expect this level of stimulation. To just sit and do only one thing. If you can’t even sit for 5 minutes, its a sign to learn to slow down and be here now, with full focus of one’s mind. And maybe that’s reading, listening, and be fully present is tremendously powerful. If you want to be really good at something, you can’t be dividing your attention. It’s too stressful to maintain that kind of fragmented attention.
We just need to learn to slow down. He orients students on the front end that this is going to be uncomfortable at first to meditate. Key is to start very small, may start with a minute or two minutes, and go up from there. One of the biggest impediments is expectations. Folks don’t realize that it is actually very difficult. So they get frustrated with themselves, and they give up. In the West particularly we move into this self-criticism.
1. One thing we’re doing is to stabilize our attention
2. Training ourselves to see mental experiences and feelings as mental events, and not necessarily the stuff of reality
3. Training ourselves to notice the movement in the mind. Mentions giving a ticker for a finger biter, which helps train themselves to notice when they start doing the biting. Same with mindfulness. From this perspective the distractions are not a problem at all. These are opportunities to notice movement in the mind.
Russell’s focus right now is Compassion Focused Therapy to help people with emotions like anger. He’s currently working on “CFT made simple”, to help clinicians help their clients. They’re doing more research to demonstrate it’s effectiveness. It really helps that the science is beginning to be there, they now have data to demonstrate it.
He’s starting to see increasing interest in institutions. Lots of misconceptions still about compassion, it’s not being “sweet and nice all the time”.
Being sensitive to suffering and help out in an enduring way. It is still hard to pursue compassionate agendas in politics, because the money is not yet going there. We can have both, compassion and a good bottom line.
If you’re interacting with compassion and mindfulness, you can spread that pro-social stuff.
Russell Kolts one tip for dealing with an oncoming destructive emotion.
When we notice, “I’m getting angry, anxious, etc”. Take 30 seconds to a minute. Slowing down the in-breath (in CFT it is called “soothing rhythm breathing”) and the out-breath. And after that ask yourself the question, “what would be most helpful in this situation”? What would I want them to understand? Slowing down the breaths doesn’t make the problem go away, it just softens, gives “that thread stuff”, gives it some space.
Mary Webster Vipassana Meditation Teacher Interview
This is a summary of the interview with Vipassana teacher and practitioner Mary Webster
Mary Webster talks about growing up as an introspective and day dreaming child. Later in life she picked a career in mental health nursing. She noticed her mind was in an either/or right/wrong mind set. And this black/white thinking bothered her, and h ow it affected her and raising kids. This is how she got into meditation, went into her first 3 day meditation retreat in 1995.
She joined a Vipassana tradition, called re-collective awareness, which is a form of Vipassana meditation. It is based on the 4 foundations of mindfulness. She talks about how it is an unstructured tradition, so a lot of thoughts come in. But then they look at it afterwards to examine conditioning. They look at the way the mind works in terms of habitual thinking, making assumptions, like “this or that” thinking.
She’s learned to be more open and nuanced in her thinking, and is better able to examine her thinking habit patterns.
She learned that it was a beautiful how not being so sure of one’s position allows you to open up and hear other people’s thinking. Which helps tremendously when communicating and dialog with others, such as your kids. It allows for a different relationship to develop.
It’s really an exploration what is going on in our minds.
Mary talks about some of the personal benefits of her meditation. For example being a lot less self-critical. Letting go of perfectionism, she could see how this is just a construction, this illusory goal of perfection. She could see through the delusion, that there is no such thing or state of perfection.
Her meditation practice opened her up to her humanness and her own suffering, which is part of being human. We each have our own, and meditation practice helps us deal and incorporate. She felt OK and learned compassion for herself to be a human being. Which in turn allowed her to be more compassion for those around her, to be more friendly, and more open to ideas.
She then talks about her role as teacher, and what she sees her students struggle. But she also sees how we all suffer in a similar way.
“Holding on to something so tightly, a sense of our-self, a sense of how things are supposed to be. That we somehow solidify our experience, and don’t allow for an exploration of the movement that is around that solidity. We tend to hold fast in a certain way.” (11 min)
The work with students is around what is held solid? So then they explore what the mind was doing with the student. What was exactly happening? A lot of this work is breaking down words. Like breaking down the word “perfect”. How does this example of a word show up in one’s life, how does it “hook” you. Breaking down the experience in less defined way, and more full of the experience, not to shortcut our life so much.
She talks about the stories, the narratives, we have made up about our lives (or life-sentences we give ourselves).
She says Buddhism is one huge investigation, a way of examining our lives. It calls into question everything. Meditation allows you to examine life at a gentler pace.
She talks about how our set ways we have, set us apart. This sense of separateness is setting up ourselves into a position, so everything becomes positional. In the flowing river of life, that would be the log that gets stuck in the middle, and then everything has to adjust around it. She talks about shifting that, working with the knowledge of conditionality, so we can take up and promote more wholesome conditions.
She also asks what conditions help us, what conditions do we put in our lives? What conditions help us continue our practice? Watching what we put into our minds and then noticing how this influences and affects us afterwards.
She talks about the importance of taking some time out every day for self-reflection and meditation. Retreats are even better.
What is production, is it only “work put out”? Or is it more than that? We get caught in thinking, “if I’m not producing something that shows, then it’s not worthwhile.” She uses the example of Einstein taking naps and end up more productive.
Mary Webster’s tips for starting a home meditation practice.
Being gentle with yourself
Trying various times to practice
Try to meditate like when most upset.
Read a little bit of Dharma (wisdom) every day if possible, just let the words enter in even if you don’t necessarily understand.
“Conditions are the companions you have along the way”
She talks about how it helps to discuss with fellow practitioners, to have a supportive group if possible.
If you can’t find companions, “be your own companion”, do journaling after your meditation, write down what you can remember, which also helps your memory. So we can be our own friend. The journals can also be shared with a teacher through phone, skype or other means online these days.
Eala Ruby Heart Sitting and Walking Meditation Practitioner Interview
Eala has immersed herself in the healing arts since 1987, taking it up professionally in 1991 and has been a student and daily practitioner of meditation and what she calls, “human soul work” since 1992. In addition to her energy intuitive gifts she is also trained and certified in Massage and Bodywork, Acupressure, Reiki and Hypnotherapy. She calls herself a Holistic Health Practitioner because that encompasses all her skills and focuses on human health as a whole. From personal experience she also understands some of the impacts of abuse, trauma and chronic illness and the challenges of anxiety, depression and stress.
She writes, “I have learned that Energy-Well-Being is not a goal to achieve or a race to win and does not need to compete with others for it. I realize it in my own way and in my own time. These practices have certainly helped with her own healing and helped Eala stay consistent and true whenever she faces stress, anxiety or any of life’s challenges. Most importantly they give Eala a foundation for living my life with integrity, purpose and harmony. She believes each of us has their own path to follow as we seek truth, wisdom and enlightenment. “
Originally from England, I now live in Spokane with my husband Pat and a friendly dog called Mitzi (who’s breath you’ll hear during the interview). When she is not working she enjoys making jewelry, dance and all forms of artistic expression, practicing Nia, Breema and Yoga, writing, walking and spending time with my husband and friends.