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Ancient Wisdom for Today's Storms

When I think about the work I do, whether it is teaching people about contemplative practice or engaging them in an experience of the creative arts, the core of what I do is support the cultivation of the inner witness.

Each of us has an inner witness. Meditation practices and traditions from around the world cultivate this aspect of ourselves that is able to observe our inner and outer life from a place of calm, curiosity, and compassion. It is the part of each of us that can witness what is happening but does not get carried away by the emotional intensity of the experience.

No matter what subject I am teaching—whether meditation, prayer, writing, making art, or soul care—what I am trying to do is give my students an experience of that non-anxious presence and offer tools to stay with our experiences in the midst of profound inner turmoil and anxiety. These feel like especially vital tools in our times.

Think about the daily onslaught of distressing news we have to receive on top of our own personal life events, like going to work or navigating the challenges of relationship. Anxiety begets more anxiety. We reach for all manner of distractions and ways to numb ourselves, to fall asleep to the truth around us.

Stay awake and conscious in the face of life's storms. Breathe deeply and observe your inner responses without getting caught up in them. Imagine today it is just a handful of us cultivating this kind of inner peace, in a few months this ripples across our communities, in a few years large gatherings of people are coming together to be with grief and have sustained conversations about the way forward.

I think some of this is already happening in the global movements we are witnessing.

Like St. Seraphim wisely says, developing your inner witness has the capacity to impact the lives of thousands around you. You can go on to challenge injustice, to cry out against oppression (in fact, I hope you do), but do it from a place of deep peace, the peace that comes from showing up with yourself day after day and wrestling with what is hard. As the poet Rumi said, "the breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you, don't go back to sleep."

10/23/2011 4:00:00 AM
Christine Valters Paintner
About Christine Valters Paintner
Christine Valters Paintner, Ph.D., is a Benedictine Oblate and the online Abbess ofAbbey of the Arts, a virtual monastery without walls offering online classes in contemplative practice and creative expression and pilgrimages to Ireland, Germany, and Austria. She is the author of eight books on monasticism and creativity including The Artist's Rule: Nurturing Your Creative Soul with Monastic Wisdom (Ave Maria Press) and her forthcoming book The Soul of a Pilgrim: Eight Practices for the Inner Journey (Spring 2015, Ave Maria Press). Christine lives as a monk in the world in Galway, Ireland with her husband of twenty years.