A Day in a Life: A Contemplative Life

Seeking solitude in the midst of life... - Photo by Jan Ketchel
Seeking solitude in the midst of life…
– Photo by Jan Ketchel

I had dreams when I was young. Those dreams always centered around a contemplative life. My Catholic schoolgirl self envisioned joining a convent, one that fostered a life of silence and prayer. I thought that would be the perfect life.

In my teenage years I contemplated the hermit’s life, living alone in some remote area, far removed from society in search of nirvana. As I grew up, left home and went out into the world, I still wished for and dreamed of retreat, for the safety and freedom of a solitary place where I could just be.

At my core I was always aware that I had such dreams because I was afraid of the world, but little did I know the reason for my fears. I did not know that I had already encountered frightening evil.

Over the past few nights, while dreaming, I have encountered a woman. She confronts me. The first night she sat next to me. She stared at my hands and arms, which I held in my lap. “Why aren’t you wearing any of Jeanne’s jewelry? Why aren’t you wearing anything that belonged to her?” she asked me. “It doesn’t matter,” I said in my usual humble and self-deprecating manner. “I’m not special, and besides anyone can do what I do.”

Last night she came back into my dream. This time I passed by her on a street. “Bitch!” she said to me as she walked quickly past. Behind me I could hear another woman ask her why she had said that to me. “We have to harass her,” she said.

These two dreams make sense to me as I seek balance in my life, as I constantly seek to fully accept and own who I am, all parts of myself. In the first dream the woman was confronting me about my spiritual side and my work as a spiritual being. Am I truly owning her? Do I fully live as the spiritual being I have worked so hard to become, a being with the ability to channel?

In the second dream, the woman is asking me to confront my human self, all the things I have done in this life, all the moods, angers, deceits, and fears that make me human. I must fully embrace and own her too. The woman in my dream asks me to fully express all parts of myself, without holding back, to fully be both the spiritual being that I am and the visceral human, bitch or otherwise, that I am.

The two sides of self must fully live as one... - Photo by Jan Ketchel
The two sides of self must fully live as one…
– Photo by Jan Ketchel

And I do need to be harassed. If I am to know who I truly am, I must constantly be confronted, in dreams and in reality. All of this is part of actively living a contemplative life. I already know that if I go too far over to the contemplative side I ignore my human self. If I get too human I ignore my spiritual self. But what I realize, and have for a long time now, is that my dreams of living a contemplative life have always been my reality. I have always been a contemplative person. Most of us are.

I did not go into a convent or retreat to a mountaintop, but I did create my own reality. I did secure myself a life of contemplation in all that I chose to do in life. I was always living my dream. But when we are in the midst of life we might not realize this, though I see how my intentions—what I told myself I wanted—became my life. I lived the solitary life of a freelance artist and writer, not in a convent or a cave on the side of a mountain but sequestered in my studio. I ventured out into the world to deliver one assignment and secure my next, but for the most part I lived in solitude. And I liked it that way.

I also now know that my contemplative life has evolved me forward into something more like my childhood dreams, into a life full of opportunities to experience the purity and freedom to just be; what was always at the root of my desire for retreat. But I had to go through the trials of recapitulation to get here, like the confrontations with the dark side of the soul that all contemplatives must face if they are to evolve into the spiritual beings they dream of becoming too.

At this point in my life, as I look back on the journey I’ve taken, I see the bigger picture now, but we have the opportunity to do this all the time, to pause and contemplate where we have been. We always have the opportunity to ask: What are the messages I’m giving myself? What reality do I want to create for myself? What dreams have I been dreaming my whole life? Am I fulfilling them? Are they truly my dreams, coming wholly from within? Or am I trying to fulfill the dreams or uphold the demands of another? Am I living the life I really want to live? The answers to such questions may be surprising!

I see very clearly that my childhood dreams of the contemplative life came solely from within. They were indicating the way to both my salvation and my darkness, or rather that through contemplating my darkness I would achieve the salvation I had really been dreaming about all along. I was not fully conscious of this when I was young, but when I think about it now I realize there was no other choice for me, and so I have to say that at some level of consciousness I really was aware that I was totally on the right path, solitary though it was.

Sometimes we must stop and contemplate where we are. We might see that our life is full of both light and dark...and both are right. - Photo by Jan Ketchel
Sometimes we must stop and contemplate where we are.
We might see that our life is full of both light and dark…and both are right.
– Photo by Jan Ketchel

My spiritual self wishes to tell you that you too will get to a place of freedom and purity, but my human self needs you to know that it may be a tough road—if life harasses you, that’s good! But both sides of myself would also say that if you look at where you are right now, and contemplate how you got here and what your dreams are, perhaps you will find that you are right where you always wanted to be. You might be taking your own path of heart, living a life that is directed solely from within.

Had I been given the insight that I now have when I was in my twenties, would it have mattered? Yes, I think it would have. And in truth I was being given advice and insight every day of my life, as we all are, by the world outside of me and by my deepest conflicts within. It’s just how life is, whether we are contemplating it or not.

Sending love as you take life one day at a time, trusting that you are on your path of heart,

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