There are many times in life I never want to forget. Here’s one.
In the Spring of 2017, I traveled to New Mexico and attended an event at a conference center called Ghost Ranch. The name of the event was: The Soul Never Forgets, Leading From Your Deepest Values. It was presented by an organization called The Center for Courage and Renewal (founded by author and teacher Parker Palmer.) At the end of the event we were to write a letter to ourselves, one that would be mailed to us a few months after the event. Just a few days ago I was looking though some papers and found the letter again and thought it was worth sharing.
As the event brochure describes it, during the week we “explore[d] issues of transition, vocation, life passion, purpose, meaning, direction, relationships and underlying life patterns, to live in alignment with [our] soul, [our] deepest values, the courage to act with integrity and authenticity. In a safe, quiet, nurturing, and confidential environment, this retreat promotes reflection, clarity and insight.”
I can’t begin to describe all that these words meant for me. However, one practice that had a profound effect on me was something called a “Clearness Committee,” a practice rooted in Quaker spirituality. The group is convened for the sole purpose of one person finding their way to greater insight about a particular question in his or her life. You will see that I reference this in this letter to myself.
With a few minor edits, here is the letter I wrote about a remarkable event in my life I never want to forget:
16 March 2017
What do I want you to remember from the “Soul Never Forgets?” Don’t forget the hike to Chimney Rock, where you felt curiously close to the land—and exhilarated that your body could move those three miles. Don’t forget your labyrinth walks—once with many people—all traveling the path in unique ways…sometimes “close” to the center and sometimes far away.
Or your walk to the labyrinth by yourself—making your way even while feeling pain…Don’t forget your roommate…a Presbyterian pastor in the last years of his call—faithfully loving and supporting his wife who has had Alzheimer’s for 8 years. Don’t forget Margaret, a visitor to the ranch who led us on a sunset hike and read us a poem (what was it?) on a promontory. Don’t forget the poems and the music. Don’t forget the honesty of people. Don’t forget those you automatically resonated with and those who irritated you.
Don’t forget, especially, the Clearness Committee. You called it one of the most beautiful experiences of your life. How carefully it was planned. How gently you were held. How you anguished over whether to agree to be the focus person, and then over how to do it and what to say. Don’t forget those who chose to be on that committee—Wendy & Jim & Barb & Madison. Don’t forget how caring and clear they were with their questions. How silence really was a friend. How they took time to listen. How you took time to listen and respond. Don’t ever forget that you cried — about Elliot, and community, and God’s kingdom.
Don’t forget the Christ in the Desert Monastery—the deep silence. The shared prayer. The meal in silence. Don’t forget Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs —an invitation to renewal—a good hike—a great beet salad—a conversation with a young man. Don’t forget Cordelia Coronado, Master Weaver—her spirit, her skill, her kindness.
Don’t forget our leader, Valerie Brown—deep listener, gentle but firm guide, wise sage, fierce practitioner of community.
And don’t forget the many feelings—
– oneness with the land
– joy in community
– vulnerable in Clearness Committee
– listened to
– embarrassingly stupid
– deep yearning for an inner voice
– loving and wanting to love
Mostly, I want you to never forget your gratitude for this time, these moments. Never forget your own deepening love for yourself, your new questions.
Jim, you are loved.
Spiritual Practice: Essential Memory
Is there one place or event in your life you never want to forget? A time that made a profound impact? A person who had a brief but deep influence? A city or town where you were surprised how at home you felt?
Here is the practice. Make note of that person, that place, that event that you don’t want to forget. Stay with the memory for a bit. Call it to mind and search out its contours. Dwell in the details. Relive the time a bit. Write about it if you can. Tell a friend the story. Let it bring you joy.