brian j plachta
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by brian j plachta on October 13th, 2019

“Help! I’m drowning in an ocean of thoughts,” I complained to my mentor, Don.  

“There are three voices in our heads.” Don stared like a wise owl into my eyes. “They go by many names. You wrote about them in your blog a while back.  Do you remember what those voices are?” (Check it out by clicking here):

The Voice of Love;

the monkey mind; and

the unholy one’s voice.


That’s what I’d call them today,” I replied.

Sometimes, in the midst of life’s daily struggles, it’s hard to understand which voice is speaking to us. The voices mumble-jumble like gibberish in our heads. Our emotions, our past wounds, and our struggle to figure out life, battle within us.

If we don’t stop and sort out which voice we’re listening to, we can become overwhelmed, even shut down emotionally as we put our hands over our ears, shake our heads, and yell, “Stop!”

A beloved friend is struggling in his relationship with his mate. They both have deep hurts that have destroyed the bond of trust between them.

I’ve tried to walk alongside them, nudging, encouraging, and inviting them to ask the deeper question: “How is God using the struggle to help you grow?”

Their conflict has lasted for weeks. While I see breadcrumbs of grace along their path, my impatient spirit has lost hope. The three voices in my head cluck like a flock of roosters crowing in a barnyard, and I can’t hear the Voice of Love above the din.

I brought my frustration to God during my Quiet Time one morning. I asked the Creator to help me hear his Voice.  

At first there was nothing. The roosters clucked louder.

Then I felt something in my stomach. Something in me moved like a gentle breeze flowing from my belly, swirling up into my ribcage, through my lungs, and into my head. “See? I make all things new,” the Spirit’s gentle voice whispered. I knew it was the Voice of Love.

The image of Christ on the bloodied path to Calvary, beaten and bruised, carrying his heavy cross, painted my imagination. I envisioned Jesus stopping on the path to meet the eyes of his grieving mother. “See? I make all things new,” he gasped with the breath of a man about to die.

What does that mean? How do those words apply to the suffering in my friend’s life?

The Spirit whispered softly in my heart. “I am healing their wounds. Be patient. Keep praying and walking alongside them. I am with them. I am transforming their suffering with love. Resurrection is on its way. You just can’t see it yet with your physical eyes. Trust me with the eyes of your heart. See, I am making all things new.”  

My heart smiled. The Voice of Love had broken through the din of noise in my head.

Several days later, I learned my friend and his mate had repaired their relationship. They grew because of their commitment to work through their conflict.

When the voices in our heads become overwhelming, when  the mumble-jumble of our thoughts become gibberish, stop. Enter into the silence. Invite God to help you hear the Voice of Love. Let that Voice lead and guide you.

See how the Voice of Love makes all things new.




Practice:
  Sit in a quiet place. Close your eyes. Take several deep breaths. Then, place your hands on your stomach.  Listen with your heart to the voices in your head. Which one is the Voice of Love? Let it speak to you.  

—brian j plachta
brianplachta.net


by brian j plachta on October 3rd, 2019

You complete me,” Tom Cruise whispers to Renée Zellweger in the hit movie Jerry Maguire.

It’s a great Hollywood line that underscores how we yearn for someone or something to complete us. We look for a person, place or thing to drive away our incessant longing. Yet, when we get them or it, we discover they’re not perfect, and so we yearn for something more. It seems we’re always seeking someone or something just beyond our reach.

I wonder if what we yearn for is Completeness—having all the parts to be whole. But what if we’re already Complete? What if we’re just looking in the wrong places—outside of ourselves?

Sister Maxine Shonk, OP, writes in her daily blessing:

“May God bless the one in you who is dissatisfied and longs for something more,
the hungry one who yearns for wholeness and meaning.
In your fidelity to your longing may God be revealed as the one who fulfills your greatest desire.  May the God of Completion bless you and make you whole.

(Sign up for her Daily Blessings by clicking on this link: Daily Blessings).

I think Sister Maxine is onto something. She suggests our yearning is a natural part of being human. It’s the umbilical cord that connects our human hearts with the Divine Heart. And we long for the Divine because that’s what fulfills our greatest desire—that’s what brings us wholeness and meaning—the union of human and Divine.

Just like our hunger for food nudges us to eat, our hunger for God invites us to seek completion in him. Our human hearts long for the only One who can make us whole. And we become fully human as we seek and find the other side of ourselves: God.

The Creator—not Tom Cruise, not Renée Zellweger, not anyone nor anything else—completes us. The Creator is who we’ve been looking for. And no human being or material thing can provide an end to our yearning, because it’s God and the completion of our human hearts in the Divine we yearn for.

When we expect another person to complete us, we will always be disappointed because they, like we, are imperfect. So, maybe like John Travolta in the Urban Cowboy we need to stop looking for love in all the wrong places and find Divine Love, the Source of our Being, within ourselves.  

Other people and things are icing on life’s cake. But they can’t complete us. That’s our inside job, the inner work we need to do to find the Source of our longing. It is a Holy Longing, a Sacred Desire, which God has woven into our DNA so we can seek and find ourselves in God—the One who Completes us.



Practice:  Close your eyes and imagine whispering in God’s ear, “You complete me.”  
Then, listen with your heart. Do you hear the Lover of your Soul respond?


—brian j plachta
brianplachta.net


by brian j plachta on September 27th, 2019

“What was your warm fuzzy today?” my wife asked our young children as we tucked them into bed.

 “I liked it when Tommy shared his stuffed animal with me at recess.” My son yawned.

My daughter pulled her leg out from under the covers. “When you kissed my scraped knee and put a band-aid on it after I fell off my bike.” She gently touched the band-aid and smiled up at my wife. “It made the ouch go away.”

The bedtime question invited our children to reflect on what was good about their day—where they experienced the warm fuzzy of happiness.  

As our children grew older, my wife re-framed the warm fuzzy reflection into a more adult-like question: “Where did you experience God’s love today?” became our dinner-time discussion.


“When I struck out at the game today and coach hugged me. Told me it’s okay.” A blush flushed over my teenage son’s cheeks. “I felt like God was hugging me.”

My daughter took in a deep breath. “When Sandra called me a meanie and my other friends told me it wasn’t true, it made me feel good.”

Whether they knew it or not, our children were learning a form of St. Ignatius’ Daily Examen.

According to IgnatianSpirituality.com, “The Daily Examen is a technique of prayerful reflection on the events of the day to detect God’s presence and discern his direction for us. The Examen is an ancient practice that helps us see God’s hand at work in our lives in real and tangible ways.” St. Ignatius  required his monks to do it every day.

It has many versions, including this one:

•Ask God for Divine Insight.
•Give thanks.
•Review your day.
•Face your shortcomings.
•Ask God to send his grace for the day to come.

(Discover more variations of the Examen by clicking this link: IgnatianSpirituality).

While many like a structured approach to the Examen, others find it confining. It throws them back into their heads and kicks them out of their hearts.

I’ve stuck with my wife’s simple question for my nightly check-in: “Where did I experience God’s love today?”

That question touches my emotions. It opens my heart. It fills me with gratitude. It’s become the evening warm fuzzy I need to recall how we’re surrounded by the Divine Embrace in so many ways.

How about trying a similar practice at the end of your day? Before you go to sleep, find your warm fuzzy by asking yourself, “Where did I experience God’s love today?”


—brian j plachta
brianplachta



by brian j plachta on September 20th, 2019

Electricity fascinated me as a kid. I often wondered what electricity looked like. How did it get into the wall socket? If I couldn’t see it, was it real? Those questions captured my childhood imagination.

Sometimes I’d stare at the electrical outlet on the wall next to my bed and stick my finger into it. The zap I got convinced me electricity was real.

Maybe grace is a lot like electricity. We can’t see it or touch it. We can only experience it—and when we do, it usually surprises us.

The solution to a problem pops up out of nowhere. An encouraging word comes through an email or social media post just when we need it. A bitter fight with a loved one turns into a pathway of understanding and forgiveness as we reach out, hold hands, and pray together an Our Father.

It’s all grace. Pure. Unexpected. Amazing.

In her book, Sin Boldly, A Field Guide for Grace, Cathleen Falsani calls grace getting what we don’t deserve. It’s unprovoked compassion. Benign goodwill. The unearnable gift. It shows up in relationships. It sneaks up on us when we least expect or deserve. It’s better felt than defined. Like electricity, we can’t see or touch grace, but when we experience it, we know grace is real.

I like to think of grace as the pure energy of love—the Divine Electricity—that supercharges us with wisdom and compassion. And if God is love, then I wonder, can we plug into grace like we plug a cord into an electrical socket and receive the Divine Spark?


Maybe we can. When we take time to meditate, to be alone with the Creator, we plug into grace. As we turn to the Holy Spirit and ask for wisdom to resolve a problem, we knock on grace’s door. When we stop and notice love surging through the warm hug of a friend or fill with awe watching autumn leaves blaze with color, we touch grace. And as we count the people and things for which we’re grateful, we experience grace. Real. Tangible.

Grace invites us to understand we’re the human part of the Divine Team. We’re co-creators with Infinite Love. But, our side of the team lacks Divine Power without the wisdom and guidance of God’s grace. We connect with that grace through daily times of quiet and stillness so we can be divinely led by Wisdom and Compassion.


Like electricity, grace is everywhere, all around us, all the time. We only need the heart’s ears to hear it and wisdom’s eyes to see it. When we plug into grace, we see the Light. We become a Light.


—brian j plachta
brianplachta.net


Practice: What does grace mean to you?
How have you experienced grace?
How do you plug into grace?





by brian j plachta on September 11th, 2019

“Put down your cell phone. It’s dinnertime,” my wife said as I peeked at emails popping up on my iPhone between bites of chicken and mashed potatoes. “The office can wait.”

“I’m overwhelmed.” I shook my head and sighed as I put my phone back into my pocket. “Between work, the kids, house chores, volunteering, and everything else on my plate, I feel like I’m in a tsunami, barely keeping my head above the waves of responsibilities. I’m drowning.”

“Why don’t you take a God-date?” my wife suggested. “Put an appointment on your calendar for you and God to hang out. Go for a long run, a walk, take a hike. Create some space in your calendar for something that’s life-giving. When you come back, you’ll be refreshed, able to love me, the kids, and your work with a renewed spirit.”

My spiritual mentor had suggested the same that week. “Can you give yourself permission each month to take a day or half day to hang out with God?” she asked. “Clear your calendar. Don’t let anything get in the way.”

Julia Cameron, in her book The Artist’s Way, writes that taking time at least once a month to do whatever is fun and life-giving reconnects our souls with Divine flow. She calls it an Artist’s Date and suggests we do it weekly.

For some reason—perhaps our need to feel productive or please others—the last person we put on our to-do lists is ourselves. We resist taking time to be alone and play like we did as children.

Christ’s law of love says love God, love others, and love ourselves. We often get the loving God and others right, but the daily tugs at our time zap any room for ourselves. We get the short end of our to-do list. A growing sense of resentment towards everyone and everything that’s in our lives then churns inside us like angry surging waves until a full-blown tsunami erupts and we come out sideways—and blow-up at loved ones.

To be whole, we need time to fill our tanks—time for solitude so we can love ourselves well. There’s an inner freedom we rediscover in taking alone time. As we regain that childlike spirit, we fall in love with ourselves again.

I took my wife’s advice. I put a monthly appointment on my calendar for my God-date. I told my office and family not to schedule anything during that time. I listed it as an appointment with J.C. Thomas so I don’t have to explain it to anyone else. That sacred monthly time has become a priority.

When my God-date gets closer, I ask the Creator and myself a simple question, “What do you want to do buddy? What would be life-giving?” Then I go with my gut and do what’s fun and adventurous, something that feels like play.

My law firm partners wonder if I’m having an affair. Maybe I am—a love affair with God and myself. And my inner tsunami has quieted.

---brian j plachta
brianplachta.net


FYI—this reflection is one of ten practices that will appear in my upcoming book:

Finding Flow---
Ten Practices to Overcome Fear and Self-Doubt
and Reclaim Inner Peace and Wholeness


Thanks for all your support and encouragement as I write this book. Look for it in 2020.
God bless, brian


by brian j plachta on August 29th, 2019

An ancient tale conveys the story of two fish swimming side-by-side in the ocean.

One fish says to the other, “Hey, what do you think about this beautiful blue water?”

The other replies, “What water?”

“The water you’re swimming in.”

This story is a metaphor for our relationship with the Divine. Like the ocean water that surrounds the fish and swirls through their gills, God’s Spirit surrounds us. It flows through our lungs as the Holy Spirit’s breath, holding, guiding, and sustaining us.

We are swimming in the Ocean of Divine Embrace. Our task is to become aware of it and ground ourselves in the natural life-giving relationship we have with God.

In An Ocean of Light, Martin Laird says we often experience life like the fish who didn’t realize he was in the ocean. Our cluttered minds obscure our understanding about ourselves and God. We search endlessly for something or someone outside of ourselves, hoping whatever “it” is will keep us safe and secure, and let us know we are loved.
 
But like the fish in the ocean, there’s nothing we need do to be held in God’s love. We’re surrounded by the Divine Embrace, swimming in an Ocean of Light. We simply awaken to its Presence allowing ourselves to be nourished by the Spirit of God that flows in and through our lungs, sustaining and guiding us.
 
What if we practiced becoming like the “awakened fish” and realized we’re surrounded by a beautiful Ocean of Divine Embrace?

We could stop trying to “get there” and realize we’re already “there.” We’re surrounded by a cloud of wisdom and compassion that feeds and guides us. God is our Center as we swim in Divine water.

Laird suggests practicing daily meditation to awaken to this Divine Presence. Sitting in silence for twenty to thirty minutes each day, grounding ourselves with a simple word or phrase such as love, peace, be still, or God is my Center quiets our minds and reconnects us with our souls.

This simple practice creates a receptive heart. Over time, it softens the mind, unclutters our thoughts, and anchors us with the depth and breadth of God’s Infinite Love and Wisdom.

In 2012, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams, addressed the Synod of Catholic Bishops in Rome with these words:

To put it boldly, contemplation is the only ultimate answer to the unreal and insane world that our financial systems and our advertising culture and our chaotic and unexamined emotions encourage us to inhabit. To learn contemplative practice is to learn what we need so as to live truthfully and honestly and lovingly. It [contemplation] is a deeply revolutionary matter.”

I wonder if Laird, Dr. Williams, and the awakened fish are onto something. Could the Holy Spirit be inviting us to rekindle the ancient revolutionary practice of daily quiet time and meditation so we realize we’re swimming in the Ocean of Divine Embrace?

Practice: Find Your Center. Go to your quiet space, click on this Centering Prayer link, breathe softly, be still, and experience Presence.


—brian j plachta
brianplachta.net



by brian j plachta on August 24th, 2019


There’s a lot of anger in society these days. It’s not new. It’s been gaining steam for decades.
Some are mad at white people, who demand white privilege.  Some are mad at black people, who play the victim card. Everyone is mad at politicians who won’t focus on solutions.. Even police, our keepers of the peace, are attacking and being attacked.

When I was a kid, my dad had a simple philosophy. If you focus on the problem, the problem will increase. If you focus on the solution, the solution will increase.”  

Dad made us put those words into practice. Whenever my brother and I got into a fight, Dad took us by the shirt collar, marched us into his den, and told us we couldn’t come out until we resolved our argument.

Even though we didn’t like it when Dad ushered us into those time-out sessions, eventually my brother and I resolved our conflict, and we’d be back playing baseball in the backyard like best buddies.

What if we did the same thing with society’s conflicts? Whenever an argument arises, we march those involved into a conference room, lock the door, and tell them, “You can’t come out until you solve the problem.”

Take, for example, immigration. What if we put the open-borders people and the build-the-wall people into the same room and made them come up with a compromise?  We might start their conversation with a simple focus question, “How do we welcome immigrants into our land, but establish a fair and orderly process for doing so?”

Another conflict might be the media. We’d lock Fox News and CNN representatives in time-out and tell them, “You can’t come out of the room until you agree to report only straight facts with no spin, and if you want to give your opinion when reporting, you have to clearly mark it as an editorial, like old-school journalism used to require.”

Even the tough issue of abortion might get resolved by focusing on the solution, not just the problem. Let’s put pro-lifers and pro-abortion opponents in a time-out room and ask them to figure out when human life begins and how we care for women faced with an unplanned pregnancy.

In political philosophy class, we called it “focusing on the common good.” It might sound simplistic, but if it worked for me and my brother, it might work for society too.

Spiritual Mentor James Finley says, “Underneath anger is usually fear, and underneath fear is usually a sense of powerlessness.”

If both sides had to discuss and come up with a mutual resolution, then anger might be channeled into positive energy—and we could focus on fixing things.

Maybe a concrete way to focus on solutions instead of problems is to start with ourselves. What if we placed ourselves in time-out each day and listened quietly to the voice of love invite us to self-acceptance, to God-acceptance? If we let ourselves be embraced with Divine Love, we might accept ourselves as we are.  Maybe in the Silence we’d hear the voice of love say to our hearts, “This is my beloved, in whom I am well pleased.

From that stance, we might then take that loving acceptance into daily conflicts with others and focus on how the Divine Heart invites us to resolve our differences. We might put into practice my wife’s philosophy, who, when a conflict arises, often asks, “How can we make this work for everyone?”

There’s a solution for every problem, Dad said.  If we can move beyond anger and focus with love on the solution, we become the change we seek in the world.

Move beyond the anger. Focus on the solution and see the solution increase.



—brian j plachta
brianplachta.net


by brian j plachta on August 15th, 2019


Spiritual teacher and writer James Finley says inner growth comes from experiencing great suffering and great love. The anonymous author of the ancient text, The Cloud of Unknowing, adds to that, saying we must first pass through the cloud of forgetting—learning from and letting go of past hurts—to move into the cloud of unknowing—that place in our hearts where, having let go of our suffering, we allow ourselves to be protected and held by the unconditional love of the Divine.

Getting there isn’t easy. After completing two years of study at the Rohr Institute for Action and Contemplation, my wife and I planned to take an afternoon tram to the top of the Sandia Mountains near Albuquerque, New Mexico, and go hiking.

During my quiet time that morning before the hike, I stared at a gray bird feather I had found the day before. I turned it side to side. The hollow shaft with the tiny hairs protruding from it symbolized my past hurts—my frustration with the bishop who’d shut down the deacon program after I’d completed three years of studies; the loss of my father to cancer when I was sixteen; my egoic imperfections and self-doubt I wore like a chain around my heart.

It was time to let go of my past hurts. Time to quit nursing these wounds. Time for me to enter the cloud of forgetting, so I could move into the cloud of knowing God’s unconditional love. Time for me to forget so I could know.


I placed the feather in my pocket and carried it with me to the mountain. Standing at the top, gazing over the majestic rocks and lush valley far below, I knew this was the right place and time to set the feather—and my heart—free.

I raised my arms high, lifted the feather to the tips of my fingers, and let it go into an updraft of wind that soared my offering across a sun-blazed sky.  

In that moment, my heart felt free. I no longer had to think about the pain I’d felt for years. It was gone. I had released it.  I had entered the cloud of forgetting, invited by God to move into the cloud of unknowing—the heart-space beyond the mind’s understanding that allows us to be embraced by love.

Standing in the stillness of a whispering mountain wind, the word halleluiah rolled off my tongue. It was as if God had placed that word in my heart, and he and I were rejoicing as I became free like the feather that now soared across the cliffs.

Halleluiah. Halleluiah.

Let yourself forget to know.




Practice: The words of Leonard Cohen’s song, “Halleluiah,” which was the “sending” song at the Rohr Institute, capture how we move from suffering into the experience of God’s unconditional loving embrace. Take a moment to click on this link and listen to the song.  As you listen, close your eyes, take a few deep breaths, and let the words speak to your heart.


—brian j plachta
brianplachta.net

by brian j plachta on August 9th, 2019

A blaze of heat rose from the red-hot rocks sizzling in the pit of the sweat lodge. My throat choked on the thick, fiery air that licked the tepee walls. My nostrils burned. My blood thickened.

“Seek the other side of you,” Lakota Tom told us.


Steamy drops of sweat streamed down my bare chest and back. What does he mean, I wondered. Seek the other side of me?

My mind—and my heart—raced as the heat intensified. Am I going to have a heart attack? 
I took a deep, cleansing breath. “Stop it. Pray,” I muttered under my breath, trying to calm myself. “God be with me,” I repeated, closing my damp-soaked eyes. “God be with me.”

The words from Michael W. Smith’s song The Other Side of Me, softly vibrated in my heart:

If I were the ocean
You would be the shore
And one without the other one
Would be needing something more
We are the shadow and the light
Always love me
never leave me now
now you are the other side of me.
 

The song soothed my soul. Sitting in the darkness of the sweat lodge, I connected with something far beyond me. Yet, it was also within me and around me. The velvet skin of the tepee walls cradled me. I rested in the soft womb of God, comforted by the other side of me.

Seek the other side of you, Lakota Tom and Michael W. Smith remind us, because when we do, we touch the Divine—the One who is the other side of ourselves. When we pray, our human hearts seek the Divine Heart. We connect with that part of us that trusts, loves, and knows deeply. We remember we are whole—our human and Divine Self are One.

When life gets challenging, when anxiety, confusion, or fear chokes us with thick, fiery air, remember Lakota Tom words and Michael W. Smith’s song: “Seek the other side of you.

—brian j plachta
brianplachta.net


Practice: Take a few moments for yourself. Breathe in and out several slow cleansing breaths. Then click on this link and listen to the song, The Other Side of Me. Close your eyes. Let the words speak softly to your heart, as you rest in them. What words or images rise up in you?  Savor them like a rich cup of tea.



by brian j plachta on August 3rd, 2019

A teacher stood in front of her class holding a bottle of water.   “What will happen if I hold this bottle in my outstretched arm for five minutes?” she asked her students.

“Nothing,” the class replied.

“What if I hold it for an hour?”

“Your arm will get tired,” one student said.

“And what if I hold this bottle of water in my outstretched arm for twenty-four hours?”
 
“You’ll experience severe cramping and pain and probably have to go to the hospital.”

The bottle, the teacher explained, represents the things in our lives beyond our control. It’s like a plastic jug filled with our anxieties, resentments, and fears.  It contains the pain others have caused us we can’t or won’t let go.  It’s overflowing with the self-doubt with which we drag ourselves down.

My buddy recently sent me a link to a short video of this teacher’s classroom lesson. You can watch it by double clicking here. 

What is it that I hang onto? What weighs me down?” I pondered as I watched the teacher’s wisdom unfold.

Politics. Fear my dog Riley’s recent bout with a virus signals he’s developing cancer, and we might lose him after eleven years of his loving presence. Concern about what others think of me. Anxiety over whether the book I’m writing will actually birth itself in and through me.
The list goes on, and it changes moment-to-moment, day-by-day.  

If it’s not the driver who cut in front of me without using his blinker, then it’s a negative comment someone made about me or a loved one that launches me into a grumble-fest. Anger. Resentment. Anxiety.  Those are the byproducts of my clinging to negativity and the “what ifs?” in life.

“Drop the bottle.” That’s the solution the teacher offers.  It’s what we can do when we notice ourselves clinging to something beyond our control or when we realize we’re holding onto negative emotions. 


And we can supercharge the practice by asking God to help us let it go. We can ask God for the willingness to let go of what we can’t change and the courage to change what we can.


It’s become a standing joke with my wife and close friends.  When we notice each other grumbling about something out of our control or worrying about what might happen to this one or that one, we stop, take a moment, and remind each other, “Drop the bottle.  Let it go.” 


—brian j plachta
brianplachta.net





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