brian j plachta
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by brian j plachta on December 8th, 2019

As we enter the Advent Season, the words from the Christmas carol God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen offer tidings of “comfort and joy.” But what are comfort and joy? How do we know when we’re experiencing them? And when we don’t experience their presence, how do we get comfort and joy back?

Over coffee the other day, my buddy Joe told me he felt happy. He was peaceful. Everything in his life was going well.

“I don’t know what to do with this ‘happy’ feeling,” he said. “I’m used to being worried about something or someone, angry at this or that, dashing to get here or there. But for the past few days I’ve felt calm, whole, filled with love and compassion for myself and others. It feels strange. Surreal.”

Like Joe, we have plenty of opportunities in life to call out the “Help!” prayer—Help me God to pass that test. Help me seal the deal. Help me or my struggling loved ones.

But what about those times when life is good? When everything seems to be going well? When there are no “issues” to contend with? Do we miss graced moments by looking for a new problem to resolve? Or can we experience happy feelings as part of the “comfort and joy” with which God wishes to bless us?

A mentor, Charm, told me years ago when we feel happy on an on-going basis, it’s actually joy we’re experiencing.

Joy, according to Webster, is a feeling of great happiness, pleasure or delight.

However, joy goes beyond and differs greatly from happiness. According to lifestyle mentor Rachel Fearnley, “Joy is more consistent and is cultivated internally. It comes when you make peace with who you are, why you are, and how you are, whereas happiness tends to be externally triggered and is based on other people, things, places, thoughts, and events.”

Joy is a fruit of the Spirit. Unlike the fleeting emotion of happiness, joy can even be experienced in pain or sorrow because we have the sense that God is with us, that we are held by Divine Love. Joy is rooted in the many emotions described in Galatians 5:22-23:

Love
Joy
Peace
Patience
Kindness
Goodness
Faithfulness
Gentleness
Self-Control.

Charm taught me to name and embrace joy when I experience it so I don’t miss it. She said to place my hands on my heart and “receive it as gift.” Then, raise my hands to the sky and “lift it up to God with gratitude.”

Charm’s wise words have shaped and formed my heart. Although I still often fail to notice moments of joy, when I do, comfort fills me. At a family meal crammed with the sounds of clanging dishes and hearty laughter, I pause for a moment, smile, and wonder how I have been gifted with such an awesome brood. I sometimes even hear the soft whispers of my departed mother and father, and the tears that fill my heart are ones of both sorrow they are not here to share this moment and gratitude they are with us in the presence of Divine Love.

I wonder if this simple practice of noticing joy allows us to let go of fear and live our lives filled with love and thankfulness. When we receive joy and name it, we no longer resent serving others. We embrace giving as a heartfelt way of paying it forward. In the midst of our sorrow or anger we stop and listen to the whisper of love which guides us on the path toward deeper wisdom.

Joy helps us notice beauty without having to possess it or cling to it. Holding an aging parent’s hand or kissing their cheek reminds us of God’s love for us.  

Joy helps us say with conviction, “The Lord is my shepherd, I have everything I need”— even if I don’t have everything I want.

Joy allows us to accept ourselves as we are, here and now. It invites our hearts to know, “I Am is everything I need.”

This Christmas season, amidst the chatter of family and friends, during the divine chaos of shopping for loved ones, and even while missing those who are not at our family tables, notice when you experience a tinge of joy. Then step back and recognize everything is right in your world—even if it’s not perfect.

When you notice comfort and joy, “Receive it as gift. Lift it up to God with gratitude.”


—brian j plachta
brianplachta.net


by brian j plachta on November 29th, 2019

When my children were young, we loved to read Where’s Waldo books. The Waldo character, with his red-striped stocking cap, splashed across each page, hidden in a montage of cars and trucks, skyscrapers and houses, people and places. When we spotted Waldo, we’d point to him, laugh, and say, “There’s Waldo!”

I wonder if we can find God the way children find Waldo. If we look closely among the splash of people and events of each day and ask, “Where’s God?” we might glimpse the Creator’s presence. We might see the Divine fingerprint everywhere—and on everything.

Find the Extraordinary in the Ordinary


We tend to look for God in the grand and spectacular—someone’s cure from cancer, the birth of a child. But most of our lives are filled with ordinary moments and routines—drinking coffee, reading a book, driving to work. These everyday experiences can become so familiar they lose significance. And when we see nothing extraordinary in them, we also fail to see God’s presence.

Belden Lane writes in Landscapes of the Sacred, “God meets us where we are….God masks the Holy in the ordinary.”

What if, like looking for Waldo, we trained our eyes to search for God? Perhaps frequently asking, “Where’s God?” might awaken us to the Holy Presence all around us—and even within us.

Everyday chores like washing dishes become a litany of gratitude as we thank God for the gift of our hands and clean water flowing from the tap.

The “ho-hum” becomes “Wow!” The “whatever” changes to “Oh, my God!” The drudgery of daily work shifts to a humble “Thank you, Creator, for the gift of life.”

By asking, “Where’s God?” throughout the day, we reclaim childlike curiosity. We discover the extraordinary in the ordinary. We realize the simple act of opening our eyes each morning is a Divine gift.

“God Surprises”


We can’t move through every moment of the day with awe because we’d never get beyond brushing our teeth. But there are moments when God surprises us.

A white-tailed deer bounces across a field, unmasking God’s beauty. A child’s warm hug radiates Infinite Love. A stranger opening a door for us becomes the Creator’s loving hands. In each enchanted moment, our hearts exclaim, “There’s God!”

Which Lens Do We Choose?


Finding Waldo reminds us there are two lenses through which we can observe our lives. One lens is the ordinary: that’s nice; whatever; I don’t see God. The other is the extraordinary: Wow!; that’s amazing; I see God in everything.

We choose the lens—the level of consciousness—through which we experience our lives. We can ghost lifelessly through the ordinary moments or we can view every good thing as an unmasking of the Holy.

It’s fun to ask, “Where’s Waldo?” If we desire to find Divine Presence in each day, we might ask a deeper question, “Where’s God
?”


—brian j plachta
brianplachta.net





by brian j plachta on November 23rd, 2019

“I’m tired of fighting myself,” I ranted to God in a recent bout with the I-hate-myself blues. “I can’t seem to reconcile those parts of me I dislike. I either run from them or beat myself up for not being perfect. It takes a lot of energy to keep up this inner battle. I’m drained. I wish there was a switch I could flip to discover a healthier self-image.”

 “Maybe there is a way.” The silent whisper I recognized as God’s voice interrupted my whining.  “It’s a ‘449’.”

What’s a 449? Then it came. It was something I’d read.

Page 449 of the Big Book in Twelve Step literature (Third Edition) says acceptance is the key to happiness. Here’s what it says:

“And acceptance is the answer to all my problems today. When I am disturbed, it is because I find some person, place, thing or situation—some fact of my life—unacceptable to me, and I can find no serenity until I accept that person, place, thing or situation as being exactly the way it is supposed to be at this moment.

“Nothing, absolutely nothing happens in God's world by mistake. …Unless I accept life completely on life's terms, I cannot be happy. I need to concentrate not so much on what needs to be changed in the world as on what needs to be changed in me and in my attitudes.”

Perhaps the Big Book is right. Acceptance is the key to happiness. It’s the mental switch we can flip when people, places, and things—including ourselves and our imperfections—aggravate us.  

Acceptance isn’t resignation. Like the Serenity Prayer says, acceptance means letting go of the things we can’t change, changing the things we can, and having the wisdom to know the difference.

And maybe acceptance has to start with ourselves before we can extend it to others. I don’t know why it’s so hard for many of us to accept ourselves. Could it be our excessive drive to compete and excel? Is it our plastic self who needs to show others how wonderful we are so we can prove to ourselves we’re good?

If we don’t do the inner work to find healthy self-acceptance, we can project judgment, anger, and disappointment on those around us.

According to Margarita Tartakovsky, M.S., self-acceptance takes daily practice. It requires us to embrace a positive form of psychology that focuses on what’s right with us. Here’s some of what she outlines as a toolbox for self-acceptance:

1. Set an intention.


If I set my intention that a life with self-acceptance is far better than a life of self-hatred, then I begin a chain reaction within my being geared to a life of peace.

2. Celebrate your strengths.

List all the hardships you’ve overcome, all the goals you’ve accomplished, and all the lives you’ve touched for the better. Review it frequently, and add to it often.

3. Surround yourself with positive people.

Include in your circle of trust only people who inspire you, those who nudge you to grow.

4. Forgive yourself.

Our mistakes and our imperfections are not failures–they are opportunities for learning, healing, and growth. Forgive yourself, learn wisdom from your mistakes, and move on.

5. Shush your inner critic.


That negative voice in our heads that rubs our noses in shame is not the voice of love. Give your inner critic a name and tell it to be quiet. Replace its voice with positive words such as, “I am good. I am doing the best I can. I am enough.”

6. Perform charitable acts.

It becomes difficult to maintain that you’re a failure when you see how your good deeds help other people.

7. Be kind to yourself.


Practice self-compassion. Cut yourself some slack and let yourself be perfectly human—flaws and all.

This week, practice acceptance. Consider putting a sticker on the mirror in your car or bathroom with the number “449” on it.

Whenever you feel the urge to judge yourself or others, remember page 449—acceptance—is key to happiness and self-respect.


—brian j plachta
brianplachta.net













by brian j plachta on November 17th, 2019

On Monday mornings, when we think about all the tasks we have to do in the coming week, we can feel overwhelmed. The mass of “stuff” can feel larger than the abominal snowman.
Listing those tasks can help tame that icy monster in our minds, but even then that Yeti can be frightening and crushing.

Our to-do lists can rule our lives. They either bolster our self-esteem as we check off our accomplishments, or they lambast us for not achieving what we intended.  We soon become human to-do lists.

Years ago, Susan, a mentor, gave me advice about how to let my to-do list become part of my spiritual life so my list didn’t control me.

To begin with, she said to quietly pray or meditate each morning. Center yourself by asking the Creator for a word or short phrase to carry in your heart for the day.

If your mind races forward to all you have to do that day, tell yourself you and God will create your to-do list at the end of your quiet time. Let yourself simply rest with God in solitude.

As you approach the end of your meditation, Susan suggested asking the Creator this simple question:  “What’s the work you’ve given me to do today?”

By asking this question, she said, “You’re praying your to-do list. You’re inviting God into the work of your hands for the day. So, take out your list, write down your tasks, and prioritize them as you and the Creator prayerfully consider what work you’ve been given for the day.”

This handy tool has become a source of comfort over the years. It stops my mind from fretting.  It gives me order and direction for the day. I befriend the abominable snowman that once felt overwhelming.

Praying my to-do list also helps me be realistic. If it will be a demanding week, God nudges me to put “down-time” on my task list. He reminds me to schedule time to play, perhaps enjoying a long walk, snuggling up with a warm blanket and a good book, or doing something creative and life-giving.

Try praying your to-do list each morning this week. As you sit with the One who loves you and wants what’s best for you, ask the God of Infinite Love, “What’s the work you’ve given me to do today?” As you begin each day, let you and the Creator tame your to-do list.




—brian j plachta
brianplachta.net


by brian j plachta on November 9th, 2019


“My mind’s like a galloping horse. I can’t focus. I’m worried. I can’t sleep.” These are common complaints many of us express.

What’s at the root of these ailments? It’s our minds that continue to wander long after our bodies have shut down.

Our thoughts race into the future—worried about what we have to do or what might happen later.

Then our thinking ping pongs to the past—we recall someone or something that hurt us or we desire to return to a more carefree time.

If we don’t find a way out of this adult mind-trap, we can become anxious, conflicted. A nagging sense that something’s wrong with us creeps in.

Guilt. Depression. Sleeplessness. Even anxiety disorders can soon become an inner battle, taking away the beauty of the moment.

The Spirituality and Psychology of Living in the Present Moment

Much has been written about living in the present moment. Most major faith traditions, including Buddhism and Christianity, describe it as a virtue.

Being present to the moment allows us to connect with God and our deeper selves. Be still and know I am God is an often-cited Psalm that quiets our minds and brings us back to present-moment awareness.

Living in the present isn’t just a spiritual concept. It’s also a vital part of mental health and emotional well-being. It’s a  psychological remedy for those of us who struggle with anxiety and stress.

According to an article in Positive Psychology by Courtney Ackerman:

“Being in the present moment, or the ‘here and now,’ means that we are aware and mindful of what is happening at this very moment. We are not distracted by ruminations on the past or worries about the future, but centered in the here and now. All of our attention is focused on the present moment . . . .

“Being present minded is the key to staying healthy and happy. It helps you fight anxiety, cut down on your worrying and rumination, and keeps you grounded and connected to yourself and everything around you . . . .

“Being present and exerting our ability to be mindful not only makes us happier, it can also help us deal with pain more effectively, reduce our stress and decrease its impact on our health, and improve our ability to cope with negative emotions like fear and anger.”

This is How We Do It

Wouldn’t it be great if we could flip a switch and instantly pull ourselves back into the present moment?

Maybe we can.


Cynthia Bourgeault, in her book The Wisdom Way of Knowing, writes that God’s given us three receptors connected through our hearts with which we’re invited to experience the Creator in the present moment: the mind, the emotions, and the body.

When we use all three of our sensors together, we connect with ourselves and God. We awaken to the gift of each moment in a real and experiential way.  

Unfortunately, our brains want to take over  the process. They clutter our thoughts with worry about the future and grumbling about the past. Our bodies and emotions don’t get to experience the “now” of this moment because we’re distracted by swatting the buzzing mosquitoes in our heads.

According to Bourgeault, our minds can think only one thought at a time. So, if we focus on our bodies—the quickest way to quiet our thoughts—the mind stops its constant chatter.

Find Your Feet

At Bourgeault’s Wisdom School retreats, she invites her participants to engage in a simple practice called, “Find Your Feet.” It teaches how to live in the present moment through focusing on the body.

The group begins outside, raking leaves. After a few minutes, the leader calls out, “Stop. Find your feet.”  The participants then stop raking, focus on the sensations in their feet, and express out loud a simple word or emotion they notice.

A buddy and I experienced the find-your-feet practice at a recent Bourgeault retreat.

At first, my mind raced back and forth as we raked leaves. But, when the leader called out, “Find your feet,” I noticed a strong sensation of warmth and tingling in my feet. I felt connected to the earth. Rooted. There was an inner strength and peace that flowed from the ground, into my feet, and through the rest of my body. I uttered the word “grounded” to describe what I was experiencing.

My mind stopped chattering as I focused on my body and emotions. I lifted my nose and sniffed the air, rich with the smell of autumn leaves. I stood awestruck eyeing the kaleidoscope of colors that carpeted the ground. Nature embraced me.

During the weeks after the retreat, my buddy and I integrated this practice into our daily lives. Whenever we noticed the other one fretting about the future or grousing about the past, we gently said, “Find your feet.” This simple practice pulled us back into the present moment. It invited us to return to the awareness that God is here and now.

Other Ways

The find-your-feet practice can be extended to other ways of quieting your mind through focusing on the body. Here’s a few ideas.

Heart-Space


Place your hands on your chest over your heart. Feel your heart’s gentle beat, the warmth glowing within you.

Notice the heart’s deep abiding presence. Its peace.

Feel your stress release as you remind yourself with every heartbeat, “You’re safe. Alive.”

Breath Practice

Noticing your breath is another way to return to the beauty of the present moment. When you notice stress building, simply stop and take several slow, deep breaths.

Filling your lungs with life-giving oxygen nourishes the cells in the blood and enriches the brain with oxytocin—the calming hormone. (Click on this LiveScience link to learn more).

The ancient Greek word for “breath” is pneuma, which refers to the spirit or soul. Hence, the breath is understood by some faith traditions as the spirit of God moving in and through our lungs.

As you breathe in and out, imagine God’s pneuma—the Creator’s Spirit—flowing in and through you. Notice what it feels like to breathe in the breath of heaven.
 
Wash Your Hands

When you feel overwhelmed or get splattered with negative energy from another person or situation, place your hands under a faucet and wash your fingers with warm water.

Feel the water rinse off negativity.

Let this gentle baptism return you to your natural state of calm and positivity.

Practice Living in the Present Moment

Stress is part of our modern culture. Its anxiety constantly drags us into the future and back to the past, distracting us from the gift of the present moment.

By practicing being present to our bodies—both during quiet times of meditation and during the active part of our day—we learn how to stay connected to God and our deeper selves. We return to the awareness that God is with us here and now in each moment.

All we have to do is find our feet.



—brian j plachta
brianplachta.net
 


by brian j plachta on November 1st, 2019

“Here’s a little something I got you for Sweetest Day,” my wife said as she handed me an overflowing gift bag. “Go ahead. Open it.”

I gulped as I looked at the beautifully wrapped present. My face sank.

“Dang. I forgot. I’m sorry,” I said.

In the past, the freight train of shame and perfectionism would have railroaded through my mind because of my mess-up. Toxic perfectionism would have blasted my brain. All my shortcomings would have sounded their ugly “shoulds.” I shouldn’t have forgotten. I should be a better husband. I should  remember the important people and things in my life. I should be perfect.

Instead of rubbing my nose in my blunder, I stopped, took a second to think. I then offered, “How about we go out for dinner this week to celebrate Sweetest Day?”

According to an article in Psychology Today:

“Perfectionism is a trait that makes life an endless report card on accomplishments or looks. A fast and enduring track to unhappiness, it is often accompanied by depression and eating disorders. What makes perfectionism so toxic is that while those in its grip desire success, they are most focused on avoiding failure, so theirs is a negative orientation. They expect others’ love and approval to be conditional on a flawless performance.”


Wise Mary, one of my mentors, taught me several years ago how to break the chain of perfectionism.

I told her I felt I could never live up to my expectations. I was always striving to be my best at work and at home, but it never seemed enough. I never measured up. The minute I accomplished a goal, I moved on to the next mountain to climb. I was always pushing myself, never taking the time to celebrate what I’d accomplished. And if I failed at something, I beat myself unmercifully.

Mary looked at me with glaring eyes. “Do you realize perfectionism is a sin?”


“What?” I replied. “I thought striving to be the best at whatever we do is a good thing.”

“It’s great to set goals. But when they become the yardstick by which you measure your self-worth, you’ve slipped into pride. It’s as if you say to God, ‘Step aside, I’ve got this one. I don’t need you.’ When you succeed, you claim all the glory. And if you fail, you blame yourself or even God for your mess up.”

I considered Wise Mary’s words and asked, “So, how do we overcome toxic perfectionism?”

The remedy is what I call grateful humility,” Mary said. “Grateful because we know we’re gifted with unique talents and abilities, and the source of those gifts is the Creator. Humility because we recognize we’re in a relationship with Divine Love. We’re co-creators with God. In other words, life is a team sport—God’s the coach and we’re the players. When God and we work together, we’re in the right relationship. Human and Divine become One.”

As a result of Mary’s explanation, grateful humility has become the remedy to overcome my unholy perfectionism. I still slip back into my old patterns occasionally, but more and more I see myself and others from this new lens.

When I’m going about a task—whether at work or home—I invite God into the project. I ask him for Divine help and guidance. If I succeed, I receive it as gift and lift it up to the Creator with gratitude. If I fail, I step back and ask God to help me find a solution.

Grateful humility allowed me to admit my mess up with Sweetest Day. Instead of shaming myself or blaming God for my shortcoming, I asked the Creator for a resolution.

At dinner later that week, my wife and I feasted on a superb meal. We reflected on the gift of our four children and our grandchildren. We toasted God for the way he continually shows us how to shift our perspective from toxic perfectionism to grateful humility.


—brian j plachta
brianplachta.net





by brian j plachta on October 25th, 2019

“I had a strange experience the other day,” my buddy Tony said. “For the first time in fifty-five years, I stopped while I was shaving, looked at my reflection in the mirror, and said out loud, ‘I really like myself.’ It felt really good. Is that weird?” he asked as we shared our second cup of coffee.

I shook my head. His question didn’t seem weird to me at all. Many of us, myself included, suffer from the dis-ease of trying to figure out whether or not we like ourselves. It’s often a moment-by-moment struggle. One minute we love and accept ourselves as we are, warts and all, and the next we think we’re damned for all time.  

If not resolved, this unholy tension can lead to a life-long struggle of trying to solve the mystery of who we are and who we’re not.

It seems there are two versions of ourselves that bobble back and forth in our minds. Thomas Merton calls these two selves our false self and our true self. Debbie Ford, in her book The Dark Side of the Light Chasers, calls them our shadow and our light. Others call these two competing images our authentic self and our fictional self.

I like the term “authentic self” best because it points to our inner core. It suggests God created us with our own distinct personalities, talents, and gifts.

A recent article in the HuffPost defines the authentic self this way:

“There is another level of identity that is the real, true, genuine substance of who you are—your authentic self. That is who you are at your absolute core. It is the part of you not defined by your job, function or role. It is the composite of all your skills, talents and wisdom. It is all of the things that are uniquely yours and need expression, rather than what you believe you are supposed to be and do.”

Our authentic self is filled with inner beauty. It lets the light of grace into our hearts. It’s filled with compassion for ourselves and others.

The fictional self is the one the world defines for us. It’s centered on the roles and expectations family, friends, and co-workers have for us. While it might seem easier to wrap our self-image around our jobs and our other titles, when we do, we lose our self-identity. We squelch our true gifts and talents. We feel incomplete.

So, how do we distinguish between these two selves? How do we live our authentic self?

I find the image of an onion helpful.
 
At the center of an onion is a beautiful white bulb that looks like a pearl. The pearl is radiant. It shimmers in the light. It’s soft like satin, yet resilient and strong like a diamond.

Over the onion’s core are layers of thin skins that develop. Membrane tissues form around the core to protect it from wind and storms. Each thin skin shapes and forms as the onion grows in size.

You and I are like an onion. Deep within our hearts is the core, our true essence. We’re created by God with Infinite Beauty. We are God’s pearl, fashioned and molded with the Creator’s loving hands. We are the image of gentle compassion. Infinite love. Inner strength.

As we age, like the onion, we never lose our authentic self. It’s tucked safely within our hearts.

When we experience life’s ups and downs—a loved one dies, a friend abandons us, we lose our jobs—the onion skins of our personality grow over our hearts to protect us from the pain.

Some skins are filled with wisdom. They guide and teach us how to live through life’s trials and triumphs.

Other skins cover our hearts with self-defense mechanisms. “I’ll never be vulnerable again. I won’t ever trust my heart to anyone.”

I realized the other day one of my onion skins is the superman complex. I feel like I have to fix everyone and everything, including myself, to keep my world safe and prove I’m a good person. My wife humors me when she notices my superman hovering around my heart. She gently tells me, “You can take off your cape now.”

As I do the inner work discovering my authentic self, I sometimes ask God these questions:

•What are the unique qualities of my true self, my core, my essence?

•What are the onion skins I’ve developed that need to be peeled back layer by layer so I can grow?


 
Helped by wise mentors and counselors and through daily quiet time alone with the Creator, we understand and embrace our authentic core. We become willing to examine our self-defenses, gently pulling away those protective skins that no longer serve us.

It’s an on-going journey. We never “get there.” But if we perceive it as life’s greatest adventure, the ride becomes one of joy and lasting beauty.

Maybe one day, like Tony, we too might look into the mirror and tell ourselves, “I really like you!” When we do, perhaps we’ve discovered our authentic self.


Practice. 
On a sheet of paper, draw a circle that represents your inner core, your essence. Write down in the circle the names of each quality that makes you beautiful like an elegant pearl.

Next, draw and name the onion skins—the self-defense mechanisms you’ve adopted to protect yourself. Gently ask the Creator for the grace to grow, for the willingness to slowly peel back those layers that no longer serve your heart.

Then celebrate your authentic self.



—brian j plachta
brianplachta.net







by brian j plachta on October 18th, 2019

My friend Tom lost his job as an executive, the bank foreclosed on his home mortgage, and his father died—all within six months.

“I was devastated. I didn’t know what to do or where to turn,” Tom said. “I applied for jobs left and right. But no one wanted to hire a marketing executive who’s in his sixties.”

Something then happened in Tom’s life that changed everything.

“I kept hearing a quiet voice inside me whispering, ‘Open your heart.’ The words followed me silently for days. I could feel them in my stomach like a gentle flow of a flute. They calmed me. But, I didn’t know what to do with them.”

The words, “open your heart,” became a mantra for Tom. According to author Gay Hendricks in his book, The Big Leap, a mantra is a word, phrase or idea that one uses to focus their attention during prayer or meditation. As we meditate, our attention naturally wanders, so we return our focus to the mantra as a home base so we can listen for the Divine Voice in the silence. We can also use our mantra throughout the day to return to our Center.

“Maybe the words were coming from God,” Tom shared with me. “So, one day out of the blue, I decided to start meditating. Up until then I believed in God, but didn’t put much energy into deepening my relationship with him. Now, I felt like I was being divinely led to explore meditation. Maybe I’d get some direction there.

“I sat in the quiet each day for twenty minutes. At first, the worrisome thoughts in my head banged around like hungry bats flying around a swarm of mosquitoes. The thoughts nipped and jabbed at my brain. But then I repeated the words, ‘open your heart,’ to center and calm myself. I imagined I was lifting my heart to God with my hands and he was reaching down to hold my heart with me. The beating in my chest slowed. My breath became softer. Deeper. I began a conversation with God.

“After weeks of practicing meditation, it dawned on me I wasn’t supposed to continue working in the corporate world. I’d done that for twenty-five years and was burned out. The stack of rejection letters in my mail pile confirmed the door back into the marketplace had swung shut. I was being invited to a new season of life.

“I took a part-time job to pay rent and other bills, and began painting. I’d always dreamed of being an artist and using my fine arts degree to paint large landscapes like I’d done in college. Now was the time,” Tom told me. “My heart was leading me, and my feet were catching up.”

Tom continues painting and meditating daily. Much of his artwork flows from his contemplative practice. He now also mentors other artists with the gentle nudge to open their hearts and establish their own meditation practice.

The Heart-Math Institute, which has done extensive research into the heart-mind connection, concludes that the heart is the hard drive of the human operating system. The heart’s designed to send messages to the brain. The brain then serves as the software application to implement the heart’s guidance.  (Check out the Institute’s two-minute video by clicking here: Mysteries of the Heart).

From a spiritual perspective, the heart is the location of our souls. It’s the place where we and God connect. It’s why Christians call the heart “sacred.”  

According to Tom, if the heart is the center, the operating system for our lives, maybe meditation is the way we enter the heart-space. Sitting alone in quiet each day and lifting our hearts to God opens the door that connects our human hearts with the Divine Heart. In that space, we find encouragement. Guidance. Wisdom.

Scripture tells us that Jesus took time daily to be alone with his father. While healing a group of villagers, he realized he’d run out of energy, so he stopped. He needed to be alone to reconnect with his sacred heart.

“God was gently leading me,” Tom says. “If Jesus needed to spend time alone with his father each day to connect with his heart, maybe that’s what the Creator taught me: the cure for worry is to open your heart.”


—brian j plachta
brianplachta.net

 


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






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