Put Love First

My last post was in August, about the time I officiated my nephew’s wedding to his beloved. Shortly after that blessed family event, I attended the International Association for Near Death Studies conference on the east coast and while there, had the opportunity to visit with, and offer comfort, for three life-long dear friends who had all lost loved ones this past year to untimely deaths. Without knowing it at the time, I was living the answer to the question I would soon ask Spirit. Sometimes what we need to see is right in front of us.

A couple of weeks after my east coast trip, I was off to Hawaii to plan a group retreat. In my experience, the energy of the Big Island has a way of burning off any obscuration that may cloud one’s heart. While there, I walked a labyrinth and, as is customary for me, I asked a question upon entering. “What is blocking my path to right livelihood? What am I not seeing?” Before I reached the center I heard, “Put Love First.” This stopped me in my tracks and prompted the following internal dialogue with my higher Self or Spirit, however one wishes to see it.

“Really,” I said, “That’s it?” That’s all you’re giving me, another koan?” Spirit has a tendency to speak to me in short koans with no explanations. (Read my previous blog posts about my NDE.)
“Yep.”
“Put love first. “Love of self, love of other, love of the world, what?” I asked.
“Yep, all of that.”
“Uh Huh, thanks,” I said. I kept walking in toward the center of the labyrinth, where I stood for a while bowing in all directions and giving thanks for the opportunity to inquire and listen.

As I took my time walking back out of the labyrinth, I let Put Love First percolate, repeating it in rhythm with my steps, letting it sink into my body as well as my psyche. Simple, yet profound, these three words have become my mantra, and the question I ask when discerning what direction or action to take, even what words to say to another.

Over the next several days in Hawaii, meditating on Put Love First shifted my energy from fear and lack, striving and resistance, to a relaxed state of gratitude and abundance. By putting love first for myself and another, I released a commitment that was no longer in alignment with either of us and kept a friendship intact. I recalibrated my intentions to complete my memoir, launch my private practice, and stay close to heart and home.

Put Love First became a theme to work with in my own spiritual direction sessions. It manifested in a healing collage, and ideas began to sprout for how to grow it into something to benefit others. It’s certainly not a new message, nor is it unique. It’s a basic tenant of many faith traditions, said in slightly different ways. Love your neighbor as yourself. Love one another as I have loved you. – Christianity   Lovingkindness, compassion, appreciative joy, and equanimity are the four qualities of the heart that reside within everyone. – Buddhism

So as we enter this super-sized, consumerized holiday season full of glitz and gluttony, I share with you this gift from Spirit, Put Love First, and invite you to give the gift of your heart. It doesn’t cost anything to offer a kind word, a smile, a hug, or a slight bow to someone, acknowledging that the light in you sees the light in them.
Namasté, Peace, Salam, Shalom

Put Love First Healing Collage – features Rev Lisa’s original mandala artwork and photographs along with clippings from magazines.
©LjWinston November 27, 2019

Part 8 – From Spirit to Matter

Grace and Divine Presence

Coming Home

What a surprise it was to end my year of ashram life and enter into a year of residency as a hospital chaplain. Resistance is futile when you’re lead by Grace. I came full circle in my material and spiritual worlds; from almost dying while a hospital patient, to being a hospital chaplain ministering to those suffering various stages of trauma, illness, grief and the dying process. Divine Grace was asking, “You glimpsed the threshold of death, can you be fully present with others as they approach their own mortality?”  The answer was yes, and… as a hospital chaplain I found my experience to be some of the most holy, life-affirming, bittersweet and exhausting work one can do. It required stillness in the midst of chaos, both internally and externally, and mountains of self-care.

Zen seeing too requires stillness and a deep appreciation of every breath. My contemplative spiritual practices offered regenerative energy during that time and kept me grounded. I practiced walking meditation and mantras between patient visits, and I spent my days off in my photoshop/darkroom creating books to help teach others “how to see.” It was during that time that I gave birth to two more photo books, 108 Explorations of Zen Seeing and a collection of B&W Zen Contemplative images.

My spiritual and creative evolution, and the integration of my NDE has felt like an upward spiral, both my heart and mind opening wider as I come home to more of who I am.  Discerning that my path lay beyond the confines of hospital chaplaincy, I now weave spiritual direction into my creative, sacred, healing arts experience, offering individual and group companioning for those seeking deeper connection with their inner and outer worlds during challenging times.

I continue to show up with beginner’s mind, curious and in awe of the possibilities that can unfold. That’s not to say that I don’t experience fear, doubt, anxiety and worry. I absolutely do, and when they require attention, I practice  maintaining stillness amidst chaos, allowing me to return to trusting my Self and the Grace of Divine Presence.

Thank you for reading and witnessing these glimpses into my story. I end this blog series with the following questions for you to contemplate:  “One way to open your eyes is to ask yourself, “What if I had never seen this before? What if I knew I would never see it again?” ― Rachel Carson