By Clair Ullmann. The Rev. Clair Ullmann, a Shalem board member, is a priest in the Convocation of Episcopal Churches in Europe. She and her husband received together their Masters in Family Systems and Sexuality from the Catholic University in Leuven, Belgium and created Marriage: An Adventure in Progress (http://clairullmann.com/).
There are two gears in my body: fast and stop. I am trying to find or create some intermediate speeds, but it is very difficult. I have even tried QiQong to slow me down and to notice the moment. Even with this, I find I am faster in the movements than everyone else. I can sit and meditate and get lost in time and space, but once I start moving I get faster and faster. My son who is about a foot taller than I commented one time, “Mom, for someone with such short legs, how do you walk so fast?”
This past summer I participated in the online prayer sessions that Patience Roberts led in the School of Contemplative Prayer. One of the sessions was slow walking. We were supposed to walk slowly, be aware of our breathing, and look intently, see and inhale our surroundings. I tried and tried and tried. I continue to try. There are some things in life that take a long time. Slow walking or slow anything is that for me.
Online prayer is a lifeline for me. I live in an area where there are not too many people. In fact, there are more cows than humans. This means that unless I speak cow language, I don’t have a lot of interaction. Being a spiritual person and one seeking relationship with others on a spiritual journey, the online prayer courses offered by Shalem are a Godsend. It is something I can tap into and actively participate. In this particular course, it was very challenging to stay involved because of all the visitors and activities and travel over the summer. In spite of that I felt this need to reconnect with the course and my fellow pilgrims as we followed Patience’s gentle guidance and support.
I look forward to the next course and all the ones following. On our pilgrim’s way, we need companions, we need to hear from others, their struggles and wanderings as well as receive support and compassion for ours. It is so helpful and life-giving to know there are others who also wonder how some people can be so attentive and contemplative.
Each course offers a different aspect of living in the present in contemplation. Even if you think you know it all and have done it all, go back for a refresher. I did not think the courses would provide me with new information, but I was wrong. On a spiritual journey, we are constantly changing, like the ever-flowing river. We will be different people tomorrow than we are today. Our emotions are constantly triggered by things of the environment, by things of worldly conflict, whether to get involved or not, by life and death, by sudden illness or accident; the list is never-ending.
For me, my saving grace is to be drawn back into the space of the Divine, back to a space where I can breathe and open my eyes and see the wonder around me. This helps me remember that I don’t have to be responsible for all that happens in the world. Slowing down helps me focus more clearly on the things that do matter, like holding my 19-year-old cat or sitting with my husband by the fire and watching the flames, like reading Julian of Norwich or Anne Lamont. When I take time like this, I realize I really can slow down and just be. My mind slows down, my heart beat slows down, my breathing slows down. In fact, my whole body, mind and soul seem to find a place of harmony and rest.
Can I do this while walking? It seems when I stand up my mind is already telling me all these things that need to be done and worried about and looked after. Yes, I still need practice and practice I will.
I invite you to join me on the next course. Perhaps we will meet online, perhaps we will find that we have things in common, perhaps we will begin to support one another, perhaps we will be able to laugh at ourselves and one another thereby making our day a day of joy and gratitude. It is amazing how much can open up from slow walking, slowing down, and opening our senses.