I heard a story once told by Nancy Lopez, one of the most decorated women golfers in US history. She was describing a time in her career when she became so burned out from the professional circuit, she abruptly dropped out of all scheduled tournaments, admitting to the need for a sabbatical from her beloved sport. What struck me about her story was the moment she knew. It was in the middle of a tournament on the putting green. While focusing on her target, she heard a portable bathroom stall door open and close.
That was it. She knew. Her ability for complete concentration had left her.
The world of a professional athlete includes, in addition to exceptional physical prowess, a capacity for incredible concentration. And it takes practice, practice, and more practice to be able to show up fully present to their skill. Not just for a moment, but for each and every stroke, for the entire game, and sometimes, for years. Nancy Lopez recognized the moment when this part of her game was shot.
She had to stop, rest, regroup. It was hearing the bathroom door that told her.
Few can imagine the world of a professional athlete, but many of us know what it means to be truly present. As a spiritual director it is the most important gift we offer. In a world where we are all distracted by many things, spiritual direction offers a still place to listen awhile to the deeper rhythms for which we may not even have words. As a director, we help create for others a space to linger, to listen below the surface of things, for what wants to be heard and to notice the shy piece of life so subtle that we benefit from another’s help hearing and discerning it.
More than ever, we live in a world distracted. And more than ever, we need places to rest and be still from all the movement, to listen.
All of us, even the most experienced, will be challenged to stay present when companioning another. What is necessary is that we recognize it. As we tend to our vocation as spiritual companion, we need companions, above all, to help us in our practice of presence. A supervisor helps us look at what it was that kept us from being present. What are we carrying that distracted us, what got so loud in me that I wasn’t able to listen? Supervision’s work is to help us so we may be in touch with our own inner distractions, so that we may return more aware of ourselves, refreshed, and strengthened to continue to offer this gift to others.
I don’t know what Nancy Lopez did on her golf sabbatical to restore herself, but she did return to continue using her extraordinary talent. It is important to know what we need to stay healthy in our practice. It is where our own spiritual practices are needed. In order to offer the gift of presence to others, we must receive it ourselves. We must practice, practice, practice being present.
Cynthia Bourgeault gives this encouragement:
“When our spiritual practice becomes more and more established
it begins to flow out into your life,
it becomes more and more a place you come from.
It is a bedrock of spiritual intelligence,
a sense of connectedness known from so deeply within you
that nothing can shake it.”
— Cynthia Bourgeault, Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening
Our practice of presence then can become a way of life. Not something I do, but who I am. I listen for the Holy, and I accept the community of others to keep me in this way.
Blessings for the Journey,