Tag Archives: spiritual practices

What do you pray for?

For the past few  weeks I have been walking the Camino de Santiago. This ancient pilgrimage route runs the width of northern Spain taking you to the Galician cathedralimage where St. James’ bones are reportedly entombed.  Walking the whole  500 miles in one fail swoop has been on my bucket list after walking it in halves three previous times.

Lighting candles for others, and your journey, in the myriad of churches along the route is a common ritual. I have been holding a set of loved ones in my thoughts along this path and lighting candles for them has made sense. I appreciate that a friend recently sent me  an article on the value of prayer for secular and religious people alike, and of just holding gratitude for those around us in this manner. One of my mentors, Angeles Arrien, asked that we honor her after her death  by lighting a candle each month for a year on the 24th, the day she passed, and send along a prayer. I will complete that tradition tomorrow.

But, what do you pray for?

There are prescribed prayers in all the spiritual traditions, but what am I to wish for when praying for another? Walking hundreds of miles, you have time to think and this has been a point of deep consideration. I found I initially want to pray for health for those who are sick, that friendships are mended where suffering exists there, or that someone will get a good job. These wishes fall apart quickly when I think about how I am playing god as I start to guess how another’s life should turn out next. I am the conflict lady who likes to remind, at least herself, that we need discord to grow. Often my initial prayers were selfish requests to keep those I love with me in a way that makes me comfortable.  My  candle prayers, with hours to consider them, have needed to get away  from specific solutions into the essence of what I want to send out to another.

Drawing from the Taoist and Buddhist play books, I found that what feels responsible is to wish for another’s well being. What form that will take is not my call. I started to modify a  Buddhist metta prayer that goes, “May you be filled with loving kindness, may you be well, may you be peaceful and at ease, may you be happy.”  Praying for well being, may not mean someone is cured of an illness necessarily, or a friendship is rekindled, since well being may come through these  challenges. Sending thoughts of well being to someone who is no longer in physical form seems to fit better too.

What does this have to do with leadership and playing life well, which is blog’s theme?  I can easily get focused on form when coaching or teaching another. It is a constant temptation to hope for what others should learn or how they should behave.   Not only  arrogant, I close down possibility when I get into specific solutions. Yet, if I am holding a more detached  yet engaged wish for their true well being, I am much better at my job.  This begs the question, how might we live our work as an effective prayer?

A Call to Presence

My winter held a unique tour of the spiritual traditions. I attended a neuroscience workshop at the Upaya Zen Center before working with Presbyterian ministers/trainers, then on to a workshop on indigenous wisdom with Patrick O’Neill. Last, as you read earlier, I supported a conference of primarily Muslim participants in Morocco. That’s my version of wonderful season!


This special tour deepened my understanding of cross-tradition beliefs. I began February sitting in meditation twice a day, which included hearing the following advice sung each evening, “Let me respectfully remind you, life and death are of supreme importance. Time passes swiftly and opportunity is lost. Let us awaken, awaken take heed. Do not squander your life.”

The minister trainers all engaged in communal prayer multiple times a day ending in a short, but profound service. Indigenous practices include the use of morning prayers and drumming, and of course, every day in the Arab world was framed with 5 calls to prayer over loud speakers beginning before sunrise to sunset. Study the world’s religions and you must study ritual.

Rituals very practically call us to stop a busy mind and be in the moment. Cultural anthropologist Angeles Arrien described this cross-cultural goal as “Show up, choose to be present.” We don’t want to squander our lives and ritual is our crutch to make this a habit. Whether it is breath, a service or bowing with our head to the ground, the religious traditions figured out that a daily requirement of committed ritual can help us get back to the here and now.

When we understand how precious each moment is, we can treat each breath, each moment, as a newborn baby.
Michelle McDonald

I had a long layover in Minneapolis as I returned from Morocco, which gave me 5 hours reconnecting to my childhood haunts. A ritual walk around the lake near my growing up house with a friend of 39 years called me to show up where I now stood and notice from where I had come. Some rituals may be prescribed by our cultural traditions, but we can develop others to support our wellbeing.   For some it might be saying “I love you” while looking in the eyes of a child or spouse every night before sleeping. For others it might be appreciating the sunrise and sunset each day. IMG_3513

What might bring you back to the present? Where might you commit to making a simple ritual your daily centering habit? Life is short, let’s play this well.


Devil trees and leadership

Over the holiday break, a contingent of our family stood on a hill overlooking Panama City. As we took in the view, our son Cameron remarked, “It’s all about perspective, isn’t it? I might suffer a terrible death. From a personal perspective that would be catastrophic. In this city, that might make news. Yet, from a historical perspective, that is nothing. How many millions have suffered the same? It becomes nothing.”

We listened to the sounds of the city and watched women hanging laundry out of windows below. We surveyed the skyline, a building fashioned to look like a corkscrew, and the ocean etching a border.

Senya, Cameron’s sister, then encouraged us to contemplate that cities, or systems, like this were rocking and rolling, moving and shaking across this country, across Central America and beyond. She brought up the struggle of actually comprehending how interdependent actions were madly occurring all around us and that we were somehow affecting the melee, even as observers from above. How many people were hanging their laundry at that exact moment? How many were laughing, crying or walking to work? How many were watching like we were? How did each of those actions mess with another?

I appreciated this conversation and how it shifted my perspective in those moments. I was remembered a Jewish proverb that reminds us to place a piece of paper in each of our front pockets. On one we are counseled to write, “I am unique in all the universe,” and on the other, “I am nothing but dust.” The art is to know which piece of paper to fish out when.

I was brought back to Cameron’s initial statement four days later floating down a creek in a small fishing boat, or panga, near Bocas del Toro, Panama. Our captain and guide hailed from the local Nôbe-Buglé tribe.  After pointing out caimans and sloths, he added, “and that tree over there is called a devil tree. Some people will go make offerings in front of trees like those to call out the devil to get things that they want — jobs, a girl or money.  On Good Friday they wait to make their request and spirits will appear sometimes in the form of a monkey to answer them.”

He had my attention. I have been long fascinated by how trees play a role in cultural practices. In Thailand, you can pray to a tree to save your child from illness or to get a job. If rewarded, you return to the tree and give it gifts. Apparently, tree spirits are feminine as when traveling in the country, I witnessed a number of trees awarded very fancy dresses.

In Crow culture, trees might be adorned with prayer bundles or gifts if prayers are answered as  you can see in the included photo.  

And, Deidre, how are you going to  connect this to leadership?

Harkening back to Cameron’s statement, leadership is all about perspective. For example, how often does your average Westerner walk past a tree without notice? How many of you reading this knew about the potential importance of trees and tree spirits within these cultures? More importantly, how often do I remember that what is standard to some is sacred to others?

Leadership calls for humility. I know well that my personal perspective is not the only one on each situation, yet I need constant reminders. Too often I want to barrel ahead ignoring this fundamental fact.

Like the death example above, what might be a catastrophe for me could be interesting news to another, or have no significance at all. As simple examples, take the cutting down a tree or filling in a wetland. Therefore, as leaders some of our most critical tasks must become sharing, gathering and shifting perspectives.

And so, I am walking into this work week with the mantra, “It’s all about perspective.”