“Don’t push the river. Let the river flow,” Gloria said. She was twisted pretzel-like in her wheelchair—hands, arms, and legs crippled with cerebral palsy. Her frail frame wrapped itself around a forty-three-year-old soul—one filled with a lifetime of wisdom—the kind that comes from great suffering transformed by Divine Love.
Gloria was part of a hospice support group I attended when I was thirty. Like me, Gloria had lost a parent when she was a child. As I listened, her words spoon-fed my tired soul.
“When we are born, we have a child-like innocence,” Gloria told the group of ten who’d gathered for our weekly support meeting. “We have a perfect relationship with God. We experience being loved unconditionally by our Maker. But as we grow into adulthood, our relationship with the Creator gets clogged. Fear, self-doubt, and the daily struggles of life choke off our connection with the One who made us and wants what’s best for us. If we don’t clear the blockage, life can become unmanageable. We get confused. Anxious. Overwhelmed.”
Gloria directed her eyes toward me. “Is there a time in your past when your life flowed naturally like a gentle river—when you had a sense of being connected, safe, and whole?”
I paused and pondered. As the group waited in silence, a childhood memory appeared—one of me as a five-year-old unclogging leaves in the street gutter after a rainstorm. For an instant, I was a kid again. As the memory flooded my imagination, I felt whole. Safe. Peaceful. One with myself and the Creator. A smile blushed my time-worn face. My heart softened. My lungs opened wide, tasting fresh air.
As I closed my eyes and savored the moment, my heart pleaded to the God I’d forgotten, “Let my life flow again.”
That meeting with Gloria was the beginning of my journey to rediscover the child-like flow I’d lost as an adult. From that point on, I paid attention to flow. I studied it. I named it as such when I experienced it. When I was out of the flow, pushing the river or lost in life’s whirlpools, I increased times of solitude to shake off the world and unclog the connection between myself and God.
Several months after meeting Gloria, I entered a spiritual direction training program. As part of the coursework to become a spiritual director, we studied a bunch of saints and spiritual masters, including Saint Benedict.
Benedict, a fifth-century monk who started the first monastery, wanted to give his monks a template for finding balance between daily work and prayer (ora et labora). He called it a Rule of Life. The monks had to create an individual Rule that became their guiding principle, a framework for finding inner peace and balance in their daily lives. Today, we might call it a personal mission statement.
As part of our three years of spiritual direction classes, we were tasked with the assignment to create our Rule of Life. As I pondered, I looked to the spiritual giants we studied. I noted how each man and woman—Saint Benedict, Saint Francis, Julian of Norwich, Saint Teresa of Avila, Jesus, and others—had four common lifestyle practices that shaped their lives.
First, they took daily time for solitude, to be alone with God—time to meditate and listen for the Whisper of the Holy Spirit.
Second, they read the scriptures and writings of spiritual masters to gain insight and learn wisdom.
Third, they surrounded themselves with people who inspired them to grow, people who encouraged them to take another step outside of their comfort zone.
Finally, they did the inner work necessary to discover their unique talents and gifts, to figure out what made them come alive. They then used those talents in life-giving ways for themselves and others.
I shaped my Rule of Life around the ancient wisdom of Benedict and the other spiritual masters. The following became my Rule, the guiding principles I rely upon to seek inner peace, balance, and wholeness:
Solitude—taking quiet time each day to connect with my inner self and God
Spiritual reading—studying the writings of others further along on the spiritual journey to discover the wisdom and guidance they offer
Community—surrounding myself with people who inspire and nudge me to grow
Contemplative action—taking a spiritual gifts inventory and doing the inner work to discover my unique talents and gifts and then using them in life-giving ways for myself and others.
I call the above Rule of Life Finding Flow. I define flow as being one with the Divine Spirit who opens our hearts, allowing us to experience inner peace, balance, and wholeness.
The above four spiritual practices are tools that help us stay in Divine Flow. When we pattern our lives around them, we rediscover and reclaim that child-like flow we often lose as adults.
If you’re looking for a life-rhythm—a lifestyle that offers more balance, peace, and wholeness, consider adopting these spiritual practices. Think of them as exercise for your soul—a way of finding Divine Flow.
—brian j plachta
PS—the above reflection is an excerpt from the book I’m writing for Paulist Press, titled, Finding Flow—Doable Spiritual Practices to Reclaim Inner Peace, Balance, and Wholeness. Look for it in Fall 2021.