Posted July 24, 2013 by Marg Herder
At the 2013 Wild Goose Festival Teresa B. Pasquale will lead the practice, “Mystic Soul Movement + Meditation: Finding the Roadmap to Your Inner Contemplative” on Friday, August 9, at 5:30 pm at The Chapel. An additional “Wilding” event titled “Mystic Soul Embodied-Chanting Prayer” will happen Thursday 4:30-5:30 pm (optional 30 minutes of yoga stretching prior to this event), and Saturday 7:30 – 8:30 am, and 6:30 – 7:30 pm.
Yesterday, here on Where She Is, I introduced Teresa B. Pasquale, LCSW, RYT-200, a 2013 Wild Goose Festival presenter. Today I’m excited to bring you this interview, so that you can meet her in her own words. My questions are in bold, her answers in regular font.
Have you gone to Wild Goose before? If not, how did you end up being a presenter this year?
I have not gone to Wild Goose before, but I have pondered from afar. I ended up— by my passion and interest in what Wild Goose has been doing— feeling provoked to offer a few ideas for presenting through the online open request for submissions. And they selected “Mystic Soul Movement + Meditation: Finding the Roadmap to Your Inner Contemplative.”
The theme this year is “Remembering the Body” in all its permutations including, I suppose, the actual, literal body. And that is where I enter stage left. That (and God’s grace) is the only thing I can think of that led to me being selected. It is a true blessing and an honor to be a part of the festival in this way, as I have watched it grow the last two years.
Can you tell us a little about your “Wilding” offering, the “Mystic Soul Embodied-Chanting Prayer”?
I was inspired by a recent Taize pilgrimage to the Lakota’s Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota and some of the Lakota-Taize songs/prayers, and I wanted to infuse a Taize-influenced practice with a bit of my yoga-background mixed in.
The premise to integrating yoga into prayer is based off of the original/historic intention of yoga which was meant to be a practice to prepare the body for prayer—the logistics of prayer being so much sitting in one place. It makes sense, and it follows the origin and I am a big fan of things that both make sense and follow the original intention. We have made yoga many things; but since I have a great passion for meditation, I figure why not take it from the experts and pair the two together.
Do you have expectations about your participation? What do you expect to offer and what do you expect to receive?
I can’t even imagine creatively enough to have any expectations. I expect, as always is the case when I give something out into the world, to receive much more than I can ever give. That is always the most amazing part of giving—the never-ending energy of that giving to be and become something much more than the initial offering.
Given all that, I hope I can offer a method and guide to prayer that feels accessible to people. I think so many people feel very intimidated by both yoga and contemplative prayer. I have spent a number of years first learning the least overwhelming way to do both practices and then a few more years learning how best to teach that method to others. I believe both have such healing qualities to offer, and I would hate for an unhealthy mystification of either to keep people away.
I hope I can demystify the mystic. That is my greatest hope.
Note: In the following questions, the quotes I mention are taken from Teresa’s excellent book, mending broken: a personal journey through the stages of trauma + recovery.
I found your description of the type of feminism you embraced early in your recovery to be very interesting. You wrote in your book, “I became some facsimile of feminism that wasn’t really feminism at all. Feminism became a shield, more of a title than an action verb. I created a stringent personal code, which I tried to use to build safety and strength for me in the world.” And you also wrote, “I became my own self-contained oxymoron. I created my own rigid dogmas and rules of life and if anyone crossed the line, violated my code, or were a part of anything that stood against what I saw as ‘right’ or ‘just’ through my foggy lenses of misguided intentions, I threw it or them away.”
So now my question is, what does your feminism, and more specifically your Christian feminism, look like today?
I would say my feminism today is a lifestyle. It is a way I go about life. It is about equality and justice and healing; for me this often manifests as being a voice for those who don’t necessarily have a voice and, most recently, that has been about issues of violence against women—rape, domestic violence, trafficking (to name a few areas of focus).
It has become a way of trying to find healing and empowerment by saying the truth of what happens to women in the world we live in and about not just leaving my worldview to the most comfortable of places.
As a survivor and a therapist of trauma I think I have learned that what I can give to women and feminism is a balance between the voice of the often unheard survivors, looking for action and justice for those people who may or may not have voice, and giving back what I have learned on my crooked path in the methods that helped me heal—contemplation, mind-body practices, spiritual relationship.
It is no longer just a voice raging for the sake of keeping life and men and the scary things I hadn’t yet dealt with at a distance—like it was in the time I spoke about in my book. It is a voice with a purpose, a few purposes. It has become something of a mission statement for my life’s purpose.
And of course it has been about falling deeper and deeper in love with the mystics. The mystic ladies from Christian history are the secret feminists throughout time. Those ladies did things no one else could have in the times they lived, mostly because people didn’t think their voice mattered so they didn’t listen close enough to know how powerful and empowered their words were. I love that about them. That is something I touch on a bit in my next book (which hopefully will be ready by Wild Goose), The Mystic Soul: Discovering the Roadmap to Your Inner Contemplative.
Do you believe that the way certain Christians treat some groups of people (I’m thinking women in very patriarchal denominations, and LGBT people in many others) can result in something that might be aptly described as a traumatic spiritual injury? Is this a reasonable or even helpful way to understand what happens?
You say, “We don’t heal in isolation; we heal in community.” If you do agree that this wounding happens, perhaps you could discuss what the rest of the body of Christ/Sophia can do to help the injured people heal.
I believe really strongly in spiritual injury and there is actually more and more talk in the psychotherapy field about just this—sometimes called spiritual injury and sometimes (a variation of it) moral injury. It is, from a technical perspective, a fascinating thing. From personal experience of living with and working through that kind of pain (separate from my PTSD and sexual trauma), it is a deeply painful ache which is hard to heal. But like any wound, not impossible.
I actually plan to be blogging a bit more about this in the future, as it feels vitally important to the work I am doing in young adult ministry. So many people my age (or within 10 years in either direction) are wounded from religion and require a safe place to ask the questions, vocalize their anger, and not be judged—no matter what. It seems that creating this safe container of faith is what can really help rebuild someone’s broken soul and repair soul wounds.
So, as a community I think that is what we can do—provide a safe container where people can question, rage, and, slowly, heal. The healing comes but we have to be able to sit with people through the messiness, much like therapy. Soul therapy I guess you could call it. Maybe there is another book somewhere in there, but I am not quite there yet. I need to talk about it and write about it more before I can flesh it all out.
I find many of the concepts in the Yoga Sutras to be so enlightening and so applicable to my faith journey. As you note in your book, the breath work alone is a powerful healing tool. But something I have observed is that there are many Christians who believe practicing yoga is in some way evil! This Catholic.com article seems to delineate the usual reasons given why yoga should not be practiced by Christians. I wonder if you might care to respond to this line of thought?
I think misunderstanding about any spiritual practice is what leads to the most fear and fundamentalism. They said (and some still say) the same thing about contemplative prayer. I think demystification is the greatest tool to combat this kind of misunderstanding—of course there will always be the people full of certitude who won’t listen, but that’s okay. It’s their prerogative.
Earlier in the interview I mentioned that the physical practice of yoga was created as a method of preparing for meditation/prayer. It still is a great conduit to entering into the space of internal quiet while also letting the muscles move and flow. For me it was also profoundly healing out of my own trauma and PTSD—and those healing qualities are now more and more quantifiable scientifically.
We can look at it diagnostically or spiritually—for me it was a bit of both. Yoga was the gateway to meditation, and meditation was the gateway to contemplative prayer. So, without yoga I might not have found my way back to love and healing from my own spiritual disrepair. That fact of course is just anecdotal and the nay-sayers will still say nay, but part of what I try to do when I connect movement and yoga to prayer practice is take away the mystery from everything and let people see to the root of yoga and prayer. I explain the Sanskrit. There are no secrets.
My favorite word in Sanskrit is “namaste” which many people know as the word teachers say at the end of a yoga class but translated it means “the light in me honors the light in you,” and what could be more sacredly true than that?
You wrote, “In yoga, I learned a way to manage fear without control. Yoga gave me tools that were alternatives to control.” I don’t really have a question here, but just think that the desire to control is the root of so many problems in the church, problems in our society, problems in our own lives. I just wanted to give you the opportunity to elaborate on this concept of managing fear without control if you want to, since I think this is such an important concept.
I think one thing I began to learn in yoga was to regulate, but regulating wasn’t control. I can explain this through breath. When we try to control breath we tend to freeze up and breathe shallow, or panic and breathe quickly, but if we let go in our muscles it allows our lungs to fill with more air and breathe more deeply; letting go actually helps us to regulate breath better. It feels counter-intuitive but, it seems to me, all the greatest wisdom often feels counter-intuitive on the surface.
I have learned the same thing in contemplative prayer, in that mystic space where our soul opens to the divine in all of us. When we try to hold onto it, like something slippery, it falls from our grasp. Only when we release our need to have a strangle-hold on divinity can we really sit inside that place of Oneness—with us and God in the same breath and space together.
I am not sure if this is a bit amorphous of a response but it is something I try to facilitate and emphasize when I teach contemplative practice, movement, and breath.
I was deeply moved by your description of a moment of what I can only describe as transcendence that you experienced. You describe it thus: “For a millisecond that felt like eternity I was able to touch beyond my own limited layer of reality and experience, viscerally, everything that was so much more.” Would you be able to discuss how this moment of knowing has influenced your thought and being in your present experience?
It is a resource I constantly return to—especially when I am feeling spiritually parched. I have had a few moments since then which brought me back to that place and it has been, for the lack of a better word, divine. The hard part about the divine is we can’t carry it with us like a phone or a wallet or a watch. It is so intangible that as soon as we leave the “meeting place” it is hard to retain in full. That said, I write about it (often just to myself) and pray about it and try to find more silence in my life when I think I am losing sight of what it taught me—about the limitlessness of everything and the simultaneous limitedness of me.
It makes me want to take spiritual risks and do what feels right for others more than myself. It makes me want to dream and ask and write and live with a sense of “holy daring” (as my colleague Tom Brackett often says). It also holds me accountable when my neurosis-ego starts to get carried away with its own pettiness.
Do we have a responsibility to pursue our own healing?
Responsibility is a tough word. We have the capacity. We have a divine calling towards it. But our choice is our choice and I have learned, and still learn all the time, to respect that choice. I have met many people who are blocked from healing—they stand in their own way—sometimes because it feels safe, actually often because it feels safe to be stuck. And I want to honor their safety and their choice to stay safe because, especially if you have not been safe for much of your life, you have the right to feel safe even if that means not healing. My therapy clients teach me this constantly. Well-intentioned fundamentalists of all manifestations and persuasions teach me this too.
So, I remind myself often to respect that choice, and because of that I guess I can’t sit with the word responsibility. We have the capacity to heal and change and grow. We have the choice not to. I’ll leave it at that.
You wrote, “The divine pool of love is never-ending. We are never abandoned by grace, even if we stray away or forget it exists—it is always one breath, one prayer, one moment of unabashed selflessness away.” This sounds a lot like the Universalist thought that is often condemned by many in Christianity. Would you describe your outlook as more Universalist than not? Are we all saved through grace? Or is that not even the appropriate question?
I guess I would say I wrote this from a visceral not theological place. Not that I am saying it can’t have theological implications, but it was an exclamation of my soul outward, whereas I feel theology is from the brain.
So it feels like you are asking a brain question to the soul which is why I probably don’t have a very satisfying answer. I don’t want to speak outside of my scope of understanding or imbue the statement with more intellectual purpose than it contains.
I would say, I don’t think anyone can determine the status of grace in terms of salvation for anyone, even themselves. I’ll just say that is above my (and I feel any human’s) paygrade. I would say my soul believes grace is for everyone—whatever that means for theology I can’t say.
I would say I think in that amorphous space of the divine every tradition, every mystic, every person who has touched upon that divinity in themselves and everything else speaks of it with a very similar paradoxical vocabulary. I think in the space of inner quiet we are all full of the same holy intentions.
That’s all I have on that. And I am sure even that would make some really anxious or angry. But that is okay. ‘Cause I’m alright and God’s alright and I live in a world where even the worst suffering can be healed.
In our broken, messy, chaotic, schizophrenic world there is grace on every corner—and I think if we all look close enough we can see it.