A Day of Rest

By Mary Ellen Ostrowski

Over the course of this year, we have had many conversations about the concept and practice of voluntary simplicity. Composting, recycling, and being challenged to be aware of what I am buying and consuming have all become commonplace in my life. However, when I really look at my life and in what ways I struggle to live simply, most of the time the answer is in how I spend my time.

So much of my time is spent worrying about to-do lists, schedules, and how “productive” I am. I use my weekends to catch up on all the tasks I was unable to do during the course of the week. When I am not doing those things, I find myself spending my time ‘escaping’, particularly through the media. Whether it’s Netflix, Facebook, or Pinterest, there always seems to be an amusing video to watch, a friend to Facebook stalk, or a delicious (looking) recipe to try.

While these things can be fun, beneficial, and helpful (I’m looking at you Pinterest crock-pot recipes), I have come to find in my life that when I overindulge in these things (which can be often), I don’t find that I am able to enter into true, simple, life-giving rest. They add to the mental clutter in my life, and I usually don’t feel refreshed after spending so much time indulging in screen-time. Even when my justification for spending my time this way comes from wanting to relax after the busyness or stress of the day, I usually don’t actually feel a reprieve from the stress or refreshed from the bustle of the day after zoning out in front of yet another episode of “The Office.”

Recently, the VVCs and I were privileged to have the opportunity to spend time at a lake house, relaxing by the lake, kayaking, tubing, and entering into good conversation with good food and drink. When I looked back on this day, one of the things I was struck by was that I didn’t look at a screen of any kind the entire time we were there. Moreover, I didn’t even miss my phone or my computer, and I certainly didn’t need to ask for the WiFi password. We were in the sun all day, tubing behind a boat, and kayaking, so I figured I would be exhausted afterward (and I certainly was tired), but I also felt so content and joy-filled. For me, this was an experience of true rest and leisure, not of just filling my time with more tasks or the noise of the world.

bob's lake house.jpg

The past few months, I have been convicted of the importance of a true day of rest. In a world based on doing and going, it is so important to find time to step away from the busyness of life to enter into true leisure, to look for ways to connect with God, with friends, and with family. Whether it is hiking, boating, spending the day with a good book and a cup of fancy coffee, or spending the day cooking a nice meal with friends (if you don’t find that a chore), spending time in true rest is so important to recharge and to be able to look deeper into life. These things can also be catalysts for silence and contemplation, as well as building community. For me, I am trying to make Sunday about worship and making space for life-giving leisure, not about checking off more items from my to-do list or escaping into media.

As I finish up this year with VVC, one of the ideas I want to take with me beyond this year is not only practicing voluntary simplicity in how I choose to use my material goods, but also how I use my time and energy. I want to make sure I make time for silence, for building community, and for growing closer to God, and not just watching re-runs of “The Office.” Leaving time for life-giving leisure simplifies my life, my mind, and my heart.

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Finding Peace Within Chaos

by Sarah Spech

Recently, Molly and I went to Smale Park to do yoga in the evening. For both of us, this was a huge step into the uncomfortable. For me, I had to not only begin practicing yoga again–but do it in public. Doing yoga in the park allows me to be both outside in the fresh air and sunshine, and also practice yoga, which heals my body, mind, and spirit. It’s the best of both worlds.

Even though it was my idea, I knew that the only reason I wasn’t turning around was that Molly was walking next to me with her mat into the park.

As she lead us through different poses, I struggled to pay attention to my breathing and my current self. The noises around me–kids yelling, dogs barking, feet running on concrete, bells chiming, cars passing–all called to me, vying for my attention. The world was literally moving around me, and it was my job to find the center within myself even through it all.

Focus, especially sustained focus, has been a barrier between me and many spiritual activities like meditation, yoga, and silent prayer.

I found in that park that I could more easily notice when I lost focus and draw myself back in. Rather than getting lost within my own head, I was being distracted by external stimuli. The physical separation between my mind and the distractions helped me to bring myself into myself.

It’s still a challenge to center within myself and focus on the present moment of simply being instead of the many responsibilities competing for my attention all day. But this practice has finally given me a space to exercise that ability.

It’s a moment of peace. It’s acknowledging the world but making time for myself within its chaos.

World Environment Day 2017

Photo: St. Vincent de Paul’s garden, in which staff and volunteers grow fresh produce to fill the shelves of the Choice Pantry.

By Maura Carpinello

It was Christmas during my year of service with Colorado Vincentian Volunteers.  I had traveled back East to visit my family for a few days.  I had a mid-morning snack then wandered around my mom’s kitchen for what seemed like minutes, trying to figure out where I should dispose of my banana peel.  (It was probably only 30-45 seconds, in reality.) I reluctantly tossed it into the trashcan, finally realizing there was no compost bin.

This very brief incident has remained in my brain for well over a decade now, a tangible reminder of the incredible power of habits – and the way in which such small acts can be truly transformational.  Not having access to a compost bin for my banana peel has become my often-used analogy for acknowledging the impact that small movements can make and impels me toward greater acts of change, even when I think it won’t make a difference.

I am a tree hugger.  I get laughed at when I walk to the printer twice to manually double-side anything I print. I carry things like banana peels and apple cores with me until I can get to a place where I can compost them. I also carry a reusable water bottle with me everywhere I go. I try to purchase mostly second-hand clothing and support companies with an honest and serious commitment to the environment. And my family prides itself on having only one bag of trash every week. All of these small things might not make a significant dent in the enormous environmental problem our planet currently faces, but it helps me to know that I use half as much paper than I otherwise would; I do my best to minimize what goes into the landfill; I rarely contribute to the 50 billion plastic bottles used in the US in a year (and when I do, they are most definitely recycled); and I’m making the trash collector’s life a little bit easier by not making him drag a heavy trash can to the dump truck.

And more importantly, for me, these small efforts are part of a bigger picture – an effort to live a more seamless way of life, where Care for Creation stretches well beyond people to encompass the Earth and all of God’s creatures.  Where people and things are treated with dignity and respect. Where people and things are not considered disposable. Where I recognize and act not only for my own benefit, but because I know and am aware of the ways in which my actions have a ripple effect.  Where I know that the ripple effect most negatively impacts my brothers and sisters experiencing poverty, in my own community and across the world.

“It is the poor and vulnerable who disproportionately suffer from the effects of climate change, such as hurricanes, floods, droughts, famines and water scarcities.  These climate change impacts threaten to foster more desperation and suffering in the world that could lead to more global instability and unrest. It is our moral duty…and in our national interest to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and assist the poor and vulnerable among us to adapt.” (Archdiocese of Cincinnati Social Action Office)

Having spent my career walking alongside, encountering, and hoping to do some small thing to support people experiencing poverty, this reality truly grounds me in my convictions and efforts. Knowing that I can – and must – use my privilege in support of those who do not have that luxury challenges me to try harder and do more. People in the West End neighborhood in Cincinnati, who have no access to a grocery store in their neighborhood and few opportunities for education or employment around the corner from where they live, have an air quality level that is much lower than that in my own neighborhood within the city limits. Meanwhile, people in the Ocotillo community in El Salvador suffer from a lack of clean drinking water. No matter where we look, it is our neighbors most in need who suffer most from the effects of environmental degradation. It is unjust, and it is a call to action.

“Humanity is called to recognize the need for changes of lifestyle, production and consumption, in order to combat this warming or at least the human causes which produce or aggravate it.” (Pope Francis, Laudato Sí, 23)

We all have the great responsibility to share these realities and struggles, challenges and invitations to live better, more intentionally, more consciously. I have the gift of being able to do so with the Vincentian Volunteers of Cincinnati. As VVC welcomes a new community each summer, I slowly unveil my banana-peel-carrying oddities, hoping to reveal the depth of purpose, meaning, and intention of each of these seemingly silly acts and hoping to inspire them, too, to look more carefully and more intentionally at their own actions and habits and how they impact others along the way. Just as mentors and role models in my own life have shaped and challenged my way of life for the better, I hope that I can impart a piece of this gleaned wisdom so that our ripple can grow wider.

“Once we start to think about the kind of world we are leaving to future generations, we look at things differently; we realize that the world is a gift which we have freely received and must share with others. Since the world has been given to us, we can no longer view reality in a purely utilitarian way, in which efficiency and productivity are entirely geared to our individual benefit. Intergenerational solidarity is not optional, but rather a basic question of justice, since the world we have received also belongs to those who will follow us. (Pope Francis, Laudato Sí, 159)”

Growth Through VVC

By Molly Gibbons

Growth may stem from many different things.: The people I surround myself with, the way I pass time, the mistakes I make and what I do with the lessons I learn. All of these elements, and many more along the way, are the works of true growth. Living outside of my comfort zone has allowed me to uncover rhymes and reasons behind my way of being.

Living out my faith in action through VVC has created a solid platform for me to continue to build upon. Even the strengths that I had before the start of this journey have been sculpted into skills that I can use in both my professional and personal lives. I am not leaving this program an entirely new person, nor would I want to. I am leaving this program with a heightened awareness, true patience, and the deepest form of gratitude I have ever experienced.

I know I have grown because I am moving forward in a physical, spiritual, and mental sense. Using each encounter as a tool to evaluate and reflect on my way of being. Listening to not only the words of others, but most importantly, the words I choose to speak. Exploring questions and finding answers to what it is I stand for and how I present myself to the world. I have learned that these questions will never fully go away, because I am committed to living a life full of passion and purpose.

Continuously putting myself in situations and surrounding myself with individuals who will challenge me and offer me a sense of unity. Seeing the world through another lens, experiencing a different collection of people, not simply observing how another lives, but striving to understand who they are is done through empathy. My empathy has allowed me to go beyond observing how others live and strive to understand them on a personal level.

Understanding the importance to never judge or make an assumption about another person. I am not here to hate; I am here to heal. As much as the work I do can be frustrating and seemingly hopeless at times, when I ground myself into my role of healing, I respond with love. I am not responsible for solving the world’s problems, but I can use my gifts to raise the vibrations that carry us all.

 

Molly Gibbons is a Margate City, NJ native who brings good vibes to this year’s VVC cohort. She enjoys meditation, burning incense to soothe the soul, and has found that everything tends to fall in place when a person approaches life with an open heart.

Restlessness

By Molly Gibbons

Restlessness is a feeling I have gotten to know pretty well during my time here on earth. It’s the feeling that comes up when I have been in one place for awhile, one that appears during times of frustration or excitement, and one that interrupts my peace of mind if I don’t keep a close eye on it. I used to think that it was my responsibility to get rid of this feeling altogether. I am feeling restless? This must mean that something in my life is wrong. This must mean that I need to make a change–and fast! I would do anything to chase this feeling away. I have lived a pretty colorful life thus far, and that has all been intentionally arranged. Seeking out opportunities, meeting new people, and traveling to different places is how I have managed to “escape” this feeling of restlessness. But, sure enough, no matter what my situation may be, I have recognized that this feeling continues to pop up from time to time.

What does this mean? It means that restlessness is a part of life. The trick is not to run from the restlessness, but to accept the feeling. If I feel this restlessness come on, it doesn’t mean I need to immediately jump ship and switch gears completely. Letting myself know that restlessness is a part of life actually ends up subsiding a lot of this feeling altogether. Running away will simply cause this feeling to eventually follow me to my next venture. It is when one is able to sit in the restlessness and continue with their daily rituals that this restless feeling will pass.

One of the many discoveries I have made so far during my year with VVC is that I am capable of accepting this restlessness. Dedication to personal and group reflection has allowed me to understand that it is, in fact, a part of life and not something that I am alone in dealing with. Although I may not have control over many aspects to do with contributing to restless feelings, I always have control over all the thoughts that enter my head. A way I have learned to sit with this feeling is through being mindful in ways of staying present in the now and practicing meditation. Adopting meditation into my daily routine has created space in my mind and invited ease into my approach on all things I deal with.

Meditation comes in many different forms and is meant to be a practice! Beyond silent and still meditation, one can also practice through walking, music, reading, etc. I am thankful for my relationship with mindful behaviors and encourage others to explore a practice that feels right to them. The key to inviting a new practice into one’s life is to listen to your body. Just like anything else, being mindful about dealing with restlessness is something that will take time and dedication. From personal experience, I can say the time you spend on meditation will better serve you than the time you spend on feeling stuck in the hopeless cycle of “restlessness.”

 

Molly Gibbons is a Margate City, NJ native who brings good vibes to this year’s VVC cohort. She enjoys meditation, burning incense to soothe the soul, and has found that everything tends to fall in place when a person approaches life with an open heart.