Guest Blog: The Sacred Art of Living: Meaning, Connectedness, Forgiveness and Hope

The Sacred Art of Living

Guest Blog. Please meet my colleague, Reverend Shirley VanDamme. Reverend Shirley creates a safe space to explore one’s belief system and one’s relationship to the Divine. Sometimes religious beliefs no longer seem to be fulfilling. Searching may come at a time of transition or a time of questioning. Reverend Shirley offers both Spiritual Coaching and Pastoral Counseling.

“I believe that spirituality is an integral part of every person’s life. I don’t believe we need to use “church” language to express the intangible aspects of life. In my quest to find ordinary words to express spiritual experiences, I attended workshops at the Sacred Art of Living in Bend, Oregon. This is part of what I discovered.

The four aspects of this approach to life and death are: Meaning, Forgiveness, Connectedness and Hope. The four sides give balance and equality. It is an ancient way of approaching spirituality, dating back to a crossroads in France in the years 1000-1492 where people who were Jewish, Christian and Islam came together in their travels.


Sometimes we become aware of meaning after the fact, in retrospect.  We look back and see what was important and recognize what makes life worth living. If we are living with awareness and appreciation for the present moment, we can identify what gives our life meaning now.

What makes my life worth living? What adds value, gives meaning?

When we are living without meaning, it can lead us to despair.

Meaning is something that changes with time. In our younger years, education can give life meaning, raising children, a social life or work. As we go through different stages, we also need to find different meaning in our life. Once the children are gone, once we retire from work, what then gives our life meaning?

For example: when I talk with people who are elderly, many times they feel like they are no longer useful, like they have lost their purpose in life. They tell me they are ready to die. And I wonder aloud with them different possibilities. Maybe their purpose is to read a book they have always wanted to read, maybe it is to attend the family reunion or be here for Thanksgiving, maybe their purpose is to teach others how to die well.


Who has hurt me?  How have I hurt myself?  Whom have I hurt?

Who am I holding something against? Family, friends, myself, God? An experience?

Do I feel guilty about something?

Forgiveness is the voluntary choice and action regarding the wrongs and hurts of the past. It implies a letting go of the desire for vengeance and a release of associated negative feelings such as bitterness, guilt and resentment. In 12 step circles, resentment is defined as drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.

Forgiveness never implies that the actions of the offender were justified.

Forgiveness does not mean you need to have an ongoing relationship with the offender.

This Forgiveness prayer from the Jewish prayer book provides a summary.  I forgive all those who may have hurt or aggravated me either physically, monetarily, or emotionally, whether unknowingly or willfully, whether accidentally or intentionally, whether in speech or in action, whether in this incarnation or another, and may no person be punished on account of me…”


Speed, busyness, and information can all put us into overload in the way we relate to the world. If our connections are weak, our spirituality is also not at its best.

Who or what am I connected to?

Family, friends, my home, my land, my horse, my dog, my cat?

Is there something missing from your life? What is it? How can you strengthen it?

I moved away from the family farm in Michigan when I was 22 years old. For me it is vital to my life and my connection with the universe that I maintain contact with those first 22 years of my life! I loved growing up on a farm, being outside in beautiful country, surrounded by aunts, uncles and cousins. It has shaped who I am and who I want to continue to be. I remain “connected” in a very positive way.


What gives you hope? How do you maintain a sense of hope? What is your hope for today? 

What is your hope for tomorrow? What is your hope dependent upon?

Hopelessness is the most severe form of spiritual pain; the universe does not feel safe.

Hope is “to desire with the expectation of fulfillment.” Hope is confidence that something considered to be important will not remain illusory. Can what you imagine become reality?

A 30-year-old mother had lost hope. Her husband divorced her and was not interested in raising their two children.  Her way of building hope into her life was to complete a gratitude list each day. She started just having two things to be grateful for daily. After doing that for three months, she saw a glimmer of hope return to her life.


The above four aspects of life and death have changed my way of living and expanded my way of expressing spirituality. In reality, there are no limitations on how “the Divine” can be experienced and expressed. In reality, the words God, Higher Power, Divine are not necessary to express what is intangible and unspeakable. Each person can use their own language and their own words. (And for those who like the religious words), we are all made in the image of God.”

Resources: The American Book of Living & Dying. 

The Celtic Book of Living & Dying by Juliette Wood

To learn more, please reach out to Reverend Shirley Van Damme


Picture your Future

Picture your Future

“In a quiet place with eyes closed, picture yourself getting on a magic carpet that takes you into the blue sky riding the currents like a bird, as far away or as close by as they take you. While on the magic carpet, know that you have all the knowledge, wisdom, skills and experience you need to be and do whatever you want. Nothing can stop you. No obstacles stand in your way. You have everything you need. You have permission and the freedom to be and do whatever you want. Continue to breathe and feel it inside you.

With that inner knowing, picture the magic carpet landing somewhere, a place where you can be truly yourself and do what you want. You get off the carpet and look around.

What do you see? Are you outside or inside? Pause to picture it.

What do you hear? Pause to hear it.

What do you smell? Pause to smell it.

What do you taste? Pause to taste it.

Are you alone or with someone? Pause. If with someone, is it one person, a group of people, or the public? Pause to be alone or with others.

What kind of clothes are you wearing to be who you are? Pause to be in those clothes.

What are you doing? Pause. What part of your body do you see yourself using? Is it your brain, your eyes, your ears, nose, voice, hands, legs, feet, your heart, your soul? Pause to do it.

How do you feel? Pause to feel it.

Now the magic carpet returns you to the present and the chair you are seated in. Gently open your eyes, move your toes and fingers, shake your hands and roll your feet, give your arms and legs a shake.

While the picture is still fresh in your mind, draw a picture or write a paragraph describing it in as much detail as you can.”

(Source: Retire to the Life you Love: Practical Tools for Designing Your Meaningful Future by Nell Smith.)

The Cycles of Your Life

The Cycles of Your Life

The following exercise helps us to perceive the “pattern that connects” by partitioning the continuum of our lives into seven-year cycles. Focusing on specific periods of time brings to awareness the experiences we need to recover our past and harvest our lives. Perceiving the larger pattern of our lives, we can gain insight into how to bring them to completion, cultivating an appreciation for all we have enjoyed, affirming learnings and showing us directions for future growth.

  1. Down the left side of a large piece of paper, list the 7-year cycles of your life: January – ages 0-7 February – ages 8-14 and so on …
  2. Across the top, divide the paper into 3 sections in which you write answers to the following questions for each of the 12 periods:

What were the significant moments and events of each phase of life?

Who were the people who guided and influenced you during each period?

What did each phase contribute to the continuum of your life?

  1. Feel free to devote a separate page or more to various time periods, attach photos, make sketches, collages, etc. Be creative as you harvest the experiences of a lifetime.
  2. Use this exercise to help recover memories of experiences that remain incomplete, to work on forgiveness, recontextualize difficult outcomes, mining the past for its untold riches, and discovering a future direction for growth.

Affirm your learnings and growth through life’s inevitable joys and sufferings.

(from Age-ing to Sage-ing: A Revolutionary Approach to Growing Older, by Schachter-Shalomi.)



Meditation to meet with your Inner Elder

Meditation to meet with your Inner Elder

Connect with your inner source of wisdom and receive guidance, so that you may live a life that follows truth.  The Inner Elder is already enlightened and has intimate knowledge of your True Self.

The process:

Slowly count from one to ten. Imagine yourself walking up a set of stairs that lead to a door.

Knock on the door which opens for you. You are greeted with a warm embrace by your spiritual self, your Inner Elder, the embodiment of boundless compassion and wisdom.  What does the doorway look like? The room? Your Inner Elder? Feel love and reassurance.

Ask your Inner Elder for guidance about an issue that is of concern to you.  Allow a response to come.

Rest in the silence for a while. Feel encouragement and know that you can come again at any time. Ask for and receive a blessing from your Inner Elder.

Leave through the door, and with joy and confidence walk down the stairs and slowly return, counting backward from ten to one.

Sit quietly. Record your experience in your journal.


(Source: From Age-ing to Sage-ing: A Profound New Vision of Growing Older by Zalman Schachter-Shalomi and Ronald S. Miller. Learn more through Sage-ing International.)


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