Rank #1: 036: Thomas Merton, Wisdom Sophia and a Dash of Pink Floyd with Christopher Pramuk
‘Christopher Pramuk’s latest work, At Play in Creation, offers a truly stunning introduction to the long-held but often forgotten Wisdom tradition. Priming our theological imaginations with the rich and sensuous language of poetry and with Merton’s poem Hagia Sophia as a guide, Pramuk opens us to the divine music hidden in each of our encounters and allows us to glimpse the unseen Reality whom Merton calls Sophia.'
Christopher Pramuk is the author of Sophia: The Hidden Christ of Thomas Merton and Hope Sings, So Beautiful: Graced Encounters Across the Color Line. I highly recommend you locate either one of these books as you also pluck the focus of our conversation today, At Play in Creation: Merton’s Awakening to the Divine Feminine. Chris Pramuk is a theologian, author, scholar and lifelong musician who just joined the faculty at Regis University as chair of Ignatian Thought and Imagination, and associate professor of theology. Chris is the type of professor you wished you had in college. In our conversation Chris shares how he uses Pink Floyd in his teaching, the suffering of God with humanity as we explore the meaning of Sophia-Wisdom, and we conclude our conversation with a story about Chris’ son, Henry, who when he was two and a half exemplified Sophia-Wisdom breaking forth on the shores of Lake Michigan. With that, here is my conversation with Chris Pramuk. You can learn more about Chris at hopesingssobeautiful.org.
Aug 07 2017
Rank #2: 028: Washing Dishes with Thich Nhat Hahn and Hitchhiking to Thomas Merton: Jim Forest on a Life Worthy of Such Friendships
"Henry David Thoreau, by no means the most conventional man of his time, lamented on his death bed, “What demon possessed me that I behaved so well.” He would have taken comfort in Holy Fools. They remind us of a deeper sanity that is sometimes hidden beneath apparent lunacy: the treasure of a God-centered life.”
- Jim Forest (Praying with Icons)
Jim Forest is the author of numerous books, including The Root of War is Fear: Thomas Merton’s Advice to Peacemakers. He serves as International Secretary of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship. In this episode, Jim shares tales about his friendships with Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton, Daniel Berrigan and Thich Nhat Hahn. The gentle straightforward nature of this conversation rallies around a pilgrim way of living in pursuit of embodying love and justice. Jim offers reflective wisdom on marriage, works of mercy, and guidance for those in the earlier stages of life. You can learn more about Jim's work at jimandnancyforest.com.
Apr 03 2017
Rank #3: 018: The Past Has Arms: Risking Relationship with Ourselves So We Can Grow Up with James Hollis, PhD
“We would rather be ruined than changed We would rather die in our dread Than climb the cross of the moment And let our illusions die.” - W.H. Auden
Interview with James Hollis, Ph.D. on the key elements of a reflective life.
Jan 03 2017
Rank #4: 052: How Death Prepares You For Life: Buddhist Teacher Frank Ostaseski on The Five Invitations
Frank Ostaseski knows death. Not in a metaphorical or figurative way, but through concrete presence. Frank has held hands, laughed with, cried with and learned from those who were welcomed in the doors of the Zen Hospice Project during their final days on the planet. As you will soon find out, he honors them through magnanimous storytelling and wisdom from the depths of experience. Frank is a sought-after Buddhist teacher who co-founded the Zen Hospice Project in 1987 and founder of the Metta Institute in 2005 to train countless healthcare clinicians and caregivers and building a national network of educators, advocates and guides for those facing life-threatening illness. If that weren’t enough, he’s been highlighted by Oprah Winfrey, Bill Moyers and H.H. the Dalai Lama. And Frank was gracious enough to share his teachings and presence with us on Contemplify. Using his life-altering book, The Five Invitations: Discovering What Death Can Teach Us About Living Fully, as a launchpad we delve into Frank’s story, his mentor Stephen Levine, the power of the five invitations themselves, how those facing death became his greatest teachers, what he learned from the monsters in his son’s closest and so much more. Buy the book, read this book (if you’re in a book club, consider delving into it and using these discussion questions).
Mar 27 2018
Rank #5: 038: The Enneagram as a Tool for Excavating Your Essence with Chris Heuertz (Author of The Sacred Enneagram)
“The Sacred Enneagram is not a just book about an ancient personality framework with a funny name. It is a roadmap to self-understanding written by one of the great spiritual practitioners of my generation. Read it now and you can thank me later.”
How well do you know yourself? Are you able to name your basic desire or fear? The questions that linger around identity and intrinsic drives can be instigation for liberation, but without the right toolkit one may rather stick their head in the sand.
Enneagram teacher Chris Heuertz will help you understand how to utilize the Enneagram to work with these questions with a deeper sense of self-awareness to find your way home to your True Self. He is the author of The Sacred Enneagram: Finding Your Unique Path to Spiritual Growth. For those of you asking, what the hell is the Enneagram anyways? In this episode, Chris will give you a brief and basic overview of the Enneagram as the nine classic archetypes of human character structure, and then furthers the Enneagram conversation by mapping out how the Enneagram can uniquely deepen you on the contemplative path. On multiple occasions in this episode you will hear my own a-ha moments as Chris’ teachings sink in. Also…the Sacred Enneagram drops today! So get your copy wherever beautiful books are sold!
Sep 05 2017
Rank #6: 034: The Wendell Berry Way of Seeing: Filmmaker Laura Dunn on ‘Look & See: A Portrait of Wendell Berry’
Laura Dunn is the documentary filmmaker behind the film The Unforeseen, which took home the Independent Spirit Truer Than Fiction Award and was executive produced by Robert Redford and Terrence Malick. Laura’s latest film, Look & See: A Portrait of Wendell Berry in which she teams up Redford and Malick again, is the focus of this conversation. Put this stunningly beautiful documentary on your watch list. I’ve been an ardent follower of Wendell Berry’s work for years and this film is a glimpse into the groundedness of place, community and family that Berry poetically captures with his typewriter. Look & See is not a romanticized version of the farmer poet, but an invitation to see the hardship, character, struggle, neighborliness and rooted love that makes up the agrarian lifestyle in Henry County, Kentucky. Laura Dunn and her crew made a generous film. I say generous because Look & See freely gave me space to ask the beautiful question - how then shall I live?
Laura and I talk about Wendell and Tanya Berry’s impact on her life, Wendell’s idea of the union of life and art, marriage as a creative partnership, the unspoken farm crisis and its implications for young farmers today, where she finds hope from the Wendell and Tanya Berry and in her community and why are there so many comedians listed in the end credits of Look & See.
Look & See is not only just for those with a deep admiration for the work of Wendell Berry, but for those seeking to live an engaged life with a sense of place, belonging, and interdependence with the land and community they are rooted in. Go to lookandseefilm.com to pre-order the film, to find out which theaters are screening it and how you can host a screening of Look & See. You can learn more about Laura Dunn at lookandseefilm.com/team and get the show notes for this episode at contemplify.com
Jun 26 2017
Rank #7: Cultivating Contemplation & Mysticism of Rhythm (Life of a Day Finale)
This final episode of the Life of a Day series is all about you. It is about offering a reframing of your day with a new way of seeing, a new way of showing up as a contemplative in the world.
Mar 18 2019
Rank #8: Matins & Lauds (Life of a Day Series #1)
My intention here is to kick off the Life of a Day series in grand style, with coffee. This is the first installment of the Life of the Day series here on Contemplify, which is the reimagining of the Divine Office into my own personal reflective interpretations as a contemplative in the world. The intention is to mark each of the Hours but in a form very different from their regular practice behind monastery walls. In other words, this is what a contemplative rhythm looks like in my particular life.
Jan 25 2019
Rank #9: 015: Raghu Markus on How John Coltrane, Ram Dass and a Healthy Dose of Self-Inquiry Can Transform Your Life
Raghu Markus is currently the Executive Director of the Love Serve Remember Foundation and has been an associate producer for on-line and television events for Ram Dass and Oprah Winfrey as well as Eckhart Tolle. Raghu is the host of Mindrolling, a podcast “about coming unstuck and the recent history of awoken awareness. It’s about the intersection of culture, consciousness and realization.” (adapted from beherenownetwork.com)
In this episode, Raghu shares reflections on the transformative power of John Coltrane, how he first met Ram Dass, and the lasting importance of wonder.
Nov 21 2016
Rank #10: 045: A Handbook to Midlife: Philosophical Tools, Wisdom & Avoiding the Midlife Crisis with Kieran Setiya (author of Midlife: A Philosophical Guide)
"Written with charming simplicity and wry humor, Midlife is a philosophically rich source of what might be called 'the higher life hacks' – reflective ways of dissolving the sense of emptiness and regret that tends to hit each of us with the onset of middle age. A work of disarming wisdom."
- Jim Holt (author of Why Does the World Exist?)
Have you ever asked yourself, what would my life have been like if I’d gone down another career path? Or wished you could release some past grudge that sits on your shoulder like a squaking parrot? The Contemplify conversation today revolves around questions of meaning, purpose and regret. My guest today is Kieran Setiya, professor of philosophy at MIT. Our conversation today revolves around his latest book, Midlife: A Philosophical Guide, which outlines a helpful framework for wrestling with existential questions.
Kieran Setiya is a philosopher who enjoys witty banter as much as delving into the depths of foundational life questions. In our conversation we dive into the waters of the stereotypes of philosophers, the rules for midlife crisis prevention, what we can learn from John Stuart Mill’s nervous breakdown, and what superman can teach us about the afterlife. What makes Kieran’s book Midlife sing is his curiosity and succinct wordsmithing that gleefully ushers you along through the difficult internal terrain. Which you will get a taste of in this conversation. Midlife is for any of you in the early stages, the thrush, or retrospect of the midlife years. Midlife creates a framework for the dizzying existential questions that arrive from new angles as the years accumulate.
Learn more about Kieran Setiya a ksetiya.net.
Dec 05 2017
Rank #11: 047: Mystic Soul Project and the Essence of Deep Spirituality with Teresa Pasquale Mateus
My guest today is Teresa Pasquale Mateus, a trauma specialist, contemplative practice teacher, author and co-founder of Mystic Soul Project, an organization that engages in a People of Color (POC) - Centered Approach to Action/Activism and Contemplation/Mysticism. Teresa has written two books, Sacred Wounds: A Path to Healing from Spiritual Trauma and Mending Broken: A Personal Journey Through the Stages of Trauma & Recovery. We cover a lot of ground in our conversation. Teresa shares how the discovery of contemplative practices were integral to her healing process, the significance of language on the spiritual path, her work as a trauma specialist with combat veterans, at Standing Rock and Charlottesville. And lastly, something that I particularly thrilled about, Teresa shares with us about her latest endeavor, Mystic Soul Project and the buzz around the Mystic Soul Conference, a POC-Centered gathering of voices, practices and dialogue on contemplation, action and healing.
Dec 21 2017
Rank #12: 054: Contemplate Your Death Five Times a Day with Hansa Bergwall (Co-Founder of WeCroak)
I have only purchased one app for my phone. I find cell phones to be a necessary nuisance, helpful enough that I keep one, annoying enough that I keep it on silent. I don’t bemoan or resent anyone who has finally found love with their device. I get it. I just find it terribly distracting to the notes of life that I want to pay attention to. Then a friend forwarded me an article on a mobile app called WeCroak. I immediately realized I had been introduced to the perfect app.
The gist is this, after handing over a buck to WeCroak, you download the app and then five times a day you receive the following notification:
Don’t forget, you’re going to die.
Five times a day. The only other feature beyond this mortal reminder is that when you tap on the reminder, a quote appears from a poet, philosopher, author, etc, such as:
‘Let me respectfully remind you: Life and Death are of supreme importance. Time swiftly passes by and opportunity is lost. On this night, the days of our life are decreased by one. Each of us should strive to awaken. Awaken! Take heed! Do not squander your life.’ (Evening Gatha)
My guest today is one of the creators of the WeCroak app, Hansa Bergwall. Hansa runs a PR agency and is a poet. Our conversation runs the gamut of from Hansa’s inspiration for WeCroak to quotes from RuPaul and Stoic Philosophers on death and impermanence, why I find this app to be most helpful in work meetings, and we try to crack the code why most of the users of WeCroak are under 35.
Apr 24 2018
Rank #13: 051: Montaigne in a Deer Stand: A Roughneck Contemplative on Philosophy, Bon Iver, and Marriage with Michael Perry (Author of Montaigne in Barn Boots)
Michael Perry is a roughneck contemplative. A term that I am hoping he will half smirk at in self-recognition from his deer stand. We got together to talk about his latest book, Montaigne in Barn Boots: An Amateur Ambles Through Philosophy, a book that mind you, made me deeply reflect on my own life and laugh out loud while reading in crowded public spaces. A combination that doesn’t happen as often as I would like. So I wondered, what would a conversation with Michael Perry be like? Perry falls into the category of conversation partner that I admire, one who can belay between foolish laughter to gut-punch vulnerability in the span of a couple minutes.
As a music lover, for me to hear the connection between Mike Perry, The Blind Boys of Alabama, Justin Vernon and Phil Cook made me giddy. To learn that Justin Vernon and Phil Cook were once a part of Perry’s band was more than my ears could take. And this is just the tip of the conversation. Mike and I delve into how a kidney stone got him interested in the philosophy of Michel de Montaigne, why one might hesitate when they write an entire chapter about shame, the known and unknown seasons of marriage, and multitude of moments where Perry makes me snicker like a schoolboy. So pick up this book, Montaigne in Barn Boots, if you also like to philosophically bob and weave between laughter, tears and sighs of recognition. Or perhaps just like the term, roughneck contemplative.
Mar 06 2018
Rank #14: (MiniSeries, Introduction) Practice Without Preaching: Creating a Family Spirituality with Ali Kirkpatrick
Ali Kirkpatrick is a writer, speaker, retreat leader, part-time university instructor and business owner. But if i was going to name her post in the world it would be as an ambassador of love.
Over the past couple of years my friendship with Ali has grown, and so has my awe and respect for her passion to cultivate tools, experiences and resources for families seeking to live out an authentic spirituality. In our conversation today, you will get a sense of who Ali Kirkpatrick is and her infectiously generous spirit, the thoughtful questions and embodied practices that form her spirituality, the path that lead her family to find another spiritual community, and the specific lessons she has learned from her kids and husband, and of course why I asked her to consider creating a mini-series for Contemplify specifically focused on family spirituality.
It is my distinct pleasure to share this conversation with Ali Kirkpatrick in this episode and then I’ll get out of the way as Ali takes the reins as host for the remaining 5 episodes over the next 5 days of this mini-series called, Practice Without Preaching: Creating a Family Spirituality. The central beauty of this mini-series is that it holds the potential for you to reflect, question, celebrate and imagine how your family explores the spiritual terrain. Like all authentic explorations you might be challenged by what you discover...rest assured that Ali is a trustworthy guide and fellow traveler.
Jan 18 2018
Rank #15: Should a Hermit Like Bob Dylan?
Famed contemplative hermit Thomas Merton wrote in his journal in the mid 1960s, ‘Should a hermit like Bob Dylan? He means at least as much to me as some of the new liturgy, perhaps in some ways more. I want to know the guy. I want him to come here, and I want him to see one of my poems.’(p. 107) And after hearing Dylan’s album Blonde on Blonde, Merton pronounced, “One does not get ‘curious’ about Dylan. You are either all in it or all out of it. I am in his new stuff.” (p.2)
Robert Hudson has written a book that seems tailor made to my interests, it’s call The Monk’s Record Player: Thomas Merton, Bob Dylan, and the Perilous Summer of 1966. This book is for every Merton fanatic, Dylanphile, and those whose ears perk up at the calling of the artist as a contemplative vocation. A master wordsmith, a recognized Bob Dylan scholar and a member of the International Thomas Merton Society -- Robert Hudson is the perfect person to have written this book. In our conversations we’ll unpack Bob Dylan’s meteoric impact on Thomas Merton, wonder about Dylan’s awareness of Merton, share a playlist of songs to go along with this book and so much more. I’ve been waiting for a book like this my whole life, and Hudson breathes poetic life into the retelling of the intersection of Bob Dylan, Thomas Merton and the summer of 1966.
Jul 16 2018
Rank #16: 026: In Rhythm with Life: Alana Levandoski on Being a Contemplative Artisan and Collaborating with James Finley
“The thing about Alana [Levandoski] is that she’s gifted. She's not just gifted as a musician, which she is, but she’s gifted as a lyricist...she teased these words, kind of like mantras, highly evocative mantras. She strung them together in a developmental expansion. So it was really a stroke of creative insight. It was really lovely how she brought it together."
- James Finley (via interview with Ordinary Mystic)
After Alana Levandoski attended and graduated from the Living School for Action and Contemplation, Alana experienced a rebirth as an artist, finally opening to a way of integrating her spirituality, her craftsmanship and her lifestyle. Abiding by a monastic rule inspired by her time living with the Benedictines, Alana and her husband Ian have committed to a life of minimalism and sacred simplicity.
Alana released a new album in September 2016. The album is a series of chants and compositions with spoken word in collaboration with contemplative teacher and clinical psychologist James Finley (author of Merton’s Palace of Nowhere). It is called Sanctuary ~ Exploring the Healing Path with Alana Levandoski and James Finley. (adapted from alanalevandoski.com)
Mar 17 2017
Rank #17: 040: Mindfulness in the Christian Tradition with Dr. Amy Oden (author of Right Here, Right Now: The Practice of Christian Mindfulness)
Dr. Amy Oden is a Professor of Early Church History and Spirituality at the Saint Paul School of Theology. In her latest book Right Here, Right Now: The Practice of Christian Mindfulness Amy draws upon the roots and connection points of mindfulness found in the Christian Tradition. In this episode, Amy shares what ‘mindfulness’ means to her, her own practices to cultivate mindfulness, and the brilliance of Jesus using mindfulness metaphors such as ‘asleep’ and ‘awake’ in his teaching (and some practical application points of those metaphors in our current technology saturated state).
Oct 10 2017
Rank #18: 049: The Sunday Letters: A Practice in Contemplative Thinking with Jana Marie
“The Sunday Letters are always a thoughtful and welcome stop during my week. You get a moment to pause, to consider and to reflect … and Jana often leaves you with a question to keep you thinking long after you’ve finished reading. I love these letters and find myself forwarding them regularly to friends and family.”
- Reader, The Sunday Letters
Have you ever wanted to be a writer? Maybe the type of writer with an acute eye for detail that maintains a deep connection with your readers. This is how I would describe the curator and writer of The Sunday Letters, Jana Marie. The Sunday Letters is a weekly newsletter on contemplative thinking. I don’t know about you, but Sundays continue to hold the air of naps, spiritual questions, and Swedish pancakes.This is how Jana describes Sundays - ‘In their characteristically gentle way, Sundays present us with what is so often a much-needed opportunity for stillness. A time to reconnect and re-center, they allow us the space to check in with both ourselves and others.’ It is from this still space that The Sunday Letters have been written by Jana these past 3 years. She has readers spanning the globe, one of which is this lowly podcast host.
In this exchange you were learn how Jana dropped out of business school to discover a path that felt more akin to her way of being in the world, how the Stoic philosopher Seneca has been shaping her view of reality, and how The Sunday Letters came to be in the world.
You can sign up for The Sunday Letters at thesundayletters.com.
Feb 12 2018
Rank #19: Contemplative Happy Hour | Tessa Bielecki
“Tessa said something that completely change my path and my life. She said that 'falling in love with life was the first step on the a mystical path.'"
- Adam Bucko
I first met Tessa Bielecki as I was exiting a port-a-potty. Let me explain. A few years back, I was at an arts and spirituality festival. As I departed a port-a-potty, I made a crack about it being a cramped prayer cell (or some such nonsense) to the woman next in line, and she let out an infectious belly laugh while held the grimy door open. Looking back, this was the right way to meet Tessa. See Tessa Bielecki is a contemplative on the roads of the world. She is familiar with the ditches, the biways and the old desert roads that take you to the end of what you know. And she’s gracious enough to share her wisdom of these roads with us today.
Tessa Bielecki has written a number of books, I recommend them all, and most heartily Holy Daring: The Earthy Mysticism of St. Teresa, the Wild Woman of Avila. Tessa dipped into a contemplative way of being early in her life and has followed that thread all the way up to the present moment. She been a part of many groundbreaking contemplative initiatives, and I’ll highlight one now. The Desert Foundation was founded by Tessa with her pal Fr. David Denny ‘an informal circle of friends exploring the spirit of the desert, its landscape and soulscape, with a special focus on peace and reconciliation among the Abrahamic traditions: Jews, Christians, and Muslims.’ You’ll get a mighty wash of that spirit of the desert in our conversation today, which holds the bearings for a rhythm of life that incorporates contemplative practices, the insights gleaned from re-reading formational books in your life, why the stories of Ernest Shackleton might just be the marker for transforming a season of life and so much more.
To learn more about Tessa's work, visit desertfound.org.
Aug 20 2018
Rank #20: The Mystery Never Leaves You Alone
This episode came to life a month before my newborn son. Inspired by friends, poets and writers I mused over the words to offer my son as he packed up his belongings from the dark warmth of the womb and worked his way into the shivering light of humanity. Finally, I put ink to paper. Once complete, the following letter laid in waiting alongside the clutter of discarded receipts and grocery lists. The sacred and profane cohabiting on my night stand.
Weeks later, my son was born. Upon his entrance into this world, the world’s response was immediate and in kind. Thunder clapped and rain poured in the desert. It’s strange to be here. The Mystery never leaves you alone.
Here is that letter to my newborn son.
Dec 13 2018