Three Friends Find a Path by Barbara S. Carlson, Karen G. Kaho and Laura Peck

We are three friends who all have joined Cafh. We came at different times, but Cafh has provided each of us with a method of life and expansive perspective that has assisted us through the various changes, difficulties, and joys of our lives. We have known each other now for over 25 years. Our friendship began while working together at a treatment facility for emotionally disturbed and delinquent girls. We were single, college graduates, in our 20's and products of the 60's.

We are now middle-aged women. We each have married, had children and developed careers. We have been faced with personal, family, and professional challenges. Cafh offered a consistent rudder that kept us on course during turbulent times and helped us to find in our personal challenges the universal experience.

This article developed out of a conversation we had about how we found our way to Cafh, about hard won lessons along the road, and about our appreciation for the support we have been given in the continuous work of unfolding. Ideas we found to be in accordance are expressed with the collective "we"; at other times, the speaker is identified.

Searching

We were looking for something more. We had studied philosophy, psychology and various spiritual traditions. Each offered important insights and experiences. Political activism had expanded our consciousness of the world, our compassion, and our sense of justice, but the outrage and alienation were not sustainable. One of us had lost a family member in a car accident; that loss had generated deep grief and an awareness of life's impermanence.

Psychotherapy had helped us to examine memory and conditioning, to clear away some "old stuff", but now we needed a sustainable means of continuous inner work: a daily practice of clearing and renewal, a way to deepen and expand our sense of personal meaning and purpose.

Karen was introduced to Cafh through a friend from her college days, Gordon Waters. She says, "After I met the spiritual director, I felt that Cafh seemed right for me. I didn't question. I just started and figured I'd see if it fit."

Barbara adds, "I wanted a means to give shape to the ideals, values and insights that I was beginning to glimpse through activism and exploration of consciousness. I knew I needed a path that went beyond ideas to the heart of how we live our lives, that was inclusive and loving, that focused on where we meet rather than where we differ as human beings. It is still a mystery to me how I came to join Cafh. But in the presence of the first few individuals I met who belonged to Cafh, I felt this place of heart and deep understanding and a spirit of adventure in the search for answers as to how we unfold as human beings. I wanted to learn more."

Laura had known that Barbara and Karen were in Cafh, She had experienced their commitment and had met others in Cafh through them. Laura comments, "The integrity and kindness and gentle humor of those I met in Cafh disarmed the skeptic in me. No one tried to enlist me; instead, they encouraged me to know myself and to act consistently with the truth I discovered. They related to me as a soul, always deeply respectful of my freedom to choose." With time we shared our path and enthusiasm with other two goods friends, Char Wood, who is now a TV producer in Chicago, and Barbara Towner, who is a medical doctor serving low-income families.

Struggles along the way

We attended weekly meetings together and received the same teachings, but each of us faced her own unique struggles. Karen recalls, "In those initial weekly meetings and retreats there was such an internal mental struggle just to maintain silence and keep to a time schedule. My tendency had been to indulge my opinions and to do things when I felt like it. Cafh offered a structure and perspective that helped me to see the workings of my mind and personality."

Laura's resistance took many forms in those early years. She questioned how politically correct it was to do inner work when the world needed so much healing, and what a nice Jewish girl was doing around all these expressions of western mysticism. She says, "I also actively subscribed to the illusion of human perfectibility. I believed that spiritual work was a means to cure my selfishness, to tame my skittish attention, to eradicate my impatience." She remembers asking her spiritual director, "How can I stop being so impatient?" He laughed, and replied, "Oh, you will always be impatient. Your work is to cultivate a conscious and gentle relationship with your impatience."

Barbara's struggles focused on maintaining a consistent meditation practice. She says, "My challenge has been to make the effort even when I am not getting the results I would like, when I would rather do something else, when I am tired or over-extended. The power of the commitment, however, has helped me to anchor myself and return to my practice. And, paradoxically, making the effort begins, in small ways, to develop an inner freedom and strength that help me to not be so dependent on mood or preference or circumstance in determining my attitude toward life and others."

The Practices

We have all greatly appreciated the support and the practices that Cafh has offered. The retreats provide an environment to obtain a perspective on ourselves and our life circumstances. Spiritual direction provides a space to share inner questions, always trusting that the integrity of our soul will be respected.

The retrospective examination is Karen's favorite practice. "It's like rewinding a video. Seeing my day in reverse from the inside. Seeing how the little choices I made and how I reacted emotionally. It's a practice of simply seeing and not judging-not denying, minimizing, rewriting, indulging or feeling pride or shame, but just seeing without distortion. This continues to provide me with an important perspective that I am more and more able to incorporate in day-to-day situations."

From the beginning, Barbara was attracted to the simplicity, universality and practicality of Cafh's teachings. She says, "There is no set of beliefs to accept, no opposition to other spiritual traditions. The essential method is to make an experiment of your life-to discover ways that universal spiritual ideas can be lived. Cafh helps us to explore what is the essential in all spiritual traditions and in all human experience and to live our daily lives with the sense of truth and personal mission that this understanding offers us."

Laura noted that over her twenty years in Cafh she has come to appreciate the many ways in which the path is multidimensional. She says, "It's an organizational entity spanning the globe and its sole purpose is to help individual souls to unfold. A rich store of teachings, ceremony, and a method have been developed and transmitted for over more than fifty years, and they continuously evolve to incorporate new scientific understandings and social change. We experiment with retreat meals low in fat and we celebrate special occasions with abundant food and wine. We cultivate silence and we investigate the practice of dialogue, discovering anew what comes of silence and community."

We have found that sitting in meditation is really the essential practice. Learning to stop and sit and quiet ourselves, learning to relate directly with the Divine Mother as we reflect on our experience. We offer up our dilemmas and failings. We share our sorrow and our joy. And always we return from that sanctified time with clarity, consolation, and direction.

Gratitude

Our understanding of a spiritual path has changed over time. It's not so much about big changes or reaching perfection. It's more about making small changes and living life with a greater sense of joy and radiance. It's about constantly working to cultivate an open inner attitude, engaging the process of our unfolding with kindness, compassion and a loving heart, even when it is really hard. It's not so much about purging those personal qualities that are not so attractive to us, as learning to see the teaching in whatever life brings to us and the contributions we can make in our families, circle of friends, and communities.

We feel blessed that we found Cafh and each other. We continue to work on our thinking patterns and reactions. We laugh a bit more, we approach ourselves and others with a little less judgment, we pray more and surrender more to what we do not understand. We continue to be amazed by the beauty and mystery of life and of each soul that we meet.