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Living a life of action — and contemplation - Jana Spangler
Living a life of action — and contemplation - Jana Spangler

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In this episode, we speak with Jana Spangler about how to live a contemplative life that’s also full of compassionate action. As we’ve brought more contemplative practices into our own lives, we’ve found many benefits — but have wanted to make sure we don’t lose any of that drive for compassionate service that our faith has done such a good job teaching us.

Aubrey Chaves: Hi and welcome to the Faith Matters podcast. This is Aubrey Chaves. In this episode we speak with Jana Spangler on the intersection of action and contemplation. As Tim and I have brought more contemplative practices into our own lives, we’ve found many benefits. But we’ve wanted to make sure that we don’t lose any of that drive for compassionate service that our faith has done such a good job teaching. Jana is an integral professional life coach with Symmetry Solutions, who specializes in working with individuals who are experiencing shifts in their faith, those affected by loved ones shifting faith and with mixed faith couples.

She’s attended The Living School of Wisdom school run by the Center for Action and Contemplation under the direction of father Richard Rohr, where she studied contemplative Christianity and wisdom traditions and how they can support the transforming work of love in ourselves, our communities and the world. Jana is also a frequent speaker at conferences, workshops, firesides, retreats and on podcast and as a guest lecturer BYU on issues of faith and development. We had such a great time speaking with Jana, and we hope you enjoyed this conversation.

Tim Chaves: Well, Jana, thank you so much for being here.

Jana Spangler: Yeah, thank you for having me.

Tim Chaves: Yeah, of course, the way this podcast came to be, actually was that a few weeks ago, when were recording Tom McConkie, were talking a little bit about his stages of faith that he likes to talk about, that he teaches about, and in particular, the achiever stage, and what happens during the achiever stage, and afterwards. I feel like I’m a person that has had a very defined achiever stage in my life, where I wanted to accomplish all the things and fix all the things and do all the things. And then I don’t know what it was, five, seven years ago, probably, I felt myself starting to move out of that a little bit, but maybe entering a space where I didn’t know what was going to replace it.

We talked about that a little bit with Tom, and Aubrey and I had been talking about it. If you do find yourself in a situation where you’ve been for years in this achievement mode and then you’re moving more toward something more contemplative, like we’ll talk about, how do you end up balancing those two things? And then this is just at the beginning of this year, we subscribed to the Daily Meditations from Richard Rohr in the Center for Action and Contemplation. And this is literally within 24 hours of us having several conversations about this, and this email, right I’ll read it, If that’s okay.

Jana Spangler: Okay.

Tim Chaves: So this is Richard. He says, “The most important word in our centers name is not action, nor is it contemplation. It’s the word ‘and’ we need both compassionate action and contemplative practice for the spiritual journey. Without action, our spirituality becomes lifeless and bears no authentic fruit, without contemplation, all of our doing becomes ego, even if it looks selfless, and it can cause more harm than good. External behavior must be connected to and supported by spiritual guidance. It doesn’t matter which comes first, action may lead you to contemplation and contemplation may lead you to action. But finally, they need and feed each other as components of a healthy, dynamic relationship with reality.”

So, Aubrey and I read that and just thought, wow it’s a sign, we need to dive into this topic more. How do action and contemplation intersect with each other. And we knew a little bit about you, we knew that you done Living School, which is related to the Center for Action and Contemplation, and thought we need to get Jana on to talk about this. So we’re very excited to have you here and maybe if we could start, you could maybe talk a little bit about your experience at the Living School. What the Center for Action and Contemplation actually is, who Richard Rohr is and all of that stuff, and then we’ll dive in more from there.

Jana Spangler: Okay, well it’s one of my favorite things to talk about.

Tim Chaves: Great.

Jana Spangler: So I’m really grateful to have this opportunity to talk a little bit about it. And so the Living School, as you said, is run by the Center for Action Contemplation, Richard Rohr is the director. They have other teachers during my time there. And James Finley and Cynthia Bourgeault were two of the other faculty. They’ve since added a few that I’m really having some deep jealousy of the people who are still there, that they get to interact with these new teachers. But so, Richard Rohr is a Franciscan priest who’s a Catholic priest, and he has a deep love of the contemplative traditions in Christianity.

And I find that in our LDS community, we don’t have a very deep understanding of the roots of that because it happened during the Great Apostasy, right so it’s not something we really delve into or talk about and really in western Christianity. A lot of these threads have been lost when Constantinople and Rome split and excommunicated one another. And a lot of these traditions stayed more with the eastern churches. But in the West, we followed more of a line of rational thoughts, and Greek philosophers, these kinds of things.

So, Richard Rohr is very influenced by getting back to these roots of deep contemplation of what that can do in our lives, and getting silent. What can we be taught through silence? What can we be taught about God? What can we be taught about ourselves and our humanity? And how can we see the divine DNA in all of creation and all of us, and I was really drawn to his program, really, because I saw him being able to critique religion in a way that did not throw it out. He has a deep love for it, that he can take a step back and look at it in a way that I think it’s helpful because I think it’s so easy to get into our own echo chambers. We see this in politics, we see this in religion, and we don’t become our best selves if we’re not willing to look at ourselves and critique ourselves.

So I was really drawn to that in him. And once I got there, I didn’t really know what I was signing up for. I didn’t know what a mystic was, I have never heard this, sounded pretty woo-woo to me. I don’t know what I’m getting myself into. But really what I gained from them is a new way of approaching my spirituality and new way of approaching my religion that just feels really authentic, really real really deep. And I also gained a really deep appreciation for my Mormon roots.

Aubrey Chaves: Really?

Jana Spangler: Yes, because of one of the things that I noticed, is from a teacher who is teaching about just the lineage of religion, the lineage of wisdom, tradition, the lineage of humankind and our interaction with the divine, I kept seeing things that told me that Joseph Smith had connection to this lineage and mysticism.

Aubrey Chaves: Wow.

Jana Spangler: In a way that I hadn’t imagined. So I learned so much about my faith from people who were not of my faith.

Aubrey Chaves: Yeah.

Jana Spangler: I found that to be really interesting.

Tim Chaves: That’s amazing.

Aubrey Chaves: Yeah.

Tim Chaves: I have so many questions, but I would love to dive into that comment, you just made a little bit more.

Jana Spangler: Yeah.

Tim Chaves: If that’s okay.

Jana Spangler: Of course.

Tim Chaves: Could you talk about some of those insights that you had about our tradition of Joseph Smith in particular?

Jana Spangler: Absolutely. So there were certain things that Richard Rohr would explain were lost throughout the Catholic and Protestant movements and the things that he as a Franciscan that I learned a lot about Catholicism there.

Aubrey Chaves: Yeah. What does that mean?

Jana Spangler: And I’m not an expert. I’ve touched it just slightly but there seemed to be different orders, the Jesuits still here …

Aubrey Chaves: Yeah.

Jana Spangler: The Franciscans. And really, they each have different philosophies, they have different things that they focus on, I would say.

Aubrey Chaves: Okay.

Jana Spangler: And so the Franciscan way of seeing things lines up pretty well with some of what I see in Joseph Smith. So one of those things is just the direct connection with the divine that didn’t exist as strongly in the Protestant teachings of when Joseph Smith arose on the scene, right. So, at the time, the way I understand it, Protestant thought was more that Christ was all divine, all God, we are all human. We are all debased. We are worthless, but Christ can save us kind of an idea. And what I saw in some of the teachings of Richard Rohr, and the Franciscans was this idea of Christ, being all human, all divine, and so are we.

Aubrey Chaves: Wow.

Jana Spangler: And we can connect. And that we can see such a beautiful example of who God is through the person of Jesus. Because of that, it can help us learn to embrace our humanity, rather than running away from it.

Tim Chaves: How fascinating. So it’s that non duality, instead of yes and no, it’s yes and yes.

Jana Spangler: Yes. And it’s the extraordinary nature and this idea of the eternal progression, and one of the pieces of mystical theology they offered at the school was that, “God did not create a tree, God loved into existence what the always been the eternal nature of trees.” When he says things like that. I’m just hearing intelligences. I’m hearing our coeternality with God. Yeah, some really beautiful …

Aubrey Chaves: Wow.

Jana Spangler: Really basic things that now, they’re just a couple.

Aubrey Chaves: Yeah.

Jana Spangler: I could go on and on. Those were a few that I really started to appreciate, like, “Wow, what insight, what a gift that Joseph Smith brought to the restoration.”

Aubrey Chaves: Yeah. So will you jump into contemplation and just maybe talk about what that is? I feel like maybe our word for that or that maybe the closest thing we have in our faith traditions pondering. We talk a lot about pondering. To me as a kid that just meant I was supposed to sit still while I was reading or maybe write or not jump up off my knees after we prayed. And so I found a lot of value in things like Thomas’s taught with real mindfulness and meditation. So we just talked about what you learned there and what is contemplation and how is it like, is it pondering or is there a more …? Do you do something? You know, every day that is more than just thinking is the more directed.

Jana Spangler: Yes, its a great question. I think pondering touches on this and I think there have been pieces of this we haven’t really focused on ourselves even in our own tradition. I remember when I taught young women’s and they’re long gone manuals at this point that I was teaching out of. But I remember specifically there was a lesson on prayer and meditation. And I don’t really remember seeing that in other places in our curriculum, but I saw that in young women’s manual and I always really loved that. Contemplation, meditation, pondering, they all touch on on maybe a similar thing.

Tim Chaves: Would you throw mindfulness in there as well?

Jana Spangler: Absolutely. Yeah, I think I think they’re all mechanisms of pointing to the same thing but, to me, and really what they teach at the school is that contemplation is really tapping into a silence. And it’s more than just being quiet. It’s emptying of our ego, it’s emptying of our personality, of our identifications of the things that we think we need to make us important. So that we can actually get still with what is the very essence of our true deep soul, our spirit, our true self. These are some of the words that they use. True self to explain what that is that we’re tapping into. That is something that is just deeply connected to God.

It’s that piece of us that has never been wounded. Is that piece of us that is eternal. Is that piece of us that doesn’t have these ego needs that drive us throughout our lives? And that there’s something really so rich that we can learn about ourselves and others if we can tap into that.

Aubrey Chaves: Yeah.

Tim Chaves: Now when you say the word ego, is that a specialized word as well in this tradition?

Jana Spangler: Yeah, I mean, everything has its definition, right? Because psychologists are going to think about one way and different people are going to think of it in a different way. The way they talk about it, the Living School is that ego is, as I explained, it’s that piece of us, that has gone through this life and has learned what it needs to have an identity that really wants to be looked at, in a good way. When people run up against your ego and see you in a away, you don’t want to be seen. And you have that reaction that’s coming from an ego place. And Richard talks about it having certain wants, he wants to be separate and superior. And he talks about this as one of the dangers of religion without this deep contemplation spirituality is that it can actually serve our ego needs.

Aubrey Chaves: Yeah.

Jana Spangler: Right. I’ve heard him say, “Who knew religion could be the perfect place to hide from God.”

Tim Chaves: Amazing.

Aubrey Chaves: We talked with Adam Miller about that. He talked about how we use the law sometimes to build our ego, we can live the law perfectly. And then we feel really good about that. And in that way, we’re living in sin ironically. So, I keep thinking about this phrase that he said about emptying yourself. And I love that because, for me, in a way, prayer was a way to fill myself up with ego. It was usually in an anxious way, but it was like begging God for these things that I really wanted for myself. And so I love this idea that it feels like a prayer because it’s so connecting and you’re totally aligning yourself with God’s real will by just emptying all of that from you. So I just love that image.

Jana Spangler: Right, because how can we build something new? How can we let something new in if we are certain.

Aubrey Chaves: Yes.

Jana Spangler: If we are convinced.

Aubrey Chaves: Yes.

Jana Spangler: If we are telling God what we think should happen, how is that really open communion and allowing God to go through us.

Aubrey Chaves: Yeah, right.

Jana Spangler: Right.

Aubrey Chaves: Yeah.

Jana Spangler: And so to your point pondering, one of the things that I noticed a lot now that I’ve studied with them and then being with, in my healthiest word, and what I noticed is that we are very much in her head. I don’t think this is just us, I think this is Western Christianity, that we are very intensive work and we are very much in our head. And so we go to pondering and I think you said this. We’re just thinking about things, and how they would say contemplation is different than that, is that rather than staying in your head, and you can be in those ego needs, just as you can be with prayer, right? And it’s dropping down into our heart, It’s dropping down into this emptying and actually getting out of that mindset.

Aubrey Chaves: Altogether?

Jana Spangler: Yes. Well all of these things are not the enemy. Ego is not the enemy and the thinking mind is not the enemy. And it’s just that you don’t want it to be completely running the show.

Aubrey Chaves: Yes.

Jana Spangler: Right. There is something that is trustworthy in our deep souls that we can talk ourselves out of or that we can follow a path that maybe is not where God would have us go.

Tim Chaves: Yeah.

Aubrey Chaves: There’s something trustworthy in our devolve. I love that and we cover it up like we just bury that.

Jana Spangler: Absolutely.

Aubrey Chaves: Yeah.

Jana Spangler: And this is a big thing that I’ve noticed, just culturally, I think. And it’s informed by our Protestant roots. And I love it, Terrell and Fiona are talking a lot about these kinds of things in Christ who heals them and other places, but when it comes back to some of the Protestant theology of we are debased.

Aubrey Chaves: Yeah.

Jana Spangler: If we start with the fall, we’re a fallen people. And therefore if we have that idea of humanity, if we are not of God, then we can’t be trusted. Our own souls cannot be trusted. We need outer authority to tell us exactly what to think how to do things, because we are not trustworthy.

Aubrey Chaves: Yes.

Jana Spangler: And one of the things I find I work with people who are going through trouble with their faith who are having deep questions, and one of the things I noticed is this desire to want to trust themselves because they’re not quite sure what’s going on with this external religious thing. They don’t know how to do that. And I feel like what I hear from the Franciscans and Living school is, “Let’s start from Genesis one. Let’s not start a Genesis three with the fall. Let’s start with the creation of God creating humanity” And it is good.

Aubrey Chaves: Yeah.

Jana Spangler: It was very good.

Aubrey Chaves: Yeah.

Jana Spangler: And when you have that idea of our deep goodness, our deep connection to God or the divine DNA being within us, our divine nature, right? It allows us to be able to trust that, it allows us to be able to go deeply and trust our own souls.

Aubrey Chaves: And it answers the question that, I should trust myself, because I think that’s half the battle, “Am I allowed to trust this feeling that I have? Or this discomfort that I have? Or should I trust someone else?” I think that people are so uncomfortable with that dissonance because they just don’t know what the right thing to do is. They don’t know if they’re allowed to just believe that they can feel that.

Jana Spangler: That’s right.

Tim Chaves: No, so when you work with people that are going through questions, do you actually walk them through? Or teach them about a contemplative practice? Or is one of your actual steps to do that self emptying? And say, “What do you find when you get not just beneath the body but beneath the mind?” And when people do that, do they emerge with a sense of personal authority?

Jana Spangler: Yeah. It’s a great question and I would say that in my practice, I work with people in what draws them, right. So I don’t necessarily always mean it as that, for some who are hungry for it, I absolutely name it and I’ll give them resources and help them through that. But really most of my clients what they need the most is to be seen, to be honored, and to show that they can be trusted. Right? If they can experience that with someone what is coming up from their deepest souls is okay. Even if it goes against the mainstream, that if they can see that it can be honored, they can slowly, little by little learn to trust themselves.

Tim Chaves: And who does that honoring? Is that you or is that them, have or is it a combination?

Jana Spangler: I think it starts with the client relationship and having someone who’s safe to talk to, because one thing I’m just keenly aware of is that we do not have many safe spaces for people to have deep questions. It is not culturally acceptable. And I think it’s becoming more culturally acceptable. We give the lip service to … sure questions are great. There’s always a cat caveat, but don’t go to these certain core questions. You can question polygamy, don’t question, the resurrection. You can question some of our history, you can question certain things there. But don’t question the Book of Mormon. We have certain sacred cows that are still sacred cows.

But so many people. They don’t choose it, that life has brought them something that they can’t quite, reconcile and they are just kept in pain when we can’t voice that, when we can’t give them a place to do an honest wrestle with the deepest and scariest of questions.

Aubrey Chaves: And in shame, I feel like the dangerous part of that is when you try to ignore those feelings, you feel there’s just such a deep shame because you know that they’re there and you can’t express it or you’re afraid to articulate it, and so what that feels like in my experience is just shame. And so I love this idea of just slowly trying to build this confidence in your own real connection to God. That There’s nothing deeply wrong about you. And that when you get to that bottom when you’re fully empty, what you’ll see is this real connection to the divine that has always been there.

Jana Spangler: Absolutely. What I noticed is when we shut that down, that shame grows. We blame ourselves, the people around us who don’t understand what we’re going through, blame us, we take it. And then it comes out, if you don’t attend to that, shame, the anger, sometimes feelings of betrayal or other things that come up during this time. Our Christian values want to tell us to just forgive get over it, anger is bad. But if we don’t pay attention to that, it doesn’t go away.

Aubrey Chaves: Yeah.

Jana Spangler: It just translates into shame, into depression, into passive aggressive behavior. And if there’s no outlet for that, if we don’t give people a healthy outlet for that, it’s going to come out in anger toward all of it.

Aubrey Chaves: Wow.

Jana Spangler: And we tend to be a faith that seems to have this chain of, “If this is true, this is true.” Right? So if you remove one thing, it all collapses.

Aubrey Chaves: Yeah.

Jana Spangler: And, so I see this happen a lot. Where if we’re not giving people permission to do this deep inner work with their own soul. They’re going to throw everything out they’ll be with the bathwater, and then we’re so confused why they’re so angry.

Aubrey Chaves: Yeah.

Jana Spangler: Well, and why it’s so hard.

Aubrey Chaves: Yeah.

Jana Spangler: For everybody around them.

Tim Chaves: Yeah. I’m curious. So one of my baby with the bathwater issues is that action contemplation thing, too, right?

Aubrey Chaves: Yeah.

Tim Chaves: And it’s obviously very related to what we’ve been talking about. In my life, as I felt myself moving and I didn’t have vocabulary for it, I think as it was happening. But moving a little bit out of that achievement mode possibly becoming a little bit more contemplative, although I also didn’t have that word. I felt like sometimes questioning if what I was doing was the right thing. It was like, well, I’m 26 or whatever it was, and my ambition’s gone, this is too early. I’m curious. And I would love to just dive into this really. How does one as they start successfully getting into that, place where they are self emptying? I wish I had vocabulary for this too. Is there a word for what you find down when you move beyond body and mind, is it being? I think Eckhart Tolle, may use the word, being.

Jana Spangler: Uses the word, being.

Tim Chaves: Okay.

Jana Spangler: These people use the true self.

Tim Chaves: Yeah, the true self.

Aubrey Chaves: Consciousness.

Jana Spangler: Yeah consciousness.

Tim Chaves: Okay.

Jana Spangler: Spirits, each tradition has their ways. Most Western traditions speak to that.

Tim Chaves: Yeah, for sure. So when you start to get into that mode a little bit more successfully, how do you keep that … what’s the word that we used of the compassionate action as a part of your as a part of your life? Obviously, I think I may have felt some temptation and not wanting to be like, “I’m good.” It gets into the nature of my church thing. And yeah, maybe there’s not a whole lot more to it than that. But I think, what Richard Rohr was saying is that, there is more to it than that.

Jana Spangler: Absolutely.

Tim Chaves: There is achievement and action that should be involved in a life that’s complete and whole.

Jana Spangler: Absolutely. And so this gets back to your original statement that your email from him, that it’s the both and …

Aubrey Chaves: Yeah.

Jana Spangler: We need both. And that if you get too far one way or the other, there are going to be pitfalls. So I feel right now culturally, we’re a bit strong on the structure on the action on the do. And that’s largely representative of this achiever. That’s where many people resided in the society and the church, certainly. And so we were so heavy on that, that I find so many people when they start questioning this structure, how that’s working for them. They are so drawn to the other side.

Aubrey Chaves: Yeah.

Jana Spangler: Because it’s been largely … not completely but there’s been a largely absent, and it’s like, “No, I want to pay attention to my soul.”

Aubrey Chaves: Yeah.

Tim Chaves: Right.

Jana Spangler: They start asking questions, “Why do these temple recommend questions not asking anything about my soul?” I can check off a list and be a pretty terrible person and get tough while reckon If I’m really honest about it. Right? And if I’m just doing certain things, and affirming certain beliefs, right? Rather this deep transformation work, and I find so many people coming out of it going, “Now, tell me about these Eastern traditions. Tell me about Buddhism. Tell me about meditation. Yeah, I just want to get into nature and I want to feel that.” And sometimes those pendulums do need to swing. We need to maybe pay a little more attention here to Intel, that’s part of us.

Tim Chaves: Maybe you are truly are underdeveloped on that side.

Jana Spangler: Absolutely. I think many of us are in the West. And then the question becomes, if you stay there, what happens? And it can start to feel like … I mean, we can become navel gazers someone, Richard says, “We’re not trying to teach you people how to do this so that you can set on a mountain type top and feel good about yourself.” Really the engagement where we’re asked to do if we’re truly Christian, what we’re asked to do is this compassionate service with the world and service. If you’re just doing that without contemplation that could also be ego driven. I can be doing this and patting people on the head, “Oh, you poor thing.”

Tim Chaves: Yeah.

Jana Spangler: Doing it from a place of possibly looking down up. I don’t think this is always conscious. I think most plant large we are good people trying to really get things and we have really good hearts. And we do have compassion moving us to service. The difference I see with adding contemplation and having it be compassionate service has more to do with this word of solidarity rather than service. So do you go into a place where someone is suffering? Do what you can and then leave and not be affected or let it really move you. Do you do you really find out what that person’s entire circumstance is about?

Do you go feed the hungry and then go home to your comfortable thing? Or are you having solidarity with people where you’re really, spending time? Do they know your name?

Tim Chaves: Yeah.

Jana Spangler: And …

Tim Chaves: Its another non dualistic thing, right? It’s you.

Aubrey Chaves: Yeah.

Tim Chaves: You and me versus us.

Jana Spangler: Yes. It’s seeing, really honoring that deep dignity of humanity of other people. Right. So that’s the piece that it adds. It’s it’s emptying yourself of all of your judgments. I mean, conventions [inaudible 00:28:47] speak to this right? Not having the judgment of how someone got there. That’s the difference to me between service and solidarity. Right and contemplation is a big piece of that and what I experience under compassionate service and my word right now. I think about this a lot. We have this thing culturally where it’s, I love to serve, because I have some ego needs. I feel really good about myself and doing good things. And we don’t want to be one served.

Aubrey Chaves: Yeah.

Jana Spangler: It’s fairly universal. And we have this problem. And we always have to talk to each other into accept the service if no one’s accepting the service, then there’s no one to serve. We can’t do any of this. Right?

Aubrey Chaves: Yeah.

Jana Spangler: That how do we get into a place of more reciprocal solidarity within our words? Rather than just, “Oh, you’re down on your luck.” Now, we’re going to make sure you know all about how down you are on your luck, by trying to serve you.

Aubrey Chaves: That word, that’s just a great way to capture anything.

Tim Chaves: This brings up the issue of vulnerability as well, obviously, right?

Jana Spangler: Absolutely.

Tim Chaves: We can’t see that we’re not down on our luck in some way. Right? But if you were to ask members of my word right now how I’m down on my luck, that they probably wouldn’t know, and that’s not their fault. It’s because, I’ve got my shell and I don’t want anyone, to know what my issues are.

Jana Spangler: Right?

Tim Chaves: I guess, I don’t know how that comes into contemplation, action, and acceptance of action. But I’m curious, do you have thoughts about that?

Jana Spangler: Well, I have a personal experience, but that several years ago that my daughter experienced an injury and this was about a year into me having some really deep questions and spending a year not wanting anyone to know that I was having questions because I just had this intuition. And maybe some of it justified, maybe, some of it imagined that I was going to be not trusted. I was going to never be able to hold another calling of any import or whatever. If anyone knew what was going on inside me, but as the word gathered around us in such beautiful ways when the whole ward had a fast for her.

And I just remember being really struck with this idea that we are so good with these outer things. Yeah, if someone passes away if someone has an injury, illness we seem to be okay. Being vulnerable in those positions, those instances, but I started to wonder about all the other people who are having questions of their faith. What about people who are having trouble in their marriage? What about people who have mental illness? That they’re in depression or other things that they’re dealing with that are those things we don’t want people to see. Where just other struggles with self esteem.

We don’t tend to be very vulnerable with that and it shuts down our ability to actually connect in these deeper ways in solidarity when we’re not willing to be vulnerable.

Aubrey Chaves: Yeah. I’m thinking of Richard Rohr’s first half of life and second half of life. And, in falling upwards he talks about, the first half of life, you’re building this container, and you need a little bit of ego, to just develop yourself to have something. So that in the second half of life, you can hold your gifts that you’re going to deliver for the rest of your life to the world. And keep thinking that if we had a church whose goal was to just help us have this second half of life experience, it probably would look a lot like what we do because you have to build that container. And I think you can be on compassionate service in two ways.

You can do it, so it’s building your ego, but probably it looks exactly like someone who’s really living in that second half of life and doing it out of love. And so as much as I feel squished sometimes by all of these to dos, I think hopefully if I can get in the right mind space, my life would look the same. Its just a real change on the inside.

Jana Spangler: Absolutely.

Aubrey Chaves: That I’m struggling with.

Jana Spangler: Absolutely. I mean if I’m doing the dishes, something I don’t love to do and I do all the time, not as much as probably my husband would like, he doesn’t love dishes. I can do the dishes and I can be just grumpy about the to do list and one more thing that I have to do before I can have some imagined rest, whatever that is. If I bring attention to it and intention to it, and if I just get present in the moment, and I notice just what it feels like to have water pouring over my skin or what I am doing in an act of service. Just in service of order in the home that brings something to all of our spirits that it’s hard to name.

Aubrey Chaves: Yeah.

Jana Spangler: If I can really intentional with those things is that contemplative aspect, you can bring in any place. It doesn’t just have to be sitting alone on your mat, or after prayer or …

Aubrey Chaves: Yeah.

Jana Spangler: It can be part of your daily life. This is what my mindfulness is trying to bring.

Aubrey Chaves: Right.

Jana Spangler: Right you’re walking with.

Tim Chaves: Yeah.

Jana Spangler: It’s in your walk. And as I start thinking about those things, it starts to for the first time really makes sense what we hear about praying always in scriptures.

Tim Chaves: Yeah.

Jana Spangler: I always used to think, “How is that even possible?”

Tim Chaves: Yeah.

Jana Spangler: Because I always imagined prayer was [crosstalk 00:34:43] it was active-

Aubrey Chaves: It was words in your mind. Yeah.

Jana Spangler: … it was filling the space with wordiness and dizziness. It’s that you can bring this active mindfulness to your daily life.

Tim Chaves: I love that. It seems the action in the now, is that solidarity oriented action. An action in the past out of guilt or anxiety is not, or an action in the future out of the pats on the back that I think I’m going to get out of it are eliminating that sense of solidarity. I’ve always thought of contemplation as the place where you live in the now. But bringing that now into your action, that seems like how it’s how you can actually connect with other people as you interact with them. I’ve never thought about [crosstalk 00:35:35].

Aubrey Chaves: Yeah.

Jana Spangler: It’s super powerful. There are definitely ways to do this both and even in a simultaneous moment. And what happens is that our action, comes from a totally different place.

Aubrey Chaves: Yeah.

Jana Spangler: You mentioned Tom McConkie uses a phrase and I’m probably going to butcher it. That it’s hating ourselves into action heating results in movement, which can happen at this achiever stage right? Richard would say when people would start asking questions in the first year of the program, it’s a two year program. And the first year is all about contemplation. Just really, it’s about emptying. It’s learning what that is. And they would ask about a rhythm of life project, projects that we did in the second year of the school, and people ask about it.

He says, “Don’t even think about it right now. Because if you think about it right now, it’s coming from the ego. It’s coming from your head, it’s coming from your thinking mind.” That’s not where we want that particular action to come from. We want it to come from this outpouring of God moving through us into this compassionate action and really seeing other people being in solidarity with other people. That’s where we want our action to come from.

Tim Chaves: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Aubrey Chaves: Yeah.

Jana Spangler: To really tap into this being Christian and this Christian transformation. So, yeah.

Tim Chaves: Love it.

Jana Spangler: That’s how it affects our action.

Aubrey Chaves: What do you do? Because I so identify with that feeling you’re just like, “I got to do the thing.” And it’s looming and I feel all this tightness and so what do you do in that moment? When you’re feeling compelled out of just guilt or anxiety or all of those things that shouldn’t be the impetus. What do you do in that moment?

Jana Spangler: The temptation, right is then to hate our anxiety. Right? And so, that’s not good. We got to stop.

Aubrey Chaves: Yeah.

Jana Spangler: So really what contemplation invites us to do is just pay attention to it. So …

Tim Chaves: To the anxiety.

Jana Spangler: Pay attention to the anxiety, pay attention to what is, pay attention to all of those motivations that are going on inside us. The goal here is not to get rid of the ego, the goal is to notice how it is informing us, so that we’re not acting unconsciously, and being driven by it or being driven by the shame, being driven by the to do’s. And so in that moment, it’s a mindfulness practice.

Tim Chaves: Yeah. And just to be really pragmatic with this question, is it analyzing the anxiety in any way? Or is it simply noticing?

Jana Spangler: So mindfulness to me means that we’re paying attention to it, and we’re doing it without judgment. So it isn’t noticing. A phrase I use with my clients a lot is to say, “Isn’t that interesting?” You’re just witnessing, because there’s this piece of our true self that’s always very in awareness, that can notice things. This is what the mindfulness traditions teach us right? If you worry your body, you wouldn’t be able to notice what’s going on in your body. If you worry your emotions, you wouldn’t be able to notice what they are.

Aubrey Chaves: Yeah.

Jana Spangler: If you worry your thoughts, you wouldn’t be able to notice what your thoughts are. There’s a witness that you can tap into in your true self, that can witness all of these things and just say, “Isn’t that interesting? I’m feeling some anxiety, now I can get curious about that.”

Aubrey Chaves: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Jana Spangler: Now I can get curious about that anxiety. A lot of times just paying attention to something like that, really intentionally, can start to dissolve the [inaudible 00:39:24] because, so often it’s our not wanting, it’s the resistance that is giving us that unnecessary piece of suffering.

Aubrey Chaves: Yeah. So I feel that.

Tim Chaves: If someone were to be at that point, where they’ve lived a life full of action up to this point, and they’re now saying, “I’m interested in that contemplative practice and that contemplative tradition, but I don’t want to get rid of my compassionate ambition.” You might say. What are the next steps? How does someone actually adopt a contemplative practice without and hopefully in the process, avoid throwing out the baby with the bathwater?

Jana Spangler: So it’s one thing if you are rejecting something in your life, that if you are really turned off by your action, then you’re going to have more of that pendulum swing. If the action is still working well for you, I don’t think you have to even think about wanting to leave it behind. It’s natural in development, to just pay attention to what is happening to you, and the good parts of that come with you. It just tends to be with development, what we see is it just tends to be tempered by maybe new awarenesses.

So we’re not going to just leave behind all action. I’m not just going to be at risk any moment, just being above [inaudible 00:40:49] and never doing anything for anyone else again, because I’m just so enjoying the feeling. I mean, there’s almost a fear though in the achiever that says, “Oh, that’s too much.”

Aubrey Chaves: Yeah.

Jana Spangler: I don’t see that happening a whole lot. When you’ve done the achieving, if you’ve done the achiever stage well, that’s typically what pulls us into that next phase of development anyway. I love in our society, whenever we talk about development, it’s like, “Okay, I’ve got a ladder now, and I’m going to climb it. And you are going to tell me what is in the next stage. And I’m going to act my way into that.”

Tim Chaves: Yes.

Jana Spangler: And that’s just not the way development works.

Tim Chaves: Yes, and that analogy doesn’t actually work. Because to go on to the next run, you have to leave the room behind, right?

Jana Spangler: Right.

Aubrey Chaves: Yeah.

Tim Chaves: That’s-

Aubrey Chaves: It feels very counterintuitive.

Tim Chaves: Right.

Jana Spangler: And it feels scary and really, just in development, I can feel scary, because we tend to have to let go of some things because as we said before, we can adopt something new and that space in between is super uncomfortable. And people, we don’t like discomfort.

Tim Chaves: Yeah.

Jana Spangler: We tend to think we’ve done something wrong if we’re in discomfort, it’s so ingrained. I think we all know this, you don’t get stronger muscles without pain. We don’t grow without discomfort. And … I don’t know, I think the life of Jesus is such an example of this. Christ came here. He did not keep himself above the suffering, he descended down below. He says, “I am the way.” And yet we as his followers have been trying to climb back up ever since, we’ve been trying to get out of that. If I feel any of this, I’m doing something wrong, and I need to feel good and peaceful.

That’s how I know I’m on the right track, rather than understanding how deeply ingrained pain and discomfort is in our own growth.

Tim Chaves: Yeah.

Jana Spangler: So if we’re going to be a people who are all about eternal progression and growth, we’ve got to learn to tolerate that in a way that actually helps us transform.

Tim Chaves: And this is terrible if you want a little bit. When they say that we’ve mistranslated or you’ve often mistranslated Christ as Savior, and the more appropriate translation often would be healer, healing implies brokenness and so our only way to actually connect with Christ as healer, is to be broken.

Jana Spangler: Absolutely.

Tim Chaves: Is to be in pain. So without absent that we’re not able to make that true divine connection.

Jana Spangler: Absolutely. The resurrected Christ, kept his wounds. He kept his wounds. These are not things to be ashamed of. They are not things to run away from. They are deeply part of us.

Aubrey Chaves: I’ve heard you say before that, Richard Rohr talked about the opposite. We always say the opposite of faith is certainty. But he added the opposite of faith is control. And which really spoke to me I think that’s why it’s so uncomfortable because we want to know where the next wrong is and how long it’s going to take and exactly what we need to do to get there, and it feels real fades to just be so open and accepting to whatever, however it looks. Just accepting that we don’t know what that’s going to look like, and that’s uncomfortable and that’s faith.

Jana Spangler: Absolutely. You see strands of this as we talk about faith with the LDS culture. And there are some schools of thought that would tell you, because we know so much about the nature of who we are, where we’ve come from, the nature of God, if that helps us have better faith … but there’s another school of thought that says, “Letting go of our certainty and having it as not really know, having us understand that God is so big, God is so not completely knowable, it’s a vulnerable thing to admit that.” I think faith is a vulnerable act.

Tim Chaves: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Aubrey Chaves: Yeah.

Jana Spangler: Is an act of saying, “I don’t know, and I feel something that is good and benevolent. And I trust that God is on my side.” I like to talk about faith as more of a relationship word, something that is more felt from the heart, than necessarily affirmed from the head. I know these things are going to check them off. So I think it can add a dimension to our faith that that adds a depth.

Aubrey Chaves: Yeah.

Jana Spangler: If I can share one little thing that James Finley from the Living School shares about this, he uses the example of a married couple, someone who’s been together for decades, and one says to the other, “I love you so much. I love you more today than I did yesterday.” And their spouses, “I feel the same way. I just feel the love grows all the time.” And then they say to each other, “I wonder if tomorrow I love you even more than today?” And [inaudible 00:46:13] I think that’s true. I think it will.

And then they wonder, will there ever be a time when we will hit the ceiling, where there will be no more love that can be had? They say, “No I don’t think so.” We know this about love. It is endless. It is infinite.

Tim Chaves: Yeah.

Jana Spangler: And there’s something about having a little bit of mystery, a little bit of uncertainty, about who God is, that I have an infinity of growing into that, there’s never a ceiling. It does not stifle me. I could dive into faith and into a growth into that and what that means forever.

Tim Chaves: I love that.

Aubrey Chaves: That’s so beautiful. Yeah.

Tim Chaves: I think that’s the perfect place to wrap it up. Thank you so much Jana.

Jana Spangler: All right.

Tim Chaves: This is truly incredible.

Aubrey Chaves: That was incredible, yeah.

Jana Spangler: Thank you. It’s a great conversation.

Aubrey Chaves: Thanks.

Aubrey Chaves: Thanks so much for joining us for this conversation with Jana Spangler. If you’re listening to this on a podcast platform, remember you can head over to our YouTube channel to watch a video of the conversation, or to our website for a full transcript. If you’d like to support faith matters, we’d love for you to leave us a rating on your podcast provider, or a thumbs up on YouTube. Thanks so much for listening, and as always, you can check out more at faithmatters.org

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