Contemplative Tradition and Meditation, A Salve for the Soul

Opening Minds, Opening Hearts Podcast Season 2 Episode 4 with Phileena Nikole

Episode Title: Contemplative Tradition and Meditation, A Salve for the Soul

“We are a head-dominant culture and society and when we come into Centering Prayer and practice, it’s easy to ignore the heart and body content.”

- Phileena Nikole

On today’s episode we talk with Phileena Nikole who is well known in contemplative communities and spaces where she works as a Spiritual Director and Centering Prayer Practitioner. Phileena spent her early adult life in social justice work with poor and marginalized communities. This work led her to more than 70 countries where she helped to build community among victims of human trafficking, HIV and AIDS survivors, abandoned children, child soldiers, and war brides. She is passionate about spirituality and making the world a better place. Right now her work and spiritual direction is expressed through one-on-one work with clients, facilitating yoga classes, public speaking, writing, teaching, and leading retreats for faith communities and conferences. She co-founded Gravity in 2012 and holds a masters in Christian Spirituality from Creighton University. She is also a board member emeritus for Duke Divinity School of Reconciliation and for Father Richard Rohr’s Center for Action and Contemplation.


“It’s the work outside of the Centering Prayer practice that accelerates the spiritual journey & process of transformation.”

- Phileena Nikole

In this episode

Phileena shares how growing up in the evangelical tradition led her to working with impoverished communities and the realization that she needed more inner resources to encounter the suffering she found around the world. She shares how others' actions influenced her to contemplation with action and how she was deeply influenced by their spirituality.After being exposed to the pinnacle of human suffering, she came back to the States and was at the end of herself. She felt her inner resources had become dry. She now knows she was at the beginning stages of a dark night of soul. A friend and Spiritual Director invited her to hear Father Thomas Keating speak. She took to the contemplative tradition and mediation like a bee to honey and it became a salve for her soul.Phileena shares her experience of being invited to Snowmass Monastery in Colorado and her experience meeting with Father Thomas. This led her to be deeply compelled by the movement and the practice of Centering Prayer which produced fruit in her life and teaching.She feels Keating used this time to cultivate the legacy leaders and new generation of leaders in the movement, towards the end of his life. She shares what drew her on this path and her impressions of Father Thomas as a leader.Phileena shares her growth and experience on a 33 day pilgrimage where she was uprooted and unplugged from all that allows comfort and security which helped prepare her soul for transformation. She set out with the purpose of not being the same when she returned and became open and accepting along the way. She feels the experience helped her to surrender to reality as it is.Lastly, she reflects on the changes happening in contemplative spaces which are becoming more universal and inviting, and include fewer boundaries between traditions than before. She is witnessing various groups showing up in a shared space for the purpose of waking up and taking responsibility for their lives and how they live.


“Our ultimate goal is to integrate the active and contemplative dimensions of reality in us and around us, which some mystics call ever present awareness, enlightening or waking up. To handle the details of living a human life without being distracted by this primary vision is not attained through thinking, but what may be called a practice of just being.”

- Father Thomas Keating


To learn more about Father Thomas Keating’s guidelines for service and principles visit

To connect with Phileena Nikole:Books by Phileena:

Pilgrimage of a Soul: Contemplative Spirituality for the Active Life by Phileena Heuretz

Mindful Silence: The Heart of Christian Contemplation by Phileena Heuertz

To connect further with us:  

Season 2 of Opening Minds, Opening Hearts was made possible by a grant from the Trust for the Meditation Proces a charitable foundation encouraging meditation, mindfulness and contemplative prayer.

This episode of Opening Minds, Opening Hearts is produced by Crys & Tiana LLC
Opening Minds, Opening Hearts EP # 4: Contemplative Tradition and Meditation, A Salve for the Soul with Phileena Nikole

[cheerful music starts]

Colleen Thomas [00:00:02] Welcome to Opening Minds, Opening Hearts, a podcast about the transformative practice of Centering Prayer. In each episode, we will talk to Friends of Contemplative Outreach about their personal practice. Listen in as our guests share insights about the teachings of Father Thomas Keating, how the practice impacts their work in the world, and their thoughts about how Centering Prayer connects to the living traditions of contemplation and meditation. We are your hosts, Colleen Thomas.

Mark Dannenfelser [00:00:35] And Mark Dannenfelser.

Colleen Thomas [00:00:36] Centering Prayer practitioners and contemplative life seekers who love to talk a little too much about how the practice of contemplative prayer transforms our inner and outer worlds. Our hope is to open the door for you to explore more deeply this powerful practice of Centering Prayer.

[cheerful music ends]

Mark Dannenfelser [00:00:59] Welcome to the Contemplative Outreach Podcast, Opening Minds, Opening Hearts. I'm Mark Dannenfelser.

Colleen Thomas [00:01:08] And I'm Colleen Thomas.

Mark Dannenfelser [00:01:10] It's good to see you again. Colleen. This has been a fun season. We've been having these conversations about this guiding principle that contemplative outreach has about being an evolving community with an expanding vision and deepening practice of Centering Prayer. It's serving the changing needs of Christian Contemplatives. So it's been fun to break that whole principle apart with our guests and zero in on some of these different aspects of the practice itself and how that impacts the needs of contemplatives.

Colleen Thomas [00:01:44] Yeah, I think it's actually helping to expand my vision of the community and how it's evolving, and hopefully it's doing the same for those who are listening today. I really feel like it's going to deepen that expansion even more with our guests. Today we have with us Phileena Nikole. Phileena spent her early adult life in social justice work, primarily working with poor marginalized communities. She served in more than 70 countries, building community among victims of human trafficking, survivors of HIV and AIDS, abandoned children, child soldiers, war brides. Right now, her work in spiritual direction is expressed through one-on-one work with clients. She holds a master's of Christian Spirituality from Creighton University, and she's a board member emeritus for Duke Divinity School of Reconciliation and for Father Richard Rohr’s Center for Action and Contemplation. So we are so thrilled to have you. Welcome Phileena.

Phileena Nikole [00:03:05] Thank you, Colleen. It's a pleasure to be with you. I appreciate the invitation.

Mark Dannenfelser [00:03:10] Yeah. I want to add a welcome Phileena. It's so good to see you again. If you remember, we met about two years ago when Contemplative Outreach was planning a conference. I happened to be working on the planning team and checking out possible speakers. So I contacted you. I already knew you from the Gravity Center work that you were doing and I knew that you had been involved in that gathering at Thomas Keating, kind of invited everyone to at his monastery in Snowmass. I knew some of that. We'll hear some about that later, I hope. But I just remember when we first started talking your generosity and wanting to jump right in on the conference, and as you've done with so many other things to help contribute to this contemplative tradition. And I just felt the sense of kindred spirits with you right from the start. It's always a delight to be with you.
We ask a lot of our guests about their experience around Centering Prayer, and I'm curious to hear from you about how you came to Centering Prayer when you were first introduced to it, and how that all kind of happened and how that has impacted your spiritual life and still does. Maybe, I don't know. So can you tell us a little bit about your relationship to Centering Prayer?

Phileena Nikole [00:04:25] Sure. Yes. I grew up in the evangelical tradition and my father was a pastor, so I was very devoted to the Christian faith from a young age, which was somewhat responsible for the work that I ended up doing after I graduated university. And as I was working in the world among impoverished communities, I quickly discovered I was in need of more inner resource to encounter the kinds of suffering that I was encountering around the world. And I had the privilege of working with Mother Teresa and the Missionaries of Charity early on, and their living witness made a huge impression on me because even though I didn't hear the language integration of contemplation with action, that's what I was absorbing by watching the way that they lived and served in Calcutta, India primarily. So I was deeply influenced by that spirituality and yet fumbling my way forward and noticing that the international nonprofit community that I was working with was facing various forms of burnout pretty early on in their service.
And I was comparing and contrasting that to the Missionaries of Charity and seeing and learning from the sisters that it was rare for their sisters to experience burnout. And many of them had given their life to the work. And so I was paying attention and I was watching the ways in which they would serve as they would refer to them. The most poorest of the poor, as mother would say. I would watch as they would serve them, and then like throughout the day, have periodic periods of withdrawal to pray and meditate. And of course, they began their day in their chapel every day with prayer and meditation. So I was watching all of this, but I knew nothing about the contemplative tradition. I knew nothing about meditation. And I think it was probably about eight years into my service with this international nonprofit that I visited Freetown Sierra Leone, at the peak of the war over blood diamonds.
And this was the pinnacle of exposure not only to human suffering, but human brutality. And I won't go into all the details of that, but I'm sure folks can imagine. And if anyone has seen the film Blood Diamonds, it's very true to the actual account of the war there. And it was horrific and awful. And I came back from that experience. Our organization was trying to determine how to establish a community there to respond to the desperate needs. And so that's why I was there. But at any rate, I came back to the States and was at the end of myself. My inner resources had completely dried up, and I began really questioning everything that I had known up to that time. My spirituality had run dry. I couldn't pray anymore. I had no interest in going to church services. It was all really coming up short for me.
I had a lot of questions and later came to understand that I was at the beginning stage of a pretty serious dark night of soul. And it was in that time period where a friend in town, a spiritual director himself, invited me to meet Thomas Keating. He said, "My teacher's coming to town, he's giving a talk. I would love for you to come.” I knew nothing about Thomas Keating, nothing about the contemplative tradition and nothing about meditation. And I sat in his teaching that evening, and it was just a grace filled moment I really took to the teaching and to the practice, like a bee to honey. It was salve for my soul. And so I began practicing Centering Prayer that night and just took to it relatively easily. And I say that really because I think it was a grace, it was a gift, obviously, and a graced experience to take to it so easily. And then my life slowly, slowly began to shift and change from the inside out.

Mark Dannenfelser [00:08:39] It's beautiful. So what year was that when you first met him?

Phileena Nikole [00:08:43] That must have been 2002, I believe. In time. I definitely did get more and more involved in the Christian contemplative movement, but that came later.

Mark Dannenfelser [00:08:54] Yeah, I was just thinking about how then there was that moment, I think it was around 2017 when you were invited to go to Snowmass, Colorado, the monastery that Thomas Keating, where he was living along with other figures in the contemplative movement, the Christian contemplative movement, Richard Rohr was there, Tilden Edwards, Laurence Freeman and Thomas Keating. And you were invited. Could you say a little bit about that? Because that's kind of the part of that trajectory of your life in the Christian contemplative movement when you, along with a group of others, were there to really deepen the practice as well as reflect on it?

Phileena Nikole [00:09:39] I was with that initial international nonprofit from roughly 1995 to 2012 and during that time period, as I mentioned, I came to know Thomas and his teachings and also Richard Rohr and Father Richard was very generous with his time and his resources of teaching also. And so, slowly, slowly, I was trying to introduce the contemplative tradition to my organization that was very much activist oriented and really didn't have a knowledge of the contemplative tradition or contemplative practice. And so as time went on with that organization, it became clear that my vocation was really to integrate contemplation with action in whatever ways that I could. By 2012, then I started Gravity co-founded Gravity with my former husband to do just that, to really narrow my attentions on integrating contemplation and action offering teachings and support to individuals and communities. And so by 2017, I was well into that work and had come to know various leaders in the contemplative movement and had spent time at Snowmass doing my own inner work through the various meditation retreats that were offered there.
And so by the time Thomas invited all of us out, it was amazing. I mean, it was like incredible, really. Right? I mean, such an honor to be, I mean, if I could say, you know, recognized that we were, this younger group of people had been so deeply influenced by these teachers and the tradition, and we had been taking it very seriously, right? And doing our little bit to further the movement. And honestly, I think for most of us, it was like we didn't set out to do that. It was like the movement kind of took over in our life, and it naturally produced that kind of fruit and I think it came directly from the practice of Centering Prayer and various forms of contemplative practice in the way in our life it so happened that it took on that expression of fruit where we were able to offer the teachings and keep the teachings going forward and bring our own experience into the tradition and the practice.
So to be invited was an incredible honor. It was a graceful time for all of us. The many of the people who were invited did not know one another. And what I remember about Thomas and Richard and Tilden and Laurence, they were expressing how each of them had in their own time also been captivated by the movement and the spirit, and had developed these contemplative communities and movements around the world. And yet they were all kind of isolated from one another, and that they didn't have opportunities much to come together. They were all busy doing their thing. And so Thomas had just been deeply compelled to bring together this kind of next generation of leaders in the movement. And I remember asking him, what is it that motivated you? Why are you bringing us together? Can you just, because we all kind of just came like wide-eyed, like, wow, this is so nice to be invited, but why are we all coming together?
What is the agenda? What is the point? Right? And so I asked Thomas and he said, “I just want you to know one another”. And I thought, sweetest thing, right? Because these men understood the gift of finding friends and collaborators in the movement. And I think there was a part of them that had wished they had been able to get together more often or to known one another more deeply. And there, at the end of Thomas' life, he was prioritizing those key relationships among those legacy teachers and then this younger group. And so many of us didn't know one another, and it was really an effortless connection, you know, it was kind of like coming home to each other. And to this day, there's a small group, maybe 20 of us, and we all have various connections with one another and have a way of keeping in touch. So that was, gosh, six and a half years ago, and we're still deeply connected. It's really wonderful.

Colleen Thomas [00:14:13] I love that story of how Father Thomas responded to your question. It makes me wonder, backing up a bit, when you first met him, when your friend introduced you and said, I want you to come and meet my spiritual teacher, what was your first impression of Father Thomas? And do you remember what about his teaching really drew you to the practice and the path?

Phileena Nikole [00:14:47] I mean, immediately I think of this towering light of a human being makes me think of Gandalf, this wise wizard. He was fully decked out in his robe and so jovial and friendly and able to be really down to earth. And yet he couldn't help but exude this stature of pay attention. I'm onto something here. That's kind of the impression I got. And as far as the teaching goes, what's coming up for me as you asked, that isn't really particular words he said, or points that were made, but it was the energy and the spirit of what came forward. You know, I remember so clearly I can feel it in my body and my bones of sitting in this chair as he was teaching. I think this is what people refer to as transmission when deep spiritual teaching and wisdom is coming through.
It isn't so much about the words, but it's essence to essence. It's deep calling to deep. And I even now as I try to recall, it's like I feel it so deeply in my heart. And so I was just drawn in and I think at that point, spiritually, I was so dry and feeling very lost, to be honest, and pretty humiliated because I had gone out into the world to make it a better place. And I was finding that to be impossible, quite frankly. All my powers had come to nothing, it felt like. And all that I thought I knew was really dashed to the ground and pieces. And in that humiliated state and that dry state, it was just like a drink of cold water that was very nourishing and satisfying. That's how I just couldn't resist. It probably sounds very dramatic, but that's how it was for me.

Colleen Thomas [00:16:49] No, no. I remember feeling similarly when I was in a class at Fuller Theological Seminary, also raised evangelical. And I took a class with a professor Richard Peace, and the class was called Spiritual Disciplines. Only Spiritual Disciplines I ever heard of was reading the Bible and praying for other people, singing some camp songs and handing out tracks. You know, those were the disciplines of my childhood. And so when he talked about Hildegard of being in and from what she said about being like a feather on the breath of God, and when we were assigned to go for a day on a personal silent retreat, I was like, oh, I can be still and silent and be with God like a feather on the breath of God. It was just like a balm to my soul after so much efforting.

Phileena Nikole [00:18:00] Yes, I get that. I really get that.

Colleen Thomas [00:18:03] Yeah, that invitation to stillness can be really, really compelling. And I imagine in the work of activism, do you encounter that a lot where people are just like, ugh, so relieved to be offered a drink?

Phileena Nikole [00:18:21] Yes. Yes, exactly. I think in the spiritual spaces that I came from where people were really driven toward an activist lifestyle, many of them come to that point, right? Like you and I have come to and that's why I started Gravity because I knew that other people needed what I had encountered. And when they're ready, it's like when the student's ready, the teacher appears. And many of the people came to appreciate the teachings of the contemplative tradition and the practice of Centering Prayer and other contemplative practices. I think many people now have been touched by that balm that is needed. And sometimes they didn't even know they needed it until they encountered it. And then, right. Those unconscious motivations slowly, slowly start to reveal themselves, and a person starts to wake up and be able to see what has compelled me to be so driven and to be so in this space of striving and efforting and really putting my will into the world.
And that's when the deeper work can start to take place. And we start to see various illusions that we've been living with and various emotional programs of happiness as Thomas teaches us, have been driving us. And when we can begin to look at those, honestly, then we start to kind of peel back the layers and discover that there's a whole other person here. And that person is the person that is united with Christ and God as the scriptures teach. And that's the life that we want to really nurture and bring forward to participate in co-creating the world.

Colleen Thomas [00:20:05] Yeah. I'm looking at this guideline, which I wanted to talk with you about, but it has more meaning after what we've just been talking about. This guideline settles briefly, and my growing sense in the last year or two is that there's a lot implied in that very short instruction, and it's really easy to overlook that oftentimes you can go into Centering Prayer group or even into your own sit and just ring the bell and just dive in. We're invited to settle briefly. And a lot of what I sense is implied in this guideline seems to connect very deeply to the work that you're doing around three centered awareness that, as you say, mind, heart, and body cooperating together.
And I gather that through your own work as an activist and working with activists, you came to understand this need for this cooperation of mind, heart, and body. But I'm wondering if you can talk with us a bit about why it's so important for those of us who both practice Centering Prayer, and especially those maybe even who facilitate roots to become more knowledgeable about the relationship between mind, heart, and body in Centering Prayer.

Phileena Nikole [00:21:44] Yeah, I appreciate you bringing attention to that. As I came into Centering Prayer around the same time, I was also learning about the ancient tradition of yoga. And so those two influences came into my life at the same time. And when I found myself in Centering Prayer groups, I was very sensitive to the lack of awareness around the body, given the influence of the yoga tradition, right? And a rich tradition that just effortlessly links mind, heart, body in the process of awakening to consciousness. And so along the way, I was sensitive to that. And as I continued to do my own inner work as greatly helped by one teacher in particular, but there have been a few who already understood that wisdom in a powerful way and taught me how to tune in to those three intelligences. And I think growing up in the West, we are a head dominant culture and society.
And when we come into a Centering Prayer tradition and practice, it's easy to ignore the heart and body content. And of course, in the Centering Prayer practice itself, we are practiced to let go of whatever content is coming up. It's in the integration time off the mat, off the chair, off the cushion that the awareness around heart and body intelligence, in addition to head intelligence becomes really important. And so as we sit, many of us struggle with the thoughts. So that's the activity of the head. Some of us may struggle with emotions that come up as well, or sensations in the body. And in the sit, we're taught to return to the sacred word or the sacred symbol to not get caught up in that content, but off the cushion or seat. As we move through our day and our week and our life, it becomes important to make inquiry, to really exercise the witnessing mind, the observer.
And perhaps some of that gets missed in Centering Prayer circles or some of the contemplative circles that we run in to really be astute at watching and observing and making inquiry. Now, the practice of Centering Prayer alone is powerful and quite sufficient. Thomas very rightly acknowledged that there's a lot of inner work that's happening that we don't even have to know about. We're being cleansed and various energies are being released and unconscious motivations are being dismantled and that kind of thing. I think what I have found to be critical is that it's the work outside of the Centering Prayer practice that just accelerates the spiritual journey and the process of transformation. So I really appreciate giving attention to the way in which we make inquiry about these three intelligences. What's coming forward? How do we discern and look at the thoughts I'm having, the emotions that I'm having, the irritations perhaps in the body, or the resistance, the contractions that are happening.
How do I pay attention to when my body is open and receptive in daily life and the messages that are coming in and going out in that way? How do I tune into that and pay attention to that as well as the emotions, how do I look at that? And it's like, my experience is that Centering Prayer has made that awareness all the more possible in my daily life, and has made myself more receptive to the enormous amount of insight, wisdom, and guidance that is at our disposal. So I think if we have support around that kind of three centered awareness and the work that we do off the cushion, off the seat just really enhances the whole journey.

[solemn music starts]

Mark Dannenfelser [00:26:10]
In the Christian tradition, Contemplative Prayer is the opening of your mind and heart to God who is beyond thoughts, words, and emotions. Centering Prayer is a method designed to facilitate contemplation. The method suggests four guidelines.
One, choose a sacred word as the symbol of your intention to consent to God's presence and action within you.
Two, sit comfortably and relatively still close your eyes or leave them slightly open and silently introduce your sacred word.
Three, when you notice you have become engaged with a thought, simply return ever so gently to your sacred word.
And four, at the end of the 20-minute prayer period, let go of the sacred word and remain in silence for a couple of minutes. The additional time invites you to bring the atmosphere of silence into everyday life.

[solemn music ends]

Phileena, you've talked about other practices, you've talking about that now too, that are complimentary. And it's true that in Centering Prayer, it all kind of gets taken care of in a sense, whether we're aware of it or not. But then you've also been, it seems to me, intentional about these other practices that are complimentary to that whole process of transformation. You wrote a book, I think, a beautiful book, Pilgrimage of a Soul, in which you do talk about different practices that are in the contemplative tradition. I love how you are both vulnerable in the book and also stand firmly in the place of a wisdom teacher, as well as having your own vulnerability. And you talk about a time in your own life when you experienced a pilgrimage and how that contributed to your own growth and transformation. And it's kind of an invitation for all of us that these kinds of practices can help you.
You said that pilgrimage can be a metaphor for the spiritual journey, and we know Keating talked a lot about the spiritual journey and the transformations that we encounter along the way, but in your book, you talk about a specific one, the Camino de Santiago, and this is a 500 mile trek walking contemplation, praying with your feet as you walk across the country of Spain. At least I experienced it that way when I went on the Camino in 2019, which was a very critical time in my own life, a year after my wife had passed, I decided I just needed to move in my prayer, in my contemplation. The book moved me. And I wonder if you could say a little bit more about these practices that are in the tradition, that are of the same cloth in a sense, in supportive of each other, and the whole idea of stillness as we were just talking about, and settling briefly, and also moving and still maintaining a contemplative stance throughout.

Phileena Nikole [00:29:28] I mean, pilgrimage, what a gift to be able to make pilgrimage along one of these traditional ancient ways, which the Camino de Santiago certainly is, and I know that not everyone has access to that, so I want to preface it by saying that. But the experience itself to take 33 days and unplug, I mean, I was not plugged into any device during that time. I didn't know where I would be sleeping from day to day to be really uprooted from most all of that, which allows for comfort and security is helpful in kind of preparing the soul, if you will, for transformation of some nature. And so I must say, when I was walking every day for 33 days, I didn't have much time to do my Centering Prayer practice. So let's just say that. And yet the powerful experience of making an intentional pilgrimage where, like for me, when I set out, I knew that it wasn't a round trip, that I was setting out with purpose, that I would not be the same when I returned.
And to be open and receptive along the way to whatever challenges and hardships and gifts might be there. And I will say that by the end, I had encountered a lot of challenges, a lot of hardship, all of that, and some incredible gifts and all of that had a way of continuing that process of clearing and cleansing the various attachments that I had become aware of, and the various contractions really, that were keeping me non-receptive to life. And I think that practice over 33 days just furthered me along in the posture of letting go and surrendering to reality as it is, and there are various practices that can do that. Certainly now not everyone has access to completely unplugged from life as they know it and go away for 33 days and many don't have even the physical capacity to walk for that long.
But there are all kinds of ways to make pilgrimage. And certainly the labyrinth prayer is one practice in our tradition that was really built off of the practice of pilgrimage. So for those who could not make a physical pilgrimage to a beloved site, could walk the labyrinth. And I know many people who have taken to the labyrinth practice in a way that has really facilitated deep transformation in their life. And then I would say most recently in my life, I've been graced with a really beautiful turning point in my life where I find myself now living in a very remote location in the mountains of northern New Mexico, and I'm living day in and day out steeped in a solitude, silence and stillness in the natural world, and walking and hiking in the forest and the meadows and all of that has been incredibly nourishing and furthering in the process of waking up and realizing more of our unitive consciousness and connections with one another and all living beings. And so there are many ways to support the process of awakening and transformation, and I think it's critical that it begins by this posture of surrender and receptivity, and then whatever practices can support that posture and opens the portal to new life.

Mark Dannenfelser [00:33:37] Yeah. And that can happen anywhere at any time, and you don't have to go to another country or a fancy retreat house or anything to do that. It's an internal thing.

Colleen Thomas [00:33:48] What I hear you talking about is just this practice of just being, and I want to share this, it's an excerpt from Father Thomas in 2016 at the monastery at Snowmass, and he was having a conversation with some of the members from the Denver Center for Contemplative Living. And he said, “Our ultimate goal is to integrate the active and contemplative dimensions of reality within us and around us, which some mystics call ever present awareness, enlightenment, or waking up to handle the details of living a human life without being distracted from this primary vision is not attained through thinking, but through what might be called the practice of just being.”

Phileena Nikole [00:34:46] Beautiful. He was on to so much that we're all just trying to kind of catch up to what he knew, what he came to know, be able to integrate the contemplative and active dimensions of reality. I mean, that is the rub. That is the rub. It's not easy.

Colleen Thomas [00:35:09] He was holding this vision and started sharing this vision in the 80s. Right. And I think, do you think we are waking up to this reality Phileena, how are you experiencing and noticing contemplative practice, especially Christian contemplative practice, because other eastern forms of meditation and contemplation have been popular since the 70s, 80s. But are you seeing any movement in being more invited into spaces beyond the Christian contemplative world with your own work or the work of some of your fellows in these spaces?
Mark and I talk a lot about how and what space, Centering Prayer and Christian contemplative practices occupying in the larger landscape, as we say, of contemplative prayer, meditation, and mindfulness. Are you noticing any movement towards more receptivity in that larger landscape?

Phileena Nikole [00:36:30] In the 10 years that I worked with Gravity, my sole purpose was to make contemplative teachings more accessible. And I did work with a number of Christians that were either evangelical or post evangelical. And during that 10 year period, I definitely witnessed massive openness and receptivity. It's been a little while. Well, really, since the pandemic, I've not been traveling for work. I got a taste of not traveling and decided that I'm not ready to go back into that life of traveling for work if I can help it. And so I'll say from since the time of the pandemic, I have less of a window into that landscape. But during that 10 year period prior to the pandemic, I definitely saw a lot of receptivity. I also saw some resistance, but I would say I saw more receptivity than resistance.
And as my work has continued, what I see is fewer spaces of, let's say isolation or siloing of contemplative wisdom and more of the integrated universal contemplative spaces that we're all kind of invited into. I'm seeing much fewer boundaries between traditions than I was aware of before. I don't know if that's a new thing or if it's just a new thing for me, but I'm witnessing a lot of various groups and individuals who come from all different kinds of traditions that are showing up in a shared space for the purpose of really waking up and taking responsibility for our lives in our common spaces and how we live together. Just recently, there was a native grandmother who visited the ranch. And this is just kind of an example of what I'm seeing. And she is quite elderly and has given 30, 40 years of her life to supporting all various kinds of people in the tradition of the Pipes Society and what has been historically isolated to native tribes.
She and others have said, this is meant for all people. And so she's really stewarded various Pipe Societies of non-native people. And over the years got a lot of resistance from people, native folks and that sort of thing. The spiritual wisdom that we all have a little bit of is meant for everybody. And I find that very refreshing, and I appreciate the importance of choosing a path and going deep with it. And yet, I experienced something that I've never experienced before in terms of contemplative practice. And it was a four day oral tradition, storytelling around the origin of the Pipe. And it was deeply supportive to awakening consciousness. I mean, I walked away from those four days like, whoa, what just happened? This was not just storytelling. This was a deeply formative transmission of spiritual wisdom. What a gift. It was really powerful. And I'm seeing the masses of people that are really benefiting from the access that we have to all of this knowledge and wisdom.

[solemn music starts]

And so I think that's where I sense the energy of spirit moving more and more and more into this oneness of mind and heart and body and action in the world.

Colleen Thomas [00:40:26]
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This episode of Opening Minds, Opening Hearts is produced by Crys & Tiana.

[solemn music ends]