Welcome to the second instalment of our Keynote Speaker Series, where we are hearing from the top presenters at the upcoming conference: Healing our World through Contemplative Practice, to be held Oct 15-18 in Winnipeg.
First, we heard from Kurt Schwarz, a spiritual health care practitioner and meditation teacher, who told us about some of the key teachings and practices he’ll be passing along during the conference. For more info check out http://prairiejubilee.ca/contemplation-conference-speaker-profile-kurt-schwarz/.
Today, we’re going to share some insights from Judith Burch, a Winnipeg spiritual director and Provincial Spiritual Health Care Coordinator, whose teachings will focus on contemplative practice as a way to reconnect with our soul and restore our spirit, which can become depleted as a result of life’s ups and downs.
This has been called the age of anxiety, and many blame the technology and the pace and pressure of modern living. But it is also important, she says, to consider how our underlying fears concerning suffering, sickness, and death might be impacting us at a deep level. “At the same time, there are aspects of life that are inherently life affirming, such as beauty and the natural world” says Burch. “When we take the time to intentionally and mindfully focus on these life affirming aspects of everyday life, which are easily accessible to us, they can act as a kind of antidote to the underlying anxiety that is an inevitable aspect of the human condition.”
Several years ago in B.C, as a result of a difficult life transition she herself experienced, Burch relied on her contemplative practice and lifestyle. “Through meditation, I changed the quality of my awareness. I walked alone in the forest and felt supported by the life I sensed all around me” she says, “and by the natural beauty of the West Coast. Being around animals and children felt uplifting and healing, so I looked for opportunities to hold kittens and I volunteered with children. I began to regard these simple things as medicine — things that fed me spiritually”.
Burch is aligned with Thomas Merton’s definition of contemplation, which he described as life itself — fully awake, fully alive and fully aware. “As Merton says, ‘it’s spiritual wonder, spontaneous awe at the sacredness of life’ and holding that awareness,” says Burch. She credits her meditation and prayer practice for helping her develop this quality of awareness. “We know there’s a spiritual hunger in the world, and if we develop contemplative awareness and change our focus, perhaps we can change our life.”
While much of the teachings around contemplation will be helpful to those seeking to grow spiritually, Burch believes this practice — and the conference in particular — will be very relevant for everyone, including those working in spiritual health care in busy health care settings. Contemplative practice helps to create and maintain an ability to be a compassionate presence for others.
Burch studied sociology, religion, and law while in university and began her path as a spiritual seeker in her late 20s. After developing a meditation practice, she noticed a transformative shift in the way she viewed herself, others and the world around her. “I developed a deeper sense of the sacred. Yet, at the same time, I became aware that the more I was drawn to the contemplative perspective on life, the more challenged I sometimes felt by the values of the material world. It helped to work with a spiritual director and to know that this had been the experience of many spiritual teachers who have gone before us. Somewhere along the way, I felt I wanted to become a support for other seekers who may be feeling the same way.”
She soon began teaching in the Faculty of Theology at the University of Winnipeg, and offering workshops on meditation for health and wellness at various Winnipeg wellness centres.
“My biggest message in all of this is that contemplative practice is accessible to all of us, and the latest research in neuroscience is now validating the positive impact these ancient contemplative practices can have on us, body, mind and spirit,” says Burch.
For more information on the conference, check out: