Life as spiritual practice: Kayaking as contemplative practice

Life as spiritual practice: Kayaking as contemplative practice

Life as spiritual practice: Kayaking as contemplative practice


Working in the healing arts more and more I find my life less compartmentalized. Working more from home and expanding our already welcoming space to house more workshops, gatherings and events in a home already blessed by traveling friends, artists, nomads, international students and more. I find as I approach my middle years that I can show up the same in all areas of my life. Striving for authenticity and wholeheartedness  as a teacher, facilitator and practitioner in the healing arts and also the harder part, in my family here in this home, at the grocery store, in my neighborhood. Life as spiritual practice. Being grounded and rooted in spiritual practice allows me to see God everywhere. I generally show up in a state of awe or heartbreak, sometimes both.

Walking my dogs in my neighborhood is always with intention to engage if that opportunity presents itself.  I am at home in my edgy marginal neighborhood in this small city. Spiritual practice allows me to see the life force teeming here in marvelous ways. The children are amazing and I get to know many as my dogs willingly comply with my desire to engage and eagerly greet people of all walks of life on our daily journeys. These are not the children that spend their afterschool time or summer time in carefully planned middle class stamp of approval activities in carpools. These kids are not visiting the beach or traveling to DisneyWorld.  These are the true free range kids. Many of these kids find free summer programs , Vacation Bible schools and free meals and show up here. They navigate in their environment with a fierce grace and vitality not found in finely manicured spaces. Basketball courts even in hot, humid, sticky weather are full of life and the game. These kids play Double Dutch with rhymes I recall from way back. Sidewalk Chalk and corner lemonade stands abound. These kids lack the privilege of donating their proceeds to charity.  One boy wanted to buy my dogs for $7.00. I believe he settled for a pet fish from the locally owned pet store. There is my neighbor up the street, a young mother who struggles to remain in recovery from substance abuse. She is ecstatically in love with Jesus and creates her own rap music which she generously offers to share with me and I hungrily receive. This is communion friends and her bold love in the face of her struggle brings me to my knees. There is the infamous Moxham Ninja with his brief flash of fame over, now blending into other frail looking young men walking the sidewalks. There are our friends, artists and  urban homesteaders who have transformed their yard into amazing green space of abundance. There is so much life here!

I was part of the BottleWorks Ethnic Arts Center bringing Osubi Craig and the Prophecy Music Project here back in 2007. Amazing musicians that met at Florida State and had spent time studying and learning in Africa. (More about Africa on another post….talk about life and engagement!) We brought them first to a parochial school in a wealthier area of town. The students were obviously engaged and delighted at the program but with the very real practice of discipline and order had a level of reserve that was noted by Osubi and the group. They then showed up in our district which has a very different feel and from the minute the drums sounded there was a well spring of joy that erupted through voice and movement that could not be contained and nor should it. Osubi looked at me and said, “This. This is where the life is. This is where I want to be.”

It is also where I want to be. It is also true that I have the privilege to step out of this space when I need to. I believe the rawness of how life shows up in this space can also overwhelm and haunt me. While I have my own meditation, prayer, chant, yoga, Reiki, self care practice and occasional acts of spiritual absurdity there is a deep healing and profound spaciousness in the teeming life of the natural world. My husband and I’s courtship largely consisted of primitive camping and canoeing trips. We would pile my toddler son, dog and supplies and spend our days on rivers watching turtles, beavers build a dam, herons fly overhead and of course, fish, snakes and frogs!  A bobcat and eagle sighting are still in my head. Our canoe met an unlikely demise 2 years ago on a whitewater trip that has me set on releasing adrenline from my love of being on the water.

I bought 2 flatwater kayaks from a friend for our anniversary and we have spent mornings and evenings on the Que. John, a fisherman, always close to the shore, scoping out fishing holes and me in the middle of the reservoir opening my heart to the sky, the shifting shapes of clouds, the surface of the water. There is so much life here! And I can loose myself in the sure stroke of the paddle, breathing in rhythm with the oars.   I can connect and engage with all of the life surrounding me here, the low hum of insects that occasionally changes pitch (in fifths!), the unseen air creating ripples across the water. Communing with God here. There is so much life here. It is a good life. I am Blessed.


Rachel Allen

Rachel Allen, B.A. Political Science/Sociology, is a Certified Music Practitioner, Sound Healer, Reiki Master, and Registered Yoga Teacher with a trauma informed/social justice framework. She has 20 years experience of working with some of the most amazing people on the planet; hospice patients and their families, patients in a variety of health conditions, survivors of sexual abuse, adults with mental illness and most recently, incarcerated women. Rachel is also passionate about supporting and working with caregivers to reduce burnout and compassion fatigue. Locally, Rachel teaches Creative Movement at Saint Francis University in Loretto, PA. Regionally and nationally, she teaches and presents at conferences and retreats, weaving live music, yoga, and creative movement into themes of compassion, self acceptance, and transformation. Rachel is committed to engaging people from all walks of life in the healing arts to create healthy, diverse, and joyful communities.