Twenty Practices for Living
reflection and celebration of Bread of
Life’s 20th Anniversary, friends and supporters who have
experienced the practices for living and have grown along with the
organization, offer personal stories that resonate with the Bread of Life’s
practices. If you have a story to share, send it to us
with your permission to share with the wider circle of
Bread of Life’s friends. We hope some of these inspire you to welcome these practices in your lives.
ladder of inference is an awareness
tool used in Dialogue practice to notice when we’ve jumped to a righteous
conclusion about something (finding ourselves at the ‘top of the ladder’) and
to instead choose to ‘walk back down the ladder’ in a posture of interested
inquiry. Asking for concrete information from others about their perceptions
opens wider possibilities and more creative outcomes than we can access alone.
conviction about what is needed on earth is one thing. Knowing how to help oneself and others put it
into the kind of practice that actually makes a difference in the world is
decades a philosophy/theology /belief of deep unity has been the core
conviction of my life. It was and is
always there, beckoning me on, shaping and forming my life and service on this
planet. While being a leader in the church presented many opportunities to
affirm unity and quite possibly our common purpose, what was missing was a specific
set of practices to enable me and others with me to intentionally journey into
a joyous discovery of the oneness waiting for us beneath the froth of daily
life. I call it holy common-union—the numinous
experience of being at one with others, intentionally and with clarifying
some years ago, I attended a weekend introductory worship on Dynamic Dialogue. In the meeting place, Jean (Jean
Holsten is the Director of Dialogue Programs for Bread of Life) had
placed a large image of the earth on the floor—our home as seen from outer
space, beautiful, yet poignant, knowing the struggles, degradation, and horrors
we humans inflict on each other and on earth itself. There is sorrow in that, but the image and
the weekend experience affirmed hope. We
can do more than dream of a better way of life. It is possible to live with practices that affirm our unity on mother
earth, and in daily life help each other bit by bit to live into the holy common-union
by which we come to share and celebrate a common purpose.
weekend I found out that Dynamic Dialogue offers real practices giving an
alternate view of how we might be together as people. Of course, I have discovered that putting the
practices to work can be challenging. Fear and resistance often keep me, and I suspect others as well, in a
posture of avoiding what is “really real”: beyond all positions, ideologies,
and “silos” I am in this moment and every moment one with my brothers and
sisters. To get to that, I need to accept that it is possible to live beyond the
fear of challenging conversations. But it
is worth the risk.
long ago I had the opportunity to experience the risk and joy of Dynamic Dialogue
in what probably (for me at least) could have been another confrontation over
political/ideological differences in a situation where organizational harm
could have been the result. When some
leaders in my congregation put forward a program proposal I immediately decided
it would lead in a direction contrary to our core convictions. I asked to meet with the leaders.
the practice of the “Ladder of Inference”, instead of confronting them with my “righteous”
opinions, I wondered with them about why this proposal was so important to
them, what was “in their hearts” about it. Down the ladder we went, together, and as we shared our core
convictions, we discovered a deep and mutual concern and love for our country and
its children as well as for our shared faith —something well beyond politics! It
was beautiful and stunning! In our time together we dialogued (!) about another
way of developing the program and leading from that deeper concern and love. I
could feel the inspiration and excitement as we talked. The eventual result? When the planned event took place, it turned
out to be a celebration of life and hope for the world; and the leaders—and
myself!—gained a larger, more
vibrant vision of the work to which we all had dedicated so much of our lives,
and were given the joyous discovery of holy common-union.
David G. Mullen
Former Bishop, Sierra Pacific Synod, ELCA
Participant in Dynamic Dialogue Programs
Member, Weekly Bread of Life Lectio Group for 9 years
Creative expression is a practice woven through
everything we do at Bread of Life. Great richness and untapped wisdom lies
below surface awareness in human beings. Dropping below verbal language into
the intermediate language of image, poetry, music and other forms of artistic
expression opens this imperishable resource for both individuals and groups.
The practice of artistic expression, when pursued
with a sense of wonder and anticipation, is a powerful way for individuals and
groups to explore and appreciate the complexities, joys and sorrows of being
human. To do this one must venture beyond conventional territory (where the
value of art lies only in the finished product, which we are taught must be
beautiful enough for people to buy) and learn to appreciate that the process of
creation is, in itself, of great personal benefit.
Without the limitations of expected outcomes
(will it look good? will people like it? what will people think of me?), I have
found the freedom to investigate my life through art with an open heart and
mind. There is nothing off limits: my fears and my joys, my relationships and
interactions, and my constantly fluctuating responses to everything. When I
accept that my creative brain has information that my thinking brain can't
easily access, then I can relax into following wherever the art materials take
me, knowing that new and different information will be available to me.
Sometimes I don't comprehend the message right
away, and this is where sharing my process with others brings a deeper level of
understanding. Positive communal sharing facilitates even more healing and
growth. And often I must simply live with my creations for a while with no
understanding as to what they mean, but the changes have already happened. The
act of creation, no matter the final product, shifts the energies of my life in
profound and often very opaque ways. When I lean into the process and allow
whatever wants to be expressed free reign, then I am gifted no matter what the
final product looks like. And this practice is available to anyone who can
trust it enough to appreciate and explore what gets expressed.
Executive Director, The Creative Edge
Bread of Life Affiliate Member
Director & Facilitator for Bread of Life's Spirit in the Arts Center, 2004-2015
Sharing Awareness Together
Bread of Life we often say that awareness is 90% of our work – and that it
involves 'listening in stereo' with one ear tuned in to the interior life and
one ear tuned out to what is happening around us. Noticing is the first step.
Sharing what is noticed then shifts awareness from an individual practice to
one that builds community.
is the life-blood of Dynamic Dialogue. Without it we cannot “be” as intentional persons. In dialogue practice whenever we gather for
intentional conversations and meetings that are the realities of our
responsible productive lives, we ask each person to “check-in” at the outset as
to “how I come” and at the conclusion as to “where I am.” It builds awareness
of the 'we.
spiritual community recently committed to a process to review and update our
foundational and directive document. Small groups were created by assignment to bring together in telephone
conference calls a variety of expressions and experiences within each group. We
wanted to reflect upon and make recommendations about drafts of the new
document as they are completed.
the first call, the convener, unfamiliar with the Dialogue process, got right
down to business without an initial check-in. There was a stiffness and
hesitancy present. While it slowly dissipated out of a common commitment to one
another and dedication to the success of our community, I missed the
intentional gathering in that allows that deeper awareness from the outset.
we concluded we were invited to be silent for a few minutes and then to share
what is in our mind and heart – a closing 'check in' that is a familiar part of
Dialogue practice. After the silence several spoke. Then a participant who
lives at a distance from most of our members and activities expressed her
gratitude for the opportunity to be a part of the review process. She then described her fear of participating
by telephone with some whom she had never personally met who might be more
informed than she. The opportunity for silent reflection and collective sharing
allowed her to be known, and brought to life for her the generosity of spirit
and supportive energy that exists within the community. She effusively thanked us for the concluding
Graduate of 2-year Dynamic Dialogue Practicum
Dynamic Dialogue Mentor
Scripture can be read and studied as
information or can be invited into a deeper encounter with our lives. The
ancient practice of lectio divina or
‘sacred reading’ is used by various groups and faith traditions through Bread
I’ve been part of a small group
rooted in searching scripture though the ancient practice of Lectio Divina (“Sacred reading”) at Bread of Life Center for over ten years. In contrast to
the left-brained Bible studies I encountered as a young person through
parachurch small groups, this weekly gathering invites me to prayerfully hold
my life in dynamic conversation with Scripture.
Our weekly gatherings begin with a
time of checking-in regarding how it is with our souls. We prepare for searching Scripture by first taking time to notice the
movement of grace in each other’s lives. Reflecting on our own stories invites
a deeper openness to seeing ourselves within God’s Story. We then weave
contemplative readings of the assigned Gospel text for the upcoming Sunday with
periods of silence and sharing.
I find myself challenged and surprised over and
over through this practice of searching
Scripture. While our weekly gatherings often illumine my preaching, this
weekly spiritual discipline of searching Scripture is far more than sermon
preparation. This form of searching
Scripture is now at the heart
of my personal journey as a follower of Jesus.
Co-Pastor, The Table, UMC
Member of a weekly Lectio Divina Group
Spiritual Direction Participant
The Non-Defended Learning Stance
non-defended learning stance – choosing to slow down automatic reactions in a
genuine effort to learn more than what we think we know – is embedded in
everything we do at Bread of Life. It takes practice, and it makes a
Non-Defended Learning Stance
Breathe, then “TELL ME MORE….”
was brewing on our multidisciplinary team. For weeks, we had been struggling with how to bring our well-thought-out
project to the next stage of development. Opinions were strong and the discussion was sometimes heated, with some
members more vocal than others, as we grappled with putting our ideas into
member was particularly strong, and on several occasions proffered veiled
threats to quit the team. During one particularly difficult meeting, the
individual again threatened to withdraw from the project. I thought to myself,
“OK”. As I had this thought, I
member saw my shrug and turned to verbally attack me. The attack was not just
on my ideas. It was a personal and provoking attack. When he finished speaking,
he waited, lips quivering and face red, for my response. My colleagues around
the table also waited in shocked silence.
paused. Took a breath. Paused again. Asked for grace to glimmer. Took another
breath as I dealt with my own emotional reaction and considered my options for
I took a deep breath and turned to him, saying, “Tell me more….” with what I
hoped was a tone of open curiosity. Not expecting this response, he looked
surprised, and then began to speak. “OK, this is what I see….” He began to
explain his thoughts. We all listened closely as he elaborated, and began to
calm down as the tension in the room eased. We slowly began a conversation, the
beginnings of dialogue. Others began to express their thoughts in a neutral
way, allowing our team to get back on track and proceed down a positive
had several choices for my response. By remembering the practice of “pause and
breathe”, I was able to choose a simple response and the path of open curiosity
instead of counterattack. By clearing
the air in a neutral way, we were able to rebuild into the productive team we
had been in previous months.
Graduate of the Bread of Life's Dynamic Dialogue 4-day Workshop
Current Participant in the 3-year Internship in the Art of Spiritual Direction
Retired from Public Service in the State of California
When I was an employee at Bread of Life I decided to take one of the many creative group experiences offered after work hours; I wanted to experience what everyone who
loved and supported Bread of Life was
experiencing. I chose the AWA (American Writers Association) style writing group offered by Carol
Mathew-Rogers that ran for 6 weeks. I was hooked by the positivity of the
method, graciousness, and warmth of the facilitator and the group of writers; I
wanted more. So I found a local AWA facilitator who wrote every Friday night in
a classroom trailer on the Sacramento City College campus.
Of course this group knew many of the Bread of Life writers and facilitators.
I was so warmly welcomed into a group of people who supported me, my writing,
my transitions, my observations and my dreams; and then they gave me the
opportunity to facilitate AWA groups on my own. Every Tuesday night in my home
ten of us gather to write and share and bond and often heal. Sandra’s dream of
having people take tools for
healing and personal discovery, engagement, creativity and reflective
living into the world- perhaps one neighborhood at a time- changed my
life, and now the people I write with are going into their own neighborhoods
offering AWA style groups too. I feel a great sense of pride, accomplishment
and L' Dor Va Dor- which is Hebrew for - "from generation to generation”
as I participate in helping grow communities
that value individuals, their creativity and their healing.
Board of Director Member
Reflective reading is a communal process
designed to move from a ‘book study’ approach to one that engages life in ways
that are eye-opening. Participants enter a dialogue with a book (“What is most
striking in what I’m reading?” “What is the biggest surprise or “Ah Hah?” “What
is the place of greatest ‘pinch’ or resistance in what I’m reading?” “How does
what I’m noticing speak to my life by way of confirmation or challenge?”) They
then engage with group members sharing discoveries. Finally each selects an intention
for the week and brings backs the results the following meeting. This time the
‘at home’ practice was all about simplifying our digital lives. What emerged
was a learning community with greater freedom to choose when and how we say
‘Yes’ to the digital gadgets that consume so much of us.
| Organized Clutter|
participated in a Reflective Reading Group at the Sacramento Bread of Life
Center. “Reclaiming Conversation, The Power of Talk in a Digital Age” by Sherry
Turkle was the book Sandra selected for our mutual work. I found the group
reflections to be a rewarding benefit that provided me a much more enjoyable
reading experience with this book. Although the focus of the reading was
Turkle’s book, thought provoking questions and materials enhanced the content.
I found great value in our shared, personal reflections!
Jim Sargent, Carmichael
Dialogue is a multi-dimensional practice that allows individuals to bring a quality
of presence and engagement to their relationships in families, organizations
and workplaces that helps a creative common ground beyond "You see it your
way and I see it mine" to emerge.
I’ve often struggled with communication. As
a child, receiving the message that I should be seen and not heard, I decided
that no one was interested in what I had to say. In school, the pattern
continued along with the belief that no one wanted to listen to me. By the time
I reached high school, I began to venture out of my shell a little, but would
retreat at the first sign of rejection. The work world helped me grow. I
learned to listen to the insistent voice of my internal compass, which directed
me to step out of my comfort zone time and again. I sought out environments
that would help me come out of my shell: I sold retail, did trainings, wrote
policy, supported and managed large groups of employees, gave speeches, and
provided testimony to the Legislature.
Yet part of me continued to be terrified of
the potential response to what I had to say. What if I was found out;
discovered to be a fraud? Meanwhile, I continued to struggle with
communications in some of my most intimate relationships. Rather than risk
rocking the boat I often decided it was best to say nothing. I chose the words
I did share carefully and couched my message in indisputable terms. Yet, that
internal compass continued to remind me that I shouldn’t have to work so hard;
that I had a voice and that I needn’t suffer so for it.
I received the key to unlocking my voice
when I was introduced to Dialogue training in 2011. The practices offered - slowing
down to become more aware of what was moving in me rather than just reacting to
the “other”, listening deeply, and holding myself gently for being a
‘messy human’ made experiences of missed communication feel less dramatic and
wounding. I decided to explore mindful, non-reactive dialogue practices through
a 2-year practicum with Bread of Life. It was the best investment in
myself I have ever made.
Immersing in the practice of Dynamic
Dialogue has been a transformative, life-enhancing experience. Deep exploration
of the drivers for my quality of presence and how these affect the quality of
my engagement with others has brought new depths of awareness, an ability to
experience and share compassion with myself and others; a capacity to exercise
creative freedom for making different choices in how I engage; an awareness
that all people have sacred worth and value, and a desire to honor our
interdependence. We have an impact on each other! This practice has improved my
relationships, and most importantly it has helped me to let go of the fear that
my communications will not be received well. By embracing that I too am a
person with sacred worth and value I am better able to hold that space for
others. My willingness to allow my own vulnerability and to show up in an open
and authentic way invites others to do the same. I am loving the freedom to
explore mutual relationships.
Graduate of the Dialogue Practicum
Dialogue Practitioner and Mentor
Our Emotional Pulse
An important part of monitoring physical well-being is
measuring one’s pulse or heart rate. This provides physicians important
information about the state of our health. The following, simple awareness
practice can yield similarly helpful insight into our emotional state at any
time of our day. We assume that as human beings, (1) our emotional life is an
integral part of who we are; (2) emotions are not positive or negative—we
simply feel what we feel (responses to emotions may be un/healthy); (3) our
emotions are indicators of our personal well-being and to what extent our needs
for security or significance are being met.
Begin by taking several
deep, cleansing breaths. Next, ask yourself: What am I feeling at this moment? Discern
and name the emotion. Then, allow yourself to feel the emotion as much as you
can, remembering that there is no “negative” emotion—we feel what we feel for a
reason. Continue to allow yourself to feel and welcome the emotion and ask
yourself: Why am I feeling this way—what
may be the source of this emotion? What is it that I long for, want or desire? What
am I resisting? A final step of this practice is to discern if you need to
do any “follow-up” to your mini checkup. Since our emotional state exerts much
influence in relationships and on our personal well-being, it is helpful to
deepen our awareness about this part of our life.
Graduate of Bread of Life's Dynamic Dialogue Practicum
Scientists say that over 90% of an iceberg’s volume is
below the surface of the water; it is this hidden part which can be a danger to
shipping. Similarly, much of who we are and what affects our behavior is
invisible to others and to ourselves. So much of our life is lived on the
surface without much awareness of what is happening below. We come to believe
it’s the visible alone (the other person, a particular circumstance, a
conflict) that’s the issue, without realizing what is happening inside of us,
also contributes to our experience.
In their study guide to The Road Back to You, Ian Morgan Cron & Suzanne Stabile offer a
helpful tool, called SNAP (Stop, Notice, Ask, Pivot), which can help us take a
deeper, inner look when we feel triggered by the external. We Stop by taking four to five deep
breaths in order to return to the awareness of the present moment. We Notice or “take a look at the real” in
order to understand what actually is going on around us and within ourselves.
We now can Ask ourselves a few
questions: What am I believing right now?
How does it make me feel? Is it true? As we deepen our awareness about our
self and our circumstance, we can then Pivot,
or engage in a healthier response rather than react out of defensiveness or
Graduate of Bread of Life's Dynamic Dialogue Practicum
Direction and the Gift of Imperfection
Bread of Life the things that make us human are seen as gifts – even when
uncomfortable. It’s human to develop ways of self-presentation that allow us to
move in the world, and it’s human when those ego-constructs begin to crack. We
consider such cracks an opening to a fuller, freer life provided that they are
held in a way that is compassionate and grounding. Spiritual direction is one
For years I felt inadequate and "less than"
others who seemingly had life by the tail. My shyness, along with my focus on
my "failures," seemed like barriers to full participation in life.
Thanks to many of the Bread of Life programs and practices – including
spiritual direction - I began to see how my wounds and short-comings could
become openings for new life and new perspectives.
Seeing myself through another’s compassionate eyes while
exploring a range of practices that included stepping into the Scriptures to
experience how those stories related to my own faith journey was transforming.
As I learn to see my wounds through new eyes, I am able to see that those
seemingly broken parts of myself are the cracks God uses to let light
into and through me – and this awareness now allows me to offer the gifts of
understanding and compassion when I sit with others in their imperfection.
Graduate of our Spiritual
Direction Internship program
the State Department of Education
Cultivate Openness to Grace
“Grace is an accident. Spiritual
practice makes us accident prone.” (unknown) One way to think about grace is
that it’s a gift that flows with power for goodness in our lives. We can’t
create it but we can receive it when it comes – which requires openness. Safe
places and people assist with that opening.
In the midst of life's struggles, Grace can feel
elusive--like the pearl within an oyster shell that is so very difficult to pry
open, or the kernel hiding inside the hard shell of a nut which seems
impossible to crack. Spiritual direction – in which I have participated for 10+
years - is a safe and supportive space for the hard work of "prying"
and "cracking." Openness to Grace is cultivated as the precious
contents are gradually revealed.
The moment of Grace, albeit
fleeting, is (for me) akin to that culminating scene in the Star Wars trilogy
when Luke Skywalker takes the cumbersome black helmet off of Darth Vader (his
father). With the removal of the false self which had provided Vader an
existence, a true image of the Soul of Luke's father appears--one that is
replete with loving kindness: Grace personified. Even though that revealing of
the truth meant a physical death of Luke's father, it is clear from a
subsequent vision that the Grace of that moment is transcendent and
everlasting. In my own process of spiritual direction, I have come to look for
the gleanings of Grace within any situation, however painful. It took many such
situations, indeed, to cultivate that openness.
Graduate of Bread of Life Spiritual Direction Internship Program
Professor of Chinese Language & Studies at CSUS
Engaging the Body as a Spiritual Pathway
Your body carries the story of
your life and has a deep wisdom to offer integrating experiences as a
pathway to growth and to wholeness in living.
Early in my
youth I discovered the dance floor to be a safe place to express my emotions
and feelings. In young adulthood and later I used dance in worship and movement
for personal growth and awareness to explore the deeper meanings of life
itself. As a “body person” I learned
the body’s language, paid attention to its signals and sensations, learned to trust in its sacredness, and
developed an incarnational faith. I learned that if I ignored, overlooked, or
took for granted my physical self, I also denied a precious vehicle for
spiritual growth. To disregard my body meant I was not paying attention to the
part of me that integrates the meaning of life.
The body is smart, and knows what is needed for next steps
in life that move toward well-being. Just as rational wisdom is associated with
the mind, the body offers wisdom through “non-rational” emotion, feeling,
sense, sensation, intuition, hunch, body energy, image - a language to be
understood and appreciated. You may not be a dancer, but embodied practices of
all kinds are good for the soul, from healthy sports to Tai Chi, and more. When
engaging embodied practices, our physical/energetic/spiritual systems are in
the present, which develops presence, and if we cultivate caring practices that
respect our body, take it seriously, listen deeply to its language, we become
open to the depth and breadth toward which our bodies guide us.
Today I dance less but practice Bio-Spiritual Focusing, a
deep listening process that accesses the body’s wisdom and affirms the body’s
role as the great integrator of one’s life story and revealer of one’s
authentic self. There's a foundational bio-spiritual wisdom that only our
bodies can provide - a natural integrative source of healing, reconciliation,
compassion, and grace in the Mystery called God.
Rev. Marjorie Hoyer Smith
Director with a Bio-Spiritual Focusing approach
of Life spiritual director, supervisor, retreat leader and faculty with the
Program in the Art of Spiritual Direction for 12 years
Practitioner of SoulCollage Prayer Cards, movement,
drama, and art for integration
attitude of interested curiosity allows movement beyond defensive perceptions
about others, opening new possibilities for connection and mutual
appears that life will always provide us with opportunities to grow. As an
adoptee, I was always curious about my birthparents. Through research seventeen
years ago which resulted in meeting my birthmother, and a DNA matching service
which recently resulted in meeting my birthfather, I have been able to
“reunite” with both of my birthparents and satisfy my deep curiosity about my
work with Dynamic Dialogue through Bread of Life has allowed me to grow in this
sense of expanding curiosity. I found myself wondering, “What would I have done
if I found myself with an unexpected pregnancy?”, “How would I react to finding
out I was a father to a child I never knew existed?”, “What would it be like to
have a child I raised suddenly meet their birthparents?” Through the process of
maintaining a sense of curiosity, openness, trust, and mutual forgiveness, the
relationships between my birthparents and me, my adoptive parents and me, and
their relationships with one another have blossomed. This has concretely shown
me that maintaining curiosity and openness is critical in both creating and
sustaining relationships. I cannot imagine how the search for my identity
(especially finding my birthfather recently) would have unfolded without the
richness of my practice in Dynamic Dialogue.
Dynamic Dialogue Mentor
Graduate of Bread of Life's Dynamic Dialogue Practicum
Coordinator, Adult Faith Formation, Ss Peter & Paul Parish
to cultivate an attitude of wonder helps restore balance in lives stressed by
the anxiety of our time, allowing a deeper wisdom to grow for all ages.
Wisdom begins with wonder. Steve has
created the Wonder Table, and he has items to put on it for our young
grandchildren, for older grandchildren, and for adults. It invites them to
go to the wonder table, and wonder about what everything does, and this process
activates their brains and awakens creativity and wisdom.
Bread of Life Workshop Leader on Trauma & Brain Health
Graduate of BOL Spiritual Direction Internship Program
Therapist & Spiritual Director
Volunteer & Supporter
It’s wonder-full when adults engage the
same practice for their own brain health too. Tanda taught me that the brain
has an inherent negativity bias which makes it like Velcro for negative experiences
and Teflon for positive experiences. While being alert to what can harm us is
vital for survival, the quality of life diminishes when our brains become
hyper-alert. Choosing to cultivate an attitude of wonder helps restore a needed
balance. What might you put on a wonder table of your own?
and Executive Director of Bread of Life
Listen to Your Life
Noticing the places in your life where you are most alive, free,
and connected is a way of revealing the gift you are made to be and to bear into the world. And, taking the time to notice and savor those moments gives 'juice' for whatever the less enlivening tasks at hand might be.
Much to my surprise, lately I’ve driven away from a park in
Lincoln feeling energized, joyful, and awakened. In the park, I train my puppy
(shown on the photo to the right with Joan's Mom) to be a therapy dog for hospital visitation. I receive immediate feedback from
her: am I communicating clearly what “heel” means? Does she trust me enough to
remain in a down stay when I’m out of sight? By the end of the class, the
intuitive bond between Belle and me has intensified and deepened.
This work is training me too--in physical stamina, self
discipline and consistency -- not my innate strengths. I’m a spiritual
director, writer and long-time volunteer with homeless women-- but this poodle
in the park is grounding me in a whole new way. As I feel confused and
fractured by larger social forces, I’m drawn to this tangible work and the
vision of bringing solace to those in pain. I’m already receiving gifts I never
anticipated: heightened vitality, physical pleasure, connection. And as I imagine
the joy she will bring, I feel a rush of hope and love.
Joan Stockbridge, Board member at Bread of Life
Graduate of our Spiritual Direction Internship program