I am excited to share my interview with Kelly Deutsch. Pulled directly from her web site,
“I have a zest for life that I want to share with the world. Growing up in the vast skies of South Dakota, I was born with an innate sense of wonder. Stars, forest, and field were my first mentors. As I migrated across the United States and moved abroad, I would add a wide variety of people and experiences to that list. Among some of the most important were silence and sickness.
I have been blessed with a very full life. I gorged on a liberal arts education. (Yes, gorged.) I served the rich and poor. I entered a convent. I navigated the depths of the interior life. I survived life turning on a dime with serious illness, and the deep learning that accompanies it. I studied and served with people from 72 different countries. I laughed a lot, danced a lot, and conversed with all the beautiful, loud, difficult, generous, myopic, colorful and wonderful people along the way.
Above all, my experience taught me value of the two great catalysts: challenge and mercy. I believe these lessons and tools are what set me apart from many other coaches, and why my clients walk away freer, happier, and more alive.”
Learn more about Kelly at her web site.
Now on to the interview.
I see you are a growth coach. What is a growth coach? How do you help your clients?
I am! I love coaching and seeing how it can unlock vitality for people. People will come in with a whole variety of stuckness—feeling overwhelmed by life, unsure of next steps, or how to make sense of their situation. After walking with them through the fog, I love watching them emerge with clarity and concrete action plans.
The image I like to use is a jeep stuck in the mud. When you’re spinning your wheels in the mud, you end up digging yourself even deeper. Whether you put the jeep in drive or reverse, that rut gets so deep it seems there’s no way out. You’ve tried all your options – forward and reverse – several times.
The same happens in our inner lives. We get in neural ruts, and the more we rehash our options, the more we feel stuck. How do I stop the overwhelm at work and in my personal life, and find spaciousness again? How do I find a spirituality that feels authentic, regardless of what my friends and family say? How do I balance my drive to grow and achieve and change the world with the beckoning to stillness and silence and simplicity?
What coaching does is takes a bird’s eye view and offers new perspectives and tools. “Did you notice that branch lying over there? You might use that to wedge under your wheels. And I saw you tried forward and reverse, but I didn’t notice you crank the wheels to the left—try that?”
Suddenly they’re up and out, amazed at how easy that was.
Often all it takes is some deep listening, a compassionate space, and a new perspective to get you back into the mischief and mirth that’s waiting for you.
Why did you write Spiritual Wanderlust?
I wrote Spiritual Wanderlust for all the seekers who grapple with longing. With desires that cannot be satiated on this earth. I think a lot of us are closet mystics, but don’t even know it. That is, we are arrested by mystery, and find our greatest moments of wholeness is in deep connection with All That Is.
I also wrote this book as a way for myself to grapple with my own longings. I’ve always been what you might call spiritually audacious, and have had Big Dreams since I was a kid. I’ve always wanted to conquer the world, change lives, fit the whole universe within my heart. When I encountered this fierce and tender love of the Divine, I was completely rapt.
The impetus to publish this actually came from a 26-year-old I’ve never met. I got wind that this millennial was sharing an early draft of my book with everyone he knew, because he said it had changed his life. So I quickly got in touch and told him to hold off until I had something made for public consumption. I spent several months preparing it for publishing, and was tickled when it hit number one on Amazon!
I think there are a lot of people who experience what this book talks about, this huge longing, but have never had words to express it. I use the mystics John of the Cross and Augustine as guides along the way, to help people explore the spiritual landscape.
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How do you define Contemplative Prayer for those not familiar with it?
Contemplation and mysticism and meditation are all very similar, and depending on who you talk to, might be all the same thing. I believe the commonality is being present to what is. It’s being open to mystery. I know that sounds lofty and ethereal, but it’s actually the most real thing in the world.
When teaching people how to pray, I tell them to start with whatever feels the most grounding. When do you feel most connected to the divine? What settles your mind and moves your heart? For some, it may be something traditional like chanting, emptying your mind, or reading scripture. However, for many, it’s other things, like being in nature. Or painting. Or riding horse. Or sipping your coffee in the morning while looking out the window. I call those things the “scaffolding.” That’s the starting point. That’s where the current invitation is.
However, the challenge is to not cling to the scaffolding. Frequently, we get so accustomed to the structure, that we think that’s the point of our prayer or practice. ” I need to finish this passage I’m reading! I have to be here for precisely 20 minutes of meditation!” The purpose of the scaffolding is not found in its own existence, but what it allows us to do. We practice climbing the scaffolding so that we can reach the top and catch the breeze as it blows by. The breeze is the spirit. Ruah, as they say in Hebrew. Ruah is translated as Spirit, Wind, breath. It has a will of its own. When we reach the top of the scaffolding, sometimes we find ruah is moving gently, or even feels completely still. Other times, ruah moves with power. It sweeps us up, and we soar.
That is contemplation.
That is mysticism.
And that is where the longing becomes excruciatingly sweet. It is so exquisite—beyond words!—that we burn for All of it.
Sometimes these experiences of filling, of being swept up, last for a couple of minutes. Sometimes they last much longer. However, how the wind blows is not up to us. Our job is to climb the scaffolding, and open ourselves to encounter. It is to be present to what is.
How do you pray?
My prayer is very simple. My scaffolding might be any number of things. My favorite is getting lost in the countryside, lying in the grass, and soaking up the sky. There’s something incredibly grounding about having grass between your fingers and earth beneath your feet. And the clouds are some of my favorite teachers. However, prayer is also me lying in bed for the first 20 minutes of my day, and just being present. God, that vast Love and Energy and Life that causes all else to ‘be’– is the center of our souls. Prayer is not asking him to come, but drawing myself into the presence that is already there.
How have you been influenced by contemporary or past mystics?
The mystics have provided clarity and comfort when I needed it most.
I’ve always been spiritually audacious—I started reading the mystics when I was fourteen—but it wasn’t until my life fell apart that their words really settled in my bones.
I had entered a convent years before, and was living a life of prayer, community, and spiritual formation. But my health took a sudden nosedive, and I ended up being flown home from Rome with the assistance of a wheelchair.
I proceeded to spend the next 18 months mostly bedridden.
During that time, the mystics were my lifeline. My ego was being torn apart, and all of life’s big questions flew out of my depths with a violence. Who am I, if I’m not who I once was? Who is God? What is holiness?
The mystics held my hand while the Holy One was working in my soul. I felt like I had had my chest blown open on the battlefield, and the divine was doing emergency open-heart surgery. There was no time for anesthesia. It hurt like hell… but I also knew he was saving my life.
During this time, I devoured the mystics. I read the entire corpus of John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila. I fell in love with Russia. That country’s eastern, mystical heart shone through its literature, its culture, and its art. It spoke the path of Beauty, while the West continued to reiterate TruthTruthTruth until no one was listening anymore.
But I’ve found that Beauty is a much quicker path to union when we surrender to her.
So I find myself accompanied by the mystics of old, as well as those of today. I find Richard Rohr makes deep sense of the path through the interior world. The novelist Michael O’Brien has spoken of the deepest Reality through stories that will rend your heart. GK Chesterton has a twinkle in his eye that is only ever a half a step away from erupting into ecstatic contemplation. There are countless others: Thomas Merton, Henri Nouwen, Gerald May, Evelyn Underhill, Iain Matthew, James Finley…
What future projects do you wish to share?
I’ve just launched my first cohort of a program called Spiritual Off-Roading. It is designed to accompany people who are eager to explore the spiritual wilderness—this place of Mystery and Unknowing. A lot of us are used to feeling like we have all the answers to life, neatly filed into labeled boxes. We think we have “certainty,” and with that, security. Then a tornado tears up all our boxes and we are plopped in a whole new world. A world that is vast and beautiful—gleaming lakes and dazzling mountains and verdant forests—but we have no idea how to survive there.
The Spiritual Off-Roading program is an orientation session to the wilderness. It gives you the tools and skills you need to explore this new landscape. Find out what spiritual authenticity looks like to you. Discover a new way of seeing that is awash with wonder. Learn the proper stance before reality: how to receive with open palms instead of grasping and forcing. And do it all with a tight-knit cohort of off-roaders who see you and embrace you for who you are.
How is the Spiritual Off-Roading program structured?
The program is currently a three month journey. It includes 6 group calls on topics like divine intimacy, embodiment and sexuality, healing and wholeness, nature and wonder. Those group calls provide a space for the off-roaders to connect and share deeply. After each call, everyone is assigned a traveling partner to meet with independently, as the deepest connections happen in the intimacy of one-on-one. The program also includes video content, exercises, passages for reflection, and three Deep Dive calls with me or another coach/spiritual director.
This first cohort has been absolutely delightful. I’ve had numerous people ask about retreats, so we’re looking at offering a Spiritual Off-Roading retreat in 2020.
What is the best place for people to visit to learn more about you and your work?
Find out more at my website, www.kdcoaching.org. I look forward to meeting you all!
Thank you Kelly for the interview and for the great work you do!
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