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The Pocket Contemplative

Author: (Dave Schmelzer)

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A vibrant, story-filled look at contemporary spirituality that's fun, contemplative, practical and cultural.
84 Episodes
Gary Neal Hansen has taught ten ways to pray from very different Christians traditions to lots of people. Gary (who wrote Kneeling with Giants: Learning to Pray with History's Best Teachers) talks with Dave Schmelzer about what he's learned both from the practices themselves and from how people have found them helpful or not. He and Dave also spend some time on what prayer itself is actually supposed to do for us. Mentioned on this podcast:Kneeling with Giants: Learning to Pray with History's Best Teachers, by Gary Neal HansenGary's website: A free, downloadable book from Gary: Love Your Bible: Finding Your Way to the Presence of God with a 12th Century Monk
Medieval monks and modern business school profs agree that our bone-deep addition to distracting ourselves is keeping us from happiness, meaning and productivity. Which perhaps will be no surprise to people listening to a podcast called The Pocket Contemplative! That said, Dave Schmelzer dives into the wisdom from those monks and professors and how it might both cheer you up and empower a fresh way forward.Mentioned on this podcast:The Wandering Mind: What Medieval Monks Tell Us About Distraction by Jamie KreinerHappier Hour: How to Beat Distraction, Expand Your Time, and Focus on What Matters Most, by Cassie Holmes"The Time Jar" YouTube Video by Meir KayCharlie Kaufman on distraction, from Adaptation
A good chunk of any modern teaching on contemplation for Christians goes back to one mega-influential book called The Cloud of Unknowing from the dusty past of the 14th century. And yet generations of would-be contemplatives have found it is a fountain that doesn't run dry very quickly at least. Dave Schmelzer will give you a quick overview of why this book has been such a biggie, why--like many old books--it might initially feel off-putting in some ways, and why what it teaches has at the very least changed his life.Mentioned on this podcast:The Cloud of UnknowingKneeling with Giants: Learning to Pray with History's Best Teachers by Gary Neal Hansen
The biggies in Christian history tell us a story of faith that's surprising to many of us, but which turns out to be exactly what we need to find ongoing joy. Dave Schmelzer chats about this with Jason M. Baxter, a scholar who wrote An Introduction to Christian Mysticism: Recovering the Wildness of Spiritual Life, which Dave podcasted about recently. Jason walks us into how this look at the "wild" teachings of people like Augustine and Hildegard of Bingen and Meister Eckhart and many more can open our worlds like nothing else can.Mentioned on this podcastAn Introduction to Christian Mysticism: Recovering the Wildness of Spiritual Life, by Jason M. Baxter
Russian Orthodox friends suggest that a fast track to spiritual progress might come through a ten-word prayer that gets repeated. Ten words! Is it too good to be true? Dave Schmelzer, with help from Gary Neal Hansen's book Kneeling with Giants, does a deep dive into this pathway to God and reports on how it's been going for him.Mentioned in this podcastKneeling with Giants: Learning to Pray with History's Best Teachers, by Gary Neal HansenJourney to the Heart: Christian Contemplation through the Centuries, edited by Kim NatarajaThe Way of a Pilgrim (The Pilgrim's Tale)
Have the great Christian saints, over millennia, been in agreement about some central points and practices if we hope to continue our growth? One scholar says they have been indeed. Dave Schmelzer runs down some key points of interest, not least the happy surprise that, if we keep at this, our reward will be an overflowing playfulness in our lives. Mentioned on this podcast:Jason M. Baxter's book An Introduction to Christian Mysticism; Recovering the Wildness of Spiritual LifePete Holmes on not knowingSome mystics who come up: Hildegard of Bingen, Gregory of Nyssa, Meister Eckhart, Thomas Merton, Evagrius, Nicholas of Cusa, Pseudo-Dionysius, Augustine, Francis of Assisi, John Ruusbroec, Evelyn Underhill, C.S. Lewis
As we age, we face more and more life circumstances that can seem lose/lose. Take care of our aging parent and lose any margin in our lives. Start a needed side hustle that has a substantial chance of failing. The Bible encourages us to trust God enough to ask for all the things we want, but it then pivots to a different, contemplative approach that might grow our faith through these tough challenges. Dave Schmelzer looks at the ins and outs of that important flexibility while bringing in a vivid picture of what that might look like from another great world tradition.Mentioned on this podcast:Proverbs 16:9; Isaiah 26:3; Psalm 46:10 The MahabharataStephen Cope's The Great Work of Your LifeA quote from Thomas Merton to a young activist: “Do not depend on the hope of results. You may have to face the fact that your work will be apparently worthless and even achieve no result at all, if not perhaps results opposite to what you expect. As you get used to this idea, you start more and more to concentrate not on the results, but on the value, the rightness, the truth of the work itself.”
Thoughtful happiness tips can be opportunities for mindfulness, for noticing ways to live that we'd previously been blind to or reactive against. Dave Schmelzer talks a bit about that and then details two dozen such tips from the mega-popular book The Happiness Experiment.Mentioned on this podcast:Gretchen Rubin's The Happiness Project: Or, Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun
Embrace Resistance

Embrace Resistance


Anything we want to do that's important to us will face (sometimes severe) resistance. One Bible perspective calls resistance its own "god of this world"--and St. Paul himself makes the point profoundly: "The thing I most want to do I don't do." Dave Schmelzer does a dive into the insights of the most-read recent thinker on the subject, Steven Pressfiled in his seminal The War of Art. Learn from contemplatives and life coaches as well as Pressfield and see if you find help with your own resistance.Mentioned on this podcast:Steven Pressfield's The War of ArtBlog help by way of:Bodhipaksa at wildmind.orgLeo Babauta at zenhabits.netMichelle Rees at
Do Life Hacks Work?

Do Life Hacks Work?


Dave Schmelzer loves life hacks, but has found that they often have a shorter shelf life than he'd hoped. Contemplatives have a surprising answer for why that might be. Life hacks, they tell us, come from a world view saturated in original sin: your problems come from your fundamental laziness that has to be overcome. But maybe we don't need to overcome anything. Maybe we already have a deep happiness that we can access as we quiet down a bit. Rami Shapiro and Anthony DeMello and Tara Brach help us here.Mentioned on this podcast:Rami Shapiro's book Perennial Wisdom for the Spiritually IndependentAnthony DeMello's book Stop Fixing Yourself: Wake Up, All is WellTara Brach's book Radical Acceptance
A Kick-Ass Prayer

A Kick-Ass Prayer


Christians spiritually address anxiety in two ways: spiritual warfare and contemplation. Dave Schmelzer looks at some of the pros and cons of each of these approaches and then takes an extended look at perhaps the most famous warfare prayer in the last two thousand years, The Breastplate of St. Patrick, a prayer Dave loves and often prays. Mentioned on this podcast:The Breastplate of St. PatrickI bind to myself today/ The fullness of the Trinity: I believe the Father, Son and Spirit/ The Creator of the Universe. I bind to myself today/ Christ coming to earth:His baptism, crucifixion and burial,/ His resurrection and ascension, His coming on the Judgment Day. I bind to myself today/ The love of archangelsThe obedience of angels/ The prayers of Patriarchs, The vision of Prophets,/ The speech of Apostles, The faith of martyrs,/ The purity of Mary, The boldness of saints. I bind to myself today/ Heaven’s power-- Light like the sun,/ Brightness like the moon, Splendor like fire,/ Flashing like lightning, Speed like wind,/ Depth like sea, Stability like earth,/ Solidity like rocks. I bind to myself today/ God's Power to guide me, God's Might to strengthen me,/ God's Wisdom to teach me, God's Eye to watch over me,/ God's Ear to hear me, God's Word to speak through me,/ God's Hand to guide me, God's Way to lie before me,/ God's Shield to protect me, God's Army to empower me,/ Against the snares of demons, Against the seductions of vices,/ Against anyone who considers injuring me, Whether they’re far or near,/ Few or many. I invoke today all these virtues/ Against every hostile, merciless power Which may assail my body and soul--/ Against the lies of false prophets, Against the darkness of unbelief,/ Against the distractions of heresy, Against the temptations of idolatry,/ Against the spells of sorcerers-- Against everything that would bind my soul. Christ, protect me and mine today/ Against poison and burning, Against drowning and injury and death,/ That we might live full lives for you.Christ with me, Christ before me,/ Christ behind me, Christ within me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,/ Christ at my right, Christ at my left, Christ in the home,/ Christ in the street, Christ in the store,/ Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me, Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks to me, Christ in every eye that sees me,/ Christ in every ear that hears me. I bind to myself today/ The fullness of the Trinity: I believe the Father, Son and Spirit/ The Creator of the Universe. 
Lots of people--from popular bloggers to academics to contemplatives--are pitching that our drive for greatness might not be giving us what it promises. Might "good-enough" living offer us a kind of joy along with giving us a place in a whole world that's happier? Dave Schmelzer mentions four recent discussion of this before focusing on two, including the mega-popular self-help book The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck.Mentioned on this podcast:The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck, by Mark MansonThe Good-Enough Life, by Avram AlpertMentioned in passing:The Extraordinary Gift of Being Ordinary, by Ronald SiegelDonald Winnicott's thinking about "The Good-Enough Mother"
Will Things Work Out?

Will Things Work Out?


Feeling overwhelmed is basic to being human. Few great teachers have had more helpful things to say about this than Julian of Norwich, the contemplative who wrote during the bubonic plague years. Despite her own suffering, her legacy is of being colossally encouraging to the point that CS Lewis and Richard Rohr say she's their favorite mystic. Dave Schmelzer offers some introductory thoughts on how you can tap into her encouragement the next time you're overwhelmed.Mentioned on this podcast:All Shall Be Well: A Modern-Language Version of the Revelation of Julian Norwich, by Ellyn Sanna "A Pastor Ripped Apart by Our Divided Country," a "First Person" New York Times podcast from July 21, 2022
Even in good times, life can feel burdensome. We do our tasks, wind down over TV (maybe with a glass of wine), and then do it all again tomorrow. We feel judged and, let's face it, we judge others. A self-help bestseller, The Four Agreements, tries to offer a way into enjoying life that has parallels to the New Testament book of James and the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes. Dave Schmelzer walks you through its encouragement to, right now, start enjoying your life.Mentioned on this podcastThe Four Agreements, by Don Miguel RuizJames 3:5-9; Ecclesiastes 2:24
Research tells us that rejection and judgment will always batter our self-esteem. But classic mindfulness--along with Jesuit practices like the Examen and persistent advice from the Bible itself--offers a powerful antidote.Mentioned on this podcast:A Great Courses course called "Understanding the Mysteries of Human Behavior" by Duke psychology professor Mark Leary. (A price hack for The Great Courses. Many of their courses are pricey.  Dave's work-around? He buys them as audiobooks on Audible for the price of one credit, about $15 with a subscription, a bit more without one.)
Get Initiated

Get Initiated


Perhaps we're lucky enough to be initiated into life's mysteries by a wise person or by a community practice. Great myths have taught us that life itself can do this if we pay attention. This perspective--often called The Hero's Journey--provides interesting ways of thinking about descriptions of spiritual growth that we get from saints like Teresa of Avila. Using lots of stories and movie clips, Dave Schmelzer walks us into this opportunity to discover again who we actually are and what makes us come to life.Mentioned on this podcast: Some resources on the Hero's Journey:The book Dave first read, and still perhaps the easiest introduction, is a book that applies this to screenwriting called: The Writer's Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers, by Christopher Vogler. The seminal book on the Heroine's Journey is Maureen Murdock's The Heroine's Journey: Woman's Quest for Wholeness.Kenny Loggins's memoir is called Still Alright. A terrific, gospel song of his that strikingly describes atonement coming from surviving the belly of the whale is "That's When I Find You" from his (regrettably) most-recent solo album, 2007's "How About Now."A book on the Examen is Sleeping with Bread: Holding what Gives You Life, by Dennis, Sheila and Matthew Linn.If you'd like to donate towards The Pocket Contemplative, you can do that at the "give" tab at 
Great saints and modern psychologists agree that our lives work best when we pull off something that, technically, might be anti-human: hurting whenever we hurt, but not anticipating some future challenge or pain. As Jesus teaches, animals are good at that; people not so much. So how do we pull off this most-important thing? And what does it get us if we do? Mentioned on this podcast:Understanding the Mysteries of Human Behavior, The Great Courses course by Mark Leary, of Duke UniversityThe Interior Castle, by Teresa of AvilaMatthew 6:25-26 and 10:16-20
The greatest spiritual teachers tell us that doing our best to improve however we can is crucial. But then they warn us that our quest for improvement will abruptly become less helpful--which is not a problem at all, but is an invitation to walk into the full life we've been wanting. This is the moment when transformation comes into play. Dave Schmelzer walks us into a deep dive into the great teacher of transformation, the sixteenth century biggie Teresa of Avila. Along with insights from the blockbuster movie Interstellar, he'll offer some concrete steps into Teresa's deep, powerful waters.Mentioned on this podcast:The Interior Castle, by Teresa of AvilaThe Christopher Nolan movie Interstellar
Alongside Jesus, the mystics tell us we have a superpower when we've been hurt or when the larger world seems scary or hostile: lovingkindness prayer or meditation. The Dalai Lama and Nelson Mandela show us its power. The new movie Everything Everywhere All at Once takes it as one of its themes. Join Dave Schmelzer as he lets you in on a lovingkindness hack and as he introduces you to the thinking of the great modern teacher on the subject.Mentioned on this podcast:Everything Everywhere All at OnceLovingkindness: The Revolutionary Art of Happiness, by Sharon Salzburg
Don't Fear Your Fear

Don't Fear Your Fear


Moving into all the possibilities of our lives requires a fearlessness that can seem out of reach. Dave Schmelzer takes a look both at helpful tools along these lines from modern teachers and also at how some New Testament writers teach us that overcoming our fear of being afraid unlocks the rich benefits of faith itself.Mentioned on this podcast:Hebrews 11:13-16The Way of Integrity: Finding the Path to Your True Self, by Martha Beck
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