How developing a spiritual practice changed my life. Part 1 of 3.
The year between my 21st and 22nd birthday was a rough year for me. In the grand scheme of things nothing major happened that year but I was struggling in more ways than one and it wore me out.
- I was working a job that I felt stuck in and was so far from how I envisioned my life one to two years after graduating
- I was in a relationship that I didn’t need to be in but didn’t know how to easily get out of.
- I was struggling to make friends in Atlanta after returning from four years of college in Boston
- I was all around unsure about what direction I was headed in and how to unlock the potential I knew I had
In short, I was going through a post-grad life crisis that I thought was completely unique to me, though I later found out it’s pretty common for all graduates.
At the time, I felt completely out of control, miserable and angry every day. I was angry at my situation, my job, my boyfriend, and most importantly, myself. I was desperately trying to control everything and was failing to make anything happen or getting out of my situation. It felt like I hit an emotional bottom and I had no idea how to get out of it. I needed guidance and support that was deeper than post-grad career advice or relationship advice or a new group of friends. I needed wisdom and encouragement to get to a peaceful place internally to both accept and change my situation. Right around my 22nd birthday, both before and after, I experienced several small but powerful moments that helped me reach this place largely by doing one thing. That one thing was crafting a spiritual practice that worked for me around three main principles: gratitude, intention, and faith.
While in need of some guidance, I drifted through Barnes and Noble looking for a new read. For no reason I could have known at the time, Maya Angelou and I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings popped into my head. I’ve always been a huge Maya Angelou fan. She lived such a full and incredible life. If I hadn’t had the privilege to be alive for part of her life I would have thought she was a fictional figure. Though I had long been obsessed with Maya Angelou, I never read any of her autobiographical series beyond a small snippet of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. To be honest, before reading them I didn’t know that several of her books after Caged Bird made up an autobiographical series. The day I purchased Caged Bird was a turning point for me. I tore through the work and immediately dove into Gather Together in My Name, Singin’ and Swingin’ and Gettin’ Merry Like Christmas, and The Heart of a Woman. I knew Maya Angelou as this larger than life symbol of wisdom, black womanhood, and confidence. In reading her autobiography, I found that before she became a writer, teacher, activist, artist, and all of the many other titles she wore she was a lot like me; she was young and just trying to figure it out. When I finished The Heart of a Woman, I wanted more recent wisdom and stories from her.
I frequently fall down the Youtube rabbit hole in search of a good inspirational video. My go-tos are usually Oprah’s Harvard commencement speech, any or Steve Jobs’ Stanford Commencement speech. I started searching Youtube for Maya Angelou interviews and stumbled upon clips from her MasterClass and Super Soul Sunday episode with her sister-daughter-friend Oprah. There were five that deeply resonated with me: Dr. Angelou on Turning 80, Dr. Angelou’s 3 Word Secret to Living Your Best Life, The Best Advice She’s Given and Received, How Love Liberates, and The Revelation That Changed Her Life . I listened to those five videos on repeat every day for two months straight. I started my day with them and listened to them as necessary throughout the day to route my soul and mind back to center.
The one that struck me the most was Dr. Angelou speaking about turning 80, gratitude and practicing it all the time even when things seem to be going wrong. At a time, when I felt out of control of my life, this was exactly what I needed. The video about gratitude was so on time for me, I decided to incorporate Dr. Angelou’s wisdom on gratitude into my every day. I knew, subconsciously, that I had a ton to be grateful for. The problem? I spent so much time calling out the problems I had and so little time calling out the many things I had to be grateful for.
I started to realize that every moment spent calling attention to something I was irritated about was actually an opportunity to call attention to at least five other things that I should be grateful for. So that’s exactly what I started doing. As I was headed to work, I could feel the words “Damn, I really don’t want to go to work today,” welling up inside of me. Whenever I felt that, I would challenge myself to say thank you, as Dr. Angelou suggests. I would instead change those words to “I’m grateful to have this job,” or “I’m grateful that I work a part time job that awards me flexibility in my schedule,” or “Thank you for a part time job that still offers me benefits like FMLA leave to take care of my family while my mother is sick.” I did this with everything and all the time. Whenever I wanted to complain, I would instead choose gratitude.
It took time but after about two months of practicing this daily, I began consciously living in a spirit of gratitude. It became natural for me to flip a negative thought into a positive one. This small adjustment of just saying thank you proved to be a powerful shift in my life that changed my overall mentality and spirit. I found myself less angry at the world and less angry at myself. I truly was surprised at the how much I had to be grateful for that I missed because I spent so much time being angry and ultimately ungrateful. Friends actually wanted to be around me again, I received compliments on my positive energy and spirit, and I even started to enjoy my job again. By clearing out the constant complaints and resulting anger, I was on solid emotional ground and had more energy to reflect on the changes I wanted to make in my life and to figure out how to make them. Enter intention…