“I’m not religious, I’m spiritual” is a common refrain in today’s world. But what does a spiritual life look like? When I say that, am I being honest with myself and others? Why should anyone care to invest time and energy into a spiritual life?
Over the years my spiritual life has taken on a deeper richness. The richness of my spiritual life is the reason I choose to have one. For me, it brings a level of peace and joy that I am constantly looking to increase.
In the following paragraphs I outline my spiritual practices. These practices have helped me to widen and deepen that level of peace and joy and I believe that they can help you too.
I prayed every day from the age of 12 until the age of 30. Then I stopped. I couldn’t do it anymore. I wasn’t finding God in prayer and God wasn’t finding me. I felt that way for a year or two. Prayer was painful, boring, and repetitive, but no longer personal. The fire of faith had faded in light of the reality of everyday living.
Three years ago I started praying again, but my prayers had changed dramatically. As a youth, my prayers had been scripted conversations with God. I would call upon him, and thank him, and then ask for things I wanted or needed and then I would end in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen. But after my hiatus, my prayers were different. They became attempts to feel the divine.
I began praying without words. Reaching deep inside emotionally, I let the pain, anger, and fear pour out in a hot rage like a river of molten fire. I figured God could handle my emotions. I yelled, and screamed, as I wept, and bled tears of pain.
Prayer grew and changed as I tried desperately to connect with the divine. I learned that there are no rules to prayer. You can do and say whatever works for you.
God took on many faces as I prayed to commune with the divine. God became father, mother, goddess, friend, earth, and spirit. Prayer once again became a feast where it had been a famine. This was the beginning of healing for me.
Prayer is about encountering the divine outside of yourself, meditation is about finding it deep inside. I find it so enchanting that essentially all religious traditions embrace both prayer and meditation in some form or another. I think they are on to something.
Meditation, like prayer, comes in many forms. Growing up, I thought it was all about quieting your mind until there was only stillness. In practice, I never have had a quiet mind for more than a few seconds. It doesn’t happen for me.
But someone once explained that it wasn’t about quieting the mind so much as it was about becoming a quiet observer of the mind. Meditation was an exercise in stepping back from the chatter of the ego.
That was a mind altering thought. I wasn’t my thoughts. My soul was not the latest idea to pop into my head and demand attention. This changed me. Before I had learned this, if an unwanted thought jumped onto the stage of my mind, I would wrestle with it, and demand it leave. This ensured that it would stay longer and do more damage than if I had let it be.
By stepping back from my thoughts, I was able to detach myself emotionally from them. They were ideas and inspirations that came unbidden into my brain, and nothing more.
Meditation became a practice of stepping back. But sometimes I needed to move forward. I learned about practices like tai chi, and yoga. I began experimenting with meditations in which I could move. I could feel the pulse of the world flowing through me and my hands.
Both these styles of meditation provided a relief valve to me. I no longer held bad emotions inside, I processed, and then got rid of them, filling my life with light. The rage and anger of my prayers was replaced with the peace and understanding found in meditation.
What reason do you have to celebrate today?
I won’t list them for you. You must find them, and then celebrate them.
To celebrate is to acknowledge the moment, and find the joy in it. The rules for celebrating are simple: Be fully in the moment.
We can celebrate our bodies through movement. I love dancing with my family. My youngest daughter loves music. I will take her precious little ten month old body in my arms, and begin singing to her as we dance across the floor. She will smile and laugh as we rock out.
There is nothing more holy in all the world than her smile.
Sometimes I will celebrate my marriage by a simple embrace. Of the two of us, I crave physical affection more often. I’ve learned to ask my wife for a hug. She indulges me. It becomes a celebration of our union.
Celebrations often involve food, friends and activity. My wife invited her friends to go boating with us last week. We celebrated our friendship and the beautiful outdoors while smiling and laughing and pretending we were 15 again. It was life affirming. We all loved it. Some of them hadn’t celebrated life in some time. The effect was visible.
By celebrating life, we are made light and happy. Sadness fades away as we are wrapped in the joy of living.
Hand in hand with the idea of celebration is the idea of finding awe.
When you walk outside do you take time to bask in the surrounding beauty? Do you stop and acknowledge that you are alive? Do you stare up at a night sky and get wrapped up in the vastness of space?
These are moments where the magnificence of life can touch us and fill us. Often we don’t give ourselves any time for such joys. We rush from appointment to appointment. Give yourself five minutes to behold the incredible. Let it touch you.
“There are two ways to live: you can live as if nothing is a miracle; you can live as if everything is a miracle. The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed.” ~ Albert Einstein
Often when we speak of spiritual things, we focus solely on the positive emotions. There is great value in directing our vision towards the light. But life is not all sunshine and rainbows. The truth is that life is full of sorrow, and we need to acknowledge that reality. We need to exercise the sad parts of our souls. They are a gift that we can share with those around us.
My cousin passed away when she was 19 years old. She had cancer. Her death was hard on all of us, but it was particularly hard on my Aunt. My aunt once told my mother that people had treated them as though they had had some infectious disease. People had stayed away, and offered weak platitudes in place of sincere love.
Certainly, I do not know what it is like to go through the challenges that others face. To assume I do reeks of arrogance and self-importance. That is not what our sorrowful brothers and sisters need. They need unconditional love. Love that doesn’t judge, and condemn. Love that has no fear, even if it has no words.
Silence is not the enemy we have come to believe it is. Sitting with people and being present, not on a phone, or thinking about something else, but truly with them, is powerful. Although it can be hard on us to step into that space of pain and sorrow, the experience has a way of changing us. Your soul will grow, and your compassion expand as you actively engage in the bearing of the sorrows of those around you.
Empathy has no script. There is no right way or wrong way to do it. It’s simply listening, holding space, withholding judgment, emotionally connecting, and communicating that incredibly healing message of ‘You’re not alone.’ -Brene Brown
This is where the real magic happens. Everything leading up to this point is to allow us to experience true deep empathy. Hearts are changed, and minds are opened when empathy is the dominant emotion.
We have within ourselves the ability to share in one another’s feelings. We may not know what their experience is like, but we can get a taste of their feelings. This allows us a powerful opportunity to walk a short distance in the shoes of another.
“ When you walk in the footsteps of a stranger, you’ll learn things you never knew you never knew.” -Disney’s Pocahontas
In a world that is technologically connected, we may feel alone and abandoned. The cure for this is empathy. By expressing it, we connect with others. When others feel that connection, they will naturally extend it to those around them. This creates a synergy of love that grows outward in all directions. Your gift of empathy becomes a torch that is carried far across the world providing light along the way.
Love is all there ever was.
Love is less of a feeling and more of an experience. It is an experience that takes on different forms and ideas. We find it in movies, and stories. We find it in quiet places and concert halls. Love is the sum of all that has come before it. When we take care of our souls by practicing these emotions and by connecting with the divine through prayer and meditation, we will be filled with love.
People around us will feel that love and come to be healed and comforted. By practicing prayer and meditation and willfully engaging in caring for our souls through awe, celebration, sorrow and empathy, our scars will heal, and we will begin to heal others.
“Let your light so shine.” -Jesus.
I believe he was spot on. We are all beautiful creatures of light. May we stoke that light that it may burn brighter and brighter and fill the world.
Love and peace,