Self care begins with soul care. Love your soul to bring peace and happiness to your exterior self. - Ashourina Yalda
I speak for myself, although I would imagine that I’m not in the minority, when I say that in my mind the first thing the word “spirituality” evokes is an irrevocable tie to “organized faith”.
I’ve thought about this a lot. Especially because I do consider myself quite spiritual, yet I no longer diligently ascribe to the religion, Roman Catholic, I was brought up in.
That’s not to say I am against it. How could I be?! it’s in the threads of my cultural make, it’s part of who I am, and there are practices, like the midnight Christmas Day Mass, that will forever carry warm and nostalgic family memories. I pray with my children in bed before they go to sleep, with a traditional Venezuelan child’s prayer, just like my parents did with me (and yes, even with my teenager, if I’m not asleep first nowadays!). I pray with them in the mornings, in the car before they hop on the school bus. I do it in Spanish, because that’s the way I was taught how to pray, and it’s the only way I know how to anyway. It’s a legacy from my parents.
Interestingly, these prayers do not have a religious connotation for me, they are more like loving rituals for the soul.
The bedtime one represents the closure of the day, blessing them before they drift off to sleep and in some way, for me, covering them with an imaginary protective blanket. The morning one, is a practice of awareness and gratitude, for the new day that is about to unfold, for our family and health, for the actions and decisions we will take throughout the day. In the same way that the bedtime prayer represents a gentle and protective closure for the day, the morning one represents a grateful and safe beginning. To me these are gestures of love and connection, and it is how I currently perceive spirituality in my life, an important pillar of my overall wellbeing.
This is what I wanted to explore together with all of you. Can we practice spirituality, when not ascribed to a specific dogma? and if so, how?
Introspection. It’s uniquely human. Understanding that we are just but a tiny speck amidst this vastness in life is a transformative realization. This intentionality of thought is what differentiates us as humans from the rest of the animal kingdom. It can be contemplated through organized religion, where usually the belief of a god, higher-power, is imparted, and it is natural to assume oneself as a smaller part of that grandiosity. It can also be experienced in nature, by standing at the edge of a beach looking out to the never-ending ocean, where it fuses seamlessly with the never-ending sky and feelings of being a tiny part of the immensity become apparent. Either way, our introspection results in experiencing a sense of awe.
“Awe is the feeling we get in the presence of something so vast that it challenges our understanding of the world and arises introspection, like looking up at millions of stars in the night sky or marveling at the birth of a child.”
Both paths evoke humbleness and gratitude, and in many cases, help prioritize what matters vs. what doesn’t in the big scheme of things. Both paths are valid, one is no better than the other, they are not mutually exclusive either, displaying a symbiotic relationship if and when combined. It’s a very individual decision, one that suits different people, in different ways, at different stages of their lives, to reach the same spiritual goal: inner peace. In the words of Reverend Lydia Sohn, my latest guest speaker, “spiritual care is not comparative, as it has infinite worth”.
Organized religion, for some, is the perfect conduit. It speaks to them, it provides the right-fit of structure and rituals, systematic beliefs in which the individual feels fulfilled and is able to flourish spirituality. For others, there are a variety of different practices that help grow and feed that inner life.
During our last conversation with Reverend Lydia, we discussed these other paths which may help develop and nurture spiritual life.
She kicked off by talking about the importance of stillness and being present, as a way to slow down our ricocheting mind, suited for the frenetic speed of our modern lives. Stillness that can be found with dogmatic prayer, but also in breathing exercises, meditation, nature walks. It was very reassuring to learn that even a Reverend struggles to quiet her mind, to compartmentalize the daily worries, motherhood, endless to-do’s, and sit in stillness.
She then shared the beneficial impact of practices such as daily gratitude and/or daily examination/reflection. Just a few minutes in the morning before starting the day, and /or a few minutes in the evening before falling asleep, a quick recount in our mind, can go a long way.
We spoke about the personal satisfaction derived from helping others, the joy of belonging and giving back to a community, of investing our time and care in others: family, friends, co-workers.
For those that love to read, she suggested reading spiritual books (1) or listening to affecting podcasts, and highlighted the power of drawing inspiration from either.
We discussed journaling, sharing the benefits she personally has derived from the writing technique known as “Stream of Consciousness”. This style of free writing is defined as a narrative mode or method that attempts "to depict the multitudinous thoughts and feelings which pass through the mind" of a narrator. You might have heard it colloquially referred to as “brain dump”. The objective is to untangle; declutter and organize our mind and thoughts. Clear our thinking. I once read somewhere:
“Write and write until you feel like the pressure inside of you is lessened and you can take a big breath. Then you will have achieved a brain dump.”
Another spiritual avenue we reflected upon during our conversation was regular practices of surrender, meaning to actively choose letting go of control and trusting that the universe has our back. As she spoke, I kept realizing that all of these different practices are intertwined and co-exist in this search for inner peace. We can practice letting go of control by embracing humbleness, understanding that we are not meant to hold and cannot resolve it all at all times, nature can help us find this clarity. By supporting ourselves with others, understanding that we are not meant to do it all alone, which is when community steps in. Showing gratitude can aid surrendering, learning how to listen to and value our intuition can help let go of what truly doesn’t serve us, here is where stillness and presence of mind come into play. It’s all interconnected. And the beauty is that there is no one-size-fits-all nor is there a perfect recipe or combination that must be used for a particular situation. We can pick and choose what works for us at any time. We can choose how deep we want to delve into each one of these spiritual practices. It may even change from moment to moment, yesterday I might have found it helpful to meditate, but today, under today’s unique circumstances, meditation might not serve me, while journaling might. It’s dynamic, it’s flexible, it’s adaptable, it’s universal.
We considered the importance of distancing ourselves, just a little bit, day by day, from the negative voices in our head. We’ve all heard how we are our own worst critic. That we should talk to ourselves as we would to a friend, with kindness and compassion. This is a hard one, at least for me, especially if like many of us, we have patterns of harsh negative talk that have evolved over years and are comfortably engrained in our subconsciousness. Once again, the paths intertwine, as practicing stillness raises awareness of our inner critic.
Last, we discussed acceptance, hand in hand with forgiveness. To flourish spirituality and find peace of heart and mind requires true self-acceptance, and that of others. It calls for forgiving when we feel wronged, and also, perhaps more importantly, to gently forgive ourselves. Neither one is an easy feat. Especially when confronted with other individuals or situations that upset us. It is precisely here where Reverence Lydia stressed the importance of feeling centered, grounded. Internally at peace and content. She called it being “aligned” and conveyed that when we are aligned other’s negativity doesn’t affect us. Alignment gifts us with the clarity to internalize what load is ours to carry, and what is not (healthy boundaries) and more importantly it allows us the ability to compassionately choose how we will react to others energy and/or moods.
Talking to Reverend Lydia fostered my spirituality. Knowing that there are many avenues to fulfill our inner peace, and understanding that we have the power to empathetically choose what works for us the best, be it religion and/or any of the practices she described, untethered from a right way vs. a wrong way, felt supportive and achievable.
As with anything we set our minds to do, it is our intention and determination, our consistency and conviction that will allow us, in the end, to reap the benefits of our actions and decisions. The same holds true for giving our spiritual health a valuable role within our overall wellbeing.
May we all find our own unique paths in this spiritual journey. May we all benefit from the powerful ability we humans have to practice introspection, and may we never lose the ability to feel awe and wonder of the smallest and simplest of things in our lives.
For more on Reverend Lydia Sohn’s work you may visit her website @ https://www.revlydia.com/
(1) List of suggested readings:
The Power of Now by Eckart Tolle
The Untethered Soul by Eckart Tolle
Anything and everything by Rob Bell
Learning to Pray: A Guide for Everyone by James Martin
Small Victories by Anne Lammott
Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation by Parker J. Palmer
On the Brink of Everything: Grace, Gravity, and Getting Old by Parker J. Palmer
You Belong: A Call for Connection Hardcover by Sebene Selassie
These are a great place to start: entering Prayer and Inner Awakening by Cynthia Bourgeault
Eye of the Heart: A Spiritual Journey into the Imaginal Realm by Cynthia Bourgeault
Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl
The Prophet by Khalil Gibran
Deep Listening by Jillian Pransky