Finding the Spirit; Here’s your sign

So, I’m a big believer that the universe talks to me.  Some people would say this is God.  When I first started praying in AA, I got all hung up on who I was praying to.  Was it a grandfatherly man with a white beard?  An earthy, motherly figure?

Then I considered that a higher power could probably look like anything it wanted to.  This really opened things up for me, because I can imagine seeing my higher power as anything I need to in any given moment, and it is still the same higher power.  The image changes, but not the essence.  Sometimes it looks like an older brother/sister, sometimes a mother/father, sometimes it’s an alternate version of me or an ideal version of me, sometimes it’s just the wind or the trees or the stars.

Whatever it is, if I plug into it, it talks back.  The trick is, I have to have my eyes open.  And I have to initiate contact somehow.

Praying, meditation, art, writing, these are all ways that I can “get in touch”.

And then I just have to watch and listen.  And, most importantly, follow my compass.  Pick up on leads when they appear.

This blog was a lead, a voice that was whispered into my ear on a dark, lonely night when I was asking how to keep from going insane.

____

My last post was about how I needed to get back in touch with my spirituality, how I had faltered and needed to take a step back towards the light.

I said that I needed to commit to something, but I felt that I needed to start small so that it doesn’t feel unmanageable and I risk being discouraged and throwing up my hands on the whole thing. I said I could commit to meditating five minutes a day.

That was Friday.

Now it’s Tuesday.

I had to work this weekend (I work one weekend a month), and my husband was sick with food poisoning.  And my daughter has been very fussy lately, teething and crying a lot and waking up a lot at night.  Needless to say, it was kind of a crazy weekend.

I did not meditate.

And Monday, I did the very thing I was trying not to do, which was throw up my hands on the whole thing.  I was thinking, “Whatever, I suck, I’ll come up with another plan.  Later.  Sometime.”

And I didn’t have a blog post for the weekend since I didn’t run nor did I meditate, and I thought, “Whatever, I suck, I’ll write about something later.  Sometime.”

And I was sitting here this morning reading other people’s blogs and feeling melancholy about the whole thing.

And I got an email.  From someone I know from AA.  She was my sponsor for a while and remains a friend, a relationship that has become one of my most treasured.

We are both busy and live on opposite sides of the city, so we only meet and catch up two or three times a year, but she is wonderful about unexpectedly dropping a text or email with a piece of wisdom or inspiration, usually uncannily when I need to hear it.

So this morning I received an email from her with a link to a guided meditation on a meditation app, saying “I haven’t listened to it yet.  I’ll wait for you to try it first.”

You try and tell me that’s not the universe talking to me.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to go meditate……

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Finding the Spirit; A Holding Pattern

Me, I believe that there are many paths to truth and none have to be mutually exclusive.  I think that the idea that there are winners and losers in spirituality (i.e. heaven and hell) is a uniquely human idea—mankind has a hard time imagining a world in which everyone can be right and everyone can be happy.  If one person is right, someone else has to be wrong.  I say that’s baloney.  I have learned to respect religion for what I believe it is, which is a tool to get people closer to their idea of God (or whatever you choose to call it/him/her).  What gets YOU closer to your higher power may be toxic for ME, or vice versa, but that’s ok, because we can each choose the path that works for us individually.  I think that none of us can really be certain of anything in the spiritual realm except for what our inner compass is telling us, and if my inner compass is telling me something different than yours is telling you, it doesn’t necessarily mean one of us is wrong, just that how I interpret the truth might be different than how you would.

I’m not really sure that I need to go out and commit to a religion to be effective in teaching my daughter what I want her to learn;  maybe I should take her church-hopping, or maybe I should just try to expose her to different ideas through books and media.  What I do know is that I feel like I am not in the best place to make a decision on a course of action.  I have not exposed myself to enough belief systems, I have not asked enough questions, and I have not kept up with my own practices and standards.  I’ve never even read the Bible, and that in and of itself seems like a pretty daunting task to undertake without a guide.

Truth be told, I’m fairly certain that if I am seeking spiritual truth in the right way, I will never run out of questions and may even become more unsteady on my spiritual path.  But I don’t want to tell my daughter that she has to explore and seek truth and follow her own heart if I haven’t done a thorough job of it myself.

“It is not WHAT you believe in that redeems your life, but THAT you believe.”

-Anon

 

So, here it is, four months after my original blog post on “finding the spirit”, and I am no closer to attaining spiritual enlightenment.

I’m sitting here trying to figure out where the problem is.   Am I overwhelmed by the topic?  Bored?  Frightened?  Maybe a little bit of all of the above?

I have some books on spirituality that I have not read yet.

I have an invitation to go to a church that I have not taken up yet.

I haven’t been going to my AA meetings.

Heck, I haven’t even been meditating and praying, which should be basic maintenance for me.  I mean, at least five minutes a day, it’s not that hard, is it?

What’s holding me back?

Nothing.  Nothing is holding me back.  I am holding me back.  And why on earth would I do that?

Maybe I’m experiencing a little bit of dissonance.  I talked a little bit in a previous post about how we, as human beings, have a tendency to only handle the thing that is demanding the most attention at the moment.  Actually, that’s probably a trait of most living things; the difference is, human beings have the capacity to recognize that there are other things that need our attention, so we can override this tendency and focus on something else.  If we couldn’t, we would never accomplish any long-term goals.

So how do we override the tendency towards short-sightedness?  Well, I think we have to be able to mentally set priorities and make decisions based on those priorities.

Easy-peasy, right?  Not so fast…..  There has to also be congruence between what we want to believe and what we ACTUALLY believe.

For instance, when people ask me why I work out, I tell them it is because I want to be healthy, but that is only partially accurate.  I mean, in my early twenties, I used to be able to smoke a pack of cigarettes and drink for six hours straight in one night and get up and run five miles the next morning.  “For my health”.  Yeah, right.

I no longer smoke and drink, and I am much healthier and happier because of it, but being healthier and happier was not the primary reason for quitting either.  The real reason I gave up drinking was because I got to the point where I couldn’t trust myself when I drank and the real reason I gave up smoking was because I had developed asthma and had a hard time breathing some days.

The real reason I work out because I want to stay within the average to slightly above average range of what is generally acceptable to our society as far as attractiveness standards go.  Yes, I enjoy the health benefits and I have become kinder to myself as I’ve gotten older as far as making sure I am working out in a way that is healthy for me personally, but I don’t know if I’d have the wherewithall to get my butt out there to exercise on a regular basis if I didn’t have that first motive in the back of my mind.  It is the REAL, RELIABLE motivator.  Being able to say I am healthy is a side benefit, but I know that the health bit is what people like to hear, so yes, I tell people that I work out primarily for my health.

And I don’t think I am alone here… I think lots of people lie and give false primary motives for doing things, because no one wants to look shallow or careless or egotistical or whatever, or at least not overtly so.

So, you see, there’s what I show the world because it is what I am SUPPOSED to feel/believe and then there is the way things actually are in my head.  Everybody is this way to some extent, but some people are more congruent with their insides matching their outsides than others.

I would like to be more congruent, and it sounds very simple, but in reality it isn’t always.  I mean, sometimes people can have internal core beliefs that they don’t even realize they have.  For instance, a depressed person may tell themselves over and over again that life is hopeless, regardless of the face they are showing to the outside world, and they may not even be aware that they are saying this in their head.  This is why positive affirmations are so useful; it’s a way to talk back to yourself.  And if you say something often enough, it might just become true for you!

Anyways, I think that this is my dilemma with the spirituality seeking endeavor.  I feel like this should be important to me.  Okay, I don’t feel, I KNOW.  It’s important to me, and it’s important to me that I teach that to my daughter.  I know from several years in the rooms of AA that I am so much healthier/wiser/more serene when I am connected to a higher power, and I want my daughter to understand that no matter how she chooses to see God/Buddha/Allah/Gaia/whatever, it is important for her to have a relationship with that higher power.

Problem is, somewhere in my head, I’m thinking, “Yeah, yeah, but playdates/housecleaning/work/appointments/cooking/working out/blah blah blah” and there’s just no room in there for spirituality.  I am SAYING it’s important, but at the core, I’m not really BELIEVING it.

That was supposed to be the point of the blog…. To keep me on task.  But even with the blog, I still managed to sneak away from the main point with my run-ramblings diversion under the pretense of “loosening up the writing juices”, which has been great fun, but totally not on topic.  Or maybe I did need to “ramble” for a bit.

Whatever.  The point is that I acknowledge my avoidance of the original topic and I acknowledge the necessity to move forward.  At least a step, an inching forward.  And something small, something that I can’t justify worming out of.

Really, I need to be going regularly AA meetings, at least once a week, but I don’t think I’m in a place where I can make that promise and mean it right now.

So here’s a promise I can make AND keep.  I vow to meditate for five minutes every day.  I should be able to manage this pretty easily; I’ve been getting up early to work/write in the mornings sans baby daughter, so I am completely certain that I can spare five minutes of quiet to get things rolling.  Five minutes of acting “as if”, a sort of affirmation, to nudge me in the right direction.

I’m sure that this will help me figure out what step to take next.  Or, at the very least, it will give me something else to write about.  I’ll let you know.

Finding the Spirit

Spirituality.  That’s what I want to begin with. Well, to be completely honest, I have cheated and have begun to focus on two topics concurrently, the first being spirituality, and the second being eating meat or animal by-products, but for the sake of staying on one topic at a time (for this post, at least), I will focus on spirituality.  I know I’m starting out with a highly personal issue, so I’d like to emphasize that my end goal is not to come up with the right answer, but to come up with the right answer FOR ME AND MY FAMILY.  Even if I accomplish that, it will be a living, dynamic solution that changes as I grow and change (I hope).

As I mentioned before, my first task for any given topic is to hash out what my current thoughts are and how I came to feel the way that I do.  So, as far as spirituality goes, when people ask me what I believe, I provide the vague classification of “spiritual but not religious”.  I know this probably sounds like a cop-out, but I prefer it over saying that I am agnostic, because I feel like saying I am agnostic implies a willingness to believe in a higher power but no current relationship with one.  I do have a relationship with a higher power; it is not consistent nor do I completely understand it or even try to define it.  It just is, and when I am tending to it, it provides me with nourishment and serenity, and when I am not tending to it, I generally feel like I am drifting afloat and alone in the world.

As with many people, my thoughts on spirituality come from a mish-mash of personal experiences, life lessons, and outside influences.  I did not grow up in a particularly religious household; my father was Lutheran (but not really practicing; he claimed he did not need a church to worship), and my mother was Catholic (and only intermittently practicing).  My earliest religious education consisted of saying my bedtime prayers (in German and English, since my mother was German) and not much else.  My dad was in the Army, and I think this may have had a hand in why my mother did not start dragging me to Catholic Mass until I was a bit older (maybe six or seven?)  We moved a few times early on, and I don’t really remember going to church much until we settled in Fort Huachuca, Arizona.

I wish I could say I vividly recall my earliest church memories, but they all kind of blend together for me.  I vaguely remember participating in my first Communion after attending a Sunday school class for a while, but I recall what I was wearing better than the actual event.  I didn’t have a white dress, so my mother had paired a hastily purchased white shirt with pearl-colored beads all over the front with a white pleated skirt. Amazing the things we remember…

We did not attend Mass every Sunday and we did some church-hopping.  My favorite (and my mother’s favorite) church was in Bisbee, about 45 minutes away, where Father James, an affable Irish priest, gave uplifting and humorous sermons.  Once Father James left, we stopped going to Bisbee.  Around that time I was old enough for Confirmation, which was when my mother said I could choose whether I wanted to commit to being a Catholic or not.  I felt zero loyalty to Catholicism and was relieved to have a way out.  It was a no-brainer for me.

In school, I occasionally ran across some devoutly religious families, which mostly just fostered the beginnings of a deep-seated dislike for religion.  One of my earliest memories of feeling distanced from religion is from 4th grade, when my best friend’s Baptist parents insisted that unicorns were of the Devil but would not explain why.  I was really into unicorns at the time (I was 11….of course I was into unicorns!), and I was very disappointed to hear my beloved unicorns being bashed, not to mention defensive of the unicorn posters hanging in my bedroom.  My best friend was irritated by my attitude but seemed to be at a loss to explain her parents’ stance.  I pointed out that in the last book of the Narnia chronicles, which we were both huge fans of and which she claimed was really about God (God being the lion Aslan in the series), there was a unicorn and he was on the good side.  It was like arguing with a brick wall; all I got was the sense that I was bad and wrong and shouldn’t ask questions.

I had a few more experiences similar to this.  By the time I was 16, I wanted nothing to do with religion—more accurately, by then, I wanted nothing to do with anything that other people told me I should do or believe.  I had blossomed from a quiet, meek, nerdy kid into a full-blown hellion.  The story of the aimless rebellion of my late teen years goes well outside the scope of this blog; the important take-away from that time in my life is that this attitude towards religion would persist well through my early adulthood and still has an effect on how I look at religion and spirituality today.

I am an alcoholic.  The story of that is also outside of the scope of this blog (for now, anyways); the important take-away from my alcoholism is that I got sober through a twelve step program which necessitated that I develop some kind of relationship with a higher power.  In order to do that, I had to at least superficially evaluate what I didn’t like or accept about what I thought God was as well as whether there was a version of God that I could like and accept.  I had to sort of quarantine my negative spiritual experiences and look through my life to find inklings of positive ones.  This was actually surprisingly easy to do, since my vehement dislike of religion had kind of mellowed over the years (I was in my early thirties by then).

Exposure to many influences, people, and places had convinced me to reframe my feelings towards religion from hostility to a sort of wary tolerance.  I still did not want to label myself as belonging to a religion, but I became okay with playing audience to certain religious attitudes.  I had read several spiritual books that felt like truth to me.  Richard Bach’s One and Illusions were like personal Bibles to me (I actually compulsively, almost evangelically, would loan out the book One to people, complete with my highlights, but I would never get the copy back, so I would have to re-buy another copy and re-highlight that, only to “loan” it out again… I probably did that more than ten times).  Dan Millman’s Way of the Peaceful Warrior series resonated with me, as well as Robert M. Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, and Rob Bell’s Love Wins.   Also, being in the military for many years, I fortunately met some devoutly religious but very down-to-earth, funny, and tolerant people who did not make me want to run screaming in the other direction when they talked about their beliefs.

By the time I had to formulate my own idea of God, I already had a pretty good list of characteristics that I thought it/he/she would possess.  And, interestingly enough, once I ditched the ideas of God that were repulsive to me and adopted the ones that were attractive, I actually wanted to have a relationship with it/him/her.  I use the term God loosely here; I used to be averse to even using the name “God” because of the traditional images it conjures.  However, I find that it’s much easier to say “God” than try to invent a label less loaded with preconceived notions when conversing about spirituality (although I did go through a period where I tried out all kinds of different names to pray to, i.e. Divine Creator, Divine Force, Master Intelligence, the Great Good, Mother Earth).  Anyhow, thus ended my refusal to pray or meditate and the beginnings of a real relationship with a higher power.  I could no longer deny that a higher power was at work in my life, because it totally worked.  Prayer and meditation WORKED.  Not in a way that I could scientifically quantify and show to you, but in a way that gave peace and direction to my life that wasn’t there before.

So, why is spirituality still an issue for me?  Well, first of all, as I said, I am not consistent in my relationship with a higher power.  I feel that it is vital to show my daughter that spirituality is an important part of life, but it’s hard to do that if I am not consistent with it.  Also, how do I teach spirituality to a child in terms that are as vague as the ones I have chosen to define it?  I don’t care if she ultimately decides to be Muslim, Buddhist, Christian, Pagan, or even an atheist, as long as she has the exposure, the education, and the spiritual guidance to listen to her own moral compass and make an informed and heartfelt decision.

Me, I believe that there are many paths to truth and none have to be mutually exclusive.  I think that the idea that there are winners and losers in spirituality (i.e. heaven and hell) is a uniquely human idea—mankind has a hard time imagining a world in which everyone can be right and everyone can be happy.  If one person is right, someone else has to be wrong.  I say that’s baloney.  I have learned to respect religion for what I believe it is, which is a tool to get people closer to their idea of God (or whatever you choose to call it/him/her).  What gets YOU closer to your higher power may be toxic for ME, or vice versa, but that’s ok, because we can each choose the path that works for us individually.  I think that none of us can really be certain of anything in the spiritual realm except for what our inner compass is telling us, and if my inner compass is telling me something different than yours is telling you, it doesn’t necessarily mean one of us is wrong, just that how I interpret the truth might be different than how you would.

I’m not really sure that I need to go out and commit to a religion to be effective in teaching my daughter what I want her to learn;  maybe I should take her church-hopping, or maybe I should just try to expose her to different ideas through books and media.  What I do know is that I feel like I am not in the best place to make a decision on a course of action.  I have not exposed myself to enough belief systems, I have not asked enough questions, and I have not kept up with my own practices and standards.  I’ve never even read the Bible, and that in and of itself seems like a pretty daunting task to undertake without a guide.

Truth be told, I’m fairly certain that if I am seeking spiritual truth in the right way, I will never run out of questions and may even become more unsteady on my spiritual path.  But I don’t want to tell my daughter that she has to explore and seek truth and follow her own heart if I haven’t done a thorough job of it myself; no one wants to listen to a hypocrite!

I don’t have a game plan, but I do have books, religious friends, lots of churches/synagogues/temples in the city I live in, and a pretty darn good reason to get out there and start learning, no matter how uncomfortable it might be.   I have a few leads already, so we’ll see where they take me…I’ll let you know after I get there!