We know, theoretically, that a happy life requires a balance in physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual health.
Our culture, it seems to me, is a little imbalanced in what it promotes. We are reminded constantly to care for our physical selves. We are talking more and more about our emotional well-being and at long last, mental health is an acceptable topic of conversation. But there is no “spiritual health” month and if you ask someone how they are doing, they are unlikely to tell you about the current status of their spiritual life.
I imagine lots of people get out of bed a little stiffly and remind themselves they are due for a stretch or a swim or a trip to the gym. Many people may get out of bed and think about the things they do to maintain their emotional and mental health. But what does spiritual health even mean? While we can acknowledge the mind-body connection in terms of mental and emotional well-being, do we think about the connection between our physical and spiritual vitality? And even if we are willing to acknowledge the reality of that connection, again, what does spiritual health mean?
Richard Wagamese said this about spirituality:
It seems to me the act of being spiritual is simply the act of allowing myself to feel my spirit move.
The Dalai Lama says this about spirituality:
Spirituality, I take to be concerned with those qualities of the human spirit – such as love and compassion, patience, tolerance, forgiveness, contentment, a sense of responsibility, a sense of harmony – which bring happiness to both self and others.
But for those of us who don’t find our spirituality in any of the pre-fab forms (religion), where do we begin?
Here is my basic philosophy on religion: Figure out what works for you and don’t tell anybody! As soon as people start grouping together around religious ideology, we get into trouble! We laugh, but I’m not really joking.
I think this is partly because none of us know how to develop and maintain our own spiritual fitness. Education about spiritual health is not readily available and as a result, we tend to look to religion. And that works for millions of people. Good on ya!
However, what about those of us for whom it does not work? I was raised as a Christian and I may have been able to maintain my spiritual health using that particular “gym”, but I had my membership revoked when I broke one of the club rules. (The gay one.)
Now, membership requirements are different and I could easily find a Christian church that would grant me membership, but the exercise of being booted to the outside made me take a closer look at my spiritual health club and it turns out, it doesn’t meet my needs.
So, where do we start to find support for our spiritual growth? If we are starting from scratch, maybe the thing to do would be to treat it like our physical health. We know we need to rest, nourish and exercise our bodies. So maybe that’s a good place to start with our spiritual self.
I wonder if spiritual rest is built into sleep? That seems like a good design thing, doesn’t it?
I have often felt that I was working out emotional issues in my dreams. I don’t necessarily need to understand what every dream means or be able to articulate “the lesson”. I just trust that my soul is doing some spiritual good work while I’m sleeping.
And what about conscious rest? If Richard is right and spirituality is the act of allowing myself to feel my spirit move, then I must spend some time everyday paying attention to the things in my daily life that move me; the kindness of my friends, the joy of my pet, the love of my partner, the beauty of my surroundings. As a writer, I have finally learned to understand and acknowledge the importance of time to daydream. We know our children need time to play and imagine; to have vast quantities of unstructured time. Why do we deny our adult selves this important part of our rest?
When I moved to Cortes Island, I finally learned about food. My first lesson was picking up “greens” for a friend from the store. She looked into the bag I handed her, saw iceberg lettuce and shoved it back at me, refusing to eat it. She didn’t know anyone who ate iceberg lettuce. I didn’t know there were other kinds. Thus began my education about nutrition.
What I give my body for sustenance is no more important than what I give my spirit for sustenance. Physically, I need more protein and have to stay away from carbs, while you may need to avoid dairy and can get by with very little protein. So also, we both need to find out, through trial and error, what works best for us spiritually. I am learning what spiritual practices give me sustenance. I like the meditation of Buddhism. I like the nature connection of First Nations spirituality. These things feed me and with the right balance of these as well as swimming and art and all the little things that move my spirit, I find the optimum performance of my spiritual health.
Daily exercise. Everyday, I have to exercise my spirituality; love and compassion, patience, tolerance, forgiveness, contentment, a sense of responsibility, a sense of harmony – which bring happiness to both self and others. (Dalai Lama)
Again, your exercise program is a very individual thing. Some of us need to work out vigorously to stay fit, others just need to walk the dog every day. My physical body needs a good workout every day and so does my spiritual body. If I don’t work the bod, I gain weight and if I don’t work the spirit, I get judgmental. That’s me. We’re all different. I have to work harder at certain aspects of those things that “bring happiness to both self and others” and you might have to focus on different aspects, but self-awareness is the key.
When I get up in the morning, I can generally tell if I should focus on stretching and flexibility or if I need a good, sweaty workout. I am getting better at knowing if I need a new challenge in my life to stimulate my mind. I can tell if I’m feeling blue and need to get some sunlight in my eyes or if I need a hug.
And one day, I hope to wake up, rub my eyes and know exactly what my spirit needs. Until then, I will stick with what I know; rest, nourishment, exercise.
Although I have never really been completely “in the closet,” I recently realized that I have never actually come out publicly. I’m tired of watching what I say; scanning the room for people who might react negatively. So, at the tender age of 52, let me say once and for all, that I am a Toronto Maple Leaf’s fan.
This will not come as news to my family and friends. They have known for a long time and while it has caused some tension, for the most part, everyone accepts this part of who I am.
For those of you who are shocked by this revelation, let me suggest that you probably know lots of Leaf fans. Your boss, your cousin, maybe even someone in your immediate family. We are everywhere. And while we have been silent for a long time, we are finding our voices. We are standing up and declaring with pride that we will love who we love.
And we love the Leafs.
Yes, I can hear you cynics out there. Sure, now you come out. Now that they have a good team and are headed for the playoffs.
Admittedly, it’s easier to be a fan these days. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t pay my dues. We had some tough times. I remember the days when we sought each other out furtively to whisper about Palmateer’s twelfth knee surgery; to trash-talk Harold Ballard; to relive Sittler’s ten-point-game.
People ask me when I knew for sure that I was a Leaf’s fan. I guess, on some level, I have always known. I remember watching games when I was just a little girl. There was something about that blue maple leaf that spoke to me like nothing else. I have tried to do what was expected of me; I cheered for the local team as I moved from province to province. But I knew it wasn’t real. Somewhere deep inside me, a whisper chanted softly, Go Leafs, go.
I don’t anticipate a backlash. Except maybe from the far right (Montreal), but I have confidence it will be okay. When I came out about that other thing in my twenties, I was happily surprised to find most people were supportive.
So here I am. I can cheer for all Canadian teams, really. But my hockey truth is blue and white. My heart is with my Maple Buds.
WE’RE HERE. WE CHEER. GET USED TO IT.
Does everyone else see object lessons everywhere or is that just me? Maybe it’s just those of us who went to Sunday School.
If you're new to the concept, an example of an object lesson would be the recently revived one about how to fill the jar (which is your time) with important things first. For those of you who haven’t seen this object lesson and would like to, here you go: rocks, pebbles, sand: object lesson.
I remember seeing a LOT of object lessons at church. In fact, I seem to recall my own mom delivering many of them. I liked them. For me, the connection between a concept and a visual representation of that concept was an ideal learning tool. I think that's why I love metaphor in writing, and why I can’t plan a lesson for students without some kind of visual or hands-on component. Or just a good old-fashioned object lesson.
The problem with object lessons is that once you have that medium in your head, you can’t stop seeing object lessons everywhere.
This line-up at the grocery store represents my life journey; I rushed around filling my basket with everything I want and now I’m sitting here, weighed down by the burden of my materialism and greed, knowing that I will have to pay for it in the end. (rainy day version)
This line-up at the grocery store represents my life journey; I have filled my basket with things that nourish me and now wait patiently to take my gifts out into the world. (sunny day version)
Shoveling up dog poop in the backyard represents life; some tasks are not fun or enriching, but if you don’t take care of them regularly, they can really start to pile up. (There is no sunny day version of poop-scooping. Just FYI.)
I bet I could think of one right now. I’m sitting in front of the woodstove. Give me a minute. Go have some toast. No, you stay here and read. I’ll go have toast.
Okay, I’m back. (By the way, toast is like writing; you take some boring bread (story), make it into something more appealing by toasting it (a tiny exaggeration or two), then jazz it up with peanut butter (a whopper of a lie), and voila, you have something everybody loves. See? Easy.)
Anyway, back to the woodstove. Let’s go with an obvious metaphor; the fire is my power source - as a writer. It represents all the things my soul requires to feel safe and balanced and ready to work. It is the heart of my creativity.
On top of the stove, we always have a kettle and a fan. The fan is one of those that is powered by heat energy. No motor. When the fire gets going, the fan starts whirring; when the fire gets going, the kettle gets warm. The fan circulates the warm air into the room, and the kettle adds moisture to that air.
This morning, the sun was glinting off the flying blades of the fan and getting in my eyes. Also, it was making a slight ticking noise that was annoying me. So, I took it off the stove and put it on the floor. Of course, it stopped working. It is four inches away from its power source and it is just sitting there doing nothing.
The kettle on the other hand, never annoys me. It isn’t the whistling type. Just sits there day after day doing its job. An important job, mind you. Wood heat is dry and our little humidifier tea pot is necessary. As long as you fill it with water every now and again, it will consistently do what we need it to do.
Hmm. Me thinks I am the fan. I have been discouraged in my writing life lately. And, aside from complaining to you, I am doing a lot of fan-impersonating during my Spring Break – just sitting here doing nothing. How did I get away from my inspiration? What moved me those crucial few inches from my source of power?
Sometimes I wish I was the kettle. Never annoying anyone, just sitting there inconspicuously, doing my job quietly and consistently. Everyday.
Got it! Be the fan and the kettle!
Do my job every day: write. Use my writing to figure out why I have lost touch with my creativity. Then get my flashy fan-self, back up onto the stove and start annoying people again.
You know, Richard Wagamese said, To be creative, you have to get in touch with the creator.
I will start there. I have my ways of trying to touch base with Creator. They are probably not the same as yours, but I will find my source again. I can and I will.
Spooky p.s. (*goose bump warning)
When I closed my computer, I went to smudge and sit and I opened Embers (Richard Wagamese) to this:
Question: How do I find Creator?
Answer: You decide what Creator is. If you decide She is peace, love, humility, and non-judgment, you decide to work toward embodying those qualities in your walkabout world. The closer you get to that, the closer you are to finding Creator. That’s what our ceremonies are for. To teach you that Creator is in you, that She always was and always will be. (p.122)