Self-Care on Your Spiritual Journey
Welcome to the final blog in the self-care series! We’ve talked body and mind, so let’s wrap up with spiritual self-care—all the things you can do to support your spiritual journey.
Let’s start with a question. Are you on a spiritual journey? Are you crystal clear on what that even means?
There is no wrong answer because there are as many spiritual journeys as there are people on them. At its core, it is an intimate quest for enlightenment, for insight, answers, and understanding about the world, yourself, your friends, your purpose, and the very nature of life itself. While understanding is the ultimate outcome, notice it isn’t called a spiritual destination. This implies that the process is the purpose. It’s the seeking and evolution that enrich your experience of life. And when you’ve arrived at one understanding, that inevitably leads to more questions. And off you go on a new path of discovery.
Humanity has hungered for thousands of years for enlightenment, which is defined as the “full comprehension of a situation.” It would be a mistake to see complete understanding as the point of a spiritual journey, though. Imagine a murder mystery that told you on page 1 who did it. Would you even bother to read the book? Unlikely, because the enjoyment comes from the discovery, not the answer. Just so for a spiritual journey, daily discovery feeds our souls, brings us joy, and motivates us to seek further, grow more, and change ourselves even more dramatically.
Interestingly, enlightenment is the English translation for the Buddhist term bodhi. Bodhi comes from the root, budh. Stay with me! Budh means awakening. This is another inherent element of a spiritual journey, to be awakened.
Just as every journey is different, everyone has their own sense of being awakened. In my estimation, at its core, to be awakened is to be in a state of seeking, growing, changing, and forging a deeper connection to the Creator. Imagine a life lived while completely awake, it would be exhilarating, you would see beauty everywhere you looked, you would be in awe of the divine spark that resides in every person you see; in short, it would be an awareness and gratitude for living in a world where the miraculous abounds.
Who wouldn’t want to be awakened?
Obviously, we would all love that, every second of every day, but it can even be elusive when we’re actively looking for it. And while it doesn’t necessarily happen when we expect it, here are a few tips and tools that I hope will work for you to have more wakefulness in your journey.
I can almost hear the eye-rolling from some of you! I know, I know, gratitude practices, gratitude retreats, gratitude journals, but it’s only ubiquitous because it actually works! In our day to day lives, we feel grateful, yes, but we are not awakened, not awed by seeing your child’s face, or filled with joy just because you opened your eyes and were alive one more day. This is completely normal. Humans just aren’t built to sustain constant enlightenment, fully awakened, total consciousness. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t strive for it as often as we can.
Think of a time in the past when you felt awakened. Try to recall a time when you were so overwhelmed that you almost couldn’t process what you were seeing. Perhaps you were in the presence of great art at the Uffizi, stepped through the doors of a mighty, soaring cathedral-like Notre Dame, peering down on the whole of Manhattan from the top of the Empire State Building or standing in the shade of an immense sequoia tree. Recalling that memory can help you achieve that state. Recall how you felt, how things smelled, remember the textures and sounds that accompany that memory.
I have memories from a very early age of having God over for my tea parties. I took my tea with milk and sugar, and God took His black with a slice of lemon. During my tea parties, I felt safe, loved unconditionally, free from worry and fear, completely certain, and overwhelmingly grateful. I love returning to that memory and state of consciousness.
What am I?
My son, Josh, and I were talking about the new year. Josh always inspires me with the way he processes life: his thoughts are beautifully complex, yet he possesses a simplicity, a total lack of artifice or agenda, that escapes most of us. He told me, “When I grow up, I want to be part of a football team. Do you think I could do it?”
If you read my blog or listen to my weekly podcast, you know Josh is a young adult, very athletic, with plans to become a personal trainer. He was also born with Down Syndrome. I responded by telling him, “I hope that all the things that you want for yourself will come to be. You should dream and go after them.”
Then he asked me, “What are you going to be when you grow up?”
I responded by telling him I was already grown up.
He looked at me, quite matter-of-factly, and said, “So, what are you?”
That is a worthy question for anyone on a spiritual journey. While it’s important to know who we are and what we believe, a spiritual journey demands that we allow our identity to evolve as we gain more understanding. What are you now? What have you been? What do you want to be?
Exercise in discovery
Let’s do an exercise. Start by putting on your investigator’s hat and do a self-inventory. Make a list with two columns. In the first column, write down all the qualities you’re proud of.
In the second column, make a list of your traits and qualities that hinder you or create challenges.
Occasionally short-tempered with your aging parents
Got it? Now, switch your lists. Your strengths are actually your weaknesses, and your weaknesses are your strengths.
How does that feel? Confusing? Frustrating?
Let’s go through a few examples. There’s nothing wrong with taking pride in being a good parent, but does that prevent you from changing how you support or interact with your children? Are you perhaps a little too certain that you’re an excellent parent and thus not open to new ideas? Blind to some area of your child’s psychosocial needs?
And if you’re occasionally frustrated with your aging parents, perhaps that’s a sign that something is amiss. Your concern certainly means you’re invested in their health and happiness. Maybe that irritation is an indication they need support—support you can’t provide. Maybe it’s time for a change —a caregiver, a social worker, access to friends, or even a daily walk in the sunshine. You see they need some change in their lives because you love and care for them, but it’s manifesting as frustration and impatience.
Perhaps indecisiveness was originally on the weakness list. Now that it’s a strength, perhaps you can reframe it to notice how you choose carefully, after spending time to research and evaluate your options. That makes you thoughtful and thorough, not dithering or tentative.
How could your strengths hold you back, and how can your weaknesses be powerful? It’s all in how you see yourself and what you have decided is and is not, part of your identity. When we look at our strengths and weaknesses, we think of them as black and white. Good and bad. But it’s not that simple. Kabbalists teach we live in an upside-down world. The parts we think are important often aren’t. And what we dismiss as unimportant often turns out to be quite the opposite.
I Don’t Care, at All
A spiritual journey will demand that you let go of your need for the approval of others. It will require that any validation you seek come from inside you, not outside from other people, or to meet societal expectations. This exercise is a good place to start evaluating how many of your strengths may be influenced by the expectations of others and how many are core to your identity.
Go back to your list of strengths. My guess is that everything on it is socially acceptable or what society has deemed you are supposed to be. I’d like you to look at your list of strengths and identify which ones reflect your passion and talents, which ones you are expected to possess by other people, and which strengths get the bulk of your time and focus. For instance, if you have children, you are expected to be a good parent. I’m not saying you shouldn’t be, of course! I’d just like you to identify why you cultivated the strengths you have.
To be clear, there is nothing wrong with any of your strengths! Nobody would dispute your excellent qualities. But if you look at them for what they are, you’ll see them as less good/bad and instead as opportunities for change and growth, and the further pursuit of what makes you, you.
So, as we do our self-inventory, think about how we can flip the judgment of ourselves to understand where our lives might need extra work and where we’re on track. We can consider how we can let go of others’ opinions and lead an authentic life based on our authentic selves.
I believe 2021 is the year for great personal and collective change. Individually, we can all do our best to press the reset button and take care of our minds, bodies, and spirits. We’ve just been through a year that could be considered a “life quake.” My husband, Michael, believes it was a “world quake”—a wake-up call for all of us, everywhere, to either move forward or risk falling back. It’s time for us to move forward, together.
Rethink Moment: Challenge your partner, best friend, or even your child to do the strengths and weaknesses exercise with you. I guarantee you’ll walk away with new discoveries, and you’ll both have a better idea of where you are on your spiritual journey. Don’t forget to cultivate more awakenings whenever you can.
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