“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” – Gandhi
My latest read is “Eat Pray Love” by the brilliant Elizabeth Gilbert. I figured it only made sense that I should read this book since she wrote it as a woman in her mid-thirties having an existential crisis. Sounds like someone I know.
I’ve just reached the section of the book devoted to her spiritual quest in India. My husband moved one step closer to committing me to an asylum when I informed him that I too dream of one day traveling to India and meditating for hours on end in the caves.
For now, that dream is in the distant future. One of my goals with this blog is finding more meaning in the here and now, in my current existence. This got me thinking about how I define my spiritual practice.
Spirituality is often interpreted as a private, internal experience. One’s relationship with God and divinity is certainly internal, but spiritual practice implies action. Spiritual practice involves applying your belief system and your values in your everyday life.
The action items of prayer, and going to church, and following religious ideals are all examples of spiritual practice. But what if we allow ourselves to have an even broader interpretation? Isn’t every act of love a form of spiritual practice?
I think it’s even possible to have a spiritual practice without considering yourself to be a spiritual person, just as it’s possible to follow religious ideals without considering yourself to be a religious person.
The first step I took towards identifying my spiritual practice was observing spirituality in others. This part, quite honestly, was easy for me.
I see it in my friend in her ability to always make me feel seen and heard.
I see it in my other friend in her sense of humor. Laughter is guaranteed in her presence.
I see it in my friend that lost her dear friend to cancer. She now treats her friends’ children as if they are her own.
I see it in my friend that tragically lost her husband and still attended another widow’s fundraiser in spite of the tough emotions this likely raised to the surface.
I see it in my friend that makes friends so easily that she has a tough time keeping up with them all.
I see it in my family member that lives to make sure that everyone is fed, comfortable, and happy.
I see it in my husband and his ability to break down barriers in the corporate world. He has an ability to connect with everyone, from the accountant to the CEO, and bring people together.
It’s easy to notice these actions in others that require compassion, selflessness, and offerings of love. Some of you might argue that these are acts from people that are simply living by a certain set of values, and that’s true, but I also see people that are offering pieces of themselves from the heart. If that isn’t spiritual practice, then what is?
The next step I took towards identifying my spiritual practice was taking an honest look at my spiritual actions.
My mind immediately went to this blog, and not in a “look at how noble I am trying to make a difference in the world” way. More in an honest “this is currently what I have to offer” way.
Except, let’s be honest, that this blog also has a healthy dose of selfishness involved because I enjoy writing. The blog could also be interpreted as self-indulgent because I’m often writing about myself, but to that point, I will respond a) I’m naturally an introspective person and the blog is about offering my most honest self, and b) I’m passionate about self-awareness. How can we fully understand each other if we don’t first understand ourselves? But I digress.
I deeply WISH I could embody many of the qualities of the people that I listed above, but maybe God doled out the gifts that each of us has to offer similar to the way I dole out snacks to my kids; you get what you get and you don’t throw a fit.
Perhaps my offering is observing myself, others, life, and putting these things into words, with some sort of hope that someone will fall on this page and allow my words to open their heart space.
After thinking about it some more, though, my spiritual practice doesn’t end with prayer and this blog. Reviewing the list I made of the people I admire above, it dawned on me that spirituality is in the daily grind. It’s in the day in, day out, how we are choosing to connect with each other and offer ourselves to the world. It’s in how we are choosing to touch people in our direct world, and how we are making our direct world a better place.
My spirituality is present every time I comfort Parker when he gets a skinned knee. It’s there in every tea party I have with Peyton. It’s there in the home-cooked meals (I actually make them on occasion), and the simple and mundane parts of my life as a stay-at-home mom. With every PB&J I make and every load of laundry I wash, I am offering myself. It’s an offering of my time and an offering of my being, and when I look at each task as an act of service, it’s also an offering of my heart.
I also try, and sometimes fail, to make kindness to both friends and strangers an important part of my spiritual practice.
One example of a recent failure is when I got annoyed at my husband when he offered to help another person take down their canopy tent at my son’s soccer game. I was annoyed at my husband’s kind gesture because I selfishly wanted to get home as soon as possible to get my daughter down for a nap. Selfishness is part of human nature.
Spirituality is about noticing moments like these and striving to do better, over and over again. Maybe this is why it’s called spiritual practice.
There is really only one question that we should ask ourselves to identify our spiritual practice:
How am I serving the world to make it a better place?
Focusing on how we can use our lives to serve others is what brings our lives meaning, right where we are.
I don’t need to meditate in a cave to come to this conclusion.