Spiritual Practice Makes...
Let’s try an experiment. Keep your eyes open. Extend the index finger on each hand and hold your fingers parallel to the horizon, elbows pointed out to the sides. Bring the fingers up to eyelevel, adjust your focus, and then bring the index fingers together until your fingertips touch. Refocus. Practice. Do it a few times. Maybe adjust your arm position to be more comfortable. Relax your shoulders. Try again. Great job!!! Relax! Put your arms by your side and take a deep breath. Feeling good? Great. Now, get ready to repeat the action, but close your eyes this time. Concentrate!
If you are reading this, your eyes are open. Did you try the exercise with your eyes closed? I wonder, did you find connection on the first try? Did it take a couple of tries? Did you give up?
Our theme this month is spirit. In my experience, spirit is usually an unseen, abstract concept. As a child, I heard about a “holy spirit”, and typically envisioned an elongated floating vapor form. I also heard about a “holy ghost” and figured it was basically the same thing, but maybe friendlier, like that Casper fellow from cartoons and movies. I know that some folks felt moved by “the spirit”, tried to communicate with “spirits”, and often frowned at “spirited” kids.
As a middle school cheerleader, my teammates and I had “the spirit” and tried to rally that in our classmates, even though none of us were really able to put a finger on exactly what that meant. Yelling? Pride? Sportsmanship?
Over time, I’ve come to understand spirit as the divine presence in myself and other living beings, a link between that which gives life and the experience of living. It’s not an external noun, but an internal phenomenon. Some folks conflate “spirit” and “soul”, and to be honest, the particulars of that philosophical and theological conversation, while interesting, contain more content than appropriate for a Ploughshare article. I contemplated, questioned, and arrived at a personal understanding of spirit that resonates for this particular living being. You can be informed by the work and thoughts of others, but I do encourage you to make some space for your thoughts, questions, and wisdom. Personally, my efforts yielded an understanding that gives a whole new meaning to those “spirit sprinkles” I used to deliver through a wave of my cheerful pre-adolescent fingers at a pep rally. Namaste.
Spiritual practice allows us to access that connection. Anything that allows you to practice, deepen, shift or understand that connection counts. It’s not called spiritual perfect for a reason. There should be occasional stretching or redefining the modes and methods used. Meditation and yoga? Great! Singing? Wonderful! Playing basketball, swimming, creating art, caring for others, cutting your toenails, considering lilies, counting to three, laughing, roasting marshmallows, watching a flame, taking your medication, attending worship or hugging a tree. You will encounter obstacles involving time, resources, internal gunk, or the opinions of others. These missing or extra puzzle pieces can be frustrating, and they assist you in honing your practice, by showing you places where your connection needs attention. Consistency in practice helps, but even if you take a break, you can find your way back with intention, concentration, and focus. The path you take to the connection does not need to be the same every time. Spirit, your unique experience of connecting your life to life source, is there if you’ll lift a finger or two to find it.
Try the exercise from the beginning of the article again. Don’t put your arms down between opening and closing your eyes. Do a few repetitions with your eyes open, and then just close your eyes and try again. Did you experience any obstacles? What were they? Did you find connection? What spiritual practice would you like to explore or try again? Can you imagine bringing more of that feeling into your daily life? What would it be like to share that feeling with another being? If you are wondering, you can start by sharing this article with someone. Talk through the questions. Connect. Practice.
I’m ready to face the obstacles with you, as we navigate our way back to each other. May the summer bring you plenty of joyful, spirited connections, inside and out.