I’m starved for spirituality and yet everywhere I look there is nothing to nourish me…or so I thought. You need hope. You need to believe in some thing, but it is so hard to do that when your body is failing you and no one knows why. It is hard to keep some skin in this game we call life.
So…I decided I needed to change things up. When in these sticky situations, more change is exactly what one does not want. It takes a lot of effort and sometimes the payoff is small. Ultimately, it is up to you to make that something small into something big — greater than yourself.
Here are a few of the whacky ways I have forced myself to make some small changes.
Meditative Prayer (or returning to my Jesuit roots over salty cauliflower)
When you are desperate back up against the wall, you will do anything, even go to Allston. I chose to take part in a Lenten Spirituality prayer series hosted by the Jesuit Connection in Boston. The Jesuit Connection brings together graduates of former Jesuit schools together around networking and small religious gatherings. Typically these take place in or around Boston College of the Jesuit seminary in nearby Brighton, but that was not where my GPS took me on that fateful faithful night. I ended up on a side street running parallel to Commonwealth Avenue, filled with apartments and confusing parking signs. “All right” I said to myself, “I can always leave if the parking doesn’t work out.” I went up to the door, checked the email one more time, knocked and prayed I would not get killed by the radicalized, Jesuit-educated Roman Catholics inside. Instead, a kind man approximately 10 years younger than me answered the door and invited me in. I asked about the parking. My car would be fine on the street. It would be fine. Bummer, I guess I had to go through with this. We talked, introducing ourselves, our backgrounds, while he roasted vegetables, cooked rice, and made me some tea. Based on his hipster dress code and cooking ability, I didn’t feel he was a physical threat. Another person joined us, a friend of his, and then we all sat down to do the work of the Lenten reflection there were readings from the Bible, analysis to reflect on, and most important of all, the Examen. The Examen is a staple of St. Ignatius Spiritual Exercises, where you account for the positives in your day, the places where you were wrong, and set an intention for tomorrow. A Jesuit priest, or a person on retreat, is expected to check in with himself twice a day to stay accountable to God. The one utilized in this night’s practice was a guided audio version. We each listened and mentally went through our day. Once our inventories were gathered, we shared, the positives, the negatives, the fears and the triumphs of our day. It was incredibly powerful. I have continued to listen to this guided audio version of the Examen in an effort to stay connected with more positive thoughts and experiences, and thus with God.
Yin Yoga (or “Is everything all right?”)
“Is everything all right?” the yoga instructor asked. “You are making a face. Are you uncomfortable?”
“No,” I said.
Yes, I was uncomfortable and I could not hear her all that well. My hearing is terrible and what I thought was going to be a relaxing 2-hour yoga workshop focused on holding poses for 3-5 minutes to stretch fascia and muscles for relaxation, ended up being an escalation of the war between my two ears.
This was not what I had in mind. I could not believe the assault of negative thoughts that ran through my mind ceaselessly while I sat feet together, knees out in a forward fold over my feet. I really hate myself.
“You’re not doing it right.”
“This isn’t going to help.”
“You should be running.”
“Eewww look at your stomach.”
“How is this going to help your ear, stupid?”
“The yoga teacher hates you. Why else would she keep picking on you. ”
And on and on. I fought valiantly to try and get some positive thoughts in there, but they were weak or would not stick
“Hey, the sun coming through the windows in this room is beautiful.”
“Your legs look great.”
“This will be worth your while. It remains to be seen how, but it will be.”
So, yeah, it didn’t go well. I tried. I realized I needed more practice with these positive thoughts, like every day practice. You can’t just go to a yoga class and poof you are the damn Dalai Lama. I set the intention to keep a list of one positive thing that happens each day. It can be whatever I want, from a kick-ass cup of tea to an intimate (yet rare) moment of connection with the divine.
I also decided to stay for the next yoga class because I liked that teacher better. Restorative yoga was what I needed after spending 75 plus minutes attacking myself.
I’m Trying (or this is going to take a while…and more changes, too)
I’m trying. It is going to take a while. And yes, more changes are sure to be on the horizon. I take something from each thing I do and try. I expect it to be this big, watershed moment, where the heavens part, and God pops his head down to say (in his best Bob Marley impression) “Every little thing’s gonna be all right.” But that’s not how it works. It’s the intention set in each moment that matters most. It’s whether or not I am going to let my hearing, my stomach, and all the other bothersome medical problems get to me in this moment. That’s the hard part. But I’m trying. I’m seeking. And I will leave no spiritual stone, nor salty sprig of cauliflower unturned.