Last week we left off as I headed to do a presentation on spiritual wellness. This is the labyrinth where we joined together for a small but delightful retreat.
Welcome to my new series on spirituality and developing inner power. It is my intention to help you gain clarity and strengthen your inner resources during the next 12 weeks using introspective topics and journaling prompts. I also hope that we can begin to build a tribe of spiritual champions!
Core spiritual principles are similar across religious traditions. Religion is a set of beliefs concerning the purpose of the universe and usually involves ritual observances with a body of people who adhere to the same beliefs. Spirituality is a little more vague and less well defined but pertains to something not physical, but incorporeal. Religion can be more dogmatic than spirituality, but, there are basic, common principles: love, kindness and gratitude, to name a few.
For the next 12 weeks I will write posts designed to help clarify your spirituality but I don’t plan on discussing religion. By defining and strengthening your spiritual practice you will increase your sense of inner power. Inner personal power is increased through making small, positive changes in attitude and perception. All of the activities require clarity of mind; therefore, the series will also include mindfulness and awareness practices and prompts.
The results, of course, will be up to you! If you work through the 12 weeks with me and participate in all the activities, you will experience a shift; hopefully it will increase the quality of your spiritual practice. Change requires continuous and diligent practice to make progress over time. Most of us mortals, me included, lose interest or motivation, and quit the practice. As long as you have the willingness to continue on and work through your obstacles, ultimately never ceasing the effort over the long haul, you will get results.
You can’t know where you are going unless you know where you are!
If I were a songwriter, this would be the title of my theme song. When I was employed as a therapist, my first meeting with a client required making an assessment. I asked a variety of questions related to why they came in and what was going on that was difficult or challenging them. Then I would get a history and make a diagnosis.
I want to help you decide where you are, and provide a tool for gaining perspective on your spiritual history. Our first activity will be to create a spiritual timeline.
To begin, get a piece of paper and something to write with. If you are creative and would like to collage, paint, draw or otherwise embellish your timelines, then please do. Otherwise, you can keep it simple. If you have a journal, you can use that. Or, you can dedicate a new journal specifically to spiritual practice and continue on after the 12 weeks are over.
Turn the page horizontally and draw a line across the page. On the left side of the page, write the year of your birth above the line. Below the line write a description of the religious orientation of your family of origin.
For instance, I was baptized into the Episcopal Church. We attended church regularly as a family. I was confirmed at age 12 and wore a white dress for my first communion. Spend some time thinking about what you were taught and what you learned as a child about religion, if anything. Not having a faith or practice as a child can affect you as well. Make notes below the line regarding your religious origins.
Return to the line and make an X or a short vertical line and mark the age or year when you first started asking Big Questions like, “Why am I here? What does it all mean? Where is my place in the world?” Or, perhaps you stopped going to church or experienced some spiritual change. Mark that and make notes about that time period.
I was 15 when I started to consider the size of the universe and realized that I was a very small part of it. I really wondered what it was all about but I didn’t talk to anyone about it. I felt scared and confused.
Again, return to the line and mark the next significant stage in your spiritual growth. As a flower child of the early 70’s, I was influenced by the culture and politics of the times. Sex, drugs and rock’n’roll was a popular slogan that intrigued me. The mystical Carlos Castaneda books were very popular then and I read the first four of the series. I started to explore new realms of thought in college, in class and outside of class. My mind expanded in new directions and interesting ways from age 18 to 22. I experimented with a lot of new behaviors during this time.
When I was 22, my first love died unexpectedly and I became much more interested in spirituality and life after death. It was 1975 so there wasn’t as much information available as there is now. I read Edgar Cayce books and whatever else I could get my hands on. I was devastated and lost, emotionally and spiritually.
At age 28 my spiritual pendulum swung out of control as a result of a Women’s Issues class I took while working on my Masters in Counseling. I learned a new slant on religious history thus igniting a feminist rage stage that burned out of control for quite a while. I started reading the emerging female spiritual leaders of the time: Starhawk, Z Budapest, Anne Kent Rush, and Anne Wilson Schaef. I fell in love with earth-based spirituality and have never lost my love of nature. I was ecstatic to discover the Goddess. For the first time in my life, a Divine image looked like me.
Motherhood at 35 calmed me down and grounded me in new ways. My second child was born shortly after I turned 38. For many years I was absorbed in raising my family. At age 42 I discovered a program of recovery that changed my life again. I started learning the tools I needed for creating a more joyous life. I began to experience clarity of mind and serenity for the first time.
As a lifelong student dedicated to learning, and as a lifelong seeker, I branched off yet again. In January 2011, at age 57, I took refuge vows and became a Buddhist in the Tibetan tradition. Lama Thupten told me after I took my vows that I would now be a Buddhist in all my future incarnations. Apparently there is no turning back! This tradition offers explicit directions for experiencing peace of mind and psychological health. It is often referred to as a religion but I think of it more as a practice.
I share my own timeline for a number of reasons. It’s eclectic and varied, and reveals why I draw on so many different traditions and at the same time look for similarities. It also reveals how I have changed dramatically throughout my lifetime. I believe I am in my “Third Age,” that this last portion of my life is bringing together many skills and experiences that I can share with others. My path has not always been as illuminated as it is now.
Also, in sharing my own timeline, I can see how much I’ve changed. What I emphatically believed in my 30’s isn’t what I now believe as I approach 60. I know that I am growing in wisdom, which is incredibly exciting. There ought to be some kind of pay off for getting older!
Creating your own spiritual timeline using whatever is pertinent to you will bring you in to the present. If you see future spiritual developments emerging, you can jot those down as well. Be sure to make note of your feelings in each stage. Next week we will focus on letting go of the past so that we can stay in the present.
What does your spiritual timeline reveal about you?
Did you stop growing somewhere along the line? Or, was there a time you started to grow and change?
Did you move away from your family traditions or incorporate them?
Are you discovering new spiritual ideas that energize your inner life?
What are your current challenges spiritually?
In order to build a community around this topic I’m providing a private space for comments and discussion. Spirituality is sacred. We need a safe space to be able to talk openly about what’s in our hearts and souls. This space will be open for lively discussion but not to arguments about belief systems.
If you’re interested, and you’re a woman, you can join the Facebook group, Illuminating Spiritual Practice just by asking me to add you!