I belong to no religion. My religion is love.
Spirituality, until recent years, was something I figured I'd get around to eventually. Eventually has a way of sneaking up on you.
The Universe keeps planting people, decisions needing to be made, and events in my path that have led me to right here. A place of wanting to figure it out and a longing to know more.
Where I grew up, people my age were often introduced to the idea of spirituality and religion as children - grace at dinnertime, Sunday school, church potlucks, Grandma's gone to heaven, that kind of thing. But this intersection of spirituality and religion is where things get sticky for me. As someone raised without a faith tradition or without much talk of spirituality, I want to know more about people and their spirituality. How did they get where ever they are with their spirituality and their faith?
The only way to know is to ask, right?
So I offer to you a series for the spiritually curious. If you're like me, you want to understand how people come to believe what they believe. What was the journey? How does spirituality show up? What do you do with it? In months to come, I'll interview others out there in there in world who are willing to share what spirituality means to them.
But it only seems fair that I begin this new series, Spiritually Speaking, by answering a couple questions first (gulp). Here goes...
What does spirituality mean to you?
Spirituality is my heart connection to all that's around me and in me. It's love and kindness and compassion. It means stepping over my ego and being in a place that's bigger and more peaceful than whatever this human experience is that I'm having. It's being in the space between the inhale and exhale. It's walking between rain drops. It's the moment before you slip into sleep. But it's also hearing your baby laugh for the first time. It's looking into the eyes of the homeless man standing at the stop sign you pass by every day. It's bearing witness to someone else's pain. It's holding hands with the love of your life. It's eeking out a morsel of gratitude on a day when everything has gone wrong. It's in understanding that the person to the left of you and to the right of you, is you. It's possibility. It's love.
Describe how you cultivate your spirituality.
Journaling is one of my favorite ways to cultivate and connect with my spirituality. Writing and reading - words, really - can be a downright religious experience for me. Human connection, meaningful conversation, and laughter all bring me closer to Divine consciousness. Interacting with my puppies - playing, snuggling, walking - makes me feel so connected. I walk with my dogs almost every single day. I love walking trails on the weekend and having the dogs on their retractable leashes. I swear they hit a Zen point about 10 minutes in, and I follow right along with them.
Music is a big one for me, too. My son and my husband both play guitar, and my son sings. My husband and I chase live music as much as we can. Is there anything more spiritual than being with other people who adore music? There's a unity in that, you know? Oh, and the movies. I truly believe there's something so special and spiritual about seeing a movie on the big screen. Being at a movie touches all of my senses. I love the art of movies for the same reason I love the art of a good book or a piece of music. There's so much spirituality in art.
Travel is, of course, my all-time favorite way to cultivate my spirituality. My husband and I love to go to far-away beaches. We say we're checking out, but really, we're checking in. It's during those times of being warm, being out in nature, being near the sea that it's easy to peel back to a truer version of myself. When I can step away from all the busy-ness of life and just be and connect. Connect with my myself, my husband, and with something bigger.
Do you follow a faith tradition?
Nope, no faith tradition. I like to say truth and kindness are my religion.
Tell us how faith or spirituality showed up in your life as a child.
My parents are not church go-ers. They never minded if I went with friends, which I did once in awhile, but it wasn't something we did as a family. They always said that I could figure it out for myself when I was an adult. Sometimes I'd be bummed because it seemed like such a huge thing to figure it out on my own, but now I see they actually gave me an amazing and priceless gift. I never had anyone telling me how I should think or feel about spirituality or God. I get to create my relationship with the Divine on my own terms.
Talk about the path your spirituality has taken.
I remember trying out praying as a child, and I did it for a long time without telling anyone about it or giving it much thought. It was just something I did before I fell asleep.
I applied to, and was accepted at, a Catholic college without even knowing it was a Catholic school until I arrived for freshman orientation. In fact, it was the only college I applied to so there was a reason for me to be there. I look back on that and see now that everything was as it should be, but it's still kind of funny to me. What I loved about my time at Aquinas College is that as far as religion went, I could take it or leave it. I did both off and on throughout my four years there.
My freshman-year roommate was Catholic, and I remember she lit prayer candles, which I thought was so cool. She'd write on Post-its what or who she was praying for and leave those notes next to the candle. She invited me to join in on that, and I did. I still do that to this day. Small invitations like prayer candles filtered into my life throughout college.
In my late twenties I started taking yoga classes regularly, then I added in meditation classes. I grew to love the idea of Divine consciousness. Doing marketing work for the yoga studio where I took classes here in Grand Rapids meant I spent a lot of time with Viki Distin, who is studio owner at Cascade Yoga Studio and also a senior teacher. I learned so much from doing that work and from being with Viki and taking Viki's classes.
When I began working on my life coaching certification the same thing that happened when I went to college happened with coach training. I really had no idea that the coaching program I had entered was, at its core, based in spirituality. Right before I began my training I started contract marketing work with a Dominican spirituality and conference center. When the administrative staff started introducing me to the sisters they would say, "This is Sandra. She's an Aquinas grad and she's training to be a spiritual director." I didn't even know how to respond to that or to counter it...but of course, they were all right. Life coaching is a form of spiritual direction. And with that I say, once again, everything is as it should be.
What is the first memory you have of feeling connected with the Divine?
I had some transcendent experiences with words in my teen years. It was about the time I discovered I had a gift for writing. I read all the time. And I listened to music. I had a heavy rotation of albums that I listened to through a pair of clunky headphones, and I would just get lost in lyrics and music. During those times I first sensed something bigger than myself.
But one specific memory I have is when I was in a yoga class here in Grand Rapids. There were probably 20 students in this Friday morning class. The room was very warm and the only sound was that of breath. The instructor had all of us in knee pile pose. We were bowing in with our foreheads resting on knees and had dropped into ujjayi breath, which sounds like the ocean. The entire class was still and the room was silent, but there was something in that room that was subtly electric, if that makes sense. I knew at that moment, God was in the room with us.
When you visualize God or the Divine what do you see?
When I think about the Divine, I don't see a face or features. For me I see energy and motion. This energy, to me, looks like vapor or floating clouds, maybe fog. Sometimes I see bright white or golden light. Occasionally I see purple, which I believe is because it's the color associated with the crown chakra or infinite consciousness. But mostly it's just something I feel, not see.
Have you ever broken up with your spirituality?
For sure, though I didn't realize that's what I was doing at the time of it. I had been heavily attending yoga classes and sitting with a meditation group. I loved my community of seekers; and as I mentioned, I even did marketing work for my yoga studio.
Then life side-swiped me in my late thirties. I found myself with a marriage I couldn't repair. I started working more hours because I became a single parent. Then my body started to protest all the emotion I wasn't dealing with. I blew a disc in my spine and was down for weeks. I was diagnosed with celiac disease and Hashimoto's (thyroid disease). I was flattened physically and emotionally. I had no energy or will to continue growing my spirituality, and physically I couldn't practice yoga for months. I just sort of gave up my relationship with spirituality. Looking back on that time in my life, I understand now, if I had leaned into my spirituality I'd have been much better off.
What hope do you have for your spirituality?
When I think about my spirituality I hope for a deepening and a never-ending expansion and knowing. I hope to blur the edges of my physical self so that my physicality merges with Spirit. I hope I'm engulfed and drenched in love, and that that love covers over everyone I meet.