Why I Have a Spiritual Practice

Since I was a kid, I have been spiritually focused. I know there are a lot of ideas and definitions out there on what it means to be spiritual but for me, I take it to mean how I look at life. When something happens that may on the surface seem unpleasant or unfair, I try to look at what I am learning. I ask myself “How can I grow from this situation?” When someone is hurtful towards me, instead of being angry, I try to think, “Okay, from where are they coming? How are they hurting and how can I be compassionate?” Of course I don’t always get it right, but more often than not, my commitment to looking at life from a spiritual perspective encourages me to ask such questions. I know that there are some who think it is weak to place a value on forgiveness or not reacting to others' less than kind behavior. Some might think it weak when I accept what is rather than fight to make a situation different. On the surface, it might look like I ought to fight but if my heart tells me that this is not my battle, then I know to let go.

Of all the things that spirituality requires from us, I think letting go is the absolute hardest request of all. We invest so much energy into envisioning our lives turning out a certain way not to mention all of the work that we put into making our dreams a reality. There are real things that bring us much happiness in life such as the ability to dance, make our own decisions, fall in love, buy a home, and have the career of our dreams. And just as easily, or perhaps even more easily, we can lose our health, our independence, our lover, our home, and our wealth. And with these things we can lose our sense of security, our sense of place in the world, and all upon which we had banked our future happiness.

Sometimes, I think that believing in something higher than ourselves isn’t just a choice, it’s a necessity. To believe that the world is a benevolent place might be at a minimum essential. If we pin our happiness on certain experiences and people and because life is nothing if not unpredictable, how can we ever be hopeful if there is no guarantee to our happiness? Here is where a belief in something higher than ourselves and our willingness to let go comes in.

It isn’t weak to still be able to find happiness when our dreams fall apart. It isn’t weak to say “Wow, I’m disappointed but perhaps that job wasn’t the best fit.” It isn’t weak to say “She broke my heart but I guess she wasn’t ‘the one.’” And it isn’t weak to say “I’m in so much grief but perhaps he’s in a better place.” Despite our disappointments, pain, or our all-out, soul searing grief, it is okay to let go and look at what we have learned, what we have loved, and how we have grown. And it is okay to believe that it is all to our benefit; that perhaps there is some order to this seemingly chaotic world.

For me, if I didn’t have a spiritual practice, I think I would be a lot more pessimistic, regretful, angry, and discontent. Life doesn’t work out as we plan but if we can see the beauty in what has happened and how life is unfolding, then there is much to smile and be joyful about from moment to moment.

The hardest experience I have had to endure so far in life was the death of a friend over ten years ago. Willie was extremely intelligent, charismatic, compassionate, loyal, funny, and a beautiful musician. Had he lived, he would have turned 30 yesterday. For years my grief over his passing was absolutely unbearable. His passing and other events in life pushed me into a deep depression for several years. I could logically look at the situation and try to rationalize myself out of the grief but it never worked until I became committed to letting go of my desire to make the situation different.

Getting to that place unfortunately took years. For a long time, when I thought of Willie I allowed myself to be consumed by the intense grief associated with his passing. It probably took about five years before I was willing to take the ownership that was necessary to change the way I looked at the situation. Although I tried to focus on what was beautiful about having known and loved him I always came back to my desperation to have him back. It probably took me another five years after committing to change my mindset to actually make peace with what was.

Today, I still feel pain and sometimes my grief catches me in disbelief. But what is different is that the most difficult layer of my grief: my desire for a different outcome, is gone. If I need to cry, I cry but I no longer torment myself with wanting to change the past. Instead, there is more room within me to smile when I remember his silly antics or to let my heart melt when I remember how much he loved his family and mine. I have compassion for what he endured and hope that I am a better person because of him.

Letting go of our desire to control life isn’t weak. Relaxing into what is and letting our hearts expand even in the face of pain is brave. Believing that the world is a benevolent place and that we all have a place within it is wise. I choose to look at life from a spiritual perspective and because of it; I think I am a happier person.