Isolation Guide #6: Spirituality to Feed the Soul
“The wound is the place where the light enters you.” ––Rumi
In a technologically advanced world, and in particular in Western cultures and societies, it’s considered standard that we turn to science and empirical data to feed the soul. Yet while it’s true that science can solve many problems––and even sometimes fuel our mental and professional well-being––it does not provide the inner peace we are all searching for. Conversely, there are people even now who think that going to church will make them immune to COVID-19. Neither way of life will optimize our Ultimate Well-Being.
Spirituality comes in many shapes and forms. Sam Harris, one of my favorite mindfulness gurus (and also a self-proclaimed atheist) once spent eleven years in the Himalayas meditating. Despite his atheism, Sam also believes in the existence of a soul, of something that consciousness and modern science cannot fully explain.
So if we accept the possible existence of a metaphysical being-beyond-body, or “soul,” how do we nurture it?
Start at the Bottom. Are You Ready to Die? Either way, reflect on death. According to one well-known a Buddhist proverb, “you don’t start living until you know you are dying.” While this might sound morbid to some––particularly those of us with American or Western upbringings––contemplating our own mortality can actually be very life-affirming. When we acknowledge bravely that our time is limited and that we will ultimately part from all that we hold dear, things snap into focus. Priorities realign, grudges are dropped, and petty concerns fall to the wayside. Threats of the moment that once seemed dire and frightening—COVID-19, for example—are de-centered and recognized for their place as just one among infinite things that threaten our fragile human existence. Activities, people and ethics we value then come back to the forefront with a stronger sense of purpose.
Try the traditional Buddhist practice of death awareness meditation. Go for a quiet walk in a cemetery, or simply spend time reflecting deeply on how you, like everyone else you know, are ultimately subject to illness, old age and death. When done in a calm, mindful way, this practice diminishes anger, self-centeredness and fear of death while creating a sense of compassion and camaraderie with all living beings. You can also remind yourself that loved ones may leave at any time in order to return to love and appreciation for rather than feeling anger or resentment toward them. Finally, write your eulogy and think about what you would want people to remember and say about you after your embodied life ends.. This can be a great way to think more deeply about who is currently close to you in life, and who you want to remain in lasting relationship with.
Define Core Values and Draw Strength From Them
Identify your core values, and return to them over and over. Reflecting on your values can help make sense of what seems senseless, and putting your values in action can bring light to you in your darkest hour. If you believe in the power of loving-kindness, donate cash to someone in need or offer to shop for the elderly. If you believe God has a plan, or that karma is a just and balancing force, use your faith to practice a profound sense of acceptance for things beyond your control. Perhaps you believe that change is the only constant. If so, plant a garden or spend time in nature to observe how things grow, mature, deteriorate and pass away, as will we all. There is a profound sense of peace to be derived from these truths. Whatever your core values, incorporate them into a daily action plan.
You may be wondering how other people define their core values. Right now, I identify my own as the following:
1) Everything I do has to have impact pertaining to the Covid-19 crisis.
2) I can only control what I can control.
3) Think about Oneness. There is a great book called Rays of the Dawn that explains how the theory works by defining different emotions with a yin and yang effect.
Devote Regular Time to Spiritual Practice
Many of us belong to a particular faith tradition or are walking a particular path without being fully aware of how much time and effort we actually devote to the spiritual part of our lives. Especially in trying times, we need connection with our spiritual side more than ever. Whether it’s a daily meditation each morning, ten minutes of prayer before bed, weekly worship services or regular scriptural studies, be deliberate about incorporating spirituality into your daily life. If you fail to do so, this critical aspect of your self will fade to become an abstract belief system that fails to offer any concrete benefits. As one example, I spend about 3-5 hours per week on spiritual readings or practices. For me, this includes reading books about Buddhism, philosophy, Judaism, Islam, and yes, even the Bible. I find mindfulness meditation very helpful, and also try to intentionally spend time with others who have a spiritual outlook. Prayer is also very helpful. Meditation focuses on the inner self while prayer gives way to a higher level of power. Try both.
Help and Give
When we serve, we help ourselves as much as others––if not even more so. This can be an extra-powerful morale booster in times of adversity. Although it may seem harder to help when on lockdown, people are finding creative ways to support both neighbors and strangers. Some are donating to charity or sewing masks and collecting sanitization products to give to healthcare workers. Others are running errands for the sick and elderly. Still others are offering free online classes, meditations, workouts, activities for children and more to help people stay well during quarantine. Perhaps the simplest thing we can all do is check in regularly with loved ones, especially those who may be lonely. If you are still working, try to provide income opportunities for those aren’t, whether by giving them odd jobs or paying them in advance for services they regularly provide you. Knowing that you have made a positive difference in someone’s world is a powerful tonic to bring hope and joy to your own situation. Start small; just do something.
Laugh, Think, and Cry
Jimmy Valvano said it before his death at a speech. You should laugh, think about things, and finally bring yourself to tears. There is no better way to feed your soul than through these three things. “Cancer can take my physical abilities but it cannot touch my mind, my heart, and my soul and those will carry on forever. “ Jimmy Valvano
Connect with Your Spiritual Community
Like every other sector of society, religious communities have been presented unique challenges by the coronavirus. People who are used to going to church, temple or mosque suddenly find themselves isolated from their spiritual families. But, as always, people find ways to adapt, especially on what matters to them most. Worship is going online to social media, live-streaming, apps and podcasts. However, studies also show that good old-fashioned person-to-person contact is still critical. Call to check in with other members of your spiritual community, especially the elderly or those who live alone. Organize a Zoom or Skype session to pray, meditate or read scriptures together. Remember that spirituality, perhaps more than anything else, is something felt at the heart level—and this knows no temporal bounds.