I’ve been thinking about spiritual practices lately and wondering what do they really do for us as people of faith. I imagine that everyone has their own answer about why they pray, meditate, walk labyrinths, journal and so forth. Ultimately, a good spiritual practice helps you feel more comfortable in your own skin.
That probably seems pretty simple an outcome for something that is supposed to be deep and profound. But, when you think about it, as a human being, what could be a more important than walking around, being who you are, and having confidence that you are okay as you are in that moment? With that level of comfort in your own skin—not arrogant about it—you might reek with positivity and love wherever you go.
All of us have had awkward moments in our lives. Whether it was with a situation on the job, with a partner or spouse, a good friend, or even a stranger, we know what it feels like inside when something is weird between us and another person. Being comfortable in your own skin might alleviate such awkwardness because in such moments you’d have the ability to recognize that you are acting just as the moment calls for.
There are tons of books out there that propose to help you be more spiritual, or feel more connected to God or to the sacred, or even to the universal spirit that abides among us, or to connect with mystery and/or nature. What they have in common is a thrust to get you to feel connected to yourself and the creative spirit that lies within you. Being comfortable in your own skin is a similar experience.
A book that I’m reading, The Body Keeps the Score, by Bessel van der Kolk, M.D., is about how past traumas prevent us from being our true lives by keeping us trapped in past, often unknowingly. My sense is that most of us have some form of traumatic experience in our history that we need liberation from. Similarly, we hope that our spiritual practices will help us overcome this difficult history.
Dr. van der Kolk offers even more specific ways that you can become comfortable in your own skin. I share these because I believe they align with the outcome of much spiritual practice. You might say that your spiritual practice ought to help you figure out how to do these things. Here are the keys:
(1) finding a way to become calm and focused,
(2) learning to maintain that calm in response to images, thoughts, sounds, or physical sensation that remind you of the past,
(3) finding a way to be fully alive in the present and engaged with the people around you, and
(4) not having to keep secrets from yourself, including secrets about the ways that you managed to survive.
The key to getting to a place where each of these elements is in place is on-going practice. You may need to supplement your practice with other forms of help: professional counseling, spiritual direction, conversation with a trusted friend or relative, or conversation with a clergy person.
In addition to persisting, you need to find something that soothes your soul and offers you solace—even if only for a few moments. The more you do it, the longer the moments become. Eventually, you’ll find yourself discovering a personal refuge within yourself that allows you be yourself more fully on the outside, too.
I’ve been fishing a lot this spring and summer. Usually, I’m alone when I fish. Occassionally, I’m joined by my spouse, a friend, or someone in the vicinity of me. Either way, I get time to be with me—no cellphone, PC, book, or other distraction. I’m learning to be more comfy with myself with each cast. This is a liberating experience. Fishing has become a spiritual practice for me.
I’ve concluded that almost any ongoing action or activity can become a spiritual practice—as long as it induces in you a deep encounter with your self or God/nature, cultivates personal growth, and ultimately helps you engage in community. That’s pretty wide open, my friends.
You can make much of what you already do into your spiritual practice. You don’t need anyone’s permission or approval, just do it. Be intentional. Allow yourself to be free as you do it.
Whatever you decide, stick with it. Don’t quit. Keep going until the real you shows up.