As I’ve mentioned before, Julie and I spend the time between solstice and New Year’s reflecting and discerning. This year, we’re working in three sections: The Year Passing, Touching the Infinite, and Hopes and Dreams for the New Year.
We’re working to close out the New Year; to engage our Deepest, Wisest Selves; and to dream and scheme about what 2016 feels like it can be.
Part of what we’re working on is looking at 2015 in terms of what we’ve lost, gained, grieved, delighted in, and suffered. It’s been a hard year. Nonetheless, The Way of the River and its renewed ministry is one of the great lights of the year. Thank you for that. Thank you for being part of the community, whether this is the first time you’ve read this blog, you’re a regular correspondent, you’ve participated in retreat or class, or boosted the signal on upcoming events—thank you.
What I’m Learning about My Practice
One of the things that is coming up again and again in my notes about 2015 and my hopes for 2016—besides the growth of The Way of the River—is my own spiritual practice. The benefits of spiritual practice are manifold.
I find that practice helps me become the person I hope to be. It subtly reinforces my strength, groundedness, centeredness, compassion, and equanimity. For me, it is that last virtue, equanimity, that is particularly important.
Equanimity, the virtue of even temper and balanced response, is something I struggle with. It is something that bipolar disorder makes very difficult, even though my illness is well treated. Equanimity is a virtue I strive for, but not one that seems to respond much to the direct application of my will. I cannot simply decide to be balanced in my responses to life. I have to practice.
Practice and Equanimity
And that practice is something I find in meditation, singing, time at my altar, prayer, and physical activity. It is not simply deciding to be a particular way or to have particular responses. It is the practice of reining in unruly psychological responses, but it—equanimity—is also the result (somehow!) of these other activities.
Meditation reminds me in its peaceful way that I can come back again and again, try again and again. Meditation reminds me that it is not about being perfectly observant of my thoughts and feelings, but rather coming back to the breath again and again. Meditation changes my habitual responses because it teaches me to bring friendly inquiry, not judgment or punishment, to my thoughts, feelings, body, and circumstances.
Singing engages my body as well as my mind. It gives me joy and activates centers in the mind that are associated with the sense of well-being. The words of the songs I choose reinforce my hopes for myself; furthermore, they stay with me throughout the day.
Time at my altar is time with beauty. It is time to remember that I am a cell in the body of God Herself. That knowledge and the felt sense that sometimes comes with it allow me to feel more centered in myself and more quietly confident. That confidence gives me permission not to overreact, but to connect with Source and move forward deliberately and well.
More to the Picture: Losing Routine
Connection to Source does not only bring equanimity. There are so many other strengths and virtues that come with practice, and I intend to write about them soon. What I want to say now, though, is that 2015 was hard, really hard, where spiritual practice was concerned. I was ill, preoccupied, and laid up much of the year, and my practice suffered.
I write about it all the time, yes. I teach it. I experience its profound beauty.
And yet, in 2015, I lost a lot of the routine of my practice. I fell down and got up and fell down and got up and fell down. It is only recently that I have returned to much of what is so nourishing and beautiful in my practice. And it is recently that I have begun to experience again the joy, compassion, peace, love, and equanimity that come from the routine.
And routine it is. Dailiness. The persistence to get up and return when I trip or somehow forget the centeredness that practice brings. It isn’t drudgery—at least not most of the time—though it is routine. And it is routine that can undergird all I hope for, all I want to be, all I desire for my life.
So I invite you to join me this January for reflection, practice, and support. I invite you to reengage—or engage for the first time!—the practice of spiritual activity. For four Tuesday evenings, in a group called Growing Our Souls, beginning January 5th, we will share new practices and familiar ones, support one another in our commitments, and honestly discuss the difficulties of practice and its deepening.
Yes, it will be a time of accountability. But that is not my felt sense of what our time together will be at its core. At its core, the month of January can be one of gentleness, persistence, delight, learning, and support and encouragement of one another.
If you have questions or suggestions regarding Growing Our Souls, please use the Contact Me page to be in touch. I look forward to hearing from you, and I very much hope to see you this coming month, the beginning of the New Year!