Shopping for an Outfit at the Spiritual Thrift Store

Laura K. Secor

Hello my UUCW friends,

Welcome back!  It’s good to be in community again, however virtual it may be.  Are you as weary as me, soul-weary from this pandemic and the other troubles roiling our world?  So many of the things we do to comfort ourselves, the many ways we reach out to community, are denied us, or shifted into a virtual realm.  What practices are you leaning on, to help you through?

If you choose to share with me, through the email link, practices that have brought you comfort, I’m hoping to incorporate your answers into next month’s Nugget.

As for me, for the last two weeks I have been trying to establish a personal spiritual practice in accordance with instructions from my new yoga teacher training curriculum.  I’ve been struggling with this.  I remember being told how to worship in Sunday school as a child, and it didn’t take.  Spiritual instruction must surely be a very personal thing, and memorizing bible verses with no discussion didn’t lead me to any connection to the Christian spiritual tradition.  I think discussion is essential for the modern seeker, so that the words or rituals can find a way into one’s own heart.  This is why I’m part of the UU community, and probably a big part of why you are too.

I’ve been on my own meandering spiritual path for decades, sampling the spiritual supermarket.  A hint of Buddha, a whiff of Tao.  A little heart sutra, a little Wicca.  Jung makes his way in and out…  A lovely buffet, but adding up to nothing coherent.  I’ve been drifting.  And within this fog, a ship appeared (do you mind if I mix metaphors with wild abandon?  One of the games still possible in a pandemic.)  A pre-packaged spiritual practice from a yoga teacher I admire made its way into my mailbox.  It seemed tempting.  In fact, it seemed irresistible.  No more wandering, no more straining to make sense of my vague and incoherent personal inclinations.  This wonderful spiritual leader will show me how to do it right!  One size fits all yogis!

And will you be surprised to hear that it hasn’t been simple for me, these last two weeks?  There has been a lot of soul searching as I struggle with mantra, pranayama, the Yoga Sutras.  Wearing someone else’s spiritual clothes is like thrift-shopping – a certain creative readjustment is required.  Here I was on my yoga ship, wearing my hand-me-down yoga outfit, chanting my Ganesha mantra, feeling like a fraud.  

How do I make these practices feel like something that comes from within me?  How do I connect?  I read widely, looking for inspiration, and a friend made the following comment.  The topic was a mish-mash of Tarot and Shamanism, but I think the comment is universal in its application.

“The Self establishes the rapport of the personal effort with the spiritual reality.  If we do not make this link between personal, practical effort and spiritual reality then it all means nothing.”

That comment struck me like a bell.   The purpose of my journey is “to keep open a space for the sacred being which wants to come alive, develop, expand, creatively contribute and bring its own calling and purpose into society.  [My] being can come alive, become whole, and live a healthful and satisfying life if it is aligned with its own center, its own heart, from which the life forward energies arise, and if it is solidly connected to body, and earth, society and Spirit.”  From Jung and Shamanism in Dialogue

These quotes are obviously not my own thoughts.  But they have started me thinking, what are the personal practices, practical efforts I engage in, that connect me to body, and earth, society and Spirit?  That’s a framework, questions I can ask myself.  Questions you might want to ask yourself.

How do we connect to body?  Each of us needs a personal answer.  For me, it’s walking.  So when my yoga teacher “assigns” me a daily yoga practice, during this beautiful fall weather I am willing to take a walk instead, some days.  Yoga is wonderful, but it’s not the only door to open into connection with body.  Walking is a wonderful door.  (More metaphor!)  What is your practice of connecting to body?  Perhaps food?  Cooking can be so sensual, and Thich Nhat Hanh wrote an entire book about mindful eating.  Food is a door. 

How do we connect to earth?  This is such a complex question in these last 30 years.  I’m finally old enough to say that the world I’m living in is not the one I grew up in.  Nature has become much more fragile, and that fragility grows every day.  Such a personal question, but perhaps the most universal, since we all live here, right?  We’re all on the same planet, just the one.  What’s your door?

How do we connect to society?  First through our families, perhaps?  It’s that way for me.  Through UUCW, of course, and other gatherings.  This one may be the most complex answer we each provide, a web with so many interconnected strands.  What’s your web?

And, most nebulous of all, how do we connect to Spirit?  The numinous.  Ah yes.  I’m out of space for this month, but I’m planning to pick up here in October.  I hope you’ll join me.