I first attended my school as a prospective student. Not really completely prospective, they’d already asked and I’d already said yes, so I guess you’d say more like a betrothed student. Anyway, I was sitting in a seminar, all happy and thrilled with life, when suddenly they said something that filled me with fear, “You will report on your daily spiritual practices with your dialogue group and with your teaching pastor.”
Um, what now?
Okay, I will admit, I was a bit sleep deprived and caffeine deprived when they said that. My brain should have responded with, “Oh, good, this is something I’ve been wanting to figure out and get rolling in my life.” Instead the little dude I always imagine at the control panel that is my brain freaked right on out and hit the alarm bells.
So, I spent the last few months freaking out, trying to figure out just what I was going to do. I tried a few things and they didn’t pan out for me. I couldn’t understand why this was so hard. Back in what feels like another lifetime, I had a daily practice. I prayed, I read the Bible, and I did them every day. So why, now that I’m a Unitarian Universalist, was this suddenly so hard for me?
Part of it came down to the fact that the congregation I was a part of didn’t really push spiritual practices. So I had no framework to build off of. A few people who I deeply respected had practices, and I tried those, but they didn’t fit for me. Over this past summer, I tried a lot of different things. I tried a prayer/meditation practice, I tried journaling, I tried meditation. These would all work for a bit, and then I would get bogged down in it or my schedule would turn upside down and I’d miss a day or four.
Finally, we were sitting in Fall Convocation, discussing spiritual practices, and it started to break through what I had been doing wrong. I was very excited to get back home and get started building my spiritual practice. These were my pitfalls and how I overcame them.
One, I kept looking to “find” time and space for a spiritual practice. That’s not how to go about it. I realized I needed to “make” time and space for spiritual practice. And that would mean telling my family that I needed to have time on my own to take care of this. For the record, they had no trouble with this, it was my own projections that led me to believe they would. So I cleaned a space in my room and set up a small sacred space. I got supplies to make a sign that says simply “I am meditating, do not disturb”. It’s painted bright yellow with black letters so it can’t be missed. I hung a hook on the door so I could easily pop the sign up when it was time to meditate on the weekends. I committed myself to doing this in the morning. Not necessarily first thing, because that doesn’t work for me. So, on weekdays, I get up and take everyone to school and work, and then as soon as I get home, I do my practice. On weekends (and other days when everyone is home), I get up, say good morning to everyone, and then go back to my room.
Two, I needed to find something that was a bit more flexible on time. A lot of things caused me to need to do this. Sometimes my schedule doesn’t allow for a long time slot. Either I have to be at work early or the guys are home and we’re planning on going somewhere. Sometimes it’s my health. Some days are more achy than others and I can’t sit for long periods. Some days I need to take a longer time. So I wanted something that would work for whatever I was facing that day. I found a great app that has both timed (silent) meditations and guided meditations of various lengths and subjects. It also tracks that I’ve done it, so that’s a positive.
Three, I needed something “more” than just sitting in meditation. My brain struggles. A lot. When I first started meditating weekly with a group, I did really good. Then I hit this plateau where every time I sat was a struggle. I’m still there, but moving forward. So, I knew I needed something else to help me with this. While searching for supplies for a sign, I found a great coloring book. Okay, I have to explain that all my life, the best medicine when my anxiety levels are peaking is a brand new coloring book and new box of Crayola crayons (they have to be Crayola, it’s the smell). So, I wanted something like that, but a bit more grownup. I found a book of mandala coloring pages. I quickly got that and a box of colored pencils. I also picked up a book about doing Zentangles as meditative practice. After a little trial and error, I figured out how best to employ these into my spiritual practice.
So, what do I do each day? Well, I start with lighting a chalice on my altar, then I play some meditative music. I sit and color in a bit of a mandala. Right now I’m finishing one a week. Each day I pick an element or two to color. Some days I color more, some days less. Again, it depends on what I need. This time is used by me to center, to let the stresses of the day go, and to focus on what I’m doing. Then I start meditation. This time varies, as well, depending on my needs. I tend to only do silent meditations during the week when the house is quiet. But if my brain is running amok, or it’s the weekend, I do a guided meditation so I have something to focus on and stay centered. When my meditation time is done, I pull out my sketchpad and pencil and pen and do a small Zentangle. I’ve found these become almost like a journal of sorts. They usually reflect what I’m feeling internally, either from the meditation or from before that time. When that’s done, I put it all away, extinguish my chalice, and get my day started.
I’ve noticed a difference by having this daily practice. I’m a bit calmer, I’m able to face challenges as they come, and I’m more aware of what is going on around me and inside of me. I have hit a few days where the “I don’t wanna” has come up. This morning was one of those days. Partly because I don’t feel good, partly because I’ve hit another plateau. But I pushed through anyway. Because I know that part of this is showing up every day and doing it.