Looking at the Big Picture

A couple of questions I ask clients the first or second time we meet is: What do you believe spiritually? and How do you practice that?

Probably 90% of the responses are about whether or not the client attends church – which is not at all what I’m asking. I don’t care what their belief is, but I have repeatedly seen that those who are really successful at making a change in their lives and finding a sense of peace within themselves, are those who have some concept of their spirituality, and continue or begin to practice that. It’s a huge resource because it gives us a sense of direction and meaning in our lives.

Many of us turn to our faith when things get difficult. How that looks is different for each of us, and that’s the way it needs to be. Spirituality is not a cookie-cutter fix, as some would have us believe. There are many paths to the same door.

My belief is that religion tells us what to believe. It gives us a set a rules to follow, which allows for a sense of comfort for some. But spirituality informs our sense of connection with something greater than our humanity; and also something that is within each of us. It’s a personal relationship that we each define for ourselves. (That doesn’t mean we can’t have both. I was one of the lucky ones. The religion I was taught as a child aligned with the sense of spirituality I have developed over the years. That doesn’t happen for everyone).

So, as a therapist, one of the things I love to do, is to help others explore their own sense of who they are and who they strive to become. In my mind, this is a spiritual journey, but it may not look like one would expect. There was an advertisement for the US Army a few years ago that said “Be all that you can be.” That’s how I approach it with clients. I want them to explore their own set of values and beliefs in order to determine which they want to expand, and which may need to be tossed. It may align with their religious beliefs, or it may just be a bond with nature – or animals – or a particular kind of music. . . The possibilities are endless.

Having a bag full of spiritual tools can make life simpler. But becoming more spiritual does not necessarily mean our lives become easier. The more spiritual we become, the more wonderful our lives can become. But along with a more exceptional life comes more extraordinary challenges. I’ve learned to appreciate – and even sometimes to be grateful for those obstacles. They’re not something to dread. They are our assignments in this school of life. We’re being asked to learn skills – like endurance, self reliance, unconditional love or patience, etc.

Living our spirituality means that we’re not facing these times alone. We have support. We can become more conscious and in the moment, which slows things down, and we learn that instead of reacting from emotion, we can choose to respond with love. In short, we develop strength and personal power.

I’ve developed a way of thinking about the situation at hand that helps me look at the whole picture. I imagine how it must look from God/the Universe/Source’s perspective. All the minutia that feels so overwhelming to me is just a drop in the bucket – and from that perspective, it’s probably much easier to see the path I’ve taken and the direction that is leading me. (Consider looking at an ant farm. As humans, we can see exactly where the tiny creatures have been and where they are heading. But to them it must feel like we do as we’re driving around a strange city. We have no idea where we’re going or how our destination will look).

So as we polish the skills our lessons teach us, we move closer to the Divine. However, our purpose here on earth is not to reach a destination, but to experience the excursion. The goal is not perfection – it’s practice.