23rd Jan 2020
I grew up in a diverse family within a diverse community in Maryland, outside of Washington, DC. From a religious perspective, I was raised Muslim, my family on my mother’s side is Christian and many of the people in my childhood neighborhood were Jewish. I believe that is part of the beauty of living within a few miles of our nation’s capital. Different people. Different worldviews. Different experiences. Yet, we all managed to come together in so many lovely ways.
My level of religiosity has waned over time. I eventually got to the point where my general focus was to keep it simple. “Do unto others” seemed like a principle that worked for me, especially since I see most religions at their core to be focused on similar goals. Be a good person and serve others. Let your “good” deeds outweigh your “bad”.
My dad said to me one day that I am Muslim until I declare myself to be something else. Okay. That works for me. I still proudly identify as such. But am I practicing? No. I married a Christian, so if that counts against me at some point, I am willing to take my lumps. (shrug)
What Were My Spiritual Wellbeing Challenges?
What does spiritual wellbeing mean? Well, I am defining it as “the ability to find inner peace and harmony, usually stemming from beliefs, faith, values, ethics or moral principles that provide purpose and direction in our lives.” Most of my life, I viewed the spiritual as being confined to the religious. As I got older, I started to understand that I was being overly prescriptive.
I consider myself a pretty ethical and morally principled person. Does my Islamic upbringing contribute to that? Probably. I found the rules within my religion at times comforting and at times constricting. (Personally, the most comfort I have found in religious spaces is when I am connecting with the music…yet I digress.) I always struggled with the “inner peace” part….probably because I didn’t even think about it. I often found myself more focused on the doing of things and was completely disconnected with what peace would even feel like.
What Shifted Me Into Action?
As I have mentioned in previous articles, my doctors always asked me about my stress management or lack thereof. Eventually, I started talking to friends about what they did to de-stress and got past the obvious “workout” conversations into conversations about meditation.
I signed up for a class and started meditating, yet it didn’t stick. I also started reading about the broader construct of mindfulness: paying attention to present moment experiences with openness, curiosity and a willingness to be with what is without judgment.
I stopped chasing “the future” and
began being more present in “the now”.
Mindfulness includes a variety of practices of which meditation is one. Others include:
– Mental activity: pausing and breathing, setting intention, focused attention, active listening, visualization
– Physical activity that can be done mindfully: journaling or free writing, exercise, walking, art and music
– Empathy and compassion practices: connecting with/expressing gratitude, “loving kindness” and “just like me” practices
Unbeknownst to me, my therapist practiced mindfulness, so I was able to explore how it could support me. Then, I was introduced by a friend to a community that practiced mindfulness. Once I moved past intellectualizing mindfulness and committed to exploring practices that resonated with me, everything fell into place. I experienced the broader application of the practice, moving beyond the frame of a stress management tool and creating space for me to explore what spirit meant to me.
Specifically, I stopped chasing “the future” and began being more present in “the now”. Slowing down. Connecting with people. Focusing on one thing at a time. Paying attention to the nuance of things in ways that I missed before…and I had always been a pretty attentive person…when I wasn’t multi-tasking, that is.
I feel connected to something bigger
than myself when I am in my practice.
I used to wonder what my purpose was on this earth and I chased the idea of “legacy” due to limiting beliefs I had about myself due to the sudden loss of my mother. My mindfulness practice helped me create space for peaceful reflection and the knowing that I had purpose just waking up in the morning and being me. I didn’t have to do anything.
I never knew that joy in my life was possible. Again, I never even thought about it. Now, I am joyful and grateful when I wake up in the morning. Period. Full stop. I know that I have the power to positively impact a person’s day simply by smiling and saying, “Good morning.” My name means “sun” or “sunshine” in Arabic, “light” in Hebrew. I believe that my name adequately reflects my contribution to the world.
I know this may sound hokey. If you would have told me a few years ago that I would be in this place, I would likely have laughed or given you the side eye. When I was younger, I used to wonder how women in church “caught the spirit.” Now I get it. I feel connected to something bigger than myself when I am in my practice. God. Universe. Spirit. Humanity. All of it. I don’t see practicing mindfulness as an either/or with respect to organized religion. I believe that it can be an AND.
What Will Keep Me in Action?
When I am in my practice, I feel peaceful and joyful. I am able to connect with those feelings in my body…and I prefer feeling relaxed in my body. When I am not at peace, my neck and shoulders are tight and I feel a knot in my gut. Knowing what peace feels like in my body makes me aware of when that feeling is absent.
There are so many things throughout the busy-ness of my life that can take me out of my practice. However, what keeps me in action is that I know how I feel on the other side of my practice. Therefore, I re-commit to it every day and connect with the practice that will support me in a given moment.
There are some mindfulness practices that I prefer to do stationary, like journaling and meditation, and others that I do while walking around outside. Recently, I added “morning practice” time to my calendar. Why? The visual learner in me believed it would help me stay committed to my stationary practices. I am constantly exploring how to stay committed to my practices. That, too, is a practice!
What Are My Key Takeaways?
I found tremendous value in exploring mindfulness and not being prescriptive about it. I also found that it helped me to discuss with others what I was learning and how it made me feel. It was important to find what worked for me and be able to articulate what I was learning. This helped bring clarity to my feelings, which then reinforced whether I wanted to stay committed to a particular practice or not.
So, what is your next step? I am encouraging you to create space to ask yourself, “What does spiritual wellbeing mean to me? Why is it important to me? How do I want to feel when I am engaged in spiritual practices? What support do I require to be in my commitment to my spiritual wellbeing?”
I will be keeping y’all abreast of my journey.