Sacred Spiritual Growth

Resourcing Our Spiritual Needs: Interconnectedness

For today’s #SacredSpiritualGrowth Saturday, we’ll be exploring ways we can meet our spiritual need for interconnectedness. As I reviewed my thoughts, I was struck by the concrete nature of most of my proposals. I believe this is only one layer out of many through which we can tap in to the heartbeat of the Universe. I welcome learning from your experiences and ideas on this topic!

1. Observe the Threads

Many phenomena in our environment include intricate links. As I spent a recent frigid morning raking leaves, I was reminded of the relationship between trees of the same species. Consider making it a priority to witness natural points of connection like spider webs and waterways. The narrow culvert or stream near your home likely feeds into a larger body of water. As you run your hand through the water, allow yourself to sense the pulsation of the whole in the single artery you are touching.

You may also want to trace your family, cultural or spiritual roots. Placing ourselves within an historical context mitigates our sense of specialness and aloneness. Who each of us is and the rituals we treasure are intricately linked into a chain of human history, some of it beautiful and some of it grim. We tug on the ribbon, making a small movement forward, when we both honor and critically evaluate the origins of our beliefs and practices.

2. Volunteer

By participating in a cause that reaches beyond yourself, you create space for connection and the flourishing of our best achievements as humans—empathy and compassion. Nearly every time I volunteer for an event or organization, I am surprised by how quickly the experience enables me to move beyond my own concerns. The opportunity empowers each of us, through collective human action, to achieve something more significant than any of us could do on our own.

It is of course best if our motivation for volunteering comes from our wise inner self. However, even an act of kindness done for show can at times portend an internal reckoning where upon we come to see that the cause for which we are giving of our time and energy is worthy of more than mere pity. Especially with tasks that require physical labor, taxing our bodies and our spirits, there may be splinters of insight that prod us into understanding that sheer fate is all that stands between us and the individual whom we see as needing “charity.”

3. Travel

When traveling, observe human-made webs such as airline connections and interstate highways. Most places on Earth are only a few plane rides away, something that would have baffled our ancestors. As you explore a new place, it is easy to find the differences from your native land. Take time also to see the similarities and strands of influence from one culture to another.

I’ve always marveled at the mingling of cultures. For instance, although not without critics, some experts have recently claimed that a Viking burial cloth contained Islamic writing. Bearing in mind the fact that cultural appropriation is a genuine issue that is often overlooked within religious contexts, I do think there are valid ways in which multiculturalism can lend itself to progress in our practices. As we travel, either literally or through learning about other cultures, we deepen our appreciation for the tangle of peoples and customs from which each of us makes our way in the world.

4. Weave Together Stories

Attend to similarities as you write and vocalize your life experiences with others. Knowing that someone else has been through a situation like ours places our experience within a systemic context, instead of leaving it alienated as an isolated experience. There can sometimes be a slight sense of the rough edges of our jagged existence being rounded off as we bump into each other’s liminal spaces. Although I can experience this as a limitation, I then often go on to see the benefits of the reciprocation of my experience as it comes back to me through the eyes and voice of another person’s anecdote.

From the pieces of our own accounts, we are able to co-create shared narratives. For instance, we can have the story of women or the story of our culture or the story of people with a particular disease or mental health condition. Again, the rich personalization of listening to each individual person is lost in this type of sharing, but, when used judiciously, it enables us to expand our narrow viewpoint into a panoramic visage of faces all shining in a chorus of communal chronicle.

5. Accept Internal Cycles and Patterns

As soon as we observe ourselves repeating a cycle or behavior pattern, our first impulse is often that we need alter what we are doing if the behavior in questions is “unhealthy.” Although this can definitely have its merits, I find myself wondering at the transformational power we may encounter if we instead give ourselves time and space to fully appreciate the internal bouncing from one behavior to the next that we may be doing. Our inner world is just as replete with connection as our outer world.

Where do you experience a sense of interconnectedness most fully? The examples I’ve included are mostly tangible and literal. How you elevate the experience to a psychic dimension? What insights about the human condition have you derived from witnessing the fact that each of us is innately part of the whole?

Sacred Spiritual Growth

Resourcing Our Spiritual Needs: Experiences of Awe and Wonder

For today’s #SacredSpiritualGrowth, I’ll be expanding on my previous post about spiritual needs to discuss how we can meet one of the needs I proposed: awe and wonder. I believe there is something in us that draws us towards experiences that make us marvel. Human creativity is incredible, but I’ve had these desires met more fully in nature, in spontaneous encounters, and through a deeper understanding of biological processes.

1. Spend Time in Nature

Most of my experiences of awe and wonder have occurred outdoors. The most beautiful place I’ve ever been was in the West Virginia mountains, where the lush tree cover, rolling peaks and robin’s egg blue sky moved me to tears. It was more than a pretty place; I felt the presence of the Divine in every direction.

We don’t have to travel far to find these experiences; the ever-changing earth provides a bounty of beauty and inspiration. I’ve grown a bit weary of thunderstorms that seem to come ever more frequently with a threat of tornado damage, but I know as a child I rushed outside at the first hint of wind. The intensity of the smell of rain on the horizon calls up my rawness and earthiness. I’ve been close enough to lightning strikes a few times to feel my hair standing on end; that certainly caused a reaction!

The cycles of nature are also inspirational. Who among us hasn’t savored the sunset or wished to freeze time in the light of a sky full of stars under a full moon? The first blossom of spring or snowflake of winter ushers us in to a spiral of change; we’ve been here before but the experience feels new each circle.

2. Open to Spontaneity

I am not a spontaneous person, but I revel in the unexpected moments of grace. I once traveled through several states on an Amtrak train (highly recommended!). I met a woman upon boarding and we got to talking a bit. We both had to transfer in a major city; once we arrived there, we meandered around taking in the sights. We got caught in a torrential downpour with no umbrellas, and looked like the cat dragged us in as we headed back to the terminal. We laughed at the absurdity of it all. At the end, she asked if she could take my photo and explained she was on a spiritual journey after losing her son, and was collecting memories along the way for a scrapbook. I wish I’d been able to keep in touch with her. There was something in the fleeting nature of our connection that felt divine. The strangers I’ve met in moments like these sometimes feel like time travelers or alternate dimension voyagers who just popped in and out of my life to remind me there are billions of people who I will never speak to or meet, but who are gazing at the same sun and the same moon in my timeline.

3. Detailing the Life-Form

I am fascinated by biological processes, both in individual organisms and ecological systems. The more I’ve explored the nuances of the human brain, or the way in which animals cooperate for survival, the more I’ve been overwhelmed at Gaia’s realm.  Science plays a role here in uncovering natural phenomena that can be mind-blowing in complexity and unexpectedness. Children have a natural curiosity about how things work; for some reason I think many of us this fades with age. Returning to natural phenomena with an adult’s education and understanding allows me to put into perspective how small and short my own existence is, and to see the world around me with a renewed experience of amazement.

How do you cultivate experiences of awe and wonder? What takes your breath away? Where and when do you find yourself swept away in the moment, simultaneously acutely aware of your finite and limited place in the universe, but also settled into a deep awareness of the inner-connectedness of the cosmos?