Archive for the ‘spiritual practices’ Category

Spirituality in the Secular Halloween   Leave a comment

I don’t know about you, but Halloween just may be near the top of the list of my favorite holidays. It’s just so much fun! This year, for various reasons, I’m being a little bit more contemplative about the holiday, though, and I’ve realized that even the secular Halloween that we celebrate is a spiritual celebration. Yes, I know that there is a religious connection in All Souls Day and All Saints Day, but let’s face it, we are talking about the dress-up-in-costume, carve-a-pumpkin, get/give/eat-candy minor secular holiday. (Although for the candy industry I’m sure this is not a “minor” holiday.) Our customs at and around Halloween-time are celebrations of community, creativity, sharing, connection with nature, and life/death. Sounds spiritual to me.

Especially in modern western society, how often is it not just acceptable, but encouraged, to go up to the doorsteps of friends and strangers where you are greeted with a smile and not a scowl or deadpan face? In the practice of trick-or-treating we do just that. We may not know our neighbors well anymore, but in this open celebration of community sharing, we can still connect on some level. Not only are our doors opened to trick-or-treaters, but we give out candy and other treats. I hate to say it, but modern western society is really bad at sharing and giving, except for when it comes to treats on Halloween. Also, while trick-or-treating or handing out candy, we actually notice each other, even if it is just to marvel at a particularly cute/scary/creative costume, or acknowledge with a smile or head tilt that we are engaging in a common activity. On any given day, we don’t notice each other. Our eyes slide over the people around us without a second thought. Or we people watch but without interaction, without the acknowledgement of what we have in common.

Not only do we connect with each other on this one night, but many seasonal/Halloween activities connect us with nature to some degree as well. We carve pumpkins, bob for apples, wander through corn mazes, decorate with corn stalks and gourds, and put (fake) cobwebs UP instead of cursing the real ones. Even as disconnected as we are from the cycles of nature and harvest, we retain these traditions. Hey, it’s better than nothing. Halloween also involves a lot of creativity, whether it be in creating a costume, putting up decorations, or carving a pumpkin. These are really life-affirming activities. I think that is probably part of the reason that there are so many of us who just love this holiday and think it is so much fun (even if musings like this don’t usually enter the mind)!

Posted October 28, 2011 by mayakey in musings, spiritual practices

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Practicing Meditation vs. The Practice of Meditation   Leave a comment

For the last several months I have been working towards a goal of daily meditation. Even knowing that as my focus moves on to other things this practice will almost certainly slip a bit (especially Fridays and Saturdays), I am proud to be able to say that I meditate every day. Unfortunately, I say that with some sense that I’m not being honest because while I may be practicing meditation I have to confess that I haven’t committed to the practice of meditation.

This is definitely an example of the importance of commitment. For as much as I value meditation for its calming properties for mind, body, and spirit, I’ve never been able to sustain daily meditation long term. I think the biggest problem was that I never truly tried. When I would set myself a goal to meditate, it was “nearly daily” as I assumed that I wouldn’t manage it on Friday and Saturday, that it would feel silly on Sunday after being in Mass for an hour, and that I would have a good “reason” for not meditating occasionally. Doomed to failure with that built-in lack of commitment. And it always failed; I never even made it to the 6 month mark and my goal reward. This time around I made a commitment for every day. Sometimes it’s a timed seated meditation, sometimes a decade or two of the rosary, and sometimes I just lay for a few minutes in the corpse pose or legs-up-the-wall corpse pose and focus on my breathing, but the point is I did it.

Daily meditation feels so good, too! Usually I build my goals as a “two steps forward, one step back” progression, knowing myself well enough to know that once my focus eases even good habits that I enjoy slack off a bit. So I’m aware that I’ll probably start missing days, but in this case I think it’ll be less dramatic than usual because I am really feeling the benefits of this practice and I really want to continue it. I am definitely more calm, have a much much easier time centering during the day, and have improved body awareness.

But for all these benefits, honestly I’m only going through the motions; imagine how awesome it will be if I can get myself to commit to the practice. What I mean by these ticky-tack words is that while I’m sitting quietly, I have been utterly unsuccessful at getting my mind to wander less. There was a time in my life when that was easy, then I became an adult with responsibilities that are always on my mind. Now the timer may be set for 10 minutes, but I’m probably lucky to get 30 seconds of actual inner peace. My commitment was getting me to the game, but it isn’t helping me play. So I think the next commitment needs to be to actually practice daily meditation and not just go through the motions.

Posted August 22, 2011 by mayakey in centering, goals, spiritual practices

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Meditation While Weeding?   Leave a comment

I’ve heard people say that they find doing housework to be somewhat meditative. I’ve never really believed them. Sure, sometimes my mind wanders in la-la land while doing chores and thus gets a nice relaxing moment while my body is laboring, but I wouldn’t consider that meditation. If I try to really focus on the task at hand my stress level goes up, which I would not consider an indication of a meditative state. Besides, most of the time I’m trying for quality and speed together, so it’s the analytical mind that takes over. And that is definitely not a form of meditation.

So it was a pleasant surprise this past weekend when I settled down to work on the really annoying weed patches in the lawn, and found myself so engrossed in the task that my mind went blank for long stretches of time. (Then I would become aware that I needed to move to a new plot of grass.) My eyes and fingers didn’t really need an active brain to dictate what to pull since I’m pulling piles and piles of one specific plant (filaree, which is really easy to spot). And being out in nature, feeling dirt between my fingers and the sun on my back, and smelling the sent of damp turf also encouraged meditation. I can almost understand why my dad kept his “digging grass” project going for as long as I can remember. I personally do not want this to turn into a long term project, but at least now I can maybe understand what previously baffled me.

Or I started to understand until I realized that my mouth and throat were dry (especially bad on the morning of a 4-hour singing event), and tried to stand up. I had been weeding for an hour and a half, and my body HURT! So my recommendation to my self and anyone who plans to do some gardening/yardwork meditation: bring a timer or make sure that your spouse hears you ask them to call you in at a specific time.

Posted April 25, 2011 by mayakey in gardening, spiritual practices

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Pray, Work   Leave a comment

“Pray as though everything depended on God. Work as though everything depended on you.”

                                                                      -or-

“Pray as if everything depends on you and act as if everything depends on God.”

                                                                      -or-

“Act as if everything depended on you; trust as if everything depended on God.”

attributed to St. Ignatius of Loyola and/or St. Augustine

Posted April 8, 2011 by mayakey in quotes, spiritual practices

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Lenten Fasts   Leave a comment

The season of Lent is a season of sacrifice, formation, and renewal. Lenten sacrifices get a bad rap, in my opinion. It seems that it is popular for people to give up things like chocolate, wine, desserts, smoking, etc. with no intention to use this period of sacrifice to bring about personal renewal. Without a purpose, what good is sacrifice? Sacrifice for the purpose of sacrifice seems rather pointless. But last year I had the realization that those very same sacrifices, even if made only for the 40 days, can be part of a very positive spiritual experience even if they are not meant to be permanent sacrifices. It is interesting that the sacrifices that have become synonymous with Lent in popular culture are actually not explicitly a part of Catholic dogma. Catholics are called to fasting, and that fasting can include many things. For years I have been distracted by the need to come up with something to sacrifice during Lent, and as a result completely missed the point and ended up sacrificing nothing, really. This year is different. Granted, I’m not on a good start since the first week fell flat, but this is a work in progress.

By fasting instead of sacrificing, I can make a connection beyond myself, and not just stay caught up in myself. Fasting helps to reduce the distractions that keep us from truly connecting with ourselves and our spiritual nature, and provides a means for solidarity with the majority of the world that have less than ourselves.

Food related fasting has been a challenge, since I live and eat with someone who has no desire/intention to join me in the fasting. Note that I’m talking Catholic-style fasting here, which means limiting food to three simple meals on fasting days. The idea of fasting in solidarity with the third world has long held appeal to me, and has usually meant that we eat a lot of rice and beans, or just cobbled together vegetable dinners during Lent (and the rest of the year as well, really). I really need to formalize it, and I love the CRS idea this year of making a meal each week that is representative of a typical meal for a poor family in a third world country. Maybe that way I can have my sacrifice and solidarity, and my husband can avoid any fasting or abstinence, all in the same meal! Of course, I missed the first Friday, and I’ll be out of town spending time with my aunt and grandma for the second Friday so this won’t start until week 3.

In addition to attempting to do solidarity meals, I am fasting from television this year, meaning no TV on Fridays and less TV the rest of the week. The purpose is not actually to watch less TV, but to remove that distraction that keeps me from truly connecting with my own life, self, and loves. My hope is that by reducing that artificial stimulation, I can better be stimulated by the things that I really love like my mind, my husband, good food, beautiful plants, etc. With the exception of the 1 and a half TV shows that I actually enjoy watching (I miss more CSI episodes than I watch, due to choir, so it only partially counts), when the TV is on I have to admit it is usually just making my head spin and not really adding much value to my life.

 

Posted March 13, 2011 by mayakey in spiritual practices

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Personal Mantras   Leave a comment

Everyone should have a personal mantra or two. Or more if that’s your style. This week’s Mark and Angel Hack Life post is a mantra for each week of the year. I don’t think I could handle one for each week, but I have found that having a few mantras embedded in my being serves as a very good touchpoint and certainly helps keep me going.

My long-term mantras include:

  • Nothing bad every happens. It may hurt like hell, but that doesn’t make it bad.
  • I am a competent person, and I can do it. (whatever it is)
  • Everything in moderation, even moderation.

The list of my short term mantras is longer, and I can’t remember every mantra I’ve ever used, so I’m not going to try. Sometimes you just need a mantra to repeat for a few days, weeks, or months, and then you are ready to move on.

According to the dictionary, “mantra” comes from a Sanskrit word meaning “instrument of thought”. In practical terms a mantra is a word or phrase that is repeated in order to get some benefit like centering, motivation, or comfort. Mantras, and their use, are also very personal.

In my experience, the definition of mantra could be stretched a bit to include an emotional repetition as well, even if it doesn’t have the same phrase attached. An example in my life would be from back in my teen/early twenty years when (like most teens) I used to think I was really ugly. In order to overcome that I changed my mentality to be positive instead of critical when I saw myself in the mirror, and in short order I was able to recognize my beauty. There wasn’t really a set phrase, but rather an emotional action. The constant repetition forced to me change the way I was thinking overall and had a profound long-term impact.

Posted January 17, 2011 by mayakey in centering, psychology, spiritual practices

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The Opposite Of A Christmas and Easter Catholic   Leave a comment

So if the term “Christmas and Easter Catholic” is used to refer to Catholics who attend Mass one or two times a year, what is the term for someone who attends Mass every week but is NOT going to Christmas Mass?

I personally believe that everyone, of any religious tradition, needs to take time off every once in a while. I don’t just mean skipping a service when traveling or otherwise unable to attend, I mean just taking a week or two off. I took a couple of years off back when I was in high school, and found that my faith was absolutely strengthened by that experience and the joy of coming back “into the fold”. I remember how happy and excited I was when I was on my own in college and could go back to Mass. Ever since I have made sure to just skip Mass for no reason a couple of times a year because then it doesn’t just fade into the background of life, and it doesn’t become something I “have” to do. Take a break in order to keep it special.

One of my many mantras is: “Everything in moderation, even moderation.” In an odd way, I think that applies to the issue of religious traditions. Sometimes you have to do something extreme for reinvigoration, and sometimes you have to take a break for the same reason. Once a tradition looses its meaning, the tradition has lost its soul. I have no time or energy for soul-less traditions. So I come to my decision this Christmas. I’m not sure, but I think I may have missed one Christmas Mass in the last 10 years. But this year since I’m not in the choir and can’t attend at my home parish, and would have to sacrifice family time for church attendance, I decided that it is time for a break. After all, now that I sing in the choir, I can’t just wake up on a Sunday morning and decide that I don’t want to go. My ability to skip Mass for no reason has been severely compromised, so I’ll skip a Mass that I don’t HAVE to attend, and that would be Christmas. Easter, however is a whole different matter.

Posted December 24, 2010 by mayakey in musings, psychology, spiritual practices

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Happy New Year (Yuletide Greetings)   Leave a comment

I celebrate the winter solstice as the end of my personal year and the start of the next, so happy new year to all.

I have ended the year with a month-long purge of stuff in my life in order to make room for the new that is to come. Now we will light candles in every room of the house to bring light into this longest night of the year and bless the home with the positive energy for the coming year. I pray that the positive energy extends out to everyone that I touch (figuratively).

Posted December 21, 2010 by mayakey in spiritual practices

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No More Excuses, Just Do It   Leave a comment

I declared the month of October to be “No More Excuses, Just Do It” month for me. You know how sometimes you have to really focus on something that you want to change to get momentum for the change? You know how it’s harder to regain a good habit than it is to lose a good habit? Well that’s what I need to do, and I’m sick of internal excuses.

The relatively easy stuff that I am focusing on this month is regaining the good habits. During this whole move process I did manage to maintain lots of good habits, like eating a vegetable snack instead of crackers in the afternoons; but I also had to drop some good habits. Some things had to be dropped from my regular routine in order to have time to clean the new house, take care of transferring utilities etc., select and install the new flooring, pack, move, unpack, and take care of the little things that come up during a move. What got pushed aside? Running, strength training, meditating at night, and getting to bed before midnight. Since I was getting to bed late, I was having trouble getting up in the morning and not getting to work before 9, which then made evenings feel frantic. As soon as the unpacking was mostly done I started running again because the urge was so strong, but everything else is still a struggle to get back.

The more challenging stuff that I want to hit hard and make some changes are the lifestyle changes that I’ve been “trying” to make, but failing. These include journalling regularly, and not eating dinner in front of the TV. They were both goals from last February that I have not been able to meet yet. Not meeting them has become a psychological burden because they are important to me and I am upset with myself for not committing.

So, without further ado:

I, Maya Key, hereby commit, during this month of October 2010, to do the following:

  • Wake up with my alarm (7ish) and actually get out of bed
  • Get to work well before 9
  • Leave work by 5:45
  • Restart my strength training regimen
  • Not eat dinner in front of the TV
  • Meditate for 10 minutes every night
  • Get to bed by 11 or 11:30
  • Journal on weekends or as needed

Posted October 6, 2010 by mayakey in goals, psychology, spiritual practices

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Smudge Ceremony Recap   Leave a comment

I didn’t have time to do a recap of our smudge ceremony right after it happened, so I’ll do that today. The short description was that it was AWESOME! I heartily recommend doing something similar to this before moving into a new home.

Things were a little rushed at the beginning since the carpet installation wasn’t done until around 4, I was only about a quarter of the way finished replacing the baseboards at that time, and the smudge ceremony was scheduled to start at 6:30. As a result, I was literally mopping the floors as the first few people arrived. I felt that mopping the floors before/as people arrived satisfied the water element part of the ceremony, and so I decided that there really was no need for any additional (symbolic) washing to be incorporated in the ceremony. To be completely honest the idea of doing any symbolic washing or water sprinkling was actually kind of repulsive to me at the time since I was frantically trying to get the floors clean enough for a floor picnic and still had (have) lots more cleaning to do in the house.

As our friends arrived, we just relaxed and talked. It was exactly the kind of happy atmosphere that was needed. The kids were running around playing, the adults sat on the floor or the few chairs or stood and talked. The house was full of sun, friends, happiness, and laughter. Our friends definitely helped us to start our new home with positive energy and good spirit. Eventually, I went around the house and opened all of the windows wide to let the breeze come in, incorporating the element of air.

After opening the windows, the actual smudging part started. Only a few of us actually walked room to room, which was good since it would have been way to crowded otherwise. I was a bit nervous about lighting the smudge stick since I’d never done it before. It lit and flared up a bit as I frantically tried to blow it out. There were little tongues of flame that kept dancing around it. I did finally manage to get the flame out, and there were little embers left in the tip giving off smoke. (There was lots of joking about the odor of the smoke; it really was just sage.) We started in the entry to the house. My sister-in-law was in charge of ringing the singing bowl to fill the room with it’s clear sound, while I walked around the periphery of the room fanning the smoke around the room. We did the entry, living room, hallway, worked our way around through all of the bedrooms and bathrooms, and then came into the dining room and kitchen. Since the smudge stick was still going strong I decided to go outside, too. So we did the garage and the front walkway, and then all around the back of the house and the back planters. I tried snuffing the smudge stick, but I couldn’t put it out, so we placed it in the clay bowl and left it in the entry just outside the front door while everyone ate dinner. 

Dinner was fun and chaotic, with lots of good food and good conversation as we picnicked on the brand new cork floor in the living room, with light still coming in the big bay window. As the light faded outside the ceremony tailed off and people went home, leaving behind a house that was absolutely ready for our stuff (and us) to move in the following day to start making a new home.

I really do believe that this ceremony was necessary, spiritually. For me personally, I was still having trouble seeing the positive in the house and not the problems and the dirt. But by the time the smudging was done I really was feeling good deep inside myself, and I was ready to embrace this house and make it my home. By the time the picnic was over, I was feeling comfortable and happy. I suspect this ceremony is also why on moving day I was already casually referring to this house as “home” and the old house as “the other house.”

Posted August 22, 2010 by mayakey in home, spiritual practices

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