O M G! I don’t know about you, but it can be a real struggle for me to not fill up all of my time being productive. I am the kind of gal that has lists for her lists. I like to check things off, add more, and then check them off again. Sometimes my list is so long that there is absolutely no way I can accomplish it all. About a quarter of the things on the list have nothing to do with me but have to do with others (kids, husband, friends) and another quarter are things I don’t want to do but feel obligated to handle.
In her best-selling book on reclaiming creativity, The Artist’s Way, author Julia Cameron advises people to avoid the “virtue trap.” That’s what she calls the impulse to fill our free time with “productive” activities rather than the space to reflect, create, or dream. When we are learning how to be creative, she says, having time to putter, to browse, to space out, to do nothing, is crucial. If we don’t give ourselves that time, and cram it instead with chores that make us feel like we’re “doing something,” then we’ve missed an important opportunity.
But these concepts don’t only apply to people trying to become more creative. They actually apply to us all. Along with our work lives and our love lives and our family lives, each of us has a spiritual life. Or rather, a spiritual need. All of us are born with the need to get in touch periodically with a higher power, whatever shape that takes for us individually. Setting aside time each day to be still, to get quiet, and connect with whatever Higher Power we believe in is vital to keep us balanced, emotionally whole, and able to give more to the people around us. When we don’t take time for this, the rest of our life tends to suffer. We get grouchy. We feel depleted. We may get a good night’s sleep, but somehow we don’t feel fully rested.
People in twelve step programs actually have a saying for this. “Don’t just do something. Sit there.” This can be soooo hard for me. Time and how to spend it wisely is my obsession. Any time I can carve out a spare hour for myself I usually want to devote it to something I should do, instead of something spiritual. As in, I should work out, I should run that errand across town, I should call back my friend, I should finally clean out that closet, I should take the cat for her check-up, schedule my mammogram, buy that gift, and the list goes on and on. There is so much to do, and so little time, that choosing to spend it on spirituality seems, well, a little selfish. And then I wonder why I feel emptied out, on edge, unable to take a full breath.
But when we can wrap our heads around the fact that time spent on spirituality is also a should, we can start to take steps to integrate it into our lives. And not just when we get handed a spare hour, but on a consistent basis. And anything counts. You don’t have to be a practicing anything to become more spiritual. Sometimes it can simply be taking time to stop, reflect, and breathe. To take a hike in nature and watch birds soar in the sky. To step into our backyard or take a new route home. To turn off our phone and devote an hour to quiet and no screen time. Think of something that feels nurturing and soul-replenishing. Is it swimming laps? Is it knitting? Is it trying out a new recipe or even going to see an old movie by yourself?
Here are some suggestions for those of us trying to carve out some time for our spiritual lives. As always, take your time with these. Baby steps are just as significant!
1.Take a hike. If you’re really struggling with taking time out for your spiritual life, taking a hike in nature is a good first activity. This way you’ll gain the benefit of “doing something” (exercise) with time spent near a Higher Power (in nature.)
2. Make it fun. In The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron talks about something called “the artist date.” It’s a set amount of time – say, one hour a week – during which you take yourself on a date. It’s time just for you. And nothing “productive” is allowed. Think strolling around a botanical garden, or checking out a museum exhibit, or even just browsing stores in a cool neighborhood. Anything that demands your complete focus and draws your attention to something bigger than you can count here.
3. Write it out. Keeping a journal, or even a gratitude list, and making a habit of writing in it every day is a spiritual activity. When we write down the events of our lives and remark on what we find thankful for in each activity, we are acknowledging the presence of the Divine in our lives.
4. Learn to say no. When you’ve scheduled time to visit that great exhibit you’ve been hearing about and your sister-in-law suddenly asks you to help her move, it can be easy to give in to what you think you should do. Don’t do it. Learning to say no is like strengthening a muscle. It may feel difficult but the more you do it to preserve your spiritual time the better you will feel.
For the last 50 days I have spent 30-mintues each morning meditating, journaling and praying. What I’ve found is that I have my energy, enthusiasm and sense of overall peacefulness. I was not a big meditator but I started with an App called Insight Timer. Right now I am doing a 40-day meditation program from Sound True that teaches you to meditate, to feel your body, to notice your feelings and to ground yourself. If you are even slightly interested, I invite you to try it out. If you’d like more help integrating your spiritual life into your daily routine, you can schedule a thirty-minute complimentary session with me here. Be restful, be peaceful, be free. Let’s get spiritual.