I understood suffering and sadness from a young age. My childhood wasn’t traumatic or more difficult than most, but I somehow had a level of empathy and sensitivity that was premature for my years. At age ten, I asked my dad why baseball players got paid millions of dollars, but children around the world were homeless and starving. I agonized over the fish he caught on a hot summer’s day when he took me out on the boat. I felt the pain of writhing worms on baited hooks, of lonely dogs in adoption shelters, of less-fortunate kids, and elderly home residents. I’ve been that way for as long as I can remember.
When I began to realize the inevitability of my own sadness and grief, I turned morose and cynical and called myself a “realist.” I drank and tried drugs to banish the realization from my mind, got perfect grades and sculpted my body to strengthen the illusion of control, and when none of these worked, I hit rock bottom. And when I hit bottom, I became willing to consider another possibility. Desperate for answers, longing for comfort, and disillusioned by religious experiences, I turned to spirituality.
The spiritual life doesn’t promise that sorrow or discomfort will never knock on your door. If anything, you become even more aware of its existence. But it awakens you to the beauty that lives alongside the sorrow, and it strengthens your trust in the process of life.
These last seven months have brought more challenges, more sadness, more opportunities to strengthen and exercise my spiritual muscle fibers than my total 40 years combined. In hindsight, I’m very grateful, but in the midst of the muck, all I really wanted was a way out. Instead, I used the following tools for coping:
I reached out to the people who love and support me. I asked for help when I needed it, hugs when I needed them. It’s remarkable the number of family, friends, and acquaintances who WANT to share their empathy and experiences.
I read spiritual texts. My go-to sources are A Course in Miracles the Yoga Sutras, and the Bhagavad Gita—dozens of interpretations are available. Find a book that enlightens and inspires you and refer to it religiously. These are guidebooks for joyful living.
I ate healthy food. Highly processed and sugar-laden foods depress our mood. Fruits and vegetables uplift and inspire the mind. The more of these you consume in harder times, the better.
I journaled. I wrote out my thoughts and feelings on paper and have done so since I was eight. This simple tool is remarkably therapeutic. Plus, oftentimes solutions or resolutions surface that weren’t accessible before.
I did a little yoga and meditation every day. Basic stretching, simple postures, and deep breathing soothe the nervous system and calm an agitated mind. Meditation connects us to our source, which is free of sorrow and worry.
For me, that’s spirituality. These simple tools have carried me through all sorts of challenges with grace and a few awkward moments. It is a process of evolution that I deeply cherish.
When it comes to spiritual matters, a little bit goes a long way. Every time you step on your mat, read a verse from an uplifting book, or bring your awareness to your breath in a moment of introspection, you invest in your soul's best interests.
Could there be a more worthy investment?