Spiritual Practices Hidden in Plain Sight

Friday, October 3, 2014 - 5:24 am

Spiritual Practices Hidden in Plain Sight

Not all spiritual practices are grand or even visible. Not all of them take place in beautiful cathedrals or even sun-dappled mountain passes. Some of them are outrageously mundane in their transformative power. Some of them keep us connected. Some of them keep us alive. Here are five moments from my very average week:
I went to Target last Sunday with my daughter Maya and managed to only buy the items on my list. It was a small miracle. On the one hand, my usual lack of willpower there is worthy of a humbling laugh: upon crossing the threshold of those automatic doors and shopping carts, I am suddenly seized with a need for leggings and greeting cards and some new cleaning product that is going to make our lives easier and, of course, baskets to organize all of this stuff that I didn’t really need in the first place. On the other hand, it’s pretty serious. Having too much stuff overwhelms me. Spending too much money limits my freedom. And the emotional experience of binge shopping (something I actually don’t really do anywhere but in that “red hole”) feels terrible.

(Bing / Flickr (CC BY 2.0).)

I took a deep breath before I ate my scrambled eggs. I looked at them — appreciating the yellow and the white and the little specks of asparagus I’d cut up and sprinkled in. I smelled them and felt the warm air rising from them. I admired the avocado slices beside them, remembered how Maya’s first taste beyond breast milk was the rich green smoothness of a California avocado, surrounded by friends that are family. Just to eat, just to have such rich tastes and smells and textures in my life, is a massive gift. Because I’m racing and unconscious like the rest of the human population, I too often forgo the most frequent opportunity I have to honor the small and sacred experience in my life.

A flyer with the portraits of two nurses from a hospital in Kenema, Sierra Leone who died from ebola. (Luigid Baldelli / Medici con l’Africa Cuamm / Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).)

I struck up a conversation with my Uber driver. Turns out he’s from Sierra Leone and had just gotten off the phone with his family there. The ebola crisis is not a fear-filled abstraction to them; it is a shattering reality. He’s sending money. He’s praying for their survival. He’s a liberal Muslim and his wife is a conservative Christian, so they married in her tradition. He said that Sierra Leone is one of the most diverse countries in African when it comes to religious faiths and that they’ve done a remarkable job of living side by side. The common evil now is ebola. When I got out, I didn’t over think it and just handed him . “Next time you send money to your family, please include this and tell them that I’m thinking of them,” I told him. I have no idea if it will make a difference to them, but it made a difference to me. It made me feel like a person whose outside, however fumbling or inadequate, mirrors her inside.

(TED / Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).)

I say thank you over and over again to my partner, John. It’s a practice that we started without planning and now cling to like a marital life preserver. When we can do all that needs to be done to have two careers and raise one baby and maintain one house and plan for one uncertain financial future and still curl up on the couch at the end of the day and not hate one another, it’s usually because we’ve made space for enough grace and expressed a critical amount of gratitude in the last 12 hours. We thank one another for even the most mundane and expected acts of service. We’ve learned that “thanks for taking out the cat litter” is actually a kind of praise song.

I study my ten-month-old daughter study the world. It is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced, witnessing her unceasing exploration, the tiny bud of her determination sprouting bigger and bigger everyday. This week, she learned how to turn the pages on her books. I can almost see the synapses in her brain sparking and connecting, like a neon-lit superhighway of human discovery. The speed and breadth of the puzzles she is solving are beyond my comprehension. And beyond my comprehension is the divine.

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is a columnist for On Being. Her column appears every Friday.

Her newest book, The New Better Off: Reinventing the American Dream, explores how people are redefining the American dream (think more fulfillment, community, and fun, less debt, status, and stuff). Courtney is the co-founder of the Solutions Journalism Network and a strategist for the TED Prize. She is also co-founder and partner at Valenti Martin Media and FRESH Speakers Bureau, and editor emeritus at Feministing.com.

Courtney has authored/edited five books, including Do It Anyway: The New Generation of Activists, and Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters: How the Quest for Perfection is Harming Young Women. Her work appears frequently in The New York Times and The Washington Post. Courtney has appeared on the TODAY Show, Good Morning America, MSNBC, and The O’Reilly Factor, and speaks widely at conferences and colleges. She is the recipient of the Elie Wiesel Prize in Ethics and a residency from the Rockefeller Foundation’s Bellagio Centre. She lives with her partner in life and work, John Cary, in Oakland, and their daughters Maya and Stella. Read more about her work at www.courtneyemartin.com.

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