Working Hard at Spirituality by Sara Frykenberg


I sometimes have to work hard at spirituality.
… And I haven’t been.

I have realized that lately, when I sit down to write blogs for this community, I have a difficult time incorporating one of the most basic FAR themes into my pieces: religion. I identify as agnostic—but that’s not really the problem. I am a spiritual person, or, have been. I was a deeply religious person as adolescent and young adult. After leaving my childhood faith, though it did take time, I was able to find a safe outlet to first, participate, and then, flourish in my spiritual life. I have found joy in deep meditations and rigorous, physical spiritual discipline. I believe in larger powers that are relational, shared, intentional, and sustaining. I appreciate the rich flavor to life that I have only had access to through the spiritual. But, at least right now, I am not participating in it. And to be honest, I sometimes think I am not fully participating in me.

I recently did an elimination type diet recommended to me by a friend. I will not go into great detail here about the diet itself, accept to say that the purpose of the (temporary) diet is to eliminate inflammatory foods (so to discover sensitivities), break sugar addiction, and generally, to help you regain discipline or control in eating matters. I found the experience, in terms of food, moderately informative: my body likes veggies (‘big surprise’), but only with enough fat too (helpful), and really doesn’t like dairy (I knew this but had suppressed the knowledge due to love of cheese and ice cream). On a spiritual and emotional level, however, what could be metaphorically understood as my prolonged and sustained “intake of strict discipline” was much more informative.

I removed a great deal of food choices from my diet. But what did this really mean for me? I removed a coping mechanism: a way of dealing with emotion and stress; and this was frequently very, very stressful. I had to work harder to eat in a compliant way. I couldn’t fall back on a latte to cope with tiredness or exhaustion. Sugar no longer covered depression, or added “flavor,” to my life. I had to sleep. I had to spend (a lot more) time cooking. I had to think about my body, my feelings, and my needs—and it had been quite some time since I’d done this.

Importantly, this diet was not a cure all for meeting these needs. It helped me to uncover my body, mind, and spirit from a particular kind of dietary haze. But after an emotional outpouring following completion of my elimination goal, my brother asked me: “so, you took all of this [food, coping, habit, etc.] out… what did you put back in? Did you put anything in?”

I need to put *something back in; and I know what it is… but accessing it seems like such hard work, and I already work hard. I’m a new momma. My daughter is about 20 months old, and sometimes, all of my thought, emotion, life, revolves around this little person that has so many needs. I am also a scholar and professor. I have been working with a team to build and implement a new religious studies major in “Social Justice and Sexual Diversity” (so basically a Queer studies in Religion major) at our Catholic school for the past three years. I have also been teaching in this major, all in the wake of the Trump-pocalypse of the American government and right-wing efforts to sometimes systematically, and sometimes brutishly dismantle the rights and safety of LGBTQ people, people of color, and women in the United States. Sitting down to write my blog this week in light of Trump’s declaration of a military ban on Transgendered people’s service, yet another cruel healthcare bill (thankfully defeated), and another cabinet layoff, my first impulse was type out 600-800 words in expletives and leave it at that. I think it is no coincidence that after giving birth to my daughter, I lost probably, 12-13 pounds over the course of a year, and after Trump was elected I gained 10 pounds in four months. It sometimes feels like a lot of work just to function day to day.

But while I feel like I have to work hard to put spiritual discipline back into my life, the truth is, my body, my mind, my spirit, my writing, my scholarship, my teaching, my relationships, my mommying… all of these things need that spirituality. Spirit makes things easier, or, if not easier, possible, connected, or functional. Whatever this place is, the place where I am not always accessing me, the place where I can’t put in the effort for spirit, is not functional or easy. It’s writer’s block. It’s snippiness. It’s grief. It’s alienation from. And perhaps worst, it’s passionless and passion-eating.

I am not passionless. That’s not me. “Me” is intimately conceived of and a part of my passions. And despite my hesitation, when it comes down to it, I am a hard worker too. I just need to not work so hard at making up for or covering over the hole that a lack of spiritual practice is leaving behind.

Sara Frykenberg, Ph.D.: Graduate of the Women’s Studies in Religion program at Claremont Graduate University, Sara’s research considers the way in which process feminist theo/alogies reveal a kind transitory violence present in the liminal space between abusive paradigms and new non-abusive creations: a counter-necessary violence. In addition to her feminist, theo/alogical and pedagogical pursuits, Sara is also an avid fan of science fiction and fantasy literature, and a level one Kundalini yoga teacher.

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Categories: Feminism, Feminism and Religion, General, Spirituality

Tags: , , , , ,

8 replies

  1. I think a lot of us feel the malaise you describe. It all just feels like too much. And by this I mean the day to day US and world political situations.

    Liked by 4 people

  2. Thanks for this post! Speaks to my condition, too!

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  3. After more than six months, I still wake up in the morning wondering “how on earth did this man get elected?” Yes, it’s a malaise, and I’m glad you’ve found a solution for yourself. I guess we all need to find a way–preferably one with at least spiritual overtones–to keep on keeping on. Thanks for the encouragement.

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  4. Maybe being a mom and creating a new studies program is your spiritual discipline. Being present is such a practice for me right now. And even 3 minutes of mindfulness meditation can bring me back to presence. And congratulations on your work with food. That’s such a big one right now. I wish you all the best.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Thank you for sharing so openly. Indeed, in busy lives, it is easy for aspects of our lives — even very important ones — to get inadvertently set aside. I liked this part: “But after an emotional outpouring following completion of my elimination goal, my brother asked me: “so, you took all of this [food, coping, habit, etc.] out… what did you put back in? Did you put anything in?”” Your brother is wise, eh? I was taught in my Ayurveda training that Americans especially can get obsessed with removing certain foods from our diets and that very often what we need instead of ingesting the foods that are more appropriate for our body type AND our mental/emotional/spiritual needs … but even then, that we are often missing SOMA (“it stands for all that is gentle, beautiful, delicate, and sweet of temperament … also a synonym for the Moon”).

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  6. If I may offer my humble opinion, with the disclaimer that I am not a religious scholar and I’ve not been part of an organized religion (or any religion, really) for over 25 years, and I only recently started paying attention to my spirituality, which I neglected for most of my life. Phew! Now that I’ve got that off my chest, Aloha! I read your post and I thought to myself, “oh, no, she’s just giving herself a hard time, the sweet lady,” it’s a tendency often found in hard workers, by the way :), but I told myself that I had to say something!( <– this is one of the ways in which my newfound closeness with my spirituality has manifested itself, slightly busy-body-ish, but only with the best of intentions, I swear) But back to you, sorry. I think your spirituality is alive and well and if I may be so bold as to suggest that maybe it's harder to recognize outside of the faith you grew up with? Deepak Chopra said something that changed my life when I first struck out to find my own definition of spirit and the associated -ality, he said, "religion is belief in someone else's experience. Spirituality is having your own experience. And Atheism is no experience, only measurement." I'm sure that every time you look into your beautiful daughters face and hear her laugh and watch her figure out this new place that she's landed care of your uterus, I'm sure you feel the reverence that is your spirituality and your personal connection with your higher power. I believe that all of us have a unique relationship with the God of our understanding and choosing, but with our lives being so hectic and so many responsibilities and things to do and see and cook and still find time to sleep, organized religion is a safe white noise that allows us to forgo any guilt we may have felt if we hadn't gone to that church service and had instead continued on what we had been assured since birth was surely the road to ruin. I don't believe in a vengeful God or one who would inflict petty punishment on his children for just trying to keep up with life. I know that the love the God of my understanding has for us is unconditional – and He's not at all offended when you do what you need to do. I'm sorry, I know this is sort of a ramble, but my real point (FINALLY, right?!) is just that you shouldn't worry about your spirituality or tying it to a religion or mentioning it (other than at work, I mean) because it's there, no question. I mean, hey, between you and me? Sometimes the only time I really give my spirituality my undivided attention is for however long I'm on the toilet in the morning, before the chaos of life gets cranking, and that's more than enough. Besides, just remember that your heart speaks to God all the time, so he's well aware of what's within it :)

    My best,
    K

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  7. Love love live this post!

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  8. I think sometimes that we work too hard at being “spiritual”. I’m not an expert, and maybe personalities, age, etc., effect how we live a “spiritual life”. But I remember a time when I worked really hard at being a “good religious”, pleasing to God, doing the “exercises”, working toward “sainthood”! It wasn’t working for me. I was tired, a “failed saint”! So I told God: “The hell with this. You do something!” It felt like me, and God, both gave a sigh of relief and relaxed. Then I was able to pay attention, to relax in Loving Presence, to notice the Creator’s Be-ing in others, in the Cosmos, in me and all around me.
    As a result, I did “lose my religion”, but it had done it’s job of introduction. Listen to your inner voice. If you drop worry, even about some of the spiritual exercises and self examination, will you be more loving? More aware of Love’s Presence? More peaceful in opposing injustice?

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