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.