Which is which?

Ritual, religion, spirituality. Are they significantly different? The same? I think about this sometimes and have the opportunity to talk to people about it on a fairly regular basis. So I will report here what I have arrived at for the moment.

Spirituality seems to me to be an individual thing- personal and very intimate. Religion, I think, is a communal thing – an affirmation of grouphood. Perhaps a way of joining prayer for gathered strength. For those that believe in the power of prayer, the power of communal prayer is larger, stronger than individual prayer. Ritual for me is a heritage thing – an affirmation of identity. I also think that often ritual is the glue that binds our spirituality and our religious ideas together, or at least finds them common ground.

If you are someone that grows in spiritual practice, then sometimes you find that rituals help to bring you that most sacred space. I consider my religion and my spiritual life to be things that have grown separately. But there are those times that they merge. For example, when I set my seder table with my grandmother’s things and prepare to welcome loved ones to that table, I feel near to her and those that came before. It creates a sacred moment in which my spirit, my religion,my ritual, my community and my past all come together.

And when I meditate, some of it is about prayer. And some of prayer is about how I came to a relationship with a Higher Power. And some of how I came to a relationship with a Higher Power is through my religion and the rituals that are a part of it. Circular, no? So in this way, rituals bind the personal. But in a very major way, rituals bind the community.

There are many views in major religions about the utility of some rituals. There is some idea of “modernizing” religion by eliminating some ritual. But I was told by a religious eastern orthodox woman that ritual “warms” religion, keeps it from getting cold. I thought that was a wonderful description. In the same way, ritual warms our spiritual, non-religious, practices. We sit in certain places, listen to certain music, scent the air or sit in nature’s scent, sit by the ocean or contemplate the stars. We each of us with our own particular rituals for spiritual practices that have nothing to do with religion. 

I love the final shavasana and meditation at the end of my yoga class and my shabbat service rituals with equal intensity. Sometimes they lead to the same place, often not. But all my paths take me to personally important and sometimes enlightening places.

Shabbat Shalom

Slacking ~ Sacred Work

This is the month of Elul, the sacred time in which we prepare ourselves for the new year and for the holiest of days – Yom Kippur.  Although it is called the day of atonement, its meaning I think is much more interesting.

We are called on, in this time of preparation, to look at our year, our lives, our internal and external selves.  We are supposed to see what we could have done better, what we can do to be our better selves, to improve.  What we have to apologize for, to make amends for so that each new year begins as a clean slate, lunar calendar that is.

And I admit, I have been slacking.  Life intrudes as always and makes it hard to make quiet space for the reflection we are asked to  do.  And even more important, I think it should be done with pen and paper, not just in my head.  So this confession is to inspire me to make that space.  To do the work.  It is never easy if you do it right, it requires serious internal digging, but the rewards can be remarkable.

Looking at my physical self, I know I can do better, food, weight, exercise, meditation.  The list is self evident and requires a bit of a deeper look.  My communal relationships, of course I can do better, again. Reaching out to people, feeding my friendships, building relationships. I can always do more. My emotional self, I can always work on not living in feelings.  As I know feelings aren’t facts.  I can always work on gratitude as an antidote to the hard feelings and enjoying the good ones in the moments they happen. My spiritual self, we are back to meditation, prayer and the internal work of this most wonderful time of year.

So, not really slacking, just a little slow in putting pen to paper and doing the digging. The pen is the most effective shovel I know of, just have to pick it up. This is the start.  [tweetshare tweet=”Hopefully by Yom Kippur I will be ready, a clean slate once more for the year to come, or at least having cleared some of the detritus away.  L’shanah tovah umetekah. A sweet and wonderful new year, just a snitch early.” username=”@trienahm”]

Solitude~Serenity

 

The gardens at the Biltmore estate are astounding. There is an ethereal serenity to the solitude of the farthest gardens. These are the ones many tourists are too lazy or uninterested to walk to and so there is a quiet not found in the front gardens.

Throughout the entire estate there is an unparalleled attention to detail while displaying an intense respect for nature. Fields planted with corn are bordered by a wide berm of gorgeous sunflowers, and those are bordered again to the road with a riotous display of blooming wildflowers.  You drive through a forest, a narrow winding road bordered by bamboo and leatherleaf ferns.  You round a bend and there is a wide swath of tended lawn and mulch created out of the forest to display a magnificent tree more than a century old.  Each turn reveals a natural, but human tended, miracle.

But the gardens, those are designed and tended like a precious child. Designed by Frederick Law Olmsted these gardens are something everyone should see. There is an Asian garden, an azalea garden, a shrub garden, and so on.  It is not possible to bring them to life in words. On this visit, I went to see the Chihuly installation in the gardens and it did not disappoint.  The sculptures respected the natural surroundings in which they were installed and the nature enhanced the art.

i spent several hours, first in the more crowded areas where most of the art was installed.  But then just wandering slowly through the rest of the gardens, it was a walking meditation, serene and beautiful.  And around the occasional corner, a random sculpture; sometimes a bench to just sit and ponder.

It began to drizzle just as I was ready to start walking back.  I had an umbrella, but under the spreading arms of the ancient trees there was no rain. Just peace.