By Pierre Zimmerman, M.S.
February usually reminds us of cold days and nights, school vacations to warm far away places for some, stuffy noses and red cheeks for those who stay here, and Valentine’s Day celebrations with roses and delicious chocolate. This winter season so far has missed the mark for whiteouts in our area bringing joy to some and disappointment to others. This might change by the end of February, as the weather is just as unpredictable as everything else: the economy, gas prices, job security, health narratives and romantic love. Beacons of certainty are hard to come by.
No matter what change affects us in the short run or long run, how we relate to it always gives us the option to look at things with an open mind and heart. So I say let’s choose love, reigniting the embers of the smoldering fire within us, being kind to ourselves, loving others with all their differences and diversity.
We are hard wired to be kind, and we long for connection and intimate affection. We are born with a strong biological predisposition for caring. Positive emotions like love, joy and playfulness are beneficial to our health and strengthen our immune system because our well being depends on our inner happiness, not just on external things. Our usual menu of worries, frustrations, hopes and fears keep us focused on petty concerns. Selflessness, kind wishes and altruistic acts, large or small are antidotes to loneliness. When we offer non-biased compassion and realize our shared humanity, we too benefit from feeling love and contentment.
Spiritual Courage, by Dr. Lisa Dungate & Jennifer Armstrong,
an excerpt from their blog Lion’s Whiskers
“This is my simple religion. There is no need for temples; no need for complicated philosophy. Our own brain, our own heart is our temple; the philosophy is kindness.”— His Holiness the Dalai Lama
“Here is a test to find whether your purpose in life is finished: if you are alive, it isn’t.”— Richard Bach
Spiritual courage fortifies us as we ask questions about purpose and meaning. Of course many people find the foundations of this courage in an organized religion, but there are also other ways to develop spiritual courage. Spiritual courage means being available to the deepest questions about why we are here, what is my life for, do I have a purpose? These are profound existential questions and can be quite frightening, which suggests why fundamentalism of all kinds can gain mastery over us; thus we yearn for definite answers to these questions and are attracted to ideologies that offer resolution to our uncertainty. Spiritual courage means accepting that you are unlikely to find the answers, but asking them anyway. We all must call upon our spiritual courage when we consider our own mortality. Spiritual courage means opening ourselves up to our own vulnerability and the mysteries of life.Spiritual courage allows us to encounter people of different religious faiths and spiritual traditions without judgment. Remember the photos from the Egyptian revolution earlier this year, when Christians made a protective cordon around Muslims during prayer? That looks like spiritual courage to us.
This video from TED.com is Matthieu Ricard, sometimes called “The Happiest Man in the World.” It is about 20 minutes long and we encourage you to take the time to view it!
Spiritual courage looks like:
- attending religious festivals and listening to stories from faith traditions other than your own
- talking with children openly and honestly about death
- having friendships with people from faith traditions other than your own
- for parents, making sure you have written a will, arranged legal guardianship for your children in the event of your death, as well as writing advance directives for medical emergencies
- giving your children the option to pursue a religious practice or attend a youth group, even if you don’t attend or practice regularly
- making time to pray, meditate, or do charitable work
- holding a funeral for a pet
- letting go of the need to control everything in life
- reaching out in times of need and asking for help—discovering that there are, in fact, lots of resources in your community
- building meaningful rituals into your daily life, such as quiet contemplation with a cup of tea, or a walk in the woods with your kids
LACK of spiritual courage looks like:
- making judgments based on the religious identification of others
- refusing to try attending a religious service even when your child invites you or expresses interest in religion
- refusing to attend someone’s wedding, funeral or other rite of passage because of religious intolerance
- unwilling to question your strongly-held beliefs
- unwilling to plan for your own death
- not respecting the wishes of a loved one who is faced with a life-threatening diagnosis
- unwilling to accept that spirituality can exist outside the walls of a religious institution
- unwilling to make a values inventory
- not walking the talk
- lack of respect for others, their beliefs, their culture, and the environment
Spiritual courage sounds like:
- “May I go to your church/temple/mosque with you some time?”
- “What do you believe?”
- “That’s not a belief I’m familiar with. Can you tell me more about that?”
- “I have questions.”
- “I want to make a difference with my life.”
- “What happens to us after we die, Mommy?”
- “Can I say grace tonight, Dad?”
- “I’m grateful for ___________.”
- “Before I die, I want to __________.”
- “Let’s talk about who we’d like to raise our kids if we die whilst they are still young.”
LACK of spiritual courage sounds like:
- “What difference does it make anyway?”
- “They are evil.”
- “Don’t think about such morbid things!”
- “All religions breed fanatics!!”
- “Religion in the opiate of the masses.”
- “You really believe that stuff?”
- “Sounds like some kind of a cult!”
- “I can’t talk to you about that because you’re not a member of my church/mosque/synagogue.”
- “I did it in the name of ___________”
- “I give up.”
Grab Some Lion’s Whiskers!
Here are some tips for developing spiritual courage for you and your kids:
- read stories from all world religions and encourage your children to ask questions and find similarities from one culture to another
- read at least a bit of the Koran, the Bible, Talmudic teachings, Buddhist teachings, etc.
- if you’ve never been to a Passover seder, ask a Jewish friend to include you next time; if you’ve never been to a baptism, ask a Christian friend to include you; by connecting respectfully with friends from faiths other than your own, you encourage them and yourself
- ask the important questions before it’s too late!
- surround yourself and your children with beauty
- take a walk in nature; wake up early enough to catch a sunrise; on a night walk, stop and simply stare at the stars; take a deep breath in the open air
- hang famous and not so famous artwork—especially your children’s, and not just on the fridge
- play Classical as well as Top 40 music
- stop and smell the flowers
- try a yoga class—even see if there is one for kids in your community
- investigate “alternative” spiritual practices such as meditation or sweat lodge with an open mind
- work in the garden together, it’s a wonderful way to experience the circle of life