These days, we seem to be stuck in an endless cycle of awful news reports. Injustice seems more common than fairness. People in search of power or celebrity behave badly, sometimes with criminal cruelty. Social media seems to feed the cravings of drama addicts who pick fights just to enjoy watching folks spinning like tops in their fury. Who does not want to wash away the daily barrage of outrage?
A mystical bubble bath moment seems to be just what we need. Like the woman in the old Calgon commercial we say, “Spirituality take me away.” Though spiritual practice can help blot out the pain or unpleasantness of life, is that really enough? Could we be missing one of spirituality’s most important aspects – the opportunity to learn how to face life’s ugliness rather than hide from it? There is a way to do both.
Finding a sense of inner peace in a chaotic world is why many of us turn to spiritual practice. Meditation and prayer can help us shut down the constant negativity we seem to be subjected to. It can help us to get a break from being over stimulated and literally lower our blood pressure. However, if we never deal with what is stressing us, then it is merely taking a band aide approach.
Spirituality can help us to learn skills we might use to better understand and cope with the world we live in. So, how we can use such practices to get a handle on what is causing us the most anxiety? One first step is to identify what is stressing us out the most by taking a healthy honest look at what is going on in our lives. Here is a quick quiz.
Which of the following things regularly make you angry or upset? What specifically do you wish you could actually do something about?
Concerns about my family or friends
Issues I hear about in the daily news or social media
Some other issue or concern not mentioned here
Once you have identified an issue that you passionately want to address, spiritual practice can help you create your own customized approach to it through something that many world religions and spiritual movements talk about. This is called by many names, most commonly the “law of attraction”. The famous pastor Norman Vincent Peale called this “the power of positive thinking”. This is the idea that if we think about something in a positive or hopeful way, we are more likely to find a favorable outcome. Some religious leaders say if you pray for prosperity it will come to you. Some New Age groups suggest that by simply visualizing what you want every day, you will eventually get it.
If that were true, we would all live in lovely homes and we would have world peace. The power of positive thinking does not actually work that way, but that does not mean it is not beneficial. Let’s say you are most upset by our national politics. You watch the news every day and find yourself yelling at the TV. You dash off angry social media posts. You know that these responses are not making your life better or solving any problems. They just provide a way to vent. Using the law of attraction and a simple type of meditation can help you to do more than blow off steam.
This exercise is meant to only take 5-10 minutes at a time. For the next week, each day after the news, find a place to be alone and quiet. Clear your mind by counting backwards from twenty. Ask yourself three times: What information would help me understand this better? Leave space between the asking. Don’t expect an answer. Then repeat this question three times: What would be a kind response to this situation? Again, don’t worry about coming up with answers to the questions. If your thoughts become angry, ask yourself the questions again. Let the questions fall into your subconscious. Finish with five deep breaths. Breathe in. Breathe out.
Just by asking these questions daily, you will begin to reframe your thoughts to be more intentional and less reactionary. Telling yourself to ask more questions, opens your mind to seeing issues in a new light. And, by instructing your brain to look at things in a positive way rather than a negative one, you will make space for a more positive way of responding. You will begin to have calmer more thoughtful reactions. Doing this type of exercise will help you to develop your own unique skills for coping with your crazy world and maybe even changing it a little. Eventually productive solutions that have meaning for you will start to emerge in your mind.
An active spirituality helps us to be more aware and less fearful of life. We all know, on some level, that life is really complicated and difficult. At the same time, we all know that our life has a great potential for joy. The exercise above is just one spiritual approach. There are many others. Some people recite affirmations or phrases that remind them to be more compassionate. Others say their rosary or some other form of prayer. You could simply take a walk. What all these things have in common is they are acts of taking time and space away from what upsets us and coming back with a refreshed openness to learn.
Anger and fear make us shut down, cutting ourselves off from learning. Denial feels like self-protection, but it usually leads to ignorant thoughtless behavior. We shouldn’t have to completely unplug from the world. By taking it in measured doses and making time to intentionally process our experiences, we can respond thoughtfully. Spiritual practices like prayer and meditation may seem small and inconsequential in the face of all the bad we see in our world. Developing a thoughtful habit of learning is only one first step to (as Gandhi said) “be the change we want to see”. We all have to start somewhere.