Friday, December 3, 2010
breath and spirit
Words from one of my favorite poets, Mary Oliver:
"Are you breathing just a little, and calling it a life?"
Words I've been thinking about this week. And in my mom's usual intuitive way, she sends me this in an email:
The words "spirit", "Spiritual", ' come from the Latin word "spirare": to breathe.
We breathe in, drawing in oxygen which gives life; without it we would quickly die; it is our first food. But we cannot breathe in forever; we must breathe out too; we must give away what that has been given to us. There we have an image of the spiritual life: breathing in and breathing out. Everything we receive is a gift, free as the air. Everything we have, we have to give away, a gift, free as the air we breathe.
Breathe in: we need to go to the deepest center and find God/Spirit/Universal Energy there.
Breathe out: we need to go out to the whole world, find God/Spirit/Universal Energy and bring Him/Her there.
Wow. Quite powerful words. It's making me think about how I breathe life into my days. Which is a tough question considering how I have been living my days this week. So my mother's email was quite timely, as it gave more insight into what I've been mulling over recently.
These words are also resonating with me right now:
work as love
work as art
work as harmony with the pulse of the earth
- Pamela Slim
I've always considered my work to be a form of spirituality. In my previous job, it wasn't hard to make that connection - especially when working directly with young children and families in the human services field. This time, being a full-time student/graduate assistant/college instructor, I work mostly alone, or with a few colleagues, or with adult students in graduate classes. I've been thinking about how I am making my current work a spiritual practice. What kind of energy am I putting in? How am I breathing life and spirit into my work? But also, how am I nourishing myself so that I can keep giving my energy?
This week was especially challenging, as it has been very solitary. I spent hours and hours on end on my computer, and just relatively minimal chunks of time talking to a colleague to discuss our project over Skype. Don't get me wrong, I love my alone time. I like opportunities to be in my head or in my heart as I walk, cook, practice yoga or meditation, take photographs, or write. But I also crave conversation and community. I welcome opportunities to connect on a deeper level with like-minded people. To connect as an I and a Thou, as the philosopher Martin Buber wrote.
But my current lifestyle can be very... isolating. Which makes it difficult to find that sense of spirituality and connection. Part of the reason connecting with others is so nourishing is that it's a cycle of giving and receiving. Not of material things, but of energy. This week, I felt Mary Oliver's words so strongly. I have been "breathing just a little".
No wonder I felt so out of balance. But I have to remember, that there's a reason it's called a spiritual practice. It's not going to be perfect. It's not going to be great every day. Life itself is a spiritual practice.
I've been reflecting on this word as well:
It's a word that I love. I love how it sounds. I love the feeling it evokes. It's strange, I know - how I tend to love words for the way they sound and for the feelings attached to them. Much how I like the word "spring" for the way it sounds, and its associations with everything fresh and new and reborn.
But back to "spirited". The online dictionary defines it as:
"having or showing mettle, courage, vigor, or liveliness, etc.: a spirited defense of poetry."
I think this definition is somewhat limiting though. Because what happens when your courage wanes? When you feel a decline in your energy or a loss of liveliness? What if you don't feel like bubbling over with joy or "bursting with fruit flavor"? (my favorite line from that old movie, Reality Bites)
I think being "spirited" is much more than that. It's that sense of conviction, that place of stillness, that quiet wellspring of energy deep in your gut, from which to draw strength to propel yourself forward. Even when your energy wanes, even when you don't think you can go any further. Even after you've felt like you've been giving and giving of yourself.
It's faith. In someone, in something, whoever or whatever that may be to you.
The question is, how do you call upon it? Especially in the often-hurried pace of work life?
How do you breathe life into your days? What makes you feel spirited?