As a therapist, the topic of self-care often comes to mind.
Normally the conversation starts with things like regular meals, hot baths, outdoor hikes, etc. While these things are certainly important and can be part of self-care, they do not represent the full extent of what self-care can be and are, in my view, the low hanging fruit.
In my opinion, some of the richest and most nourishing acts of self-care are found in spiritual practice. At its core, before the layering of theology or religion, spiritual practice is about taking the time to nurture a connection – with oneself, the natural world, and whatever one chooses (e.g., spirit, God, his ancestors, etc.).
So what could that look like?
For different cultures, religions and traditions, it can manifest in different ways. That said, there are some similarities: most religions have practices based on meditation, prayer, and contemplation. Whether performed in a formal group setting or as a solo practice, these are the practices that I personally find most rejuvenating.
I started on this path over 20 years ago with meditation. My practice has slowly grown over the years, supported by my connection to a local sangha (a group of Buddhist practitioners). Over time, I discovered the gifts of investing myself in this way, which led to an organic and progressive deepening.
As part of this deepening, I have participated in a number of silent meditation retreats over the years. But when the pandemic hit, that option — like everything else — went virtual. This transition encouraged me to consider new ways of doing things. As a result, I tried a few days of personal retreat on my own and found them to my liking.
The solitude, the stillness, the space that resulted from closing time to myself was so nurturing. And it was relatively easy because I didn’t have to coordinate my schedule with anyone else’s or fit into a predetermined structure.
When I heard that Gandhi took one day of silence a week, the idea beckoned me and I decided to try it myself. Those first Saturdays were a bit uncomfortable. There was so much to do that it seemed pointless and unproductive. I was looking at my phone and had the compulsion to listen to a podcast, read the news, or make a phone call.
But as the weeks passed and I gently but firmly held the boundary, I began to look forward to the peace and space of the day. Over the months, it has become an island of respite in an otherwise overstimulating and frenetic world.
In addition, the peace of the island follows me throughout the week. I have more clarity, more patience and more insight. And as is the case with other acts of self-care, the benefits reverberate in subtle and less-subtle ways.
Of course, not everyone wants or can take a day of silence. Spiritual practice is not a one-size-fits-all solution; it is as individual as we are and changes as our lives change. Some people will only have time for 10 minutes of meditation a day. Others may say a prayer before dinner or bedtime.
The important thing is to tune into the extraordinary inner compass, to notice what nurtures and to go in that direction while understanding that spiritual practice is an ever-evolving process of discovery, a journey in itself. .
It’s not about getting it right, comparing yourself to another, or being rigid or hard on yourself. Rather, it is about groping, moving forward according to one’s abilities and creating a space to listen to the echo of the deepest part of oneself.
Heather Krimsly is co-founder of Buddhists Responding, a local ecumenical group of Buddhist practitioners working to address suffering and injustice in social, political and environmental contexts.