It's the start of the sixth week of My Spiritual Journey, and I feel like I've hit a hump. I've asked a nun for guidance, and I've confessed my sins. I"ve tested myself, asked others for help, and even made a pit-stop for Santa Claus, but honestly, I don't really feel like I've gotten anywhere. I feel a little bit like I'm treading water, and I think I am. Part of the problem, I think, is that I was raised Catholic, and while I have an intellectual understanding of both religion and spirituality and the differences between the two, I can't seem to reconcile their definitions within my own spiritual context. And I think I've realized that though I spent seven years in Catechism, and 50 times as many Sundays in Church, Christianity might not be for me.
Don't get me wrong. I like Jesus. I think he was a solidly good person and an exceptional teacher, but as someone who, though imaginative, likes most things to be based in fact, wrapping my head around the Holy Trinity left me, more or less, googley-eyed. And all the rules! All things need structure, and the 10 Commandments are some pretty clutch words to live by, but no matter how much I try to remove myself from the formality, the pomp and circumstance, the kneel now, and pray now, and speak now or forever hold your peace, it's still doing a number on my spiritual arteries.
And there's something intimidating to me about prayer, or perhaps just how I define prayer. I think the fault lies in the vagueness of my (questionable) belief in God and it's hard to pray to someone when you have only the loosest idea of their existence.
So I've made a decision. While I've by no means done an exhaustive meander through all forms of Christianity, I do feel that it's time for me to move on. It's time for me to take my leave of communion and forgive myself of my sins. I've backed away from the crucifix, made the appropriate sign of the cross, and now I'm heading East.
Sister Wendy likened prayer to a form of meditation, and for some reason the idea of meditation seemed easier to swallow (though not necessarily easier in practice, as I soon found out). And Wikipedia (clearly a definitive source on the matter) says there are all kinds of meditation. There's Mindfulness Meditation, in which you don't really think about anything, and then there's Concentration Meditation, in which you focus on one single thought or action, such as a word, or your breathing, and then they've even got Walking Meditation, which sounds like a really complicated version of tapping your head and rubbing your tummy at the same time. And so, I give to you, dear readers, my attempts at meditation, because what spiritual journey would be complete without an attempt at all three?
I can already tell that Mindfulness Meditation is going to pose a problem. (I know, I know. Positive thinking. Whatever.) I'm convinced that it's a scientific impossibility to completely empty your mind of everything, but decide to go ahead and give it my best shot. The directions say to sit in whatever position feels comfortable, as long as your back is straight. (Apparently this is so you won't fall asleep, and as far as I'm concerned, this is a telling sign.) I choose cross-legged on the sheepskin carpet in my living room. It's cozy, and feels kind earthy. And this is where I discover two things: My posture sucks, and that trying to meditate on 4 hours of sleep is the mental equivalent of running the Boston Marathon the day after an Ironman. Translation: I give up faster than you can say 12-minute-mile.
Concentration Meditation sounds a little more user-friendly. I decide to concentrate on the image of a flame and try to embrace the void (and for all you Fantasy dorks out there, that was most definitely a Wheel of Time reference), and discover that it's definitely easier to fight off thoughts if you have something else to think about. That said, it doesn't take long for me to realize that instead of picturing a flame somewhere in the void of my mind, I've just been crossing my eyes behind closed eyelids (try it, you'll see what I mean), and I break from meditation to have a mild panic attack (narrated by my mother's voice, no less) about whether or not I'd caused permanent damage. After I calm down, I reconsider, and instead of picturing a single small point, I try to make my mind a big blue screen, and this proves less optically taxing. After god knows how long / approximately 4 minutes, I think I've managed a full 15 seconds without mental distractions, and decide I've accomplished enough for one evening.
And in a way, I am proud. I've saved myself more than 928,374,289 brain cells by not watching another episode of The Real Housewives of Orange County, and feel admirably pretentious about the fact I can officially say, "I meditate" without reciting a compensatory Hail Mary in my head.
(I decide to try Walking Meditation on my way to work the next morning, and get as far as cheating a little bit by playing some lyric-less music on my iPod, but quickly give up once I realize that there is no way the inventors of Walking Meditation had Park Avenue on a weekday morning in mind.)
So while I failed miserably at emptying my head, I still emerged victorious with 15 seconds of blue-screen silence. And the point of all this is (and really, to wrap it all up), I've come to realize that what works for someone else does not have to work for me. In the same way that one sister wanted to go to Mass on Christmas Day, and the other sister swears that surfing is a form of meditation, I've discovered that I will never have a monogamous relationship with spirituality, and that that's OK. And that, more than anything, if I can take the smaller victories, the quiet moments, or the 15 seconds of silence, and say, "I am going somewhere, and I am moving forward, and no matter how small, insignificant, or over-thought my steps are, they're still my steps," then, well, I think my journey will be just fine.