Friday, August 12, 2011

As the spirit moves me

A friend recently asked me whether I'm writing this blog on deadline or "as the spirit moves" me. I thought about that question and decided I like that turn of phrase I don't use too frequently. Always a geeky learner, I checked officially and the humorous idiom means to do something "only when you want to do it." So I thought some more about whether there was any grain of truth there for me, and since I wish I was writing all the time, that phrase isn't quite on the mark. But I did realize there's truth in a spirit or energy that moves me when I do. It's certainly something fun and enjoyable to do and the more opportunity I make for it, the better for my spirit.

So it all got me to thinking about spirit, something I don't readily share my feelings and views on. What is our spirit? Why do we do anything we do? Why do we think what we do? Why do I think something is fun that someone else would think was torturous? Well, it seems the simple answer is that we are all different, unique individuals. Sometimes it seems true that we all have a doppelg√§nger, some double out there who looks or acts like us. But it can't really be true. We are each too complex to be easily repeated.

I've had family, friends, and strangers tell me over the years that I look just like Princess Grace, Cybill Shepherd, Elisabeth Shue, and Kathleen Turner. How could I look like all of those very different individuals? I'd be happy to look like anyone of them, but it's just not possible because I'm me. It can be nice to hear something like that, but I've mostly chalked it up to just coming from the hair salon where they made me look better than I know how to. Or I questioned whether I was just another nondescript blonde if others could see a resemblance between me and all these very different people. But I've concluded that people like to make a connection to something they know and recognize to make sense out of all the uniqueness that surrounds us.

But is my outer shell who I am? No. Outer appearance and any superficial beauty are transient for us all. It's our inner spirit that remains. Yes, hopefully it grows, but it's always still us on the inside. As we age, we look in the mirror and see the outer changes, but how many of us feel the same on the inside? I know I do. Some may not see past our outer shell, but our inner spirit is there and waiting to be acknowledged. I like to notice those older than me on the streets and imagine how young they feel on the inside. The potential to remain young through our spirit excites me.

Eleanor Roosevelt said "Beautiful young people are accidents of nature, but beautiful old people are works of art." That woman had a spirit I admire. And so does Maya Angelou, as do many others. Strong, wise women who think less of the outer shell, more about the inner spirit.

I want to feed and challenge my inner spirit, take charge as well as I can and move my spirit to grow, instead of it moving me. I want to recognize and appreciate who I feel like on the inside, the spirit of my younger self. And acknowledge that everyone must feel this way. Our spirit is our own unique, indelible memory of who we are.

Who am I? Who do I want to be? I think about the possibilities and the work I still need and want to do to challenge my inner spirit. Learning, loving, not rushing or complaining, enjoying all the good, correcting my course when there are missteps, being as kind to my inner spirit as I try to be to others.

What works for my spirit may not work for you. We are all different, for sure. We are complex two of us alike. We are human snowflakes. We have common interests and thoughts, but no two of us have all the same elements in play at the same time. And how we all fit together or not is a delicate balance we may or may not achieve at any one point.

And where has my spiritual self taken me? Our family, as many, grew up practicing the religion we were born into. And so I made the choice to continue that tradition with my family. I had no reason to abandon the tenets of goodness I learned. And I always appreciated the healthy benefits of belonging to a community. I wanted to provide my children with that same sense of community: Our family unit belonged to a greater whole, our children belonged.

And one of the ways I chose to stay active in our community was to teach in our church's catechism program. I taught fourth-grade religion for more than eleven years as my children moved through their own classes and sacraments. The curriculum I taught was morality: The Ten Commandments, the Golden Rule (Treat others the way you want to be treated), the Eight Beatitudes. All principles of goodness.

I was asked every year if I wanted to teach a different grade or if I was bored with teaching the same lessons every year. Absolutely not! I loved teaching those lessons of life representing themes we can find in the teachings of all the top religions of the world.

In those eleven plus years of teaching I noticed things that came up over and over. I loved my interaction with the kids and felt very fortunate to play a role in their lives, to help build their spirits, but I saw over and over good parents so busy they forgot to teach their children to say thank you or please. Hard-working parents with ethics and values inadvertently teaching their children to lie by punishing, hitting them or taking away a privilege, when children told the truth about a mistake they made.

Children also told me stories that signaled they craved rules when there were none. They weren't always sure their parents cared. I coached the kids to talk about how they felt when their parents weren't tired, angry or frustrated. I can never say for sure if I made a difference in the children's lives, but I do know they made a difference in mine. The reward was the boost to my spirit and resolve to teach and model every week over all those years.

And so, although I don't always agree with all the doctrine of the religion in which I was raised, I have never had any reason to leave it for the good and nourishment it could provide. I am capable of making decisions that work for me and accepting the karmic outcome of my choices, good and bad. Most importantly, I certainly will always agree with the most basic principles of the religion I was born into. And as I studied in college, I learned then that those basic tenets of goodness exist across all organized religions, so it opened my mind to a world beyond the simply innocent, yet limited basics of goodness that I learned in elementary and high school.

Jesus, Buddha, Mahatma Gandhi, Dalai Lama, Mother Teresa. All great leaders of good. Good is the common denominator in most religions. I choose to believe in Good. I don't know all the answers but I find comfort knowing with certainty that the creator of this good life is Good, no matter what name we call or form we see when we believe and follow.

I've also learned that to grow spiritually I don't need to be contained in a church, temple, or synagogue at any special time in the week. And yet I have utter respect for those who do want that since I believe that in work and life there is always more than one way to reach the same outcome. For me, I'm satisfied that my spiritual self is with me wherever I go. My spirit can be replenished with friends and family or alone, in my kitchen, in my yard, in an open field, on a mountaintop. Here or there, and everywhere, Therese I am (sheesh, I can be corny).

A friend's Facebook info declares something that makes me chuckle.

Religious views: I can't see any churches from my house.

Really love that. Me, I've never listed FB info on my religious views. Just never felt the need. It seemed so private. This very public post is a first for me. Haven't been hiding or denying. Just felt it was more important to live my religion than write it up for posterity. But now it's different. I'm somehow enjoying the philosophy and adventure of it all.

And I like that I have friends all along the religious spectrum: from confirmed detractors of organized religion to the apathetic and agnostics; then the holiday practitioners all the way to the very engaged faithful and unquestioning believers living their religion every moment of every day. It's all so interesting to watch the conversation. I may not always take part in the discussion, but I'm always observing, thinking, forming, and reshaping my own beliefs as I see fit for me.

Never really one to debate political or religious viewpoints, I certainly don't categorize myself as apathetic, though. To debate is to argue, to try to convince someone else you're right. I can participate if I have to and I understand it's an intellectual game of sorts, but, eh, it's just not my thing. I have so many things I want to do, so I choose not to use my free time for activities that don't totally excite and invigorate me.

But I notice that as a nation, we are more tolerant of diversity than we ever have been. Everywhere we look, from government to education to corporate America to the programs we watch on TV, we see evidence of concerted efforts to embrace differences in age, gender, language, culture, sexuality, abilities, and ethnicity, but we're still as a whole not so tolerant about differences in religion. Some with deep convictions in any direction may unknowingly make others uncomfortable, some who would never consider commenting so strongly in other areas of diversity.

I admire what the Dalai Lama said and I strive to follow his wisdom, declaring that my true religion is kindness. It is not my place in this life to deem that any one religion is right or wrong, but I do follow goodness and can't promote or stand by evil. My goal is to connect with my spirituality and the good I see in others.

My prayer is to feed my spirit, learn and live, respect and admire, observe and model for others. I am just a speck in the universe, but I can make a difference and grow my spirit, promoting healthy, inclusive communities that I'm happy to be involved in.

So I won't ever forsake my roots. There's just no need. I appreciate the spirituality of where I came from and I'm excited about the possibilities of where I'm going. I'm growing some kick-ass spirit here. How about you? Do you think about spirit?

Until next time, yours in life and spirit...Therese


  1. i was telling jack how you were the best ccd teacher i ever had...and not just because you were my mom haha! growing up i knew i could always tell you the truth about anything. i'm so lucky to have such a great momma :)

  2. Thanks so much for your sweet comment, Amanda, my peanut! You're always my little girl, no matter how old you are! And you can always tell me anything. I loved being your CCD teacher and I love being your mom. I'm so lucky to have you and your sister and brother and daddy, too!