‘What is truly a part of our spiritual life is that which brings us alive. If gardening brings us alive, that is part of our path, if it is music, if it is conversation… we must follow what brings us alive.’
Brother David Steindl-Rast, Benedictine monk
What brings you alive? Is it gardening, music, sport? Going for a run? Scrap-booking? Reading a novel? Cooking?
We often think of these things as hobbies, something to pass the time – in fact we literally describe them as ‘pastimes’. As if our life consists of work and other obligations, such as looking after our house and family. Then we need to take care of our bodies, through exercising perhaps or going to a yoga class. There is spirituality, which we might view as something structured and elevated, set apart from daily life. We try keep up with the news and social media and stay in touch with our friends and community. And, if there is any time left after all that, we might squeeze in a hobby or two.
And yet this so-called hobby might be the time we feel most alive. We are absorbed, passionate, fully engaged. When we meet someone who shares our passion we suddenly sit up more straight, our eyes light up, and we can spend hours in happy conversation.
It’s strange how we often dismiss other people’s passions – we might call them Sunday painters, musical wannabes, dear old nonna who loves to cook for the whole family. A successful chef with restaurants in London, Paris and New York is lauded, while little nonna in the kitchen perfecting her recipes with equal passion might be gently patronised. We don’t need to share the passion to appreciate how much it means for people to live their passion out.
I love Steindl-Rast’s idea that those things which bring us alive are part of our spiritual path. In my work I often ask people – what do you enjoy doing? It’s wonderful to see people come alive as they describe their passions. Mindfulness is about bringing a sense of presence to our everyday life, to not distinguish between ‘special moments’ and ‘ordinary moments’. Many people talk about feeling that sense of being present most strongly when they’re in the garden, or listening to music, or going for a walk. If spirituality is about a sense of connectedness to something greater than our small, self-centered ego, where better to feel that sense of expanded connectedness than when we are engaged in something which brings us alive, and which moves us beyond our absorption with minor worries and concerns?
This is very different from the unhealthy obsession which causes us to neglect our obligations. That which brings us alive cultivates the best in us, and can indeed be a precious part of our spiritual path. Next week, we will look at ways we can bring more of this spirit into our everyday lives.
Weekly practice idea:
What do you enjoy doing? Write down a list of the top five. Then calculate how much time you actually spend with any of these in a given week. Do you allow much time for that which brings you alive?