How everyday life offers amazing spiritual learning opportunities – if we can only see and make the most of them
A cherished colleague, Rachel, was talking about the substantial responsibilities she has in raising three young children with complex medical and emotional needs, with little or no support from their father, who walked away during her third pregnancy. I resonated with what she said, but then she said something that made me really pay attention. She said she felt she was less than adequate, or was unworthy, because she did not feel she was coping so well with all of this. Other people, she felt, have easier lives, or are able to be better organised and in control, or their children are less demanding.
I felt that Rachel, aside from her understandable moment of self doubt and feelings of inadequacy, is perhaps not fully aware of all that is happening for her during this incredibly intense phase of her life, where there is very little time for anything except her focus upon her children. She is under constant pressure. Under this pressure, she demonstrates exceptional grace, composure, good humour, flexibility, compassion and presence in a situation that would make almost everyone feel trapped, exhausted and frustrated.
She is demonstrating, quite unselfconsciously, a form of spiritual grace under pressure. Every day, she rises to the occasion and meets what needs her attention, whether this is a sick child, school staff who need to be constantly educated in how to work with her children, or managing to hold on to her own career when everything is against her, and no one really seems to care whether her family unit thrives, or not. Yet Rachel herself thinks as if all that she is doing is not really very much, and is not really important or in any way spiritual or special.
Spiritual grace is the way you respond to the exigencies, pressures and peculiar and unique demands that are placed upon you by your own life – the way that you do it that no one else could do, the way you make it all work and come together, in spite of how hard you think it is, in spite of yourself. It’s when people look at you in awe and say “I have no idea how you manage it all” and you look at them and wonder what on earth they are talking about, you are just doing what you have to. Somehow or other – I have no idea how – Rachel manages to organise happy family holidays in the sun and cosy fun Christmas gatherings. She leads the family with a sense of determined positivity and optimism. It feels good to be there and the children will never doubt that they are loved.
In fact Rachel is demonstrating a level of spiritual development that she has attained independently and without the luxury of being able to attend retreats or workshops. She is courageous, persistent, and insists on a healthy, happy sense of wellbeing within her family. She works for her family every day and is the mother they need her to be, not the person she might prefer to be. In her mind there might be times when none of this counts for much, and she wishes she were more “real” or more attractive or successful – that her efforts might then be recognised , and she might be seen for who she really is in the world. It is true that spiritual grace can only be seen by those who are capable of recognising it.
So in my view, Rachel is missing just one thing, in that she does not fully recognise her own brilliance. Her determination and steadfast courage, and the incredible strength she has developed in the process of meeting her daily demands and challenges. Rachel is in fact in the thick of her own special Spiritual Learning Opportunities. The only thing I would like her to change about this would be for her to recognise it. She does not need to get away and sit on a spiritual mountain – although that would be lovely – to really appreciate her spiritual capacity. Her spiritual learning opportunities are right here, now, in the midst of her everyday life. She has brought about a unique set of opportunities to face the facts of who she is as a person, and develop her spiritual nature:
To be persistently selfless about her own needs. Whatever she feels, she has to be present with each of the children, no matter what.
She sees the effects and results of her behaviour and attitudes instantly, as the children will always respond to the tone that she sets, and she has the opportunity to receive instantaneous feedback and adjust immediately.
There is nowhere to escape to, and no way to avoid anything. Everything needs attending to now, or she will regret it instantly.
She has to practise, every day, the character-building habits of creating good structures and boundaries.
She knows she is responsible for her feelings, and she knows they will impact the children.
Her life itself is the clay, the paint, the journey, the meditation cushion, with which she is creating her soul’s experience, and achieving and learning so much.
So what are your unique Spiritual Learning Opportunities?
What do you personally manage to do that other people may comment on, or that they would find incredibly hard – but you are just doing it?
Is there something that makes you feel inadequate or that you are less than others?
What has caused you the most pain in your life, and what has brought you the most joy?
What are the challenges that only you face in relating to and dealing with each of the people around you?
What do these questions reveal to you about your own spiritual “mission” in everyday life?
Try journalling these questions, read cards for yourself, explore the questions with a mentor or therapist, or request a professional reading to help you get a clear focus.
Once you know your Spiritual Learning Opportunities, it’s easier to go with the flow of your life and stop resisting, or thinking it should be different. When you really “get” this, the lessons won’t disappear but you will feel so much lighter and easier with them.