If you have been on the spiritual path for more than a minute (translation: oh, let's say, a year), you are going to really "get" this.
D'you see this picture here?
.Yeah. That one. The one that makes you feel either really inspired to stretch your wings and shed your doubts and fears, or makes you want to throw things at the computer screen because you're sick of seeing images like this because you haven't yet managed to shed your doubts and fears, and it feels like a punishing pipe dream!
For me, I've shed some doubts and fears, and I'm walking through some more. It's called being - oh God, no, don't say it!!!!!! - HUMAN! Aaaaaargh!!!!!
God forbid you should be human. At least, if you're on a spiritual path, you're not supposed to be human. You're supposed to be "perfect", or at least trying damn hard to be. Laughing at the foibles of the human condition! Being in the "witness" state, which means you are no longer touched by anything! Seeing everything so clearly! The Perfect Human!
So, my story: When the spiritual path jumped up and grabbed me by the throat, I had already been very spiritually inclined, but I hadn't known much about the spiritual "isms" that littered the ground around me until I moved to Boston, where it all began to reveal itself to me: New Age theories, Hinduism and the Guru path, channeling, Edgar Cayce, Louise Hay, healing, boundaries, inner child work, Buddhism and chanting, and - later on in my path - New Thought, Abraham Hicks. I've probably forgotten as many as I've mentioned!
So, fresh-born from the requisite human start of a wounding childhood (because no one escapes something that gives you the baggage necessary to fund your therapists' children's education), I found myself dazzled by the spiritual wealth of healing promise aaaaaaaaall around me! I went through each of them like a sugar addict goes through candy corn at Halloween.
I applied each one of them to my life as one would apply a small band-aid to a large wound; inadequately.
Too stubborn, smart, and determined not to do so, I started to question. Everything.
...and so forth.
It took me years and years and years to realize something very basic about spirituality as it is shared in my American culture: the way that we practice our off-beat, non-ordinary spirituality - even when it is "New Age" or reflects any kind of out-of-the-box perspective - is that we overlay it with our parental perfectionism. We "should" on ourselves. Like any "good" student - any "good girl" or "good boy" - we apply the very same lessons from the rest of our lives: to model what we are being shown...in all the wrong ways.
Perfectionism run amok.
I'm not that spiritually high that I can claim some exotic and enviable mode of realization; but I can tell you that what happened is that some time after I fell down and went "boom", I came to my senses. Boom = My money, gone. My partner, dead. My sense of grounding, kaput. And it was then that I said to myself, "I'm finished. I'm done with workshops. I'm done with listening to teachers. I'm done with thinking that there's some kind of answer out there that will save me from this life of mine that is all screwed up! All I can do...is stop. Just stop. Not know. Wait. Be what I am: down and out."
I was down, and I was out. It was anything but pretty; that kind of thing only looks romantic in the movies because in the movies you know your heroine is going to be able to get back up and succeed in a very Rocky-like-fist-pumping way, because Hollywood has to sell those movies, so they won't give you a sad ending!
But you can count on down-and-out to give you some seriously real shit: you start realizing that no amount of "positive thinking", "affirmations", no Abraham YouTube videos, no amount of praying is going to help you if all you feel is terror. So, there you are: you and your terror, facing each other in dark hallways.
And in that moment, you are on the path.
"But wait!" we say. That path isn't supposed to look so scary! It's supposed to be light- and love-filled!
It is. That's something you have to learn to embrace. But you will never get there in any real and grounded and integrated way as long as you - like I did - hang onto spiritual perfectionism, kicking yourself for being human, imperfect, and sometimes a fuckup, just like the rest of us.
You're beautiful. You're a pain in the ass. Just like the rest of us.
And that's where the healing begins.
So I fell down, I couldn't continue to live in the Bay Area - that place is not a place to live, but to visit; it's ridiculously expensive, and emotionally not the Midwest - so I turned to Facebook, asked for help, and people gave it. They got my butt home to Ohio, where I fell down for about a year, imperfect as hell, and broken down like a rusted engine laid for 50 years in a barn.
Right hip bone-on-bone and needing a hip replacement.
Scared and shocked to find myself in the state I was in.
Out of answers.
Determined to stop beating myself up and find answers in new ways.
Determined to find the *@#^ PATH!!!!! In other words: that way of living that would be reasonable, right, grounded, true, and full of the kind of light that doesn't take me off-planet, but keeps me. right. here.
I didn't have a choice but to take. one. step. at. a. time.
I did choose to allow both my emotions and one spiritual truth to be present simultaneously. What was the one spiritual truth? That that which is spirit is not only here and now - not only not something I have to "earn" or "be worthy of" - but that it is me. So, somewhere amidst the anguish, or the rage, or the grief, or the shame, there is also That Thing.
I took one step at a time with that knowledge in mind, heart, and practice.
The story is a long one, but I'll spare you. I'll give you the bottom line. Taking one step at a time is GOLD. It's not historically been my go-to thing to do in my life. I'm REALLY good at vision. I can see so far down the road to what is possible from my gifts. But taking one. step. at. a. time...I sucked at it.
I don't suck at it now! And guess what? Without all of the spiritual isms - that spiritualitis-perfectionism nonsense - I can actually see and appreciate the unfolding miracles of my daily life:
Just. taking. each. step.
It's my choice. It's not an easy one all of the time, for sure, but it is the one that feeds me. The choice between spiritualitis, or one imperfect, intuitive, practical-as-hell step at a time.
The story never ends...
The question is whether or not you would like to expand that strength.
The question is not: Can I be a strong person. Because you already are.
Where does your expandable strength lie? It lies in places like communication, attitude, spiritual practices, personal qualities, personal interests, beloved hobbies, and beloveds…and probably many, many more.
And still we fall into “But I can’t!”
How do we get to “I can!” in the middle of “I can’t!”?
(1) Don’t deny that you feel so down. Remember, the more you push against something, the bigger it grows. So you don’t want to push against “I can’t!” It has done its job: it has said to you, “Here’s what you’re feeling, and you need to do something different.” So don’t shoot it. It’s just the messenger.
(2) Invite something into your experience that feels good, the way it feels good to feel alive. I am not talking about drugs, or drink, or excessive food, or whatever else it is that we use to numb ourselves out from the pain of relentlessly listening to the messenger (see #1 above!). I am talking about inviting something into your experience that makes you feel a kind of alive relief. For the spiritual: a song, an affirmation, a book that reminds you of Who You Are. For the practical: an activity – gardening, problem-solving, taking a walk – that reminds you of Who You Are. These are just suggestions. The point is that you want to invite something in that eases the feelings just by virtue of being there. You are not doing anything other than inviting in the healing.
(3) Sit back. Let yourself take your face out of the problem and sit back. The messenger and the healer will do what they do. The messenger will get its message: “Yep, we hear ya!” and you can focus on finding answers in ways that are kinder, more expansive, more unexpected (that’s the fun one!).
What does it mean to be strong? It means to be willing to find your strengthening moments in unexpected ways, from exploration, from curiosity – finding out what makes you feel better, feel stronger, and in a gentler way.
Lori Ellen Kirstein is a woman whose mission is to empower other women to know their Strengths, to express themselves, to define themselves in empoweringly truthful ways, and to have a nourishing, powerful impact on the world, individually and together.