In Search of Spirituality

{I wrote this the Friday before I found out my aunt died; it felt disingenuous to put it up that following week. I’ve been thinking about it a lot since then, especially in the context of my marriage. My husband does not have any need or desire for spirituality in his life, and he doesn’t really understand my interest in it. I wonder if the more fundamental shifts in our foundation are what most bother him. I don’t think divergent perspectives on spirituality need to drive a wedge between two people, but perhaps my pursuit of a more meaningful life signals a deeper change within me, one that might be harder for my husband to embrace.}

If there is one deeply necessary thing lacking from my life, it is spirituality. I don’t believe there is a god, but I do believe their are forces at work in this world that I can’t comprehend and I recognize the need to cultivate a practice that incorporates reverence and gratitude into my daily life.

I feel fortunate that I know where to start, that there is a spiritual tradition that speaks to me and that I believe I can mold to meet my needs. While I would not call myself a follower, I do consider myself a student of Buddhism, and I hope to commit myself more fully to its precepts and teachings in the years to come.

Right now I am focusing on my own values, and trying to practice mindfulness  so as to better embody my values in my every day life.

Three of the values I’m focusing on right now are kindness (toward self and others), gratitude, and understanding (of people’s experiences and the workings of the universe). I can embrace these values on my own, through study, reflection, meditation, and my every day actions, and I am attempting just that. It’s hard, and I have a long way to go, but I know that something needs to change, that something is missing, and I can’t hope to find it if I’m not embracing the qualities that I am drawn to most in other people.

I’m reading a book called It’s a Meaningful Life, If Just Takes Practice (by Bo Lozoff). It’s a wonderful book that address common questions about pursuing a spiritual life with specific practices meant to help you discover and walk your own path. The book is brutally honest in its critique of mainstream American society and I find myself cringing with shame or even bristling defensively at some of what he says. When I react negatively, I stop reading for a day or two and ruminate on the point that was made and how it triggered me. Almost always I conclude that I agree with his opinion, even if I recognize that I’m not ready to make the sacrifices he suggests.

I’m very much aware that I consider some of his suggestions sacrifices (like severely limiting screen time, or abstaining completely from alcohol), even when I can recognize their value. I think a lot about the fact that I have everything I’ve ever wanted and yet I’m still plagued by dissatisfaction–clearly the changes I need to make are not superficial, and yet I conjure excuses for all the reasons I can’t change the things that probably most need changing.

When I first started reading about Buddhism I thought a lot about the monks who had devoted their life to reaching enlightenment, giving up all worldly possessions in the pursuit of spiritual fulfillment. Even at the very beginning of my journey, when I had yet to understand the depth of my need for spirituality, I suspected that I’d choose my own life, with all its creature comforts and crippling depression, over the life of those monks, even though I believed, deep in my heart, that they are happier. Even then I recognized that I didn’t have the courage to let go of the familiar, even when it was making me miserable.

I’m still not sure I have the courage to tear down the foundation of who I am and how I see the world and build something better. It’s hard to go against the status quo, especially when you’re as plagued with uncertainty and self-doubt as I am. It’s also hard to accept the status quo when it’s clearly failing.

I’m not sure where this search for spirituality will lead me, but I know I need to keeping looking. I owe myself that much.

13 Comments

  1. This is not something I personally give a lot of thought to…but I definitely think mixed belief relationships can work as long as there is respect for both sides. I can see where not being able to share such an important part of your life with your SO may be hard, but on the other hand, its such an intensely personal journey that I don’t know if it IS possible to truly share it with someone else. Do you think he is resentful/fearful that you are growing away from him with your exploration of spirituality? (asking sincerely this time, not rhetorically!)

    1. I think it’s more that he just sees it as one more big thing that makes us different, something else we don’t have in common anymore. I guess I don’t think he sees it as me growing away from him so much as me just growing into a different person from the one he fell in love with. And it’s another thing I will be doing without him, yet another thing we won’t share.

  2. I also think it’s possible to have a spiritual practice your husband isn’t a part of, especially since the type of spirituality you are embracing is so personal — it doesn’t require you to go to church, change your diet, etc. in a way that directly affects your partner. It seems like for your husband, his passion for music fills the same role that you are hoping spirituality does for you.

    I’m very involved in a religious community, but I rarely think about spirituality. I mostly think of the communal and social justice aspects of religion, rather than the spiritual. My husband’s lack of enthusiasm for religion is somewhat challenging for me. He’s extremely respectful and participates occasionally, but he doesn’t have the desire to immerse himself on the community the way that I do. I don’t begrudge him for it at all though. I went into this marriage knowing that I would be the main driver of our involvement in a religious community but it would be nice if it was something we did together, especially now that we are parents. But, there are also benefits to it being primarily my thing. Anyway, you’ve inspired me to think more about the spiritual aspect of it.

    I do think that as your children get older, you will have more time to devote to this journey, for example when your children are reading or playing with one another without your supervision or spending time with friends. I also suspect that your husband may be more willing and enthusiastic about spending time with both kids without you once they are school age, giving you more time to read, meditate, to hear speakers, etc.

    1. One of the reasons I want to explore spirituality is because I very much want to find a meaningful community that shares my values. My husband has no interest in being a part of any community really, so I know he really wouldn’t want to be a part of a spiritual community. I hope to include my kids some day too, and I’m not sure how he’d feel about being left out. I’m sure he’d be okay with it, as long as he agreed with whatever was being taught/valued there.

      I do hope that as my kids get older I’ll have more time and energy to dedicate to this path. And I hope I can start involving them in a community, if I’m every able to find one.

      1. Not wanting to be a part of a community is something I can’t relate to. I crave it. I am always seeking out communities. I am so looking forward to having a community when my son starts preschool. Doesn’t your husband have a community of sorts with the with whom people he founded his organization? Or he doesn’t see it as that?

        1. Me too! I can’t fathom not wanting community. I also crave it. But it’s how he grew up. His parents don’t have any community to speak of. They don’t have friends and they never see their family. It’s strange because they are entirely enmeshed in our lives, but otherwise they are complete loners. (They are great babysitters because they NEVER have any plans!) And that is how my husband would be if it weren’t for me.

          He does have a bit of a community at his organization, but besides the co-founder, he’d probably just as soon never see the other people. He just doesn’t need, or even like, to be with people. I’ve had to push him to keep up the friendships he had with people from law school and the big firm job that followed. I’ve made more plans with their families than he has. We had a VERY small wedding because he didn’t want to have anyone there. Frankly it’s kind of odd, and my desire to be with people conflicts mightily with his desire to be at home, alone. It’s a big issue with us.

          1. This is really interesting.

            I think it is much easier for couples to deal with these types of differences in couples before you have kids. If you don’t have kids, during your spare time, each person does what he or she wants and you work out how much time to spend with one another as a couple. But, once you have kids, pursuing these different types of activities involves cooperation from your partner. If it is not a child-friendly activity, you need your partner to watch your kids. And if it is child-friendly, it can be lonely or overwhelming to participate without your partner.

            Different families have different cultures. In some families, the whole family spends lots of time together. In others, the partners take turns with the kids so the other partner can have time to do his or her own thing. In other families, the couple may really value adult time so they rely on babysitters and family members so they can get away as a couple. It’s challenging when your conception of how your family should operate is different from your partner’s.

  3. It’s interesting to me to think about how in many ways my spiritual practices are disconnected from my religion – the religious community is about social justice and community for me too, and it’s nice to have a religious framework to develop as a family since it’s a huge part of what we do together. My spiritual practice is more about connecting with the Divine and probably could fit into a religious context but I usually think about it separately because we have a religious community that isn’t open to where I fit theologically and spiritually. And it’s mine, although my spiritual practices developed with a social group’s input and my mentor’s, so I tend to not talk about it outside that social group, perhaps especially not with my religious community. I hope you find what you seek on this journey and that it brings you peace.

    1. I think for me spirituality will end up being more a personal journey than something I take within a community, but I know Buddhism has a strong practice of forming mentor bonds so that those with less experiences can be guided through the more challenging aspects of exploring their own spirituality. That is really what I’m hoping to find at some point, inside the broader community.

  4. I dated a man of very different spiritual beliefs for several years. Eventually he proposed and I rejected his proposal/we broke up. Had we never intended on having children, I think I would have tried to make it work. But although I was ok with the idea of raising children in both faiths (and was willing to attend Kingdom Hall with him/our children), he was not willing to attend church with me/our children. And, for me, that was a deal breaker. I would be fine with my children being exposed to both faiths and ultimately making a decision for themselves about what they believed, but would not be ok with their father so clearly stating via actions that we was so vehemently opposed to what I believed that he would not even support my belief with attendance.

    Anyway, I ended up marrying a man with similar spiritual beliefs and faith is a primary pillar of our relationship / weekly activities / friendships / way we’re raising our daughter. Now the idea that I could have settled for anything less makes me almost sick.

    That said, I’m glad you’re searching for more spirituality in your life, even if your husband is not…

    1. “Anyway, I ended up marrying a man with similar spiritual beliefs and faith is a primary pillar of our relationship / weekly activities / friendships / way we’re raising our daughter.” <-- This sounds amazing. I can't even imagine.

  5. I was struck by your comment that you feel you need to “tear down the foundation of who you are’ before you can “build something better.” This is an all or nothing approach, and given your current circumstances I am not surprised that you doubt that you have the willingness to do this. Tearing down the foundation of who you doesn’t sound like self-compassion or self-acceptance to me – quite the opposite. It sounds like self-loathing. Besides, it might be easy for single, male monks living in a cloistered temple in the forest, but much more difficult for a full-time teacher, mother and wife in the 21st century. It seems to me that an incremental approach might be much easier for you, and for your husband, to deal with. After all, you already doing that by focusing on self-compassion, kindness, gratitude. Adding in small changes to your lifestyle or mindset might bring the change you are looking for in a more gentle and manageable way for you and your family.

    Or are you looking for a sudden, born-again conversion, hoping that this will solve all your problems and make you happy?

    1. You’re right. That is an intense way of phrasing it. What I’m referring to is more rewriting over so many of my bad, but deeply engrained habits, my need to distract myself, my pulling away from boredom and discomfort, my constant seeking of stimuli. So it’s not that I need to rebuild from the foundation, but more that I need to rewrite over software I’ve been using for years and years.

      And I’m definitely looking to take small steps, to work on one thing for a while and then add another. I have no desire for a sudden, born-again conversion. I don’t think that would ever happy to me. I’m just not that kind of person. 😉

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