Today is the 1st of August, the first day of autumn in my Gaelic culture, and I am sitting in a café and contemplating what it is that my spiritual practice needs this year. As I often do at the Sabbats, I read back over all my blog posts written on or near this day over the past six years. And I had a sobering realisation: my spiritual practice began to really, drastically falter this time two years ago.
In hindsight, I am no longer surprised to revisit what I wrote on the 31st July 2015 and read depression and hopelessness between the lines. My beloved cat, Bumble, had died less than three weeks before. I had spent the past twelve months gradually dismantling my life in Dublin. And in the end, I perhaps felt that I had not burst out of that difficult period with the brilliant new life I had hoped for. I was excited to move to Edinburgh a month later; but I was still mired in a relationship which was making us deeply unhappy, but which we still were unable to relinquish. In a way, it felt as though I had given up so much with little return.
From my perspective now, two years later, I am starting to see the progression of my spirituality – its rise and decline – as a caution to myself on imposing a burden of expectation on my practice. In 2015, I was not merely conjoining my spiritual practice with my self development – I was expecting that working harder and harder at my practice, at my ritual, would magically (sometimes literally) make me a happier and better person.
I don’t think this attitude is inherently problematic; but it became a problem for me. I felt frustrated that I was not emerging from a sort of spiritual chrysalis as a perfected being, contented and creatively virulent. All of the dissatisfaction I felt with my daily life, I felt I should and could be solving if only I could just feel more in ritual – if only I could be more spiritual and have deeper, more ecstatic experiences.
If I could go back in time, I would counsel myself some patience. I would remind myself that it’s ok for life to become hard, and to experience emotional turmoil. I would remind myself that when this happens, it’s ok for things like a spiritual practice to feel a little hollow sometimes. But most of all, I would tell myself: your unhappiness is not a failure of faith. Your uncertainty is not a failure of diligence. And for gods’ sake, try to just find one thing that really, truly brings you joy and excitement, and focus on that for a while.
Two years on, I am finally in the process of slowly – so slowly – breathing life and vigour back into my spirituality. What I have learned so far is that, while self-care and self-development need not be segregated from my spiritual practice, if I get too caught up in transforming myself as the aim of practice, it eventually falls flat. If I expect my spirituality to be the driving force behind the changes I want to see in my working and creative life, this will inevitably lead to disappointment, exhaustion, and even resentment in my spirituality.
I need to stop waging a war against myself – and nowhere more than at the altar. I can see now that self-development became a stick with which I beat myself; and after some time, this became synonymous with my spiritual journey.
Instead, now, I am focusing on shifting awareness. I don’t need to change, my habits and my life don’t need to change, in order to “be spiritual”. I simply want to sit at the altar and remember the web of which I am a part. I want to sit at the altar and feel my awareness expand, feel this tiny self expand out to meet the infinity of cosmos. And I no longer want to expect that when I return to normal consciousness, this spiritual experience will have magically transformed me into a perfect, creative, energetic person who can “live her bliss” without stress, anxiety, uncertainty, or obstacle.