Friday, September 25, 2015

My Spiritual Side

I have never thought of myself as spiritual.  But that isn't why up until recently I had little interest in being a practicing Jew.

Even as a kid when I attended Sunday school, was Bat Mitzvah'd and attended weekly services with my family, I was agnostic.  I just never connected with the idea of a higher power that I couldn't see, hear, feel, touch, etc. I've always swayed towards the rational side and, as is evident from this blog, demand tangible evidence if I am going to believe something.  But the real reason I rejected it was that, as a kid in a small town, being Jewish just made me different, and not really in a good way.

I now embrace practicing Judaism, in my own way.  This doesn't mean following the dietary laws (I love seafood too much and hate the restriction of no milk and meat stomach comes first and foremost!). But attending shul for the important holidays and being part of a synagogue and a community is very important to me.  Judaism isn't so much a religion for me as a culture. 

So why did I mention spirituality? As I've gotten older I've become more spiritual and realized that spirituality doesn't necessarily have anything to do with organized religion.  In fact, it doesn't necessarily have anything to do with the belief in a divine power or anything mystical either.  According to Wikipedia, spirituality "...may refer to almost any kind of meaningful activity, personal growth, or blissful experience."

By this definition I realized recently I've become a 'spiritual' person!

For me this means I have become immersed in a constant quest for personal growth, and very slowly have found it.  This has come about through a combination of my professional work and my personal work, which are, inextricably intertwined. 

I believe I have struggled with existential issues since I was a young kid.  I was always asking the big questions and was never satisfied with the status quo.  But even in university when studying Descartes, Sartre, Foucault, etc., I considered the questions raised from a very intellectual perspective, without the ability to connect it to myself on a personal level. Even after a BA, MA and PhD!  I feel like I only had my own personal enlightenment when after Little A was born, I started my Masters in Counselling.  I knew instantly I had found my calling.  Sure enough, becoming a counsellor has woken up something very profound in me.  I love my work so deeply, I am passionate about it, and I believe I benefit from it as much as my clients do.  I have learned so much about the human mind, communication, love, the influence of culture, the world, and about myself. Perhaps because of all this, I have had some extreme highs and lows over the last few years but there is no doubt it has been a period of dramatic learning and personal growth. 

I had desperately hoped that now that I've returned to attending Jewish holiday services, I would connect on a personal level with the content.  I didn't expect to, to be honest, but I am so thrilled to say I have.  Certainly this is largely due to the fact that we chose a synagogue that is congruous with my values, but I also think I am at a stage in my life where I have become open to seeing its value.

Instead of being bored and edgy during services, as I expected to I usually am when having to sit sedentary, for long periods of time, I find myself, just as is intended, being deeply contemplative.

I have spent the past few years reading a lot of social psychology, which has informed my professional work, of course, but also aided in my own personal journey.  I find our wonderful rabbi chooses supplemental readings for the services which compliment the things I've been reading and thinking about.  Finally I recognize my spirituality, and have discovered that it does, actually connect with my religion.

So all this to say that I now realize that being spiritual is really about being contemplative, living and acting consciously and with an intent to honour oneself and others physically, and spiritually.  Seeing one's position in the context of community (both locally and globally). 

What I know for certain is that every human being needs to feel a sense of purpose in order to be fulfilled.  This sense of purpose can come from work, a role in the family or community, a hobby, an artistic endeavor, or by following a religious practice or tradition.  I have found my sense of purpose and now see how being an active part of my 'tribe' enhances it.  I realized that being Jewish doesn't make me different, and not just because there are way more Jews in Toronto than where I grew up! No, its because no matter what our race, ethnicity, nationality or religion, we are essentially all the same.  We all seek a sense of purpose.  We all need to feel loved and appreciated.  We all suffer.

And with that, I sign off.  Have an enlightening weekend everyone!

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