Spiritual Practice During Difficult Times

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A friend of mine called last week to say that her sister had recently had a stroke, and her brother-in-law had terminal cancer. Since their kids were busy young professionals, my friend had taken on the task of looking after her sister and brother-in-law. Being tossed this responsibility is difficult in the best of times, but when you have a busy career in another city, as my friend does, this new task seemed absolutely daunting. Essentially, my friend dropped everything and went to tend to her needy family members. When I asked her how she was managing, she replied by saying, “Thank goodness I have a reliable spiritual practice.”

A spiritual practice is not something you add to your busy “to do” list, but is a way of living, a path you follow on your spiritual journey—that is, activities you engage in every day. There are thousands of different types of spiritual practices, but some popular ones often used by baby boomers include creative practices (the visual and creative arts), aromatherapy, Reiki, chanting, yoga, studying, offering charitable services, playing music, and speaking with others.

We don't always think of meditation and prayer as spiritual practices, but they are, and they can help us navigate difficult times. My daily spiritual practice happens to be meditation. I meditate about an hour in the morning and about an hour in the afternoon. If I don’t meditate, I feel a certain degree of angst and experience feelings of being unsettled.

You might think of meditation as a time of both nothingness and oneness. If you do it while sitting, close your eyes and take some gentle breaths to become centered. However, you should know that meditation doesn’t work for everyone. In fact, I have two friends who say they cannot sit still for meditation. For them, I’ve recommended a walking meditation. If this doesn’t work for you, find some other spiritual practice that does, and incorporate it into your life.

As baby boomers, we often feel as if we’re in the sandwich generation—helping our kids grow up while dealing with the issues of aging parents. On most days, we’re able to juggle these responsibilities, but on others, the challenges seem unbearable. In his book A Lamp in the Darkness, Jack Kornfield says that when encountering difficult times, you should stand your ground and reflect upon the warrior and giants who’ve lived before you, feeling their essence and survival instinct in your blood. This should give you the strength you need. He encourages mindfulness and living in the present moment because he believes that being present is one of the best ways to maintain a sense of calm and establish a healing refuge. In summary, he says that to carry the lamp through the darkness, we it’s important for us to be centered, stable and grounded in the midst of the most difficult times.

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