I’m not a religious person. I just don’t believe in the necessary dieties, and I don’t agree with some of the inherent hypocrisy. There, I said it. But the older I get, the more I see vague connections. Connections between people across religions, connections between religions themselves, connections between my perception of myself and my perception of others. Connections between what makes me feel good and what must be the meaning of life. I am not religious, but I am deeply spiritual.
Over the past year I’ve felt what I can only describe as a spiritual pang. I was seeking community or answers or a way for me to work out my own understanding. I’ve been to lots of different churches, from Unitarian to Methodist, from Catholic Mass to Jewish temple & none of it was exactly right. I even joined a church- the First Congregational of Boulder- and while it is lovely and open and most closely aligns with my values, it still isn’t exactly right. I still felt a bit like an outsider, and it wasn’t my true spiritual support and community.
Unrelated to any of this, I decided this year that one of my New Years resolutions was going to be taking the time for myself and reading more books. I used to be a voracious reader, and it truly brought me joy and escape. That was prior to having two children and a demanding career though, and over the past several years my reading had dwindled to practically nothing. For once, I actually held myself accountable to my own resolutions, and since January I’ve read three books. One was a book several friends suggested, one was a book I happened upon through a blog, and one was our campus book club selection. Chance, or fate, or serendipity.
Yet over the course of these three books, I found what I had been seeking. Answers, a spiritual community, meaning, hope.
The first, and my favorite, was The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. It didn’t just speak to me- it practically sang. I found entire passages resonating with my soul and it left me feeling empowered, inspired and full. The funny part is, I didn’t particularly care for the “story” aspect of the book, and yet with every page turn I became invested on the deepest level possible. It made me wonder what my own Personal Legend is, and what lengths I will go to to achieve it. It made me realize that I need to listen more often- to my heart, my mind & my surroundings. It showed me that every single person on earth is not only important, but necessary. And it made me understand that fear is nothing more than wasted time.
This was followed by Carry on Warrior by Glennon Doyle Melton. This is a collection of brave, funny, and moving autobiographical essays. Glennon’s writing is quirky, kind and straightforward to the point that it’s almost like reading a letter from a friend. The book made me feel like I am not alone in anything. It reminded me that life is incredibly hard, but that it is those challenges, struggles and falls that make us human. She talks about how letting our guards down, dropping the “everything is great” facade, and being vulnerable actually does more to empower ourselves and our current and potential connections than anything else possibly could. And it was really those potential connections that resonated with me. What if by being enthusiastically myself, I could help free someone else from their own burdens? The implications to me were absolutely staggering and I resolved at right that second I would no longer pretend on any level. This is me, take it or leave it.
And most recently I read Daring Greatly by Brene’ Brown. Brene’ is a researcher and academic who has done a massive amount of work on the concepts of vulnerability and shame. Her TED talks on those topics are some of my favorites ever, and this book further illustrated her points. She talked about how people see vulnerability as showing weakness, when it is really the epitome of courage. And most importantly, she talked about the human need for connection and how it is something we all strive for individually, and as a society. This connection is what gives us purpose and meaning, although we may call it other things. And that it is our own internal sense of shame, guilt and fear that really prevents us from truly having the relationships we want. Again, I found myself wanting to melt in front of everyone I love. To let my guard down, shed my armor and be ME. To gain those authentic connections that are flittering on the cusp. Plus as a bonus, she gave me what may be my favorite quote ever: “Don’t try to win over the haters; you are not a jackass whisperer.”
These three books taken together have absolutely changed my life for the better. I wholeheartedly believe they were meant for me to find at this very time. And although they are each so different, they complimented each other in ways I could have never imagined. Through these books, I found my church, my path & myself. As it turns out, my New Years resolution was to dig into my spirituality. Mission, accomplished.