Spirituality and Difficult Times in Life

It’s not uncommon for people to associate spirituality with positive feelings and an optimistic outlook on life. Words often connected with spirituality include peace, healing, wholeness, happiness, contentment, and fulfillment. Through spiritual practice, we hope to experience peace, healing, wholeness, happiness, contentment, and fulfillment. However, it doesn’t always work that way.

As we focus attention on the spiritual dimension of life and create space in our lives for spiritual practice, we often discover that we are not content or fulfilled. The deliberate attention on our inner world draws us to the reality that peace and happiness have eluded us. Instead of experiencing wholeness, we may come to understand that parts of self are broken. This can be an unsettling experience.

Of course, it’s not just the spiritual dimension that leads us to the realization that our lives are not what we had hoped for. Many of life’s circumstances can draw us into experiences of dissolution, dissipation, and despair. Rarely do we consider such experiences as “spiritual” because our tendency is to view spirituality in positive terms. However, like it or not, every aspect of our lives is an opportunity to explore the spiritual dimension of self in broader and wider ways.

In whatever way we come to understand that our lives aren’t always characterized by positive attributes, the experience of physical, psychological, or spiritual pain tends to draw us into ourselves in an insular way. Trying to shield ourselves from the discomfort, we close in on ourselves in ways that often lead to isolation in the midst of the pain. It’s in these situations that spiritual practice becomes most important.

By engaging in spiritual practices over time, one learns how to use the tools, techniques, or methods. Repeated spiritual practice results in the tool or method becoming integrated as part of self. It’s no different from using any other kind tool or instrument: the experience of practice leads to mastery so that one no longer thinks about how to use to the tool but can employ it in a natural, reflexive way.

There are two basic ways that turning to familiar spiritual practices can be helpful for us when our tendency is to turn-in on self and become isolated in life’s difficult or painful experiences. The first is that spiritual practice can help us understand the experience of pain in a larger perspective. The truth is that nothing in life lasts forever. All experiences are transitory. Both the experiences we view positively and want to hold onto and experiences that seem negative that we want to be rid of come and go. There is an ebb and flow with everything in life. Spiritual practice helps us to remember that the difficult, painful moments will pass in time. By returning to a familiar practice we may become aware of the natural balance of life even when our experience seems very much out of balance.

A second way that spiritual practice can be helpful to us is its potential to help draw us from isolation to something transcendent. When experiences of pain draw us into isolation, using the tools we’ve mastered through spiritual practice provides an opportunity to transform the experience of isolation into something with transcendent potential. The possibility of transcendence may be something internal, like renewing a sense of hope or purpose in life, or it may be external, like causing us to connect with others for support.

Ultimately, aspects of life that we consider positive, like a long walk in a forest or listening to favorite music, as well as those we consider negative, like experiences of loss, disappointment, or betrayal, are both opportunities to grow more fully. The spiritual dimension of our lives has the potential to enable us to encounter something more than what’s most obvious to us, even when times in life are difficult. Regular spiritual practice can be a dependable way to allow us something more than we may have first realized was possible.

© 2012, emerging by Lou Kavar, Ph.D.. All rights reserved.

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