This weekend I went to a retreat at a monastery in Massachusetts. As soon as I pulled in, I felt that it was a sacred place. I knew that I had been drawn there for a reason. I love the saints, Mother Mary and my personal connection with Jesus. And even though it was a silent retreat, I had a chance here and there to meet some wonderfully kind people and enjoyed the Gregorian-style chanting of the monks.
In a brief conversation with a monk, a few things that I had forgotten about (how the combination of having a daily work routine and connecting with Divine light can release negative thinking) rang true.
It was a special time for me to have space and quiet to myself, to meditate on my own, and to feel peace as I read, walked outside and sat in stillness alone.
Still, I am not a fan of many aspects of the religion it is a part of, and a few things happened that solidified that belief. It felt confusing for me, so I can only imagine how many people who grew up in this religion feel.
How could I feel this Divine connection with people who exude such a holy presence, but yet are participating in church doctrine that I find to be judgmental/condemning of others?
I came to the conclusion that the 80-20 rule (otherwise known as Pareto's principle) also applies to this situation, as to almost every situation in life. I liked 80% of what I heard, but 20% I did not resonate with at all. In fact, I left early partly because of this (and partly because of forecast for snow).
Still, I took away something from this time. I admire people who are so devoted to Divine essence, and I am inspired by their work ethic and piety. Maybe part of me also longs for a spiritual community to be a part of... or wishes I could so completely surrender to a higher power like they can.
But I am a mom and I have a partner I love, and I like being the world. I learned a lot from this weekend, and I learned that I can pick what I like and reject what I don't. I am spiritual, but not religious (in fact it was this very phrase that my husband said which reeled me in!).
I probably won't go back to this place, but it was a special experience that I will always remember. It left me with some thoughts about why so many of us have veered away from religious institutions. This may be because they come with doctrine that may not ring true for many people.
Some people are able to continue membership in a particular religion, even though they do not agree with some of the teachings. They set aside the parts they do not like and take the parts they do.
I do believe that there is a way, though, to have spiritual community, independent of confining structures. This may be why so many of us go to yoga, and to retreats, these days. We all long for this.
Here are a few ideas for building spiritual community:
invite a few friends over for a meditation circle. You don’t need to be a teacher to do this. Just put on some soothing music (or no music!) and sit together in silence, or listening to a guided meditation. (Learn more about this in this new free online class, How to Meditate Easily and Joyfully!)
Host a book group for people to read a spiritual book together and discuss.
Have a potluck with neighbors and friends - you can rotate houses (I’m a big fan of “crappy” dinner parties in which no one cleans up special and just makes food from whatever is in their kitchen!)
Go on mindful walks with some friends.
Join an existing community of like-minded people gathering regularly (like the Soulful Work Community)!
Connect more, in some way, with your neighbors and friends! Send light from your heart to theirs. Pick up the phone and call someone. Send someone a handwritten note. Small gestures like these can uplift the life of another in big ways, and can create a lasting bond.
It really doesn’t take too long to organize a gathering like this. Don’t wait for someone else to do it. Take action and you just might inspire another to do the same. May it be so!