Thirty days hath September.
Those were rocky days. As were the 31 days of August before that. This summer challenged me in ways I'm still processing. Instead of flailing around, though I did a fair amount of that, too, I was able to fall back on two spiritual practices to help me muddle through: yoga and meditation.
These days I mostly do yoga in the privacy of my own home, where I can intuitively feel for the movements my body needs and go at my own pace. It helped me remember to breathe deeply on those days when I realized my inhalations were quick and shallow. Meditation slowed my frontal lobe activity and soothed some of the panicky feelings.
I felt grateful that in a time of stress, I had well-established solutions to rely on.
The experience reminded me why it's so important to develop a practice for the hard times, and work at it regularly, even when times are good and your brain might try to trick you: "Self, you'll never need this. Why do you waste so much time doing it when you could be watching Netflix?"
Here's why: life will inevitably and relentlessly circle around and present you with some heart-wrenching situation when you least expect it. But if you have a stable, steady spiritual practice you're already familiar with, it can help you find a pinprick of light as you maneuver through the darkness.
Do you have a practice? It doesn't have to be yoga or meditation, and it doesn't have to be complicated. Sometimes I wonder if we overthink it or don't know where to begin, so we never begin at all.
Naturally, Rev. Ahriana Platten, senior minister at Unity Spiritual Center in the Rockies, is all for it.
"It causes you to make time in your life for you, which we don't really do," Platten said. "We get involved in work and raising families and all the requirements of existence. There's a big difference between living and existing. In order to have a sense of self, you have to make time for the self. Practice causes us to do that and really to connect with something sacred."
There's one simple reason for creating a practice, said Marcus Robinson, director of the Anselm Society's Anselm Arts Guild and former pastor of Crossover Church. The Anselm Society is a local organization that uses lecture, music and art as a way to stir up conversation about the modern renaissance of Christian imagination.
"Because we're spiritual people," he said.
Platten's method is profound in its simplicity - it's remembering that anything can be a sacred and spiritual practice.
"How would it be if in the morning you went to brush your teeth, and part of what you did while doing it is say to yourself, 'It's my hope the divine clears me so that all the words I speak today are sacred and holy and a blessing into the world?'" she said. "People believe they don't have time for practice. I coach to find it in something they do all the time, like when they take a shower in the morning. As the water is running over you, if you think to yourself a prayer that everything that needs to be released is released and runs down the drain and you can start in a clean and clear place, that is a different thing than standing in the shower and thinking about what you're going to do later in the day when get to the office."
Robinson is on the same page about keeping it simple. For those who are starting from scratch, he believes the best thing to do is get into a community where people have regular spiritual practices and learn from them.
"A lot of people who go to church or pray already have (developed a practice)," he said. "You start with what you're already doing and you're intentional about it. You're really aware of how this is shaping me as a person, not just habits given to me growing up, but that I'm going to do this for the purpose of cultivating my own spirit and a relationship with God."
I especially liked one last tidbit Robinson shared about the relationship of spirituality to creativity.
"We often overlook the arts as being a part of our spiritual practice," he said. "People are more and more rediscovering that paintings can act as prayer or poetry as prayer. Those really breathe life into those traditional practices that people have often been handed."