Living Outside the Box
Walking the streets of New York City yesterday, I was transported back to the time I first moved to the city. I was a teenager, had been raised in a very conservative Mormon family on a farm, and had already faced many years of adversity because of who I am. My parents and family didn't understand me, not because they didn't try, but because I was just outside of the norm. I was an artist in a small town that at the time (and perhaps still) put almost as much value in sports as their belief in God. If you were a boy, your options were participating in sports or be part of the "out" group; I was way out.
By the time I found my way to New York City, I had been touring with various shows for about a year and was on a journey of self-discovery. It was October then as it is now, and the smell of fall was in the crisp Autumn air. I eventually rented a room from a dear Dominican woman, Norma, on 111th Street and Amsterdam Avenue, and lived there with her and her 10-year-old son, Antonio. The first-floor apartment was across the street from the fountain that sits at the beautifully towering Cathedral of St. John the Divine. I found employment as a telephone operator for a new company called dELiA*s selling hip, trendy clothing to teenage girls while pursuing my passions and promised myself to never let anybody else define me. I was determined to live life on my terms.
Being the first time I had lived on my own without some form of outside guidance, there were several lessons I needed to learn. On more than one occasion I would run completely out of money between paychecks. At times I couldn't garner enough money to buy a subway token, which at the time was $1.25, so I would wake up 2 hours early and trek the 7.5 miles to work from 111th Street to Houston Street and arrive tired and still broke, but happy and WELLthy. I was following my spirit, my authentic voice inside. I was free. These are some of the best memories of my life.
In the four years that I've been (officially) coaching people in the areas of health and wellness, one thing has become glaringly apparent to me. More often than not, when a client isn't well, they aren't living their most authentic self. While making recommendations to alter lifestyle and eating habits to combat the effects of such a life, I find that if I can help my clients begin to live more authentically, even just a little bit in the beginning, the physical and mental symptoms of being unwell melt away much more quickly than if they stay inside the box within which they've been living.
How to discover your authentic self?
We are born our most authentic selves. Children live from an authentic place until the burdens, expectations, and boundaries of family and society begin to settle in. Children laugh more frequently and resort to happiness much quicker than adults. Some would argue that this is because of adult "worries," but most of these worries stem from inauthentic living which leads to ramifications in all areas of life. Parents often lead their children down a path that they believe to be the path of happiness or rightness. Consequently, children are boxed into and lead down a path of in-authenticity to themselves and find themselves torn between wanting to please their parents, not knowing any better, wanting to fit in, and continuing to discover their own authentic path. Unfortunately, this happens to way too many children. After living years inside the box set upon us by society, it is very difficult to find our authentic self; nearly impossible for some without outside help. As you begin to peel back the layers, however, glimpses of who you were, and still are at your core, begin to shine through.
The first step to discovering your authentic self is asking, "Who am I." Although a seemingly simple question, if you can find the answer you have solved the first part of the equation. Are you a musician? An artist? Do you have an eye for photography? Are you a good listener? A nurturer? An athlete? What sets you apart? We all have things that make us, us. What makes you, you?
Secondly, what do you like to do? What really gets you going? Is it music? Dancing? Singing? Art? Working out? Reading? Cooking? Gardening? Writing? Helping others? Physical touch? This doesn't have to be something you're good at, but rather, what really resonates with your core. What really makes you happy?
If you can define these two questions, you are well on your way to discovering which areas to explore and expand to live a more authentic life. Answering these questions isn't easy and the answers you get may not be clear or satisfying at first. This is where (cue eye roll, but don't stop reading... it's not what you're thinking - I promise!) spiritual practice comes in. Before discussing spiritual practice, let me define spirit from my unique perspective as an artist who struggled through this process myself, and then became a scientist who studied from both a western and eastern philosophy.
What is Spirit and Why Is It Important? It Has Nothing to do with Religion.
Understanding spirit has been vital to my life and work. My definition may surprise you. Although it is so often associated with religion in the Western world, spirit has nothing to do with religion. In my coaching and healing business, I work with clients from the body-mind-spirit perspective of healing. Having lived the life I've lived, struggling against the current of what was expected of me from a very young age, and seeing the effects of living from an inauthentic and, later, an authentic place, set me up to gain invaluable insight about spirit when my focus became scientific in nature. What I had felt my whole life was reinforced with the scientific training I received, first as a biologist, as a master of public health, and as a medical doctor, but more-so as a student of Eastern Medicine, massage therapist, reiki master, and a nutritionist. Spirit has nothing to do with religion, but rather, with energy, and is as real and crucial to our health and well-being as our physical body.
In western medicine, spirit is referred to as the bio-field; the field of energy that surrounds and flows through every living being. Although it is acknowledged, it is not understood and therefore rarely makes its way into western medical discourse. One thing we do know from a western medical perspective, however, is that before the onset of any chronic disease, there is a change in this energy field that surrounds and flows throughout the body, and if these changes can be corrected or reversed, we prevent the disease.
In Eastern Medicine, spirit it is referred to as Chi or Qi, both of which means energy or life force, or even vital life force. Without it, one is said to have no vitality; to be flat in both demeanor and health. This has been the foundation of Eastern medicine for thousands of years and is the basis of Eastern medical modalities of healing such as acupuncture and acupressure. In other Eastern modalities and in new-age circles in the West, spirit is sometimes referred to as the aura, but I avoid this term because of its misuse and the stigma often associated with it.
When viewed through this perspective, spirit takes on a whole new meaning and begins our understanding of how vital it is to health and well-being. The changes that develop within our bio-field, or spirit, are a result of stress, poor diet, toxins from our food and environment, social difficulties such as feelings of rejection, and all the assaults that impact our systems every day. Through spiritual practice, we can shift this energy back into balance. The shifts are subtle and cumulative; over time breaking through the dams that hold our true-selves inside.
What is spiritual practice
There are many spiritual practices. Meditation, Reiki, qigong, Kaballah, tai chi and yoga (real yoga, not "Westernized" yoga) are just a few examples of spiritual practice. From this short list, you may recognize that some of these practices are categorized as "exercise" in the West, but they have been adopted (and too often adapted) from Eastern practices that are spiritually based. For many people, their introduction to spiritual practice can be like walking through a maze blindfolded at first. This is one reason most spiritual practices have a Master or Teacher to guide you. While absolutely necessary for some practices, other practices don't require guidance, but you may find it easier with a little direction.
Although some religions employ the use of spiritual practice, spiritual practice, like spirit, has nothing to do with religion. There is no dogma or belief system one must subscribe or submit to in order to participate and benefit. Meditation is practiced in Buddhism, for example, but one needn't be Buddhist to benefit from meditation, as has been proven scientifically. There is no belief system required to meditate, nor to practice any other spiritual practice.
Many spiritual practices are also referred to as healing modalities. This is because of the physical and mental healing that occurs due to the balancing effects of spiritual practice. One cannot have a meaningful conversation about physical, mental or spiritual (bio-field) healing without discussing all three. Likewise, you cannot engage in a practice that positively affects one without overlapping benefits in the other two areas, even if small at first. Spiritual practice works directly on your spirit or energy body. This, in turn, has scientifically researched and documented effects on your physical body and in turn, your psychology or mental health.
Spiritual Practice and Your Authentic Self
Spiritual practice helps you to find your authentic self. It carves out space in your mind in which exploration and discovery can happen. It opens you up to questions that must be explored and guides you through what can often be a challenging and frustrating, yet rewarding process. It quiets the outside voices of criticism, often your own learned voice being the loudest, and allows for your authentic voice to peak through and be heard. It creates space to explore "who am I" and "what do I like" from a safe, truthful place. Have you put what you must do ahead of what you desire to do for so long that you've forgotten what you like? Many do. Spiritual practice susses out your unique voice while at the same time manifests and emphasizes the connection you have to all. It helps to rebalance your voice with the demands of living in today's world.
I've discovered the benefits of spiritual practice from my own practices of meditation and Reiki. While meditation has carved out space within my mind to re-discover who I am, my self-Reiki practice makes space within myself, while at the same time filling this newly found space with confidence, calm, and an assurance that my journey is true and my spirit replete. Both of these practices continue to sustain me today. They nourish me even more than the food I consume.
To begin a spiritual practice of your own, explore and experiment to discover which practice resinates with you. Don't expect it to be easy. While the practices themselves are simple, the journey they lead you through is complex and beautiful. Let your practice lead you to your most authentic self, balance your spirit, and start living your best life.