UU Women's Connection

Spiritual Work

As a UU Women's Connection Council member, I am sometimes asked to write something for the newsletter. It's not required. And at the moment I have nothing newsworthy to impart. But I have some thoughts I'd like to share. If you like my thoughts, I may make this a regular item in the newsletter.

One of my spiritual teachers recently told me that only about 5% of all people are doing spiritual work at any given time. I knew what she meant, at least as it applied to me. But I got to thinking -- what is spiritual work; what activities qualify? Also, who's to say what spiritual work is and what isn’t? Must it be a conscious effort? Or is everything we do spiritual work? To those last two questions, I guess a case could be made for a positive answer to the latter. But I'm going to go with an affirmative to the former for this discussion. So first things first -- let me attempt to define spiritual work. But as with all things spiritual, I know that my definition will be limited and may not match your definition or that of others -- all of which are valid.

Mind, body and spirit --I think that in order to do complete spiritual work one must do something for each of these aspects of ourselves. To neglect one or two doesn't mean that we're not doing spiritual work; it just means that there is more to do.

For the mind I believe it's most important to have quiet time. This might be meditating (when one quiets the mind), praying (which I've always thought of as the time for asking) or reflecting (time spent reviewing one's thoughts, actions, day or whatever one wishes to reflect upon, but reflecting without judgment). In addition to quiet time, reading, writing, creating art or focusing our minds in some other creative task can be very spiritual.

For the body, we must take care of it as best we can in a mindful way. Doing your best to eat right is one way. Whether you read up on the latest nutritional news, simply go organic or, no matter what you eat, you take your time, eat mindfully and are grateful for what you are eating. Exercise for the sake of feeling good and taking care of yourself can also be spiritual. Whether you do yoga, dance, walk a treadmill, take a Zumba class or run marathons. As with eating, purpose or intention is what matters. Whatever you do, if you do it with mindfulness and by following your intuitions, if your purpose is to take care of yourself because your body is precious this is spiritual work.

For the spirit we must do service. For years I struggled with the notion of figuring out how and why I'm supposed to interact with my fellow humans. There was a part of me that thought it really didn't matter how or if I interacted, so long as I was not intentionally hurtful or cruel. I wasn't on the verge of becoming a hermit, but I wasn't really doing anything much for anyone but myself. But now I've come to understand that being of service to others on this planet is a big part of why I'm here -- why we are all here. There are so many ways one can be of service, from doing very small things -- holding the door for someone, smiling at people you pass -- to giving significantly of your time in volunteer service. It doesn't so much matter what you do as it does that you do something regularly and you do it with the intention of giving for the sake of giving and, need I say, expecting nothing in return. And by nothing I mean nothing -- not even that good feeling you often get when you do things for others. If you get that feeling, good for you. But the idea is to do the work with no expectations. For more on serving others, I found this article that I thought had good perspective: http://tinybuddha.com/blog/createmeaningbyhelpingotherswithoutdoingitforvalidation/

I suppose there are many other things that could be considered spiritual work. And I have to add here, who am I to judge what another's spiritual work is? When I look at those I consider to be some of the most spiritual (at the top of my list would be Buddhist monks) I know that their lives are simple. They are mostly vegetarian (body), they meditate (mind), and they do service -- some for their fellow monks, others for community (spirit). Of course, one does not need to be a monk or a nun or clergy of any kind to do spiritual work. But I do think that spiritual work is more than just having religious or spiritual beliefs, going to church, trying to behave in a moral and ethical fashion. These things are all good, but to me, don't define spiritual work. What do you think?

~ Janet Adams