[music of the soul series]
Are you a cup-half-full or a cup-half-empty kind of person? Our instinctive reply to that question is a matter of personality…yet the way we actually engage the world in optimism or pessimism is also a matter of conscious choice. And I like that. Personality is a starting point, not the ending point.
As a longtime enthusiast of exercise and adventure, I spend a lot of time at my local YMCA. Cardio, weights, cycle classes, Body Pump…I do a little bit of everything. I have a distinct memory (despite my last post!) of walking down the main hallway at the Y a couple months ago. I had experienced one of those “perfect” mornings where the sun was shining warmly, family breakfast was elevating, and my quiet time was invigorating.
My primary emotion that day was a poignant sense of gratitude, even in the midst of very real challenges. I felt freshly resourced inside, attentive to the artwork in the frosted yard outside, and filled with an expansive contentment. But what caught my attention was the way I walked down the hallway at the Y. I am usually hurrying to a class, vaguely aware of the shapes of people moving past, intent on my destination. But this morning was different!
I found myself seeking people’s eyes as I walked…willing to hold their gaze for a few seconds with a smile. Sometimes they would glance away in self-protective habit—only to return the gaze in surprised appreciation for the generosity of being seen. Profoundly simple. Deeply meaningful.
Yes, generosity is a most powerful spiritual act…and the natural response when we experience gratitude. Kindness for others is the overflow of feeling loved ourselves and functions as an anchor to the soul in times of chaos and crisis.
Stress is a subject we’re all well-versed in. The way I like to think about it is that pressure is unavoidable, but stress is not. When we feel the pressure of mounting expectations and difficulty, we get to choose our response—an anxious response generates stress where a trusting response generates faith. I’ll be honest—for me anxiety is as natural as breathing, but I’m gradually learning a new way. Here are a few practices that help me make the transition:
- Space. As soon as I become aware of mounting tension, I seek a bit of space. I step back from the immediate activity (the focus of my stress) and look for a distraction. It’s not avoidance as much as it’s an intentional change in perspective. This might mean simply getting up from my desk and walking out to pet the dog. If the sun is shining, just the act of letting the rays hit my face is an instant attitude adjustment.
- Breathing. For a couple minutes I'll take slow conscious breaths, breathing in a more desirable attitude--say, one of the fruits of the Spirit. In and out. Allowing the Holy Spirit to show up tangibly in this moment of time and space. Penetrating and defusing the anxious situation.
- Affection. Since I work from a home office, I’ll track down my wife Kellie. A long hug and a kiss works wonders on a frazzled soul. If you work in a “real” office, use the phone for a virtual kiss!
- Music. One of the magical qualities of music (and the inspiration for calling this series “Music of the Soul”) is how it bypasses the rational, logical side of the brain and engages the heart directly. Inspirational music is a spiritual practice for aligning the petulant soul with our deeper, truer selves.
- Naming. Ann Voskamp took the Christian literary world by storm five years ago with her book One Thousand Gifts. Rocked by tragedy in her own life, she engaged the long, hard road to recovery through the act of writing a list of 1000 points of specific gratitude. Yes, counting blessings. There’s no getting around it: gratitude is transformational.
What practices of spiritual “shuffle” would you add to this list? What makes your heart sing when your world is buffeted by grief or loss? How do you respond to stress in ways that are spiritually realigning?