Spirituality / What I've Learned / by Rebecca Tillett

Prior to this class, spirituality was a beautiful thing. It was a concept propelled by a greater understanding of the bigger picture, of nature and of the universe. It was beautiful but elusive and untouchable. It was something I felt I had a keen sense of but simply had never devoted any time to. Because of some of the lessons in this class, I now think I’d never devoted any time to it, because I really had no idea where to begin. I now have a greater comprehension and awareness of the concept of spirituality and the incredible amount of work necessary to fulfill our roles as spiritual beings. And yet, it really isn’t difficult. It only seems to require a certain amount of dedication, passion, motivation and time. What’s unfortunate, however, is how lacking those attributes can be, especially in American society. With all importance placed on the external, we grow up learning to look outward, and not within, for happiness and contentment. And when we don’t find those things in our external world, we’re overcome with defeat and sadness, a hopelessness that we can’t rectify with the tools we were taught to use. And in a terrible and redundant display of a lack of wisdom, again we’re taught the solution to our sadness can be found in little mind-altering pills created in a government lab. My father was prescribed anti-depressants only months before he killed himself. At 16, I was prescribed anti-depressants only months after his death after a psychologist had spent a total of 30 minutes talking to me. That’s all he needed, apparently, before sending me home with a bottle of pills that was later determined to cause suicidality in teenagers. But the numbing of all emotion was an entirely too frustrating state of being to linger in and I didn’t last long on them, instead choosing to suffer through my depression and anxiety for the next ten years before finding a psychologist who preferred to talk my problems through to medicating me. As Palmer states “It is so much easier to deal with the external world, to spend our lives manipulating material and institutions and other people instead of dealing with our own souls” (Palmer, 2000, p. 82).

I have been through many autumns and winters in my life, learning to live beside death, sadness, impossibility and austerity. I have spent so much of my life in dead winters, that it’s where I’m most comfortable and secure. I developed a kinship with a season without promises and I dawdled there aimlessly finding comfort in the fact that I had nothing left to lose, because there’s something incredibly freeing and calm in the cold, in knowing there are no more brittle leaves to fall from lifeless branches. Of course, I’d dream fantastically of warmer days ahead, alive with vitality and high-spirits, but I’d assumed there were seasons I was simply never meant to experience. And why would I? It’s both forgivable and understandable if it’s all I’d ever known. I learned to appreciate the beauty of these seasons, the acute sensation of grief. I became grateful for the sadness because I was eventually appreciative to be feeling anything at all after my personal experiences with emotion numbing medication. As Palmer states “Our inward winters take many forms-failure, betrayal, depression, death. But every one of them, in my experience, yields to the same advice: ‘The winters will drive you crazy until you learn t get out into them’” (Palmer, 2000, p. 102). I revered it all almost unwittingly, before my then husband accused me one day of “loving sadness.” Apparently, I had become so content in it, my jarring serenity became noticeable to the outside world. And while I’ll never cease to realize the beauty of such seasons, looking back at my acceptance at such a defeating inevitability is incredibly sad to me now, since for the first time in my life, I have a flourishing temperateness to compare them to.

I was born into autumn and spent the first fifteen years of my life there. I spent the subsequent 16 in winter but I have now entered a Spring in my life. It’s the first time I can say confidently that I’m happy without subtext. I never realized before now, how powerful that is. Even more powerful is the knowledge that I acquired this happiness through my own doing; I, alone, took the ridiculously painful and challenging steps to get here, not even really knowing where I was going. I only knew I was hungering for something I’d never before tasted and I let my faith in the promises of the unfamiliar guide me. I put all conviction in nothing more than possibility and life rewarded me accordingly. I feel unbelievably lucky and brave for the bold moves I’ve recently made in my life and while I know I’m not guaranteed a summer or even a terribly long Spring, I now know that I have the strength necessary to seek them out before so easily acquiescing to a seemingly never-ending and brutal winter.

I found all of the lessons and spiritual teachers of this class to be powerfully enlightening but if I take one thing away from the previous eight weeks, it’ll be my newfound love and ability to meditate. I never before realized how something so simple could be so rewarding and now, when I’m having a rough day or week, I remind myself to sit quietly for thirty minutes so that I can easily distance myself from the trivial frustrations that hold neither the influence nor the ability to ruin my mood. It’s really quite amazing, isn’t it? The power we lend to the minute annoyances of our day among our limited supply of days. I feel I now possess the awareness necessary to end such self-defeating strategies and fill my life with light, warmth, and possibility. Summer awaits.