My father was a Holocaust survivor and thinking about this experience left me confused about my own spiritual practice. Even though we cannot release ourselves completely from our own heritage, I’ve come to believe that we have to find our way to the spirituality that resonates with us individually. This means that I nod to all the Jewish holidays, but do not do much in terms of celebrating them. When my kids were young, I gave them Hanukkah gifts for the seven nights of Hanukkah, but as they grew older I bought them one large gift.
This was very different to when I grew up in the 1960s in New York when my father took me to synagogue during major Jewish Holidays. For him, celebrating the holidays was a traditional bow to his parents who perished in the Holocaust. My father was what one might call a minimalist Jew and taught me that religion separates people; it makes the illusion of bringing them together, but in reality, it is often the opposite.
Today, as an avid meditator and having done my dissertation on the spiritual practice of writing. I realize that spiritual practice comes in many forms. When my grandmother committed suicide when I was ten, my mother bought me a Khalil Gibran journal and told me to chronicle my feelings. She taught me that creativity and self-expression were high forms of spirituality. Gibran’s quotations inspired my own. One passage in particular resonates with me when I teach writing for healing: “Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars.”
During my early college years, my quest for spirituality involved a course in Transcendental Meditation (TM) with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. After one of his lectures, one-by-one, participants were escorted into separate rooms with two chairs and a small desk. Maharishi’s helpers secretly disclosed our own personal mantras, supposedly selected just for us. While over the years I tried various other meditation techniques, I still use the mantra given to me more than three decades ago.
Today, my children are in their thirties, and me and my husband have taught them to use creativity as a spiritual practice, finding solace in activities such as painting, writing books, designing clothes, books, or merchandise or engaging in meditative and yogic practices. Still, it will be interesting to observe the choices they make when it comes time to raise their own children.
Continuing my search for spiritual support in the Eastern traditions, when His Holiness The Dalai Lama recently visited my hometown, I found myself passionately pulled into and moved by his words. After his talk, I drove home, walked into my backyard, and sat down at my outdoor writing table, and cracked open my journal. I glanced up at the blue sky and listened to the sweet chirpings of birds in the trees bursting with the purple flowers of early spring. All my spiritual musings were coming together. I became very aware of my surroundings, the magic of nature, and the role of writing and creativity in my life.
At this point, I believe that the world can do without religion, but cannot do without spirituality, whether it is writing, mindfulness, compassion or smiling throughout our day. These measures unite us rather than divide us, and no matter what our age, we are all works-in-progress, whether we are examining our heritage or discovering the spiritual practice which makes us as individuals feel most alive and our hearts sing with joy.