Monday, December 7, 2009

No Pie in the Sky

I mentioned the other day that the essence of spirituality consists in orbiting someone or something other than oneself. By that I didn't mean we make our lives revolve around someone else in the sense that we begin to live for them exclusively. We all know that can lead to co-dependence and the loss or misplacement of self. Rather, spirituality is about relocating one's essential center so we can achieve balance and perspective in our lives.

If you're a regular reader, you know I rarely venture into obvious discussions about religion or spirituality. I'm more intrigued by the ways we respond to little things, the subtle encounters that help us establish a sense of perso
nal meaning and purpose. Life is pregnant with possibilities and we don't have to wait for something to hit us over the head in order to experience grace, though I have plenty of lumps that prove I've done just that.
Lieutenant General George Patton, Jr. and Willie

For instance, it's difficult for us doctor types to relinquish control. We're accustomed, or in the
case of students, we'd like to become accustomed, to writing orders and "leading the charge" against illness and disease. One of the things that made General George S. Patton so successful in the North Africa campaign during World War II was the fact that he didn't direct the action from the safety of headquarters a hundred miles away. He was there, in the thick of it, and we aspire to a similar kind of involvement.

But, the thing is, there are so many things in medicine (as in life) that you can't control. Even the best of treatments may fail and when we fail to recognize this, we can get over-invested, as though our ego is at stake. We become exhausted, burned out, of no use to anyone, not even ourselves. That's why relocating our center and allowing ourselves to be human is such a spiritual enterprise. By recognizing the element of mystery and the ultimacy of the unknown, we are freed to work effectively with what is known.

While spirituality for some may seem like "pie in the sky, by and by," for me it's emminently practical. Whatever the outward expression, whether Sabbath observance or simply spending an afternoon cutting firewood in the forest, it's about letting go of the notion that I am the center of the universe. As such, it can be experienced even (or especially) in those situations where we meet up with limitations to our knowledge, ability, or capability. Asking for help, opening the window to humility, and experiencing connectedness can be among the most profoundly spiritual things we do, if you think about it.

(Creative Commons image of Lt. Gen. George S. Patton and his dog, Willie, by ♪_Lisa_♪ via Flickr)
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