Inability to Cope, Part 3

Remember when, in your early twenties, you would finish your supper shift at Domino’s Pizza on Friday night, race home in your ’78 Civic with a small double-cheese pizza, and hunker down on your Futon as the eerie theme music of X-Files signaled the commencement of an hour of gleeful creepiness?  Or, were you not a loser nerd and were out at the local discotheque partaking of alcoholic beverages with friends?  Or mastering a skill, such as heckling stand-up comedians or rock-climbing?

Anyhoo…Getting back to my point, any devotee of X-Files, whether watching it in its original time slot or while recuperating from a night of mirth, will remember well the poster in Fox Mulder’s office declaring, “I Want to Believe.”  While Mulder and I share a pervasive broodiness and an annoyance at Scully’s inability to acknowledge a paranormal event if it took human form and bit her in the ass, we diverge at some point, in that unlike Mulder, I do not believe in psychics, albino leech-people, and dolls that encourage people to commit suicide.

Yet is it weird that in a way I envy Mulder his belief in something?  Even if it is in people who can will trees to do their bidding or who mutate into seething animal hybrids over decades in the sewer system?  It turns out that in Southwick and Charney’s (2012) fourth component of resilience, religion and spirituality, I am not showing up well.  Despite a childhood bathed in the grim hymns and hold-your-breath solemnity of my grandparents’ religion, I retain only a fleeting fear of a maybe God, with none of the requisite faith or soul-shaping purpose.  I must point out that I find it difficult to characterize Mulder’s beliefs as faith, per se, as weekly he saw irrefutable evidence with his own eyeballs; however, for the religiously faithful, evidence of a higher being also exists everywhere, if we look for it.

My atheism pains me, as not unlike Mulder, I want to believe.  I don’t want to think that life ends in an eternal dirt nap.  Who wants to be invited to that party?  I want to believe in an omniscient being ushering me from cradle to grave and beyond, encouraging me to do good things.  If I can’t walk with the God with whom I was partly raised, I would like to believe that there was once a portly Buddha posed under the Bodhi Tree and experiencing massive revelations.  Or wouldn’t I love to hang out spiritually with the wise Ganesh, to be comforted by his intellect and resemblance to my beloved elephants (though on that note, with his perky tusks I don’t love Ganesh’s odds in this trinket-thirsty world).  Unfortunately, I don’t believe any of this.  I think that religion is a wholly human construct that arose from our awareness of our mortality and our attempt not to have our minds break under the weight of that understanding (sorry, Grammy).

Religion and spirituality

Many people who don’t believe in formal religion speak of their spiritual sides being nurtured  in nature, in meditation, in walking.  They speak of lighting candles and stretching in unusual ways while thinking important thoughts.  Sometimes, people’s eyes light up when they speak of playing with dirt as they plant tomatoes.  These things, they gush, are spiritual.  If this is true, then might I be doing better in this pillar of resilience than I thought?  I have recently begun gardening, though I admit I impatiently await harvest more than I revel in feeling soil fall between my fingers.  I walk, though mostly to the bus stop.  I meditate, but only if by “meditate” one means “think one or two things fleetingly before being distracted by the iPod.”  I light candles never.  Maybe I am not doing so well?

For Southwick and Charney (2012), there are six crucial components to spirituality.  The authors have written from a more formally religious perspective, but I have modified the elements to fit almost any activity that is purposeful and ritualistic.  They include:

  1. Setting aside time in one’s daily routine for the practice.
  2. Making a regular habit of reading things relevant to the practice.
  3. Designating a location for daily spiritual practice.
  4. Practicing a physically active form of the spirituality, such as yoga.
  5. Practicing a creative form of spirituality such as singing or painting or writing in a way that relates to the spirituality.
  6. Becoming part of a group that practices together.

I believe you can’t force faith, and while I flounder in my search for something to fit this category of resilience, I will try to apply the above framework to anything I do.  Take knitting, for example (because I really need to cultivate more inactive hobbies).  I could knit each day at 8am in the backyard while singing and attend a weekly knitting circle to discuss the successes and challenges from the past seven days of crafting.  Knitting is inherently one of the most sedentary activities known to our species; however, with time, I could learn to balance on an exercise ball, thus coupling engaging my core with creating a comely dishcloth (#4).  Would that be a kind of spiritual activity?  Maybe.  The only problem with this plan is that I have zero desire to knit every day and to have knitting be the cornerstone of my spiritual life.  You can’t make me.


This whole discussion leaves me realizing that I am failing miserably in the religion and spirituality category of resilience.  Unlike Agent Fox Mulder, for whom the world is populated by ghosts, demons, aliens and telepaths, mine is a world of the tangible.  And if spirituality is essentially about finding serenity and passion in a ritual, I want to believe that something will materialize for me.


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