Over at one of my new favorite blogs, Katie wrote the following:
Having used the literary concept of “magical realism” on a few occasions to describe my experience at Goddard, I’ve lately begun exploring an idea of “spiritual realism.” It’s a phrase that speaks to many of my experiences in the last two years, and to my spiritual philosophy in general. I’m interested in the spirituality of everyday life, in the most mundane places — ugly, resplendent, boring, and everything in between. I’m especially drawn to spiritual practices that address the suffering inherent in social oppression. That’s why I practice Vipassana meditation at donation-based centers; that’s why I sit with a sangha led by and for people of color and queer folks (also on a donation basis); that’s why I live and work with the Faithful Fools, a street ministry in the Tenderloin of San Francisco.
I love her term "spiritual realism." Buddhism has a lot to say about those ugly, boring, or difficult internal places, and a lot of us were drawn to the practice precisely because of that. Learning how to work with, be aware of, and simply accept the muck within one's self is a core part of any spiritual path, but I think it's especially emphasized in Buddhism. However, what's so refreshing to me about Katie's view is that both the "internal" places, as well as the "external" causes and conditions that impact us are considered important.
In my yoga class this evening, we did some breath work that cued me in on this point. Doing a set of balanced breaths, where you gently make the inhalation and exhalation the same length reminds me now of how important it is to balance inner work with outer action. This is true not only for social justice work, but really anything one does in life. Unless you are a monastic with few responsibilities (how many of those are there really?), or are ill or otherwise not needing to do a lot, too much inward focus isn't such a great idea. The same is true the opposite way.
Doing a breath that focused on the exhalation reminded me of how it's important to act in the world with quality, not quantity, with confidence, but not aggression.
And while in corpse pose, where it's easy to fully feel one's inhalation, (and exhalation for that matter), reminded me of how refreshing and healing giving yourself time for contemplation and inner work is. I sometimes push too much, do too much, and find it hard to settle down. Even with all these years of yoga and meditation, I still can fall into shallow breathing patterns that reflect my external scatteredness and rushing.
Going back to the breath and the body is an easy, and always available way, to return to deeper awareness. It may seem obvious, but most of us forget our bodies and our breath more often than we care to admit. Part of "spiritual realism" is being deeply honest about everything in life, be it the impact of racism on a nation or the four hours that you rushed around overworking and forgetting your bodily home in the process.