If algorithm means a procedure or set of operations for solving a problem in a finite number of steps, then consider the following eight to be a kind of spiritual algorithm that I’ve recently devised for myself, and which is changing my life.
Though, even as I’m writing this, I must pause to tell you I am experiencing an emotional tug-of-war over the idea of sharing this “prescription” forward. Because on the one hand, I am genuinely excited by some new, and some merely renewed, experiences happening in my life recently, and the reality that actual tangible results of their impact are before my very eyes, and that those results are almost touching mastery, and this, mind you, from someone who tends to be gravely self-critical, and has come from a long, long arc of nuanced depression and irascibility and disappointment, built up over years and easily masked by a generally friendly disposition, and I am turning corners left and right, and I wanna wanna wanna share so badly, because I’m feeling extraordinary. On the other hand, in any piece that serves as a how-to (think MindBodyGreen, which I love and read regularly, and yet . . .), there is an assumed authority on said subject, and the implied self-importance of owning that you have something to show someone else. I have never fancied myself in the role of teacher to anyone; never been especially in touch with my Inner Deepak. Plus, as always seems to be my thinking, what if I fall? Here I’ve made this public pronouncement of some wisdom to impart, and now I’ve dared to go on with my life and be imperfect. Nothing pleases some people more than to catch you in your failures: “I thought you were giving up sugar?” smugly coming from that friend when you’ve been caught eating your See’s butterscotch square is always fun. So, I’m usually uncomfortable in this area. Even this blog, my beloved Bindi Girl Chronicles, is rife with pieces that are really tapestries of discord and imperfection and stumbles and growing pains and learning curves, as I navigate the turbid waters of self-discovery. Sometimes I have answers. Most times I’m just posing questions.
But something’s happening, something, as I said, nearly resembling mastery. There are more and more exquisite little grace notes in my life these days that have me in the perpetual state of wow and wonder than ever before. And I can only credit eight little rituals that I call my spiritual algorithm, or my prescription for what ails, and that I have only just recently put into daily practice. Visionary teacher Eckhart Tolle has often said that there are three words that encompass the secret to the art of living: One. With. Life. One with life. He is quite stunning in illustrating the importance of recognizing that we are all interconnected, of being here now, of having experiences for their own sake, and of seeing beauty in everything. The predicament for me, in truly meditating on this, is always, “of course, but how?”
Well, I have found it. At least for me. And I am champing at the bit to share. Without making assumptions that we’re all ailing, I simply offer that if you’re anything like me there’s always a spiritual nip and tuck and tweak that can be had in order to be more present and to maximize your experience here, to be truly one with life. I came up with my eight without even thinking of the eightfold path or the eight limbs (these are Buddhist and yogic references, for those of you not in the dharma know). That was purely a matter of coincidence. And so now, I like to think of this spiritual algorithm, this prescription for the art of living, as sort of my own personal eightfold path. It’s working for me, which doesn’t necessarily mean it’s meant for you. I tend to believe that everyone benefits best from a custom-made chariot for that road to enlightenment. But the chances are at least 50-50 that my prescription could indeed resonate with you. So here it is.
1. Turn away from the anxiety-fueling news programs that litter television and the internet.
Just refuse them. They are designed for one agenda only: to whip us into a distracted frenzy, and by virtue weaken us and our pocketbooks at the seams, because having an entire culture in panic mode is profitable, and is never about being in the public’s interest. Find your current events through more legitimate sources. Do the homework needed to figure out who and what those are.
2. Read for pleasure.
As a writer I want to encourage books. I want to encourage good books. I want to encourage literature. But hey, read a magazine, just read . . . for pure enjoyment and expansion. And try as often as possible to do it outside of the digital and electronic universe. Kindles and iPads are fun and convenient, but don’t let them be your exclusive source for reading. The brain needs a good chunk of quality time every day to be removed from electromagnetic energy and social media, and to be reminded of the world of imagination and connection that does exist beyond our digital screens.
3. Meditate. OR . . .
. . . at the very least find a way to simply be in silence and stillness for a few minutes every day. The more minutes a day you can find in that quiet, the better able you will be to heed the inner voice, and the better everything will be. Guaranteed. (Yes, I am actually being brazen enough to say guaranteed). I recently read the memoir of Sara Maitland on her experiment of withdrawing from the world, in pursuit of silence. There is a whole world of discussion to be had on the topic, and its impact on a society, and which is utterly fascinating. For now, for this, however, just allow yourself a few minutes each day to power everything down. And listen.
4. Connect with Higher Power.
This term is as wide a berth as the ocean, so even the most ardent atheist can find his or hers. Something that is greater than your pedestrian self, and that has something to teach you, offer you, feed you. Maybe it’s the collective unconscious. Maybe it’s art. Maybe it’s nature. Maybe it’s the source within. Maybe it is a source out there. Whether deity or principle, it will show up for every individual on the planet, and is that unquantifiable something that maneuvers us around the land mines and connects us to each other. There is no need to affix a label; simply be with it. Find yours, and plug in regularly.
5. Create, even if you’re not an artist.
Artist is only a label. We all have creativity and imagination in us, and it can show up in the most unexpected cloak, which is usually how it works anyway. Feed that. Promote that. The spiritual benefits are untold.
6. Be a child again (closely linked to the above, and which is not the same as being child-ISH).
There is so much obligation and commitment and management and planning and fortune-making that governs our adult lives that we can easily allow it to bog us down and collapse our spirits. Easy to get so caught up in building the life of our dreams that we kind of forget to actually live the life of our dreams. So, let it all go once in a while, regularly, and do what children do. Play fiercely and with joyous abandon.
Or the flip side of that same spirit . . . do nothing. The Italians have a delicious term for it: dolce far niente, literally translated as the sweetness of doing nothing. They have raised it to an art form, but in our ambition-worship culture, we have put the label of shame to it. THAT is the shame. We do not need to be in the constant state of planning, producing and consuming. Smile at nothing. Sit and gaze. Daydream. Decompress. It is the crucial yin to our workhorse-mountain-conquering yang.
7. Create a daily gratitude ritual.
It can be a prayer, a journal log, a mantra, a meditation. Even in the various spells of my life of not feeling especially spiritual or connected, I always found such beauty in the tradition of blessing one’s food. What a lovely idea to express out loud, in a ritual, our thankfulness for the bounty on our plates, and not taking a meal for granted, but cherishing it for what it gives us. Especially considering how many don’t have that luxury. Now imagine employing that gratitude practice with everything. Just imagine.
And finally . . .
8. Be in nature.
Now, I honestly don’t think any more expounding on this one is necessary, except that I am compelled to share what’s happened to me with this one, because it seems to be the mother lode. I never truly got the phrase, “be in nature,” that spiritual directive, as I now view it, until I began the recent ritual for myself. Out of the blue, it seems, I began hankering for nature. And I think, at least in part, it’s because I’ve been a meditator for a good many years already, yet have been growing intermittently flustered (as business for me has gotten busier . . . knock on wood!) by the struggle to truly burrow deep, and my belief that it has had to do with the inability to remove myself from the world’s distractions. One truth about meditation is that doing it is possible even if the sky is falling all around us, but that’s a pretty hardcore level of meditation bad-assery that I have never achieved. I need an environment that promotes moving out of the world for a few chunks of time each day. Enter nature. Fortunately I live in a community that smacks right up against a set of mountain ranges, the ever sprawling Angeles National Forest, and its various canyons and parks. Although, I don’t believe there exists a community that has zero access to some brand of nature. We can all find some.
I’ve been hiking Aliso Canyon at the very north end of the San Fernando Valley, and which is nearly in my back yard. It’s part crest, overlooking wide sweeps of mountain, part enchanted forest, taking one into the bowels of nature with trees bridging overhead and creating a canopy. What I never saw coming was the way in which this daily ritual would become something I would crave, the way one craves coffee. Runners talk about the runner’s high. I even know gym nuts who are antsy if they miss a day of working out. That has never been me. But I crave this. And I have found that not only has it been working as a meditative pursuit, but it has begun to shift my whole health & wellness, it has brought literally more oxygen into my lungs and life, and it has, most profoundly, most surprisingly, opened my heart chakra in ways I couldn’t have predicted. Communing with creatures beyond our pets and other humans, listening to their concert, moving among the wise old trees (read Herman Hesse some time on trees….whew!…), or strolling along a shore, recognizing the cruciality of taking care of the earth, and understanding the dire consequences of continuing as we are, in promoting carbon footprinting and the decimation of the ozone. This daily experience has inadvertently made me live in and practice gratitude for what I have and where I am in life and what is precious. It has brought me to a manageable, even peaceful, mental place when life is challenging me or throwing roadblocks in my way. It has actually shifted my receptor paradigm, meaning that I feel myself being more open to receiving, or perhaps, and more pointedly, feeling worthy of, blessings; as well as nurturing the ability to see that blessings are flying all around us like gnats, and are in everything that happens to us. Not only in the stuff that feels good, and is about comfort, and is easy to see as a blessing. But even the stuff (or people) we consider bad news, because these are what serve as lessons and opportunities and teachers, and may actually be where the real gold lies. And it’s ours to either choose to recognize, or not. But why wouldn’t we? And this whole shift for me has been a direct result (I could be wrong, but the timing’s too uncanny) of my daily communing with nature.
It takes a great deal of courage to keep our hearts open. So much easier (maybe even irresistible) to clamp the heart down, to bear the armor of hurt, to be the suffering martyr, and to garner the quiet awe of others, because maybe we have no real clue who we are without our wounds. But keeping our hearts open is the greatest kind of surgery our bodies can undergo. And I dare say, for us ALL, that being in nature is quite remarkable at opening up that vessel within, for our daily access.
So, there you have it. My sacred eight. The prescription for what has been ailing me. The spiritual algorithm that has shifted me just ever so subtly, yet indelibly.
Navigating the murky waters of life is a job with tenure. All the enlightenment in this world, and for that matter all the prosperity in this world, won’t reprieve us of the task. Navigated with the right tools, however (and I offer this eightfold prescription as one tool of many), life becomes not merely a road to endure but an experience of riches beyond measure. Maybe my eight can offer you something as well. Or, hey, if you’re way ahead of me, please share your own discoveries back. I would love to hear of them. Remember, I get MindBodyGreen in my daily inbox. I’m THAT gal.
But for any who are searching, or feel lost, or even just looking for a top off, I encourage you to try it.
Big Pharma has no equity in this medicine.
Dedicated to my lovely friend Kelly Phillips,
who illustrates the prescription simply by living her beautiful life,
and allowing me the honor of observing it.
Photograph of ACB is by Holli Rae
Angela Carole Brown is the author of three published books, The Assassination of Gabriel Champion, The Kidney Journals: Memoirs of a Desperate Lifesaver, and Trading Fours, is a recipient of the Heritage/Soulword Magazine Award in poetry, and has produced several albums of music and a yoga/mindfulness CD. Bindi Girl Chronicles is her writing blog. Follow her on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram & YouTube.