Contemplating the Heavens

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Another month has passed, and here I am back to add another brick to my happiness home. According to The Happiness Project, August is the month I’m supposed to spend contemplating the heavens. The “to-do” list includes the following:

a) Read memoirs of catastrophe.

I’ve always loved a good catastrophe memoir or story, even movies. Maybe loved is too strong a word; I’ve always been drawn to them. I’ve read The Buffalo Creek Mining Disaster by Gerald M. Stern, Isaac’s Storm by Erik Larson, The Johnstown Flood by David McCullough, Columbine by Dave Cullen, and most recently, Wave by Sonali Deraniyagala. I’ve seen Titanic, The Impossible. I force myself to watch 9/11 every time it is re-broadcast so that I never, ever forget.  I own a copy so that when my son is old enough we can watch it together and he will know what I cannot explain.

I cannot articulate why I am so drawn to these stories. Perhaps it is a curiosity to see how the survivors made it out of the horror that engulfed them. Perhaps it is a hope that by reading about the details, I can somehow avoid ever being in such a horrific situation. Intellectually, I know that I can never be so careful to avoid every bad thing that could befall me, but the control freak in me screams differently.

My gut tells me that the real reason is the human connection I feel when I read and watch, the vicarious fear, grief, pride and exultation that emanates from these survivors as heat radiates out from a fire. I never want to lose that connection, so I read and watch, and for a few moments I suspend reality to be in the shoes of the storyteller. Then, when it’s over, I am grateful for everyone and everything in my life anew.

Which brings me to my next assigned task for August….

b) Keep a gratitude notebook.

This is actually a really good idea, one which I plan to implement for at least thirty days beginning tomorrow. Even if I only do it for the month of August, I think it will be a great exercise to make me truly consider my life and things and people that have been meaningful to me, things and people for which I’m thankful. Now, if only I could find the right notebook in my pile to make into the gratitude notebook … Orange? Purple? Pink? Red? Green? Hmmmm……

Can you tell I have a bit of an obsession with Moleskine notebooks?

c) Imitate a spiritual master.

A spiritual master? I’m not even sure what that’s supposed to mean! Is it someone like Gabrielle Bernstein, motivational speaker and life coach? Or is it someone more like the wonderful rabbi at the temple where my family and I are members?

I’ve always subscribed to the journal of “I’m not really religious; I’m just spiritual.” The trouble is that I’ve never quite known just what that meant. I think I’ll tweak this third of Gretchen‘s tasks for August a bit. Instead of imitating a spiritual master, I’ll try to find my own spirituality and be my own spiritual master by incorporating into my daily life the teachings that most appeal to me and that have the most relevance to me.

When I was pregnant, I approached my rabbi with the question as to how I should deal with Yom Kippur. I had always refrained from taking in any food or liquid for the 24 hour period of atonement, but being pregnant I didn’t think that was a particularly prudent course of action. My rabbi told me that one of the most wonderful things about the Jewish faith was that it was forgiving, and fluid, meaning that I could observe the holy day to the best of my ability within the limits of my physical condition, and, in fact, I was not to endanger myself or my unborn child by refraining from food or water. The following year, I sought her counsel again as a nursing mother. I received the same advice peppered with even stronger language. Since my child’s only source of nutrition was breast milk, I could not partake in the fast because to do so would be to endanger his life.

I enjoy my religion. I enjoy the camaraderie of Sabbath and holiday services. Mostly, however, I enjoy knowing that I can interpret my relationship with my God, and I am not told how I must conduct that relationship.

With that in mind, I will research spiritual masters, and incorporate what I like best into my existing relationship with my God. Perhaps God will be my spiritual master. After all, God loves all humans equally and allows for many different expressions of appreciation and interaction, so there is no reason I cannot incorporate different expressions and interaction into my daily spirituality.

August is for contemplating the heavens. I wonder if that includes watching storm clouds approaching and holding my face up to the cool winds that roll in just before a soaking summer storm.

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