six weeks off spirituality

About a week after I returned from my travels in Europe, a friend asked me whether I did any yoga in Italy. I shook my head and gave him a little smile. My response: “I didn’t want to be spiritual on this trip.”

It’s kind of humorous really: what does that even mean? Is spirituality a quality we can just turn on and off? Clearly, in this interaction with my friend, I was defining it in terms of my actions (or lack thereof). No, I didn’t do any yoga. I didn’t even think about it. I didn’t meditate or listen to Abraham-Hicks or do any of those other things I consider ‘spiritual activities’ at home. I drank wine and coffee and ate all the unhealthy things I avoid in my day-to-day life, and I partied until the wee hours with my favourite Italians of the trip, G and V, whom I met on the full harvest moon in Naples. (I just had to mention them here.)

In short, I didn’t restrict myself the way I usually do.

an awesome photo taken by Vaughan Lewis, a fellow traveller i met in Bologna.

an awesome photo taken by Vaughan Lewis, a fellow traveller i met in Bologna.

I’m reminded of one of the most challenging moments of my journey. I was in my tiny hotel room in Florence. Being so far away from my life back home, feeling so free to do whatever I wanted, feeling so overwhelmed by the adventure so far, and feeling so much wonder and gratitude and yes, frustration at times…everything seemed to come to a head. After a particularly unsetting experience that served as a personal wake-up call of sorts, that night I felt incredibly alone, powerless, and in fear.

I realized that for years – my whole life – I’ve been playing various roles, and most of them aren’t ‘me’. I hear the voices of religion, culture, family, friends, books, spiritual teachers…but where is mine in this cacophony? Would I even recognize it if I heard it? I’ve flown around much of the time, literally and figuratively, without a real grounding or knowing of who ‘I’ am…let alone being strong and confident in that knowing.

Not hearing my own voice has prevented me from having a really open and authentic relationship with God (Source, Universe, Love…I call it by many names). God has been ‘someone’ I’ve had to convince, impress, seek favour and approval and permission from. And that night, I felt the intense anger – and pain – surrounding that. I felt the heavy toll that pretending and judging (myself) has taken on me. I have not been living freely and authentically.

I see now that what subsequently took place was probably the most honest and real conversation with God that I’ve ever had. I thought I disliked Florence, but maybe the city’s deep beauty and religiosity and emotion and history stirred something completely unexpected within me that was just waiting for release.

another great shot by Vaughan.

another great shot by Vaughan.

I’m getting that my notions of spirituality have been limited, and limiting, for me. I’ve been applying the rules, doctrines, and opinions of others to how I perceive myself, and judging myself for falling short of those standards.

And now I ask: Why have I kept ‘spirituality’ and ‘pleasure’ in such distinct, mutually exclusive categories? Even though in theory I’ve believed they can be intertwined, I’ve never fully allowed it in my own life. There’s always been some sense of guilt or wrongness there. That is, until this trip, when I allowed myself to just be ‘Aleya’ the person and not the spirit. Enjoying doing everything she wanted to do, not obsessing about her higher self or past lives or karma or what-if’s or ‘what would they think’, etc.

To take a break from those intentionally spiritual acts I’ve been so accustomed to (either through practice or in telling myself I ‘should’ do more of them) was, somewhat ironically, what my spirit had been calling for. To bring me back to balance, to help me examine what truly works for me. It was a reset.

Will I get back into yoga and resume all those other activities that took a hiatus in Italy? Yes. But I think everything will feel lighter and more fun. Spirituality won’t be so serious. I’m intrigued that my life may take a direction where spirituality and pleasure are more meshed, in a way that is most meaningful and perfect for me.

***

I am giving myself permission to create my own relationship with God. One where we’re more equal partners. Perhaps even friends. Maybe that night in Florence was the game changer.

I hope to hang on to this feeling as long as possible. I like to think that on a deep, unshakeable level, it can never escape me.

i could get used to this…

Day 3 Diet:
Chocolate croissant, two cappuccinos, spaghetti with pesto, pizzeria pizza, red wine, and pistachio gelato.

Viva Italia!

now i get what she was talking about

now i get what she was talking about

saturn, i’m listening

Today I am living in the fifth place I’ve stayed at in the last six months.  Tomorrow will begin my last week of work before my Leave.  Next week I depart for my six-week trip to Europe, 4-5 of which will be in Italy.

I’ve barely had time to catch my breath and last week the ‘good’ stress manifested into physical and emotional haywire. Thankfully this weekend has been hugely restorative, as I’m housesitting a friend’s spa-like pad, and caring for her two very sweet and rambunctious kittens.  (These creatures have been very effective at taking me out of my own thoughts as, for example, I watch them fight over a crumpled piece of paper for half an hour.)

technicolor lakshmi, sonja picard. www.sonjapicard.com

technicolor lakshmi, sonja picard. http://www.sonjapicard.com

In Vedic Astrology there’s a phenomenon called ‘Saturn Transit’ (Sade Sati) in which the planet Saturn enters one’s moon sign (and the sign before and after) for a period of approximately 7½ years and, depending on who you ask, either makes your life miserable or inspires great growth and change. I’m exaggerating…but it’s essentially known to be an intense period of shift, and the best thing to do is just go with the changes with an open mind and willingness to learn what Saturn teaches.

Saturn is known to remove all that no longer serves us, whether we want it gone or not. Saturn makes those changes we’ve been dragging our heels on making ourselves. Saturn is a disciplinarian; he can seem cold and harsh, but ultimately the changes are for the better. (This by no means fully explains Sade Sati; you’d have to ask a Vedic Astrologer for the expert analysis.)

I was advised that my Saturn Transit was coming, months before it actually started a couple of years ago.  Whether I believe in Sade Sati or whether it’s the power of suggestion, I cannot deny that since that time there has been enormous change in my life, not only on an external level, but even more so internally.  Remembering the lessons of Saturn has brought me some grounding.

Saturn demands that we pare down, de-clutter, simplify, and organize. He forces us to examine: what is truly important to us?

For most of my life I’ve been on a spiritual search, and I’m sure this will continue throughout…eternity. But this search has often been a bit heavy, wrapped up in analysis and trying to understand things intellectually, or wanting to ‘heal’ things in my life (past, present, and future).  In other words, the spiritual path has often been so serious. And while this has served me perfectly in the ways it’s needed to, I’m ready for more fun.  For more lightheartedness.  For more joy.  For more beauty.

And what better place to experience and integrate the pleasures of life, than Italia?  The food, the scenery, the language, the wine, the art, the people, the…all of it.

This trip represents my intention to enjoy life without figuring out all the why’s. To let beauty absorb my senses.  To, as the kitties do, fully experience and embody what’s right in front of me without figuring out (worrying) where I’m going next.  To accept this beautiful gift from the universe without questioning my worthiness for receiving it.

Saturn is known for his heaviness, for putting pressure on us; but maybe he’s teaching me that I am the one – in fact, the only one – who can diminish the pressure and heaviness in my life, by cleaning up all my own self-imposed ‘stuff’.  I like this, and I gleefully accept Italy’s role in the metamorphosis.

Namaste.