Spiritual Practices Hidden in Plain Sight

Friday, October 3, 2014 - 5:24am

Spiritual Practices Hidden in Plain Sight

Not all spiritual practices are grand or even visible. Not all of them take place in beautiful cathedrals or even sun-dappled mountain passes. Some of them are outrageously mundane in their transformative power. Some of them keep us connected. Some of them keep us alive. Here are five moments from my very average week:

I went to Target last Sunday with my daughter Maya and managed to only buy the items on my list. It was a small miracle. On the one hand, my usual lack of willpower there is worthy of a humbling laugh: upon crossing the threshold of those automatic doors and shopping carts, I am suddenly seized with a need for leggings and greeting cards and some new cleaning product that is going to make our lives easier and, of course, baskets to organize all of this stuff that I didn’t really need in the first place. On the other hand, it’s pretty serious. Having too much stuff overwhelms me. Spending too much money limits my freedom. And the emotional experience of binge shopping (something I actually don’t really do anywhere but in that “red hole”) feels terrible.

(Bing / Flickr (CC BY 2.0).)

I took a deep breath before I ate my scrambled eggs. I looked at them — appreciating the yellow and the white and the little specks of asparagus I’d cut up and sprinkled in. I smelled them and felt the warm air rising from them. I admired the avocado slices beside them, remembered how Maya’s first taste beyond breast milk was the rich green smoothness of a California avocado, surrounded by friends that are family. Just to eat, just to have such rich tastes and smells and textures in my life, is a massive gift. Because I’m racing and unconscious like the rest of the human population, I too often forgo the most frequent opportunity I have to honor the small and sacred experience in my life.

A flyer with the portraits of two nurses from a hospital in Kenema, Sierra Leone who died from ebola.

(Luigid Baldelli / Medici con l'Africa Cuamm / Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).)

I struck up a conversation with my Uber driver. Turns out he’s from Sierra Leone and had just gotten off the phone with his family there. The ebola crisis is not a fear-filled abstraction to them; it is a shattering reality. He’s sending money. He’s praying for their survival. He’s a liberal Muslim and his wife is a conservative Christian, so they married in her tradition. He said that Sierra Leone is one of the most diverse countries in African when it comes to religious faiths and that they’ve done a remarkable job of living side by side. The common evil now is ebola. When I got out, I didn’t over think it and just handed him $20. “Next time you send money to your family, please include this and tell them that I’m thinking of them,” I told him. I have no idea if it will make a difference to them, but it made a difference to me. It made me feel like a person whose outside, however fumbling or inadequate, mirrors her inside.

(TED / Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).)

I say thank you over and over again to my partner, John. It’s a practice that we started without planning and now cling to like a marital life preserver. When we can do all that needs to be done to have two careers and raise one baby and maintain one house and plan for one uncertain financial future and still curl up on the couch at the end of the day and not hate one another, it’s usually because we’ve made space for enough grace and expressed a critical amount of gratitude in the last 12 hours. We thank one another for even the most mundane and expected acts of service. We’ve learned that “thanks for taking out the cat litter” is actually a kind of praise song.

I study my ten-month-old daughter study the world. It is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced, witnessing her unceasing exploration, the tiny bud of her determination sprouting bigger and bigger everyday. This week, she learned how to turn the pages on her books. I can almost see the synapses in her brain sparking and connecting, like a neon-lit superhighway of human discovery. The speed and breadth of the puzzles she is solving are beyond my comprehension. And beyond my comprehension is the divine.

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Courtney E. Martin

is a columnist for On Being. Her column appears every Friday.

Her newest book, The New Better Off: Reinventing the American Dream, explores how people are redefining the American dream (think more fulfillment, community, and fun, less debt, status, and stuff). Courtney is the co-founder of the Solutions Journalism Network and a strategist for the TED Prize. She is also co-founder and partner at Valenti Martin Media and FRESH Speakers Bureau, and editor emeritus at Feministing.com.

Courtney has authored/edited five books, including Do It Anyway: The New Generation of Activists, and Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters: How the Quest for Perfection is Harming Young Women. Her work appears frequently in The New York Times and The Washington Post. Courtney has appeared on the TODAY Show, Good Morning America, MSNBC, and The O’Reilly Factor, and speaks widely at conferences and colleges. She is the recipient of the Elie Wiesel Prize in Ethics and a residency from the Rockefeller Foundation’s Bellagio Centre. She lives with her partner in life and work, John Cary, in Oakland, and their daughters Maya and Stella. Read more about her work at www.courtneyemartin.com.

Share Your Reflection



The way you look into your life and find meaning, joy, integration. . . .and then connect that to the larger human experience consistently delights. Many, many thanks for spending your energy putting your words into the world. They matter deeply to me this morning.

I find my meditation in my garden. my attachment to the life forms outside of me, but including our miraculous bodies, gets me to a place of extreme comfort. Petting my cats belly's whilst they nap is another .

If you are interested in going deeper with this I want to share a online group/class
I participated in this and her class The Deepening. Check it out. I would highly recommend.

Thank you...sweet reminder about gratitude

You have given me inspiration to look beneath the surface. Thank you.

This is lovely, Courtney. It's a dark, drizzly morning in Chicago and you've prompted me to give thanks for the gift of rain as well as to think of those living in drought. Gratitude for the ordinary, the expected and the habitual is a spiritual discipline and I am a very poor student of this practice. Reading posts like yours reminds me that even my feeble efforts shall reward me. I'm going to put on my rain coat and head outside for a walk. Have a blessed day!

In the nine months since my son, Morgan's, death from melanoma (he was 26), I can still, in the midst of my devastating grie, reflect on those times where I felt the touch of the divine. I can be grateful for the existence of the "red hole", as it was a place I went to often with my son, helping him find clothes and where he always managed to find a treat or a new toy for his beloved dog. I look back in gratitude for the time he wanted to buy a bow tie for his dog but I convinced him not to- I told him I would make him one - but then he died. I asked him, before he passed, to send me yellow feathers to let me know he was okay. 10 days after his death I was in Target and looking at dog collars, and a bow tie jumped off the hook into my hand. "Okay, I'll get the bow tie for Kimo!" I said to Morgan, and then I turned around and there was a giant picture of a goldfinch behind me! I took the bow tie home and took a picture of Kimo with that and one of his ridiculously tiny hats! It makes me laugh when I look at it! I think, too, of all of the times I would say, "Love you" to my son and he would say it back and how when I say it to him now, I can almost hear his voice in answer.... Once I bought a lunch for someone who was sitting by the side of the road with a sign that said, "Hungry", and how grateful that person was. I think of the precious times I watched my son, as you watch your daughter, learn about the world. I remember being so excited to share the world with my coming child when I was pregnant with him. I am grateful for the dog he left in my care, because I can remember my son's hands stroking that same fur and looking into those same loving eyes and I feel a connection to him.... It is hard to find those moments of sacredness in a world that feels so empty sometimes, but I know that my son would want me to and that he joins me in these moments. Thank you for writing this article and sharing it. It helped me to get through a few more lonely and sad moments in another day....

Kari - I'm so grateful to you for sharing your experience of finding meaning and solace within your grief. My heart goes out to you. My beloved 20 year-old niece Kayla died just over a year ago and her parents - everyone in our (large) family has been profoundly changed and challenged by her her death. But also inspired because she was a seeker, thinker, explorer, and free spirit. And she would want us to continue to enjoy life. Another niece wrote "Kayla: You have continually been on my mind. I love you still. Now. and Always. Today I lived better for you and because of you. Thank you. I have fallen in love with new music. I have danced harder. I have opened up to new people. I have smiled and laughed more. You are with me. Always. Wherever your spirit lies... I know it is celebrating with me! XOXO." All blessings to you. Hoping you find some comfort and joy in these dark days.

Living a focused, authentic life is challenging but very rewarding, especially those "on-the- spot" opportunities to engage, appreciate, give thanks. Thank you sharing. We've been talking about how distracting modern life can be and it is well described by one of our favorite authors, Jim Harrison, . . I'm paraphrasing here . . ."The danger of civilization, of course, is that we will piss away our life on nonsense" . . . People like you help us come back to reality:-)

Isn't this the truth!? - Beautiful, simple truth. May the world over find the simple act of living mindfully to be a worthy endeavor.

Thank you.

Now that I have retired, I have time to engage with people in my Reno community. I can see their hurts written on their faces and sometimes their needs written upon their bodies. I like to listen, help when I can or direct them to where help might be available. I guess I will remain a social worker, whether employed or not!

I watch and listen to my 24 year old daughter, Who yesterday went in our over abundant garden with grocery bag harvested from our beets, carrots, lettuce, peppers and tomatoes and handed the bag over to the folks who visit our home every Thursday and mow our yard. No pomp or looking for a congrats, just went and shard with guys who have families who we really don't know. It was her generosity and kind heart that moved me to wonder why hadn't I thought of doing this simple act of kindness. Her actions moved us this evening to give a donation without purchase to the boy scouts outside of Applebee's. Daughters do and can teach and lead parents to be kind as their daughters or remind us to live a life that is contagious with kindness to others

Thank you very much for putting another "face" on spirituality. B.B. Taylor has given me many. You are giving to me, too. It, spirituality, presence with God, can be, is, how we live our lives,,,thoughtful, waiting, observing or not...dashing, running, running,oblivious.

Yes, to be conscious of what is right before our eyes is to experience the Divine One.

As an Alliance of Divine Love minister I am gifted with a ministerial charter that simply says whenever I am in the presence of another single person I am ministering which to ADL says only that I act/speak/think/intend for the Highest Good of All. No bricks and mortar needed. Spreading Love is the only job required for us to truly bring about a world of peace and sustainability. It's a disciplined focus on heart and gratitude.

Thank you for sharing - the mundane is the spiritual; the every day rituals and the miracles of sharing the planet with our fellow humans make our earth a sacred space. Namaste!

A beautiful series of examples of bringing spiritual practice to life in the every day moments of our lives. Thank you for sharing.

Really experiencing food has always been such a blessing for me. I remember the first time I really saw a banana, and the first time I really smelled a cup of tea, in ways that make those moments feel like some of the most miraculous I've ever had. Thank you for pointing out the beauty that exists within the seemingly mundane.

Yes, yes, yes. And thank you so much.

Thank you for your intimacies...the world needs more mirrors into the sacred, the beautiful, the humble...keep painting with the Colours of your words onto the canvass of universal offering, and ...thank you!

This is absolutely beautiful. Thank you for sharing and setting an example of simple, humble lovingkindness for all.

This is so beautiful & full of love , positivity & joy!! Thank you.
An attitude of gratitude & present moment awareness. Bliss. x

I grew up in Liberia, right next to Sierra Leone, and as ebola ravages our families and friends, I am grateful for small kindnesses that arise in the mundane. The smallness of our world is so obvious, if we would only look. Thank you for looking-and listening.

Beautifully expressed .. Keep it going and thanks for reminding us

This is just beautiful and come at the right time..To see divine in the mundane is what I am struggling with right now...Thank you!