Spirituality, Cycles, and this Thing Called Life

I grew up living in two households: one Catholic and one Jewish. My mom and stepdad were raised religiously, and my stepdad still goes to church every weekend. My dad is Jewish, but like my mom, does not practice very much.

Growing up, I was essentially allowed to choose my religion or if I even wanted to practice one at all. I didn’t go to Sunday school or CCD or Hebrew school, I didn’t complete communion, and I didn’t have a bat mitzvah. I grew up trying things out – I was a Creaster church-goer (Christmas and Easter), attended temple on a few Jewish holidays, and prayed to a God when I was younger. But, in the end, nothing stuck.

I’ve explored Buddhism, some aspects of which I like very much. Over the summer, I went to a Won Buddhist temple most weekends where I meditated and chanted. For a while, I considered myself Buddhist; I granted myself that title. And it felt nice to belong to something that looked for meaning outside of the intellect. It felt nice to belong to an organized religion. But after talking with my friend (who took the Intro to Buddhism class here), I realized that the Buddhism that I was practicing was a more new-age, Americanized form. So I didn’t know anymore if I could consider myself truly Buddhist, especially since I didn’t practice often. I was not following the criteria that I believed to exist, and I didn’t feel that I had the right to name my spirituality anymore.

But that’s the thing – I’m spiritual, I’m not religious. To me, there is a distinct difference. Spirituality is individual. It’s not based on a text, and there is no aspect of organization or belonging to a larger group of people who believe the same things. That’s not to say that I do not respect religiosity and organized religion, just that I have chosen a different route. There are aspects of Catholicism, Judaism, and Buddhism that I have taken with me, and I’ve fused them all into my own belief system. I feel lucky that I have been allowed to explore religion and choose what I want to believe from the get go – it’s something that little ole independent me really appreciates about my life. And I’ve chosen, in the end, to label myself “spiritual.” I have not found bounds to spirituality. But I want to document and describe mine somehow, regardless of its infiniteness. So I’ll focus on a concept that’s been in my daydreams as of late.

I’ve been daydreaming pretty often, mostly because trees and plants are budding and I’m ready to finish up the semester. And, for some reason, these daydreams often turn to the concept of cycles. I’ll chalk it up to the seasonal cycle and this transition from winter to spring, but I’ve also been thinking about the lunar cycle, the menstrual cycle, the cycle of life. There are so many cycles – it has to mean something.

First, the cycle of seasons: I love the changes in weather. I could never live in a place without seasons, because I need to see the cycle of life in plants and trees. I want to be startled awake by the cold and then brought back into the warmth with budding flowers.

Second, the menstrual cycle: because the menstrual cycle allows the cycle of life to continue turning, I find infinity in the feminine. Most religions that I have encountered are heavily male centered (epistemologically), but my practices and beliefs center more on the natural order of things, on Mother Earth. Which empowers me in a way that other belief systems have not.

Third, the cycle of life: I’m a big believer in the energy of things. I believe in reincarnation in the sense that my life energy will be born into new life once I, personally, am gone. This life energy is shared by all living beings, which means that I ought to learn to live in harmony with the natural world, including other humans, animals, and plants.

Finally, the lunar cycle: this ties into the idea of cultivating harmony. Essentially, we as humans are so small. There are many larger forces governing our lives, like the moon guiding the tides. The universe can live without us. Earth can live without us. But we cannot live without these things. Cultivating harmony with the natural world becomes a necessity, when one considers this perspective. And – to re-incorporate the notion of energy – it offers an opportunity for me to share my energy with other living things, and to receive life energy in return.

Now that I’ve laid out all of these hippie-esque, far-out ideas that flit around in my mind, let me bring things back to a more tangible place, and apply my spirituality to my everyday experiences (if you’ve stuck with the piece this far, thank you for taking the time to learn about my perspective – you are appreciated).

Essentially, it all comes back to the idea of cycling. As I mosey on over to checkpoints in my life, reach goals that I have set for myself or that have been set for me, I remember that these are not endpoints. They are simply dots on my life circle. I don’t imagine lines or linearity as the shape of life, because lines mean that there is, indeed, an endpoint. If I picture my life as a circle, it just means that I can keep growing forever, if I want to. It means that I don’t need to work towards a goal – I can just keep working for my own sake.  And the image of my life as a cycle allows me to hold onto my spirituality, which is infinite in itself.

To sum up my rambling above, I’m happy in my spirituality. It influences the daily actions that I take, and how I perceive my experiences (in a very positive way). It’s something that I have cultivated in my nineteen-year run, and something that I am proud to have as a part of myself.

Photos courtesy of Lauren Ranucci-Weiss.