Jane Moffett is a doctorate-level clinical social worker with advanced certifications in trauma. She works in New York City as a psychotherapist and Area Director for the Psychotherapy and Spirituality Institute, as well as Clinical Director for the Integrative Trauma Clinic at the National Institute of Psychotherapy. She has long had an interest in the intersection of psychotherapy and spirituality and in mind-body practices. We are calling on her 28 years’ experience as a psychotherapist to speak to women in the second half of life who hope to find meaning in adversity and to develop practices for serenity.

women and spiiritualityImage from Flickr via

A close friend facing the diagnosis of progressive memory loss asks me, “I’ve lived a good life, I’ve done my best to give back. How is it this is happening to me?” A patient who suffered unspeakable childhood abuse asks, “I’m ready to love, but can I trust it not to hurt?” One might look to one’s religious community and teachings or to a sense of spirituality for answers to these questions. For my friend and for my patient, their contact with religion seemed inadequate to explain the complexities of adulthood. Spirituality, which can be described as the receptivity to what is sacred or contact with the transcendent, did offer comfort.

9780316007788_p0_v1_s260x420In her book Here If You Need Me, Reverend Kate Braestrup invites us to rethink our relationship to the religion we may have left behind in childhood. A Unitarian minister and talented storyteller, she opens the door for readers to experience faith as she does—as a pathway to feeling closer to God or the Divine. Her stories come from her job as a chaplain to the Maine Forest Service, providing comfort to families facing the harsh deaths of their loved ones and to the forest rangers who act as first responders.

Reverend Braestrup distinguishes between being spiritual and being religious. She says of her former husband, “Trooper Drew Giffith was spiritual, which is to say that he had experiences of the numinous that were both spontaneous and deliberately cultivated. He engaged in regular, deliberate practice with a chosen faith community in order to nurture his own spiritual development and to translate it into useful, loving social action. Drew was religious.”

Braestrup experiences God most immediately through the giving and receiving of love, especially when we are feeling lost, alone, bereaved, or betrayed. Speaking to a boy who has lost his father, she states, “God did not bash your father’s car. Nowhere in scripture does it say God is a car accident or God is Death. God is justice, and kindness, mercy, and always—always love. So if you want to know where God is in this or in anything, look for love.”

LearningBreathemedium-2Following a spiritual, but not faith-based, path might mean living an ethical life and practicing mindfulness. In her book Learning to Breathe, international photojournalist Alison Wright shares the way in which Buddhist philosophy and her meditation practices offer her an essential lifeline, both physically and emotionally, in times of crisis. A bus accident in Laos left her severely injured and near death. It was her years of practice in meditation and mindful breathing that allowed her to keep her lungs from collapsing and to endure unspeakable pain. These same practices supported her recovery, and helped her to achieve the goal of climbing Mount Kilimanjaro on her 40th birthday.

Wright, like Braestrup, invites the reader to consider what it is we lean into when our world is falling apart around us. She explains that what supports her is “quieting my mind enough to hear the inner voice that directs me to the next step. We are all on individual paths, and we just need to listen to the stillness in our heart to know what our life’s purpose is.” Wright’s Buddhist practice reminded me of an Episcopal nun I saw in treatment who explained that the daily practice of communion was like being in a wave that rocked her to peace. She said: “I stand up, I kneel, I sit . . . I stand up, I kneel, I sit . . . I stand up, I kneel, I sit . . . and eventually, if I’m lucky, I become quiet deep inside, and in that stillness I feel a closeness to God.”

It is possible to find ourselves, like Wright, in touch with something larger than ourselves through mindfulness. Being in nature, being with animals, or being responsive to the beauty of music or art can, if done with intention, be a form of mindfulness that brings us out of ourselves and into contact with what Celtic spirituality identified as the thin spaces, places where the membrane between our day to day world comes in contact with the sacred or mystical.

The Path of the Horse  is a documentary easily available online for free. It illustrates the way in which horses can teach about one aspect of coming into contact with these thin spaces, because horses respond best to people who attune quietly and gently to the multiple forms of communication happening outside of language. There are moments in the documentary when we know we are in the presence of something beautiful and profound, where we listen with our hearts and not our minds.

The Path of the Horse: Full-Length documentary

Aging, career change, health problems, and family situations are just a few of the challenges that can push us out of the familiar into a world that seems uncharted. As we age, we don’t have to look far to see that even without being fully aware of it, we have been developing practices that support a more authentic connection with ourselves and with those we love and that offer the possibility of serenity. Learning to Breathe and Here If You Need Me are books written by unusual women who have spent much of their lifetimes understanding how receptivity to faith or a mindful spirituality enhances those practices.

 

Join the conversation

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

  • Tobysgirl April 16, 2014 at 12:00 pm

    I would note that horses will respond to what you are ACTUALLY feeling, not what you may be pretending to be feeling. You can speak and act all nicey-nicey, but if you are angry inside, the horse will respond accordingly. She may bite you!

    Reply