Spirituality is taboo. No matter how open minded we are, there's a glimpse of a thought that prevents us from launching into the topic as we would about a TV show or a play. Whether we hold back to assess the situation and those around us, there is always that voice that whispers "proceed with caution" in the back of our heads.
Over the years I've seen spirituality expressed around me in many different ways. It was this flora of beliefs and practices that helped me find my own expression. I've found that people make their connection through religion, meditation, music, dance, support groups and study, to name a few. All of the aforementioned fascinate me for the way that each person builds their own individual relationship with something that is greater and more powerful than themselves. The sum of these examples have touched me in different ways.
I have never considered myself a religious person. I grew up in the south of Brazil, an area predominantly Catholic. My grandmother enrolled me in Sunday school, I was confirmed, joined the Boy Scouts and all that stuff that most kids don't like to be associated with. I didn't love those obligations, but I didn't hate them either. The stories from the bible fascinated me. It was such a different world from the one I lived in. The 10 commandments baffled me. Not stealing? I get it, but some of that stuff just didn't seem realistic to the 10-year-old version of myself.
Around that same time I met Berenice, my first English teacher. Berenice was Jewish, something completely new to me. I asked her questions, poked around and soon discovered that many of my classmates (in the Catholic school I attended) were Jewish too. I grew fascinated by their rituals and culture; moreover, I was fascinated by the sense of community they possessed. I immediately wanted to be one of them.
One of our religion class teachers, Pedro, was the epitome of cool, and the precise opposite of all other religion teachers, who were middle-aged nuns. Pedro brought his guitar to class, sang songs and created a stimulating environment in which we were invited to ask questions. In his classes we learned more not only about Catholicism, but all religions: Buddhism, Judaism, Islamism, the Amish and everything in between. Suddenly, all of us were engaged
Some 20 years later I ran into Pedro at my younger brother's school, during soccer practice. My former teacher was still the same, dreadlocks and guitar included. I was surprised, he recognized me immediately. We caught up briefly and he told me he was let go from that job not long after I left that school. Polite, funny and sensitive as always, he didn't go into details but I can speculate that perhaps his open minded beliefs and creative methods were a bit much for a traditional institution.
From those classes I remember becoming very aware about a sense of "destiny" and how life is full of coincidences. I also recollect not exactly understanding those feelings. I didn't understand the purpose of prayer either. I didn't get what sacrifice of one's will for that of others meant. All I know is I always believed there was a force in charge of everything, making sure things happened according to a master plan. The problem was I never felt at ease. At one point I felt as if my life was spinning so fast that I was going to fall.
Around 2010, when I was in fact very close to falling, something clicked. My health had deteriorated and my career was collapsing. I had an immense sense of loneliness in New York and was completely afraid. I was then introduced to meditation. My friend told me about his spiritual practice and we launched into discussions about religion. To my surprise he had none, he was agnostic. My friend however, believed that he was in a spiritual path, and that all humans had a connection of the soul. Although agnostic he got on his knees to pray, daily. He did not pray to God, his prayers consisted of words of gratitude for his blessings, but also for all the negative experiences in his life. Those experiences taught him to push through, be stronger, and learn from mistakes.
It was from a simple conversation that the spark lit up a flame and I found myself no longer in the dark. There was hope. I started reading about different spiritual practices and learned to say more yes than no. Begrudgingly I started praying (not knowing what to, but I did it anyway), on my knees, as taught by my grandmother. I would then sit in silence and meditate; or at least I tried to. First for two minutes, than for five, and now sometimes I go for twenty.
Everything has changed and my practice has not remained linear. I've said prayers that belong to different religions, merely because I admired the meaning behind the words. I've studied different spiritual beliefs, like the Kabbalah, and I found a way back to myself through yoga, which if you had asked me before, I would have told you it was but a fashion trend.
I found that in the stillness of when I am alone I'm granted the answers I didn't even know I was looking for. I discovered that there can be many different paths that lead to the same destiny, and I can get there a lot more peacefully if I have a spiritual connection. Whether my pursuit is in religion, meditation, or yoga, that's all irrelevant. We all can connect within when we need answers or even if we simply want to feel re-energized. Millions of people on this planet can't be wrong, if they have a spiritual practice that works for them then who am I to argue? Exploring different spiritual paths doesn't take much time, it shouldn't really cost any money and no one's ever died from having too much spirituality and serenity in their lives.
Originally published in The Huffington Post - GPS for the Soul, October, 2015