When I was a teenager at school, I had a friend called Tom. He was one of three boys, so when we went to his house after school, I would have to accept that I could not spend time with my friends because his mum needed to talk girl-talk and stare at me a lot.
I actually really enjoyed her company and was happy to pretend to be her daughter every now and then.
Now, the thing I loved most about her was that, sometimes, we would walk into the house and she would be sitting on the sofa, in all her exercise gear, happily watching Jane Fonda leap around on the screen in an impossibly tight leotard, with impossibly straight legs bending all over the place, saying enthusiastic and encouraging things. And while she watched, she ate an actual, real-life Mars Bar. I think she kind of bobbed her shoulders a bit to the music. She would then saunter into the kitchen to join us, wiping the imaginary sweat from her brow as if she had just done the hardest work out of her life. Which she had, in her mind.
I really do love her for doing that.
This memory came back into my mind very strongly as I sat down to think about how to write about the need for down-to-earth, simple spirituality in our often-busy lives.
Because the story of Tom's mum is a great metaphor in my mind for how we find these brilliant spiritual teachers, who are offering truth and peace and love. And instead of accepting the offering and doing our best with it - like doing a light workout where we take rests but keep up when we can - we turn it into an impossibly high target that we are never going to reach. So we watch Eckhart Tolle and think 'well, I'm never going to achieve that level of awareness - I'm too messed up and my thoughts are too weird - so I might as well sit here and eat some spiritual Mars Bars.'
So I have made a short list of 3 ways to weave simple, meaningful and do-able spiritual practices into your daily life (but maybe you only need to take in one). Here they are:
1. Experiment with being present: “Don't let a mad world tell you that success is anything other than a successful present moment.” (Eckhart Tolle) This means: when you are washing up, wash up. When you are walking to the bus stop, walk to the bus stop. It's that simple. Being present - even for a moment - is an enormous spiritual feat.
2. Take a Judgment Baby Step: When you are tempted to judge somebody or write somebody off as annoying, rude, happier-than-you, unkind etc, learn to create a space for something to stand between you and that picture of them: curiosity. Wonder what it is like to be them. Take a few seconds to imagine even the tiniest bit of how they might see the world and feel about life. That's it. Wondering is enough to stop the Judge in its tracks. And to make you more gentle with yourself too. The world will get friendlier and you will feel happier. Simple.
3. Ask for help and learn to hand things over: When something bothers you, when you can't stop thinking about something, when you have a plan and feel like you need to control how it happens and what the outcome will be, do something very simple: hand it over to the Divine. Find your way of doing this. Here's what I do:
(place your plans, concerns and worries into the box, then let them go)
Now that I understand the need for simple, realistic and do-able goals, I understand why Tom's mum couldn't get close to living up to what Jane Fonda wanted her to do. I know why she ate Mars Bars as she watched how bendy Jane's legs were and how her voice stayed steady and normal after an hour of star jumps and splits.
Here's to baby steps, being gentle with ourselves and asking for help.