I have a secular spiritual practice that I want to share. It doesn’t matter if you are Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Wiccan, Hindi, Buddhist, or none of the above — it works.
First, some background: Not being a religious person, I have over the years looked for practices that provide me with peace. My spiritual life is important to me, but I have never cottoned to organized religion. This is in large part due to the wisdom of my parents’ method of raising me.
Mom and Dad — unknowingly Buddhist-like in their outlook on life — knew I would face social ostracism if I didn’t attend Sunday school in my hyper-nosey little town in South Dakota. Indeed, our family would have been shunned if we didn’t affiliate with a church in some way. As my parents packed me off to an American Lutheran church, they coached me to “Be nice. This stuff is important to people, but don’t necessarily buy any of it. Just smile and say, ‘Interesting.’ You can decide what you really believe when you’re 18.”
When I was 19, I studied “est,” a controversial “enlightenment” program created by Werner Erhard (“est” is Latin for “it is” and stands for Erhard Seminar Training). It turned out — and continues to be — the best thing I’ve ever done. It was a secular approach to my internal life that included self-reflection about my promises to myself and others and about my participation in my world and community, and resulted in my connecting with a spiritual side that felt like what people had described as Buddhist.
I originally registered for “est” not because I was looking for secular spirituality but because many people I loved and respected raved about the program. For others, it was considered a “California wooey-wooey, fruit-and-nut-cake cult.” Never mind that the detractors were usually people who had not actually attended the training.
Nonetheless, by my early 20s I was relatively hip to the idea that almost everyone and everything I’d ever loved got assassinated somehow, literally or figuratively: John F. Kennedy, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr., Robert Kennedy in the hero column; liberal politics, feminism and “est” in the worldview column.
I started to see a pattern. Those people, experiences and views that encouraged people to embrace original thinking and their innate altruism got killed off in body or in reputation. How grateful I am that Gloria Steinem and Werner Erhard are both still living examples of reinventing what it means to optimize our human spirit. Progressive thinking like that can get a gal or guy killed.
I share this background with you by way of giving some foundation to a practice I’d like to share with you for use on Thanksgiving, and perhaps on an ongoing basis. I have Thanksgiving every day through a practice I received from one of my friends and colleagues who is another active participant in classes at Landmark Education (visit landmarkeducation.com).
My friend, Robin Carlson, invited me to join a group of other Landmark Forum grads to participate in a daily listing of 10 things we’re grateful for and to end the list with an accounting of how we’d like to see the rest of our day progress.
Here’s an example:
Today I am grateful for:
• Being married to the kindest, smartest, funniest Buddhist guy I’ve ever met
• My parents
• All the people it takes to bring food to our communities
• Gloria Steinem
• The opportunity to go to Norway
• My sisters
• 12-step programs
• All of my incredible friends
• Oranges from our tree
• A new administration!
Today, I’ll take the time to ask each person at the dinner table what they are grateful for. I’ll thank each person individually for something they’ve done or said that I appreciate. All is well.
That’s it! See how easy it is to start your day with things you’re grateful for and then “forecast” the rest of the day? Although the “grateful” list is not literally a Landmark “practice,” it is reflective of the kind of activity that comes out of their educational programs.
It’s easy to see that starting the day by counting the things that suck in your life would put you on a difficult track for the day. Start listing your “gratefuls” and you’ll see a difference in your outlook on life.
Now, ironically, I am a practicing Buddhist, thanks to my new husband. I think my late and wise parents would have approved of Buddhism, “the religion that’s too much of a pussy to kill people in its name,” according to “The Daily Show’s” Rob Corddry.
Have a great and grateful Thanksgiving, today and every day.