December 28, 2016

Something Like a Spiral

Spiral staircase

The spiritual life is sometimes described as an upward spiral, slowly ascending the mountain. At every point you've seen the view before, but as you get higher and higher each time around, you see the same view a little differently. Each time you learn a little more, and you're used to the routine. It may feel boring, but it's the path you're on.

Then there's a downward spiral that you tread when you're addicted to drugs or spiraling down into depression. You're used to the routine, but each time you make a move, it feeds into the whirlpool leading down. It may feel terrible, but it's the path you're on. Or it may feel like nothing at all save for a vague feeling of resistance. Before I realized I needed a break from teaching, this is the kind of spiral I was in.

I think both kinds of spirals are actually very close to each other. In each one, repetition teaches fear. When I'm moving up, there's often a strong feeling of impatience: I've been here before. Why can't I go faster? When I'm moving down, there's an equally strong feeling of despair. I've been here before. There's nothing I can do.

But there's always something I can do, even if it's just dragging myself to Meeting every Sunday regardless of how big a pain it is. Calling someone is something I can do. So is sitting down to write whether I feel like it or not. And when I'm in the middle of either kind of spiral, the things I can do are pretty much the same. It doesn't even matter how I got there. There's often a similar feeling of boredom no matter where I'm headed. The point is to keep moving, and the movement will carry me.

Lately I've been eating badly and not exercising. I've done a lot of telling myself that this is bad and that I need to step it up and be healthier. There are ways I can respond like making a diet plan or signing up for an exercise class. I've been ignoring those in my downward spiral. But there are also other things to do like throwing away leftover Christmas candy, or opening a cookbook to find recipes, or inviting my mom out for a walk. Some of those are things I can do even when I'm feeling like crap. They're typically things I secretly want to do. And those things, if I do them, will reset the spiral going upward.

Routine is boring, yes. It's also a way forward. In the middle of a spiral, it can be impossible to tell by our own emotions which direction we're headed. What we can do is keep moving; doing something is a leap of faith. (Sometimes it takes the form of doing nothing, if we're exhausted or stressed.) If we take that leap, God will take care of the rest.

  • LinkedIn
  • Tumblr
  • Reddit
  • Google+
  • Pinterest
  • Pocket
Comments powered by Disqus