I’ve had a rough couple of weeks physically, and it’s been interesting to observe how closely my physical, emotional, mental (cognitive), and spiritual selves are intertwined. Waddaya know – I really am one multifaceted being. This will come as news to no one but myself, but I’m a slow learner, and an experiential one. I have trouble taking ideas on board until I’ve had a lived experience that connects to it.
The realization made me think of the multiwicked candle used in the Saturday night ritual by which observant Jews mark the movement from the Sabbath, which is sanctified time, to secular time. The candle must be made with at least two wicks, though it is not usual to see more. One explanation for this is the blessing that is said over it: Blessed are you, O Lord our God, King of Universe, who creates the lights of fire. The light of each wick joins the others in a blazing flame. The separate flames can no longer be distinguished but are not lost; together they make a brilliant light.
I can always pay more attention to one part of myself than to another – it’s my choice. I find it very affirming and strengthening to remember that. Even when I mess up (double-cheese pizza, I’m looking at you) it is my choice. Of course, when I succeed it’s due to my choice, too – works both ways. Owning one and the other lets me live my life fully, moving more and more toward integration.
When I’m anxious, for example, my baseline pain hurts more and is harder to deal with. If I can manage to calm myself and relax, the pain decreases, too. When I am elated, I hardly hurt at all. (Remember, children: endorphins are our friends! Here is a fun, non-technical article about them.)
When I am in a spiritually dry place, I find it harder to do everything. If I am not careful, I am liable to acedia, a sort of spiritual malaise, characterized by both restlessness and listlessness, that makes it hard to work and pray and relax. This is a not uncommon pitfall of the religious life, and there is a lot of spiritual literature on it, going back to the Desert Fathers.
Theologians and masters of the spiritual life have all kinds of excellent advice on how to deal with acedia, but I like to keep things simple. When I catch myself going down that road (and sometimes I’ve gone quite a ways along before I realize it), I just remind myself that “Feelings are not the boss of me”. I light one or another of the wicks of my inner and outer life, and soon enough the brilliant flame dances.