Until I lived abroad, I never realized how much Americans do to celebrate holidays. We decorate, eat, drink, dress, gather together, play games, and watch festive movies. This is what I grew up with. My Australian husband however, doesn’t understand all the fuss. Don’t get me wrong, Australians enjoy their holiday. They do many of activities we do, but on a much smaller scale. They will get together for a special meal, but much of the hustle and bustle is missing. Both are Westernized, secular nations with disposable income up for grabs, so what is the difference?
The first item that comes to mind is geography. Many holidays are tied to nature’s seasons, as are many holiday products and traditions. For holidays commonly celebrated in the Western world, the holidays are tied to the corresponding season in the northern hemisphere. But in Australia, in the southern hemisphere, all the seasons are flip-flopped. Spring is in September and fall is in April. Easter décor brimming with spring flowers aren’t a big hit when it’s autumn. Since so many holiday products and traditions aren’t suited for the flow of seasons in Australia, they aren’t utilized to the same degree as they are in America.
The second item to consider is the amount of paid time off given to Americans versus other Westernized countries. Federal labor laws in America do not require employers to pay for time not worked such as holiday and vacation time. Further there is no federal requirement to pay anything above and beyond normal rates to work on holidays. Any perks in these areas are completely left to the discretion of employers. While Australians on the other hand are required to pay loading on normal wages to employees that work holidays, not to mention nights and weekends. (Also, four weeks of paid vacation time is standard in Australia.) All in all, Americans get far fewer perks when it comes to holiday or vacation time, whether it be in the form of paid time off or extra pay on holidays. I assert that because our leisure time is so limited, Americans are compelled to squeeze everything they can into those days and make the most of their time off the clock. Perhaps because they have more leisure time, Australians don’t need to ‘go big’ on a few select days.
Whatever the reason, Australians know how to relax. An activity that does not come as easy to us Americans. That is a topic for another day. Consider last week’s article (“THE AMERICAN DREAM: FAST TRACK TO SUCCESS OR ILLNESS?”) on how the American dream has been perverted.
While religion often promotes the balance, our secular ideologies often do not. Consider the American dream: Through hard work, initiative, and determination anyone can achieve success and prosperity. This ideal compliments our capitalist economic system and drives many to push the limits. Pushing the limits can be great when it means the creation of a product or process that revolutionizes the way we do things. But it often means pushing the physical and mental limits of the worker.
We strive for more and more. We work more hours for more money to buy more things. This is the structure we are familiar with. But we often work ourselves into the ground so that we cannot enjoy all that we have achieved. We make ourselves ill. Many of the common ailments we see in America are majorly influenced by stress. Almost everyone knows someone with heart disease, obesity, back pain, or insomnia. Our obsession with productivity and the association of rest with weakness has opened the door for stress induced illness in our society.
If you feel you are in this boat, fully commit yourself to periods of rest and relaxation. Remember, all your hard work won’t be worth anything if you can’t enjoy the results.
We often think about spiritual practice and the elaborate formats of world religions as ways to get closer to the divine. But the activities also serve a purpose closer to home by helping us gain a better sense of ourselves. Every tradition links the human and the divine. In some it is creator and created, king and subjects, master and servant, parent and child, in other traditions they are regarded as one in the same. Whatever the relationship may be, the framework of practice surrounding it can help situate yourself in the world and provide thoughts and actions to fuel the ‘you’ you want to become.
The self evolves and changes. Our day to day experiences often drive that need for change. But spiritual practice can manifest that need into a reality. When you find yourself in the face of upheaval or with a strong desire for change, steep yourself in spiritual practice (whatever that may be) and see what direction it pushes you. Identity and purpose can be hard things to discern in our world. Open yourself to the wisdom of other worlds and get some guidance. The results can lead to break throughs of practical value in mundane life and those of spiritual value. Working simultaneously with the mundane and divine provides balance and the opportunity for you to reap the benefits from both seemingly opposite facets of life.
One of the biggest grievances I’ve heard from both those involved in organized religion and alternative spiritualities is finding time for activities that allow for spiritual growth. While these activities are important, sometimes a lack of activity can be just as important for the mind and spirit. Remember, rest can be sacred. So when you need to rest, cut yourself some slack and know that fallow time can also play a part in getting you closer to your spiritual goals.
Further it may help to reflect on how most everything works in cycles of activity and rest. The natural world reflects this and we need to stop fighting it in the interest of our go, go, go society. If you are finding yourself short on time, or you are never feeling rested, commit yourself to getting things done during periods of activity and truly rest during down time. During active times, write a list and check items off. Don’t answer the phone or text messages, don’t get side tract or take a 20-minute scroll through Facebook. Let yourself be completely absorbed in your tasks, both the mundane and those spiritual in nature. When it’s time to rest don’t watch the clock, be leisurely. Think about turning away from technology. Instead get out in nature or read a book. Bottom line, do something restful that you enjoy.
As far as spiritual activities, start to consider which are more active and which are more relaxing There will be some to fall in either end of the spectrum. That way, no matter what cycle you are in, there is something you can do to feed your soul. Whether it be volunteering to help the less fortunate, or taking a long meditative soak in the bathtub you can contribute to you goal of spiritual growth. Time is not the enemy, it just takes some practice to gauge the cycles and make them work for you.
I firmly believe in and have repeatedly wrote about crafting a lifestyle to accommodate and encourage one’s beliefs. This brings a distinct spiritual flavor to one’s life and aims to breakdown boundaries between the spiritual and secular. Personal growth and happiness awaits the individual that makes decisions to shape their life in such a fashion. However, it is important to remember than none of us live in a vacuum, nor should we try to.
Inevitably we will come across people and situations that are outside or realm of comfort, and even contrary to our beliefs. Rather than shy away from these situations and run back to the refuge we have created, we should stick around and try to learn something new. This doesn’t mean we get angry or seek to spread our way of life, nor should we change our views to match the environment or individual we’ve encountered. But rather be respectful as we try to gain understanding and perhaps a temporary look at the world from a different perspective. Your sanctuary will be there waiting for you when you’re through.
But for a small time, take a walk on the wild side. Don’t let the great wide world shake your foundations but open yourself to a new experience. Close encounters with the strange and unusual will keep you fresh and sharp. When we close ourselves off to learning, we close ourselves off intellectually and spiritually. We become stagnant. At best we become a relic. At worst we become irrelevant. Protect your ability to make thoughtful and wise lifestyle decisions and push the envelope!
When is the last time you got out of your comfort zone? How did it feel? How did the experience help you?
Recent events have sparked discussion and debate on the state of American society as the effects resound in school shootings. While some believe the strong presence of firearms and violence in America is responsible, others cite the lack of religion in mainstream society and public schools. In the wake of Parkland, Florida some demand that we ‘put God back in schools’. At first glance, this notion sounds attractive. I am a spiritual person, the idea of a society devoid of the divine saddens me. But any further consideration beyond a first impression begins to reveal issues with ‘putting God back in schools’.
First, the statement is vague. What ‘God’? What religion’s interpretation of the divine are we calling to be included in schools? Considering our Christian normative society, I assume those behind this statement are pushing for a Christian ethos in schools. Which begs the question, what about students that are not Christian? Do we subject them to a belief system that is not their own while denying the legitimacy of other faiths? Or do we accommodate all faiths by separating children into different schools based on religion? The option to send children to a religious school of one’s choosing is a great freedom to have, but it cannot become a requirement. Such a requirement would institutionalize segregation and destroy the chance for children to develop empathy and understanding for people different from themselves. Lastly, I think there are ways to teach pearls of wisdom from many belief systems in a secular fashion that is meaningful for most, if not all, students.
The notion that re-introducing religion in schools is going to fix the ills faced by America’s children, and ultimately the American populous at large, is absurd. You cannot expect an ideology to be applied in a troubled society and expect it to be a cure-all. The first step is to identify and start stamping out issues like lack of personal responsibility, and ill-equipped parents. Only when we pull out the weeds can we expect flowers to take root, spread, and bloom.
I’ve been considering the benefits of raising a child in a defined religion versus letting them find their own way on the spiritual journey. I have encountered many people that have misgivings about the religion they were raised in. Sometimes those negatively affected simply decide to take a different path as adults. Other times their experience is traumatic, and causes lasting damage that must be overcome before any new decisions regarding faith can be carried out happily.
But what about the alternative? What about those raised with less boundaries? In theory, children are free to create their spirituality and determine a central piece of their identity themselves. But the reality is, that they are not given a blank slate to create. No matter how determined a parent’s efforts to remove religious stipulations, they will be introduced by family members, friends, and societal dialogue. Consider the amount of mainstream chatter about America as a Christian nation. Even if it isn’t directly taught to a child, they will absorb religious expectations in some way.
To raise children with more spiritual freedom we need to accept that they don’t grow up in a vacuum. The freedom needs to entail not an absence of information, but an influx in communication. If we don’t issue kids with a set of moral beliefs, then we need to discuss those they naturally come across in the world and help them navigate in a way that still offers autonomy.
If you have any experience raising children with spiritual freedom, please comment below.