Forty-Two Ways to Nourish Your Soul
My spirituality is switched on when I live with a willingness to see God in the everyday. I am fully alive, and the most ordinary moment can feed my soul. For me, one key is finding the spiritual practices that are right for me. I practice my faith in community; I watch and listen to those whose switches seem to be in the on position. I notice the simple yet elegant ways people connect with the Divine. I begin to borrow the practices that appeal to me.
This article appeared in our August 2004 issue.My 20-something friend Dinie, one of nine children in a Lubavitch Jewish family, once told me, “Spirituality is like a switch. Everybody has one; it’s just that not everyone has it turned on.” I immediately understood her wise observation. My switch is turned on when I live from a willingness to see a loving God in the everyday. I am fully alive, and the most ordinary moment can feed my soul. But I’m human and my switch sometimes feels stuck — or worse, nonexistent.
For me, one key was finding the spiritual practices that are right for me. I practiced my faith in community; I watched and listened to those whose switches seemed to be in the on position. I noticed the simple yet elegant ways people connected with the Divine. I began to borrow the practices that appealed to me.
For instance, years ago a friend suggested that I write a daily gratitude list. Night after night, I grumbled as I tried to even remember what had happened during my day, much less write it down! But it was right for me. Over time, my struggle to find things for the list has grown into a nightly practice that lets me see the abundance in today and make room for the gifts and challenges of tomorrow. My focus shifted from what I don’t have to the multitude of blessings in each day.
What broadens your perspective and deepens your faith? What calms your fears and brings you peace? What deepens your connection to your essential self, to other people, to the world, and to God?
We asked Spirituality & Health’s readers those questions two years ago. Their diverse and thoughtful replies became an article called “Fifty Ways to Nourish Your Soul.” So many readers told us they appreciated those practices that we decided to ask again.
Here are some of the responses. Feel free to borrow the ideas that might reset your switch.
1. Swing — Jennifer Tschoepe, San Antonio, Texas
When I feel unbalanced or stressed, or just have a little extra time, I go to the park and swing. It takes me back to the simplicity and wonder of being a child. It's liberating and meditative. I am in awe of the world and how small but special I am.
2. Remember Who You Are — The Reverend Marina Lachecki, La Pointe, Wisconsin
I keep special letters of affirmation (from family and friends, colleagues and those I have helped along in their journeys through life) in a decorative box. When I have gone through a rough stretch, I brew a pot of tea, light a candle, and open the box. I read a few letters which remind me of my worth, my path, my journey to reach out to others. I forget about the present and move forward with light, hope, and peace.
3. Practice Joy — Debbie Loshbough, Roswell, Georgia
I try to practice joy every day. I like bubbles. I keep them in the cup holder in the car, and blow them out the window in rush hour traffic. I'm practicing joy and spreading joy, which I see in the faces of others and in their comments. It's soothing and meditative to watch the bubbles float away. It's the most fun you can have for under a buck!
4. Knit — Mary Garde, Riverhead, New York
I calm myself in a way women have used for centuries. A simple ball of yarn, a couple of knitting needles, and each stitch lifts praise, petition, or query to the divine. It isn't the end product but the focus on a stitch, a row, that makes the difference.
5. Find the Gift — Sharron G. Uhler, Shawnee Mission, Kansas
While driving to work, I often find myself dreading the day, because my job can be very stressful. I didn't want to continue this way. So now I ask God to open my eyes to His beautiful world and He does — the ice-encrusted branches with sunlight filtering through, the first spring robin twittering as I get into my car. When I get to work, I note that morning's gift in the margin of my work calendar to refresh me all day long. My drive has a new dimension and so does my day!
6. Speak What Matters — Lindsay Miller, Indianapolis, Indiana
Our family was blessed to spend a weekend away together last summer. Just before getting into our cars to return home, we held hands in a circle, making sure each child was next to an adult. Each of us named one thing they loved and enjoyed in the person to their right. We all left with a little more love in our hearts, looking forward to our next weekend away.
7. Tend Your Garden — David Stobbs, Vancouver, B.C.
Back in 1984, a devastating illness left me disabled and unable to work. Over the next couple of years I discovered gardening, first in an allotment garden; then, as my body deteriorated, in containers on my patio, as well as gardening at a nearby hospital in the rehab department. I find a daily visit to one of the gardens rejuvenating. My wife bought me a card that I framed with a quotation from Minnie Aumonier: "When the world wearies and society ceases to satisfy there is always the garden."
8. Savor the Gift of Your Health — Susan M. Lang, Perkasie, Pennsylvania
After an illness knocked me off my feet for weeks, I rediscovered the gift of health. Going to the gym twice a week reminds me that I am one of God's precious creations, and must care for myself in thanksgiving for God's gift of life. Instead of running my usual frantic pace tending to work and family, time slows as I count and breathe while working on the weight machines. Exercise is no longer a chore, but a chance to reconnect with who I am. I call it my spiritual exercise. And it really is.
9. Rekindle Hope — Susan C. Brown, Lexington, Kentucky
When fear and self-doubt threaten to overwhelm me, I light a candle. This simple act helps me recognize a downward spiral of thoughts and kindle a hopeful flame, to acknowledge my need to worry less and trust more. The flame is a tangible reminder of what is available for the asking — divine wisdom, strength, and love to illumine the darkness.
10. Take a Stroll with Pure Joy — Carolyn Carpenter, Tulsa, Oklahoma
A stroll around the block with my two-year-old granddaughter feeds my soul. She teaches me to "be in the now" with each squeal of joy at seeing things I overlook. "Twees," "buttyfies," "birdies," and "flowers" take on new beauty with her exuberance. I pray that she and I will never outgrow these precious times.
11. Experience the Moments — Martha Eistrup, Edgar, Idaho
Considering every action, choice, and reaction as feedback, I tend to analyze contexts and sub-contexts to death, even pathologizing not only myself but others. I find laptop journaling every morning a way to get the analyzing over with, so I can experience the rest of the moments of the day Just as They Are, not Just as I Think Them to Be.
12. Look Up — Pamela A. Beamon, Winston-Salem, North Carolina
I stop and look at the sky, no matter what the weather, day or night. Often I see snippets of a rainbow, often clouds or stars or a glorious moon. The best time is while walking but anytime will do. I am always grateful for the opportunity.
13. Drop a Line — Shirley Swardenski, Morristown, New Jersey
When I am troubled and cannot sleep, instead of tossing and turning and bothering my husband, I get up and turn on my computer. I read over the names of my correspondents, giving thanks for all the people who stay in touch with me. Often my eye rests on one name and I email that person to check in. I am astounded at how often I find a return message in the morning, telling me that my message came at just the right time. Sometimes technology separates us, but it often connects us in ways wonderful and mysterious.
14. Commit to Quiet Time — Ann Gerondelis, Decatur, Georgia
We have a family policy of daily quiet time for one hour after lunch. It began as a time for napping, but it has become a time for each of us to spend in silence in our own space. In the silence, I see each of us learning to feed our unique soul. We rejoin each other afterward, souls replenished and eager for community.
15. Bask in the Warmth — Debbi Lowrance, Robinson, Illinois
When I step out of my house I often stop for a moment and bask, with my head thrown back and my eyes closed, facing the sun. I imagine, "If the sun were God..." and feel God's presence warming me, the brightness beyond my closed lids enveloping me, a sense of peace invading my being and soul. It is amazing how this "God moment" rejuvenates me!
16. Let Your Faith Be Your Guide — James Larkins, Jonesboro, Arkansas
Since I began my spiritual journey, I've found that I don't always know what is best for me. Several times a week, I visit a park to walk a path that borders a lake. During the waning moon, I ask the Creator to remove from my life whatever is not in my best interest. During the waxing moon, I ask the Creator to add to my life whatever will help me become the person I am meant to be. As I walk, I reflect that faith will be my guide.
17. Live Your Practice — Thomas Moore, author, Care of the Soul
Nowadays, I have little formal practice, but I try to make everyday life the expression of my spirituality. For example, I see my role as a parent as a spiritual calling. I may be helping my daughter with her homework or teaching my son to saw a piece of wood, and I sense the spiritual implications of these small acts. If I do them reasonably well and with a sense of giving, I have no doubt that they foster the transcendence that gives my life meaning. I often turn down trips that might be exciting because the call to be with my family is part of my spirituality.
As when I lived in the monastery, work is prayer. I write books that I think will make a contribution, and I do my best to keep my writing ethical. I don't submerge my ego, but I try to keep it subject to the larger purpose of making the world a better place. And there are frequent challenges to that ethical, soft-ego point of view.
I play the piano, pool, "Clue," and ping-pong from a spiritual place as well. I think you get away from the divine when you get too serious about work and living meaningfully. Play is the work of the gods, and if I let my own work get in the way of family play, I have avoided my spiritual responsibilities. The piano is now my choir stall, where I meditate and rediscover, again and again, how the spiritual is best found in the beautiful.
18. Stretch — Monique LaFollette, Seattle, Washington
Stretching my body brings in oxygen, sends away stress, and connects me to the day. I begin every morning with a few quiet moments finding the pliability in my body, mind, and soul. My breathing becomes centered and my mind clears. Throughout the day, when events could catapult me into a frenzy of anxiety, I stretch my body. My soul reawakens, along with my muscles, my creativity, and my desire to make a difference. In this ritual I find perspective.
19. Do Chores — Elizabeth Brading, Johnson City, Tennessee
My aunt once suggested that I try vacuuming to nurture my soul. To me it was a dreaded chore. One day, however, when I felt heavy and lost inside myself, I tried it. She was right. It sucked the dust and debris from my carpet, and drew the heaviness out of my soul. I've since found that making my bed each morning calms me and focuses my thoughts on the day to come. Gathering laundry reminds me how blessed I am to share my life with my husband and three children. Cleaning the kitchen shows me how fortunate we are to have enough food to make a mess. I now regard my chores as a powerful spiritual practice.
20. Seek Wonder — Don Mathewson, Victoria, B.C.
Every day I take the time to find the wonder and uniqueness of the little things that usually go unnoticed … a single crane flying gracefully over the city streets … the smell of a freshly peeled orange ... the warm connections we make with others in passing … all special gifts found by simply opening our senses and our hearts.
21. Sing — Linda Tagliaferro, Little Neck, New York
Two years ago, I heard about a singing class "for people who think they can't."That described me. I mustered my courage, signed up, and found that with proper instruction, I can sing decently! Every week, the deep breathing exercises inspire me; the songs I sing make me and those around me smile. I now understand what I once read: The Australian aborigines say the world was sung into existence.
22. Skip! — Karen Marie Christenson, River Falls, Wisconsin
One year, the school playground was under construction, and my students had to create their own games and activities on the open grass instead. A favorite activity was skipping. That's right — plain old skipping hand in hand across the grass. "Ms. Christenson! Come and skip with us!" they chanted. Finally I muttered, "May as well join'em." They beamed at me, linking their little hands with mine as we skipped merrily. "Oh, my!" I shouted with them, "This is fun!" I laughed the way children laugh when they move in the sunshine — freely, easily, wholeheartedly. We tried to keep serious faces as we skipped from one tree to the next, but we couldn't do it. Take our challenge: See if you can stay grumpy while you skip! As the kids chimed, "Betcha can't!!!"
23. Share Your Passions — Marcia Lynn Alvis, Chicago, Illinois
One of my dearest friends and I started a top 10 list ritual. Through the darkest times in our lives (her husband died at 38; my mom was sentenced to 25 years in prison) it has helped us keep our perspective on how graceful and elegant life is when you pay attention. When we are downtrodden, we pause and send each other a blank greeting card in which we write our top 10. Past top 10s have ranged from "Top 10 fictional characters I would love to meet" to "Top 10 things to buy at the grocery store." We keep it silly and whimsical to give each of us a moment to relax and remember that life is full of good, simple pleasures.
24. Share Your Gratitude — Dianne Bayley, Johannesburg, South Africa
Every July, a friend of mine has a Gratitude Dinner. Each of us brings part of the meal and writes a list of things to be grateful for to drop into a hat. After dinner, the hat is passed and someone else reads your gratitude list aloud — to cheering and applause! It does make a difference to the soul to hear what others are grateful for.
25. See with New Eyes — Jerome Tracy, Delmar, New York
The last few years have been difficult for me, but because of that they have been a time of spiritual growth. I have for the first time become seriously involved with my church, and I receive the greatest satisfaction and nurture for my soul by volunteering with others to deliver furniture to people in need. Traveling to areas I previously avoided, and speaking with people I previously shunned, I have learned much about gratitude, God's love, and our need to love all our brothers and sisters. My problems pale into insignificance as I see the many people who live from day to day. After each move, I thank God for letting me make a difference, however small, in someone's life.
26. Notice Things — Helen Ayers, Omaha, Nebraska
At 57, I notice things I never did before, and I'm surprised by how much there is to see, like yesterday when the late afternoon winter light gave the living room a golden glow that I had to sit in. Or the trace of my daughter's dimples when she talks fast, or the crunch when I bite into an almond. My time is getting shorter, but my moments, when I notice things, are getting richer.
27. Immerse Yourself in the Divine — Lisa A. Beebe, Keller, Texas
As a family law judge and a single mother, I multi-task to accomplish as much as possible during my day. I exercise my body, relieve stress, and nourish my soul by combining my daily run along my community's green belt with a spiritual practice. I immerse myself in the sensory experience of the Divine around me. I taste the sweat from my exertion, smell the fresh air and rich earth, listen to the singing birds and chattering squirrels, feel the wind on my skin, and see God in the smiles and friendly nods of my neighbors as I pass. I end each run with a prayer of thanksgiving for my strong body, quiet mind, and peaceful soul. Afterward, I feel relaxed and connected to the universe.
28. Keep It Up — Kathleen Norris, author, The Cloister Walk
My problem with practices is keeping them up. My spiritual practice sometimes amounts to coming and going from the basic observances — daily prayers, contemplative reading of Psalms and Scripture, and Saint Benedict's admonition to keep death daily before my eyes.
The ancient Christian monks knew that prayer was not easy; they defined it as "warfare to the last breath." In the normal course of things, I surrender too easily, slipping into lethargy. I struggle to find my way back to gratitude, an invigorated awareness that God is at work in the world, ready to quicken my stony heart.
I often despair at this cycle, wondering if I am a sensation junkie, or even a drama queen. But I suspect that my alternating exile and return are, in fact, ordinary. They link me with the Israelites in the desert as well as with contemporary churchgoers seduced by the ads in Vanity Fair to purchase trendy, overpriced goods.
When I most need to return to a stabilizing spiritual practice, I summon the Psalms. I have memorized several, to remind me that no matter how far I fall in my spiritual practice, a few simple words will help to bring me back. When I can encounter a temptation to sloth, or greed, or anger, by saying, "Lord, you have been our refuge, from one generation to the next"; or, "The Lord is my light and my help; whom shall I fear," I know I have found the path.
29. Be of Service — Leslie Miller, Mill Creek, Washington
When I went into semi-retirement, little did I realize that I would enter the realm of death and dying. As a volunteer with a hospice, I find that being totally present with a dying patient (and often the family) can give birth to authenticity and compassion. Unconditional love then blooms within this sacred space. This realm feeds my spirit and sustains my soul.
30. Practice Saying Thank You — Nancy Campbell, Minden, Louisiana
Each day I look for one person to thank — the crosswalk guard who smiles at me, the grocery checker who looks me in the eye, someone from the present or past who has made a difference, however small, in my life — and I write a thank-you note to that person in my journal. This has helped me notice small gestures of goodwill and learn to take the time to say thank you to the givers of such gifts to let them know they made a difference in my life.
31. Let the Love In — Donna Lange, Spokane, Washington
I have a dog, cats, and fish, and the unconditional love they offer touches me. Sometimes I'll sit quietly to watch the fish and their colors and swimming patterns and listen to the sound of the water. Other times, I'll watch the cats play and savor the innocence and simplicity of what's fun to them, or snuggle up to one of them to hear a soothing purr. I'll walk my dog and enjoy the fresh air and movement, and watch him take in every nuance of what goes on around him. They remind me of what there is to appreciate when I just slow down.
32. Go to the Barn — Rita M. McCloskey, Payne via email
A whiff of "horse," a friendly nicker, a velvet-soft nose, a mischievous gleam in the eye, and the scent of newly polished leather initiate the transformation to a new way of being — in the present. As we trot along, silently communicating, I relearn the secrets of my equine friend: being present to the simple gifts of earth, sky, wind, birds, health, companionship.
33. Make Mine Rhyme — Pat Ammons, Jeffersonton, Virginia
When feeling puzzled, happy or blue I pick up my pen or type a few Words that rhyme in the still of the night, Sometimes journaling in the wee early light. I talk to the Creator as best one can, Asking for guidance and some kind of plan To lift life's woes and ease its pain. I wind up praising God greatly again and again.
34. Create with Loving Hands — Herbert C. Yost, C.S.C. Notre Dame, Indiana
Everything comes together in my woodworking shop. When I am alone there, it is a sanctuary of mind, body, and spirit. In silence, I work with my hands, using wood and other materials sprung from the earth, fashioning furniture for people I love, drawing forth my creativity. I try to spend a couple of hours there each afternoon. Every aspect of my being is stretched and kneaded and massaged. I feel whole.
35. Invite Whimsy — Cindy La Ferle, Royal Oak, Michigan
The written word has graced my life, and I give thanks for it daily. In my home office, where I write, is a shelf of my favorite children's books, including those I read to my son. They are surrounded by small toys and memorable characters from some of the books, including Dr. Seuss's Thing One and Thing Two. These icons never fail to make me smile, and inspire my gratitude for the stories that shaped my childhood and made me reach higher than I thought I could, like the little engine that could. The shelf, in its whimsical way, is an altar.
36. Listen and Be Listened To — Barbara Epley-Shuck, Whitesboro, New York
Reading Bible stories, hearing other people's stories, telling my story.... stories help us understand each other and God.
37. Be Nurtured by Nature — Vicki L. Dury, Westborough, Massachussets
Every day I connect to nature in some way. I might look at the sky filled with puffy clouds or twinkling stars, stand barefoot in cool grass, play in the snow, walk in squishy mud, smell newly mown hay, listen to frogs in spring and summer, taste sweet strawberries from the field, or feel the wind and sun on my skin. These small meditations remind my soul that there is something bigger than the thoughts that fill my mind throughout the day.
38. Feed the Birds — Janet Tebo, North Ferrisburg, Vermont
Often, when I need to renew my spirit, I seek out my little feathered friends. I sit quietly near my bird feeders in the backyard. After my intrusion into their world, the birds take some time to come back, but I feel the shift as nature returns to normal around me, and they come flying in to resume their feeding. It thoroughly delights me to become a part of their world for just a little while, and at the same time, it connects me with that deeper, divine part of myself.
39. Cherish the Past Through Home Movies and Cards — The Reverend Lindsey Halpern-Givens, Crystal Lake, Illinois
In our family we sometimes pull out the old home movies and gather round to remember. These cherished reminders never fail to make us laugh. They make us think about how much we have done together and are also a springboard for all kinds of conversations.
Also, I have a dresser full of cards and letters that I have received over the years. I make time to look at them when I need encouragement, when I feel sad, and when I want to recall a happy memory or get in touch with a friend.
40. Write — Harold Kushner, author, When Bad Things Happen to Good People
I see writing as a religious craft, not only because of the subject matter of my books but because there is so often inspiration in the process. At times in the course of writing, I suddenly find myself knowing something I did not know I knew. The right phrase, the perfect example, pops into my mind. Where was it before it occurred to me? It is an eerie experience, and I can think of no word for it other than "inspiration."
To honor the holiness of the writing process, I do a few things. First, for many years, when I sat down after breakfast to write, I would begin by writing a check to some charitable organization. My wife noticed the pattern before I did and asked me if it was some sort of ritual, perhaps invoking a benign muse or spirit. At first I assured her that it was no more than clearing a distracting envelope off my desk. But as I thought about it, it became clear to me that it was a ritual. At some level, I must have felt that if I opened my heart to someone in need, my heart would remain open to inspiration as I began to write.
When I am working on a book, I write every morning except the Sabbath. But some days the writing simply will not come, and I feel stumped. When that happens, I go for a walk (weather permitting), leaving my study and emerging into God's world. It almost always happens that by not thinking about my problem, I find the solution.
41. Keep an Open Heart — Mary Beth Conlee, Sedro Woolley, Washington
Sometimes my workday is so intense that I forget my higher priorities amid the storms of to-do lists and mini-crises. To remember to feed my soul, I chose the one action sure to happen many times a day: answering the phone. Each time I lift it to my ear, I take a conscious breath, open my heart, and greet the unknown caller with love.
42. Make Art with Friends — Sue-Ryn Burns, Wellesley Island, New York
A few of us have what we call "spirit art play dates." We gather on the last Sunday of the month to share talents, materials, and each other's company while creating spiritually inspired works of the hand and heart. We use a free space at a local nature center, bringing bag lunches and snacks to share. We have worked with beads and gemstones and made soft sculptures and dolls. Conversations flow in many directions while we work, from technical difficulties to spiritual subjects to personal experiences and community concerns.