Do you feel like you live in a world that pressures you to achieve? At all costs? In ways that baffle you? What if we can move from the need for validation and fear of rejection to a more authentic love-filled life? We looked at three spiritual practices for everyone that can put us back on track.
Survival Guide for the Soul is Ken Shigematsu’s latest book. I had no expectations and I knew nothing about this book when I picked it up from the reserve hold shelf at the library. After a quick Google search I found out he’s kind of a big deal, “a ‘mini-mega’ church pastor” in “highly church-averse Vancouver”, Canada.1
I’m not a religious person and I’m not a church goer. I do visit places of worship when I travel or stop in on a walk at home, to sit within such highly energetic yet calming presence. The last service I attended was in Swedish at Old Town’s Storkyrkan and I listened to the church bells toll in Hamnøy Norway waiting for the bus. Last month I sat in Simrit’s concert in a church hall and heard Mark Nepo talk at another. Even though I’m not religious and prefer “universe” over “God”, I find great wisdom in books like Survival Guide for the Soul, written by a man whose first book was God in My Everything.
Ken Shigematsu starts Survival Guide for the Soul about the divided self and the whole self. Most people are struggling with the divided self. Unknowingly we contribute to this world of the divided, whenever we shy away from our own whole self. Don’t feel terribly bad – a Christian pastor, Ken Shigematsu himself also works on finding a “fruitful balance where striving Ken and soulful Ken work together in harmony.”2
If you are unsure what this divided self is about or how the whole self is like, he explains it quite well, in Christian language. Even if you aren’t Christian or religious in any way, you can still gleam many gems of wisdom. For those interested in cultivating the whole self, he shares several spiritual practices helping us to remember and to embrace who we really are. This means we no longer become seduced by what he calls the greatest temptation, self rejection. Yes, self rejection. We reject ourselves in more ways than we realize. Just take a few moments and think about this? Once we realize, though, our wide opened eyes can never be shut and we begin to hear the yearnings of reunion.
So where do we start? Accept that we are all accepted and that we are beloved, beautiful, and blessed. Isn’t it time that we live from approval rather than for approval?
How do we keep remembering this? We can cultivate spiritual practices. “essential habits of the soul.” Here are three such practices that remind us that we are not what we do. The truth of who we are goes beyond the metrics of success far too many of us have adopted.
Ken Shigematsu is a Christian pastor and his language is understandably about God. Some people may find it uncomfortable or in conflict with their own beliefs. I invite you to try them on, reading about them in full in his book. The way I see them, these practices benefit everyone. Feel free to mould them to work for you.
3 Spiritual Practices for Everyone
Ken Shigematsu quotes a couple of psychiatrists who see 98% to 100% of people as being addicted. Now, you and I may argue that this just cannot be true. While we may not be addicted to alcohol or dugs, we can easily be addicted to attention, satiation, work, exercise, or some other distraction. Ken Shigematsu writes that “an addiction disrupts and displaces God as the centre of our lives.”3 Whether you feel that God is the centre of your life or even in your life, addictions and attachment take away our freedom and our ability to be truly present for ourselves and others. Addictions and attachments partly arise from a skewed and mistaken perspective of who we are.
Meditation is not about physical stillness as much as an inner stillness. This is a space from which we are receptive and attentive. While some people have cultivated a practice of sitting meditation, others prefer walking meditation or something more active, such as Osho Active Meditation. Or maybe yoga asanas to prep the body to sit in stillness. For others, it is weaving baskets, knitting, gardening, or fixing cars.
Ken Shigematsu begins each morning by meditating in God’s presence. He uses an app called “Centering Prayer” for 20 minutes. Sometimes it’s shorter or he choses a word to focus on. Similar to the mantra meditation I practice.
Though taking ten or twenty minutes to meditate may seem like a self-indolent luxury, without it we will only have our distracted, depleted selves to offer.4
Starting and ending the day in stillness and contemplation allows us to transition in and out with more conscious intention and awareness, threading grace in and through the mundane and the sacred. Depending on our lifestyle and schedule, perhaps taking a few minutes during the day makes more sense. With a senior dog, my schedule is not entirely mine. Each day is different and each day starts at a different time. I therefore take my moments when I can.
The point is that we find what works for us. A few minutes is better than zero time. Quality over quantity.
If we are driven by the need to distinguish ourselves by what we do, we will find ourselves doing many, many things, not all of which are truly necessarily.5
In Survival Guide for the Soul, Ken Shigematsu shares how the owners of Chick-fil-A and B&H Photo are counterculture influences. Both observe Sabbath and close their businesses respectively on Sundays and Saturdays. B&H Photo is in New York, the second largest non-chain photo and video equipment shop in the world. I too have perused their website, where Ken Shigematsu says 70% of their sales happen. They close both their Manhattan shop and website on Black Friday, perhaps the biggest shopping day. Why? B&H Photo director – “We respond to a higher authority.”
We’ve been groomed to believe that we are measured by our output. We are not cogs and minions though we’ve been led to believe this is our worth. Perhaps like me, you’ve worked for a bank, in the Finance department or have had a challenging divorce. Then you may also know how it really feels to be treated as a cost centre. A financial cost centre, regardless of our soft skills and other contributions. Hopefully like me, you too have come to reject that.
I too observe Sabbath, and I feel it helps me remember to “refuse to bow down to the idols of success and productivity.” It’s for all of us to live as human beings, not human doings. For me, practicing the art of Jin Shin Jyutsu has been a great teacher of beingness.
Ken Shigematsu writes that “when we honour this invitation (to Sabbath), we work from a place of rest, rather than desperately needing to rest form our work.”698 We remember “we don’t need to live by the sweat of our brow alone but by the grace of manna falling all around us.”6
Learning to honour Sabbath can be a steep learning curve. We are so used to being productive, planning, and working. Or fretting about not being more so. We often mistaken vegging out in front of the TV as resting – it’s not.
Use the measure of joy – does what you are doing give you joy? Or are you crafting the ways an activity can yield productivity? Like how can this book give rise to an article, as I once did! Or how we can make an activity even more industrious. We can easily slip back into work as novice Sabbath observers. Keep practicing, my friends.
Thanksgiving is not a day in October (Canada) or November (the US). It’s a daily practice. Sure there are health benefits related to being grateful. For me, more importantly, gratitude opens us up to seeing the grace and beauty that already exists in life.
When we first start a gratitude journal for example, that five minutes can yield quite a list. As time goes on, we may find we’re giving thanks to the same people and the same things. We may notice it’s often for how things resolved in our favour, making life easier. The parking angels, anyone? When this happened for me, I questioned if I were truly grateful, if I had allowed a beautiful practice dissolve into yet another mindless activity.
“Gratitude also slays the foe of comparison.” – Ken Shigematsu, Survival Guide for the Soul
This is when we can take it deeper, to truly see the silver lining in all things. To see how everyone and everything play a role for us to live a more authentic life. Gratitude helps us savour the sweetness.
It’s easy to fall under the spell that only the material world is real. What happens when we remember that there is more than what our five sense perceive? When we remember that we do not need to be validated? What if we are able to live from gratitude, humility, and love?
Daily practice of living from a place that is more than material helps us remember a world and an existence that is far more magical. Ken Shigematsu, in his second book Survival Guide for the Soul, shares a number of spiritual practices for everyone. The beauty of these practices is that they can be taken within a Christian context or not. The magic of daily practice is in the constant return. They may appear simple, and they are. They are not necessarily easy, though they will become second nature one day, just like that.
1 Jason Byassee quoted in Vancouver’s “mini-mega” church pastor probes the blessing and curse of his ambition by Douglas Todd. Updated September 16 2018. Vancouver Sun. [link]
2 Survival Guide for the Soul by Ken Shigematsu. p31.
3 Ibid p74.
4 Ibid p83.
5 Ibid p94.
6 Ibid p106.