Listen to Your Inner Guru

One Sunday morning at church, a visitor gushed with excitement about being there and meeting me.  After the service concluded, he thrust paper and pen at me. 

“I want you to write something down,” he said and proceeded to advise me about how much I could learn from a local guru.

At one point in my life, I would have taken his words personally, imagining that I’d said or done something “wrong.”  But instead, I realized that he was a spiritual seeker and wanted to share something which inspired him.  He reminded me of my younger self, when I was discovering my own spiritual path, sometimes gushing unsolicited advice about someone or something I thought others needed to follow. 

During that time, when I sought all my answers in books, classes, and gurus, I learned a sacred truth from a blessed teacher who said: “Jenn, maybe you could put all the books in a box for a while and stop searching so hard.  Listen to yourself.  Then, you can be your own guru.”  Her words are some of the best advice I’ve ever received.

Especially during this season of uncertainty, adjustment, and ceaseless information streams, we need time to hear the still, small voice within, our own inner guru.   This listening process is the kind of back-to-school work we can do anytime, anyplace, anywhere, because it always starts with us.

One of the best ways to begin is by contemplating some questions about our lives now:

  • What, of our true heart’s desires, have we enjoyed from our bucket list?  What are we doing to enjoy more?  
  • Which books, newsletters, posts, and feeds do we think we should read, especially if someone else recommended them?  Do they provide the education and enlightenment we need?  What would we love to read, study, or follow instead?
  • What projects and activities must we do for our own and our family’s well-being?   Are we taking enough time for our own self-care?  Are we trying to do other jobs or complete tasks which someone else is better equipped to handle?  
  • Which people truly listen and encourage us in living our dreams and passions?  Which people try to catch us in their webs of drama and gossip?
  • When we request advice, do we understand what is said?  Are we assisted in determining our own needs?  Or does the advice-giver act as if they are the “only” expert, following the “only” path, offering the “only” product there will ever be?
  • What feels like a drain on our time and energy?  What do we truly love doing?

While these questions may take time to consider, the answers will help us learn new truths about ourselves as we begin a new school year, return to the office, or re-set our minds to new opportunities that fall often brings.  As we keep listening faithfully, we allow our inner guru to guide our discernment.  And better than any gold star is the sense of ease and peace of mind we feel in how we choose to live now. 

Previously published in the “Faith” section of Peachtree Corners Magazine, “A Back to School Message from Rev. Jennifer L. Sacks,” Summer 2020, livinginpeachtreecorners.com

Experiencing God Beyond the Building

In towns and countries around the world, many houses of worship —churches, temples, synagogues, mosques — are remaining closed.  Many of them have gone virtual, though a few have shut their doors forever. 

Whatever the religion, the building was often more important than the spiritual practice.  Millions of dollars and thousands of pledge drives were devoted to maintain and enhance them because people needed somewhere to go to find God.

For some, this building became the only worthy place for God to dwell.  If we attended weekly worship in the chosen building, we often imagined that we would find comfort, salvation, redemption, and eternal peace.

How sobering then for us to realize that that the very places we thought were most holy have also been hotbeds for spreading disease.  And without the building, a physical structure for worship, some of us have felt lost and alone, believing that somehow God is gone and we’re on our own.

Yet, the truth is: God is not found in our buildings only.  God is everywhere present, all the time, in the midst of all our comings and goings, in the midst of all that is occurring around us.  And if we cannot attend worship in a physical building or we feel unfulfilled in a sea of virtual broadcasts, we can experience God in our lives by:

  • Creating a sacred space for prayer, meditation, and contemplation in our own homes.  Anything from a comfortable chair to an entire room counts.  This is our place to be still and silent, even if only for a few minutes a day. 
  • Designing an altar of holy objects and inspiring treasures in our sacred space.  Items can include: a Star of David, cross, Kwan Yin statue, angels, gongs, crystals, prayer beads, photographs, candles, and incense, among many other items.
  • Practicing intentional deep-breathing exercises.  Try belly breath – breathing deeply from your diaphragm – or pranic breath – which follows a series of patterns or rhythms.  Remember: Because our breath is portable, we can use these exercises anytime: when we’re in the grocery store, driving in the car, or in our home office waiting for the WebEx meeting to begin.  Also, these exercises are particularly helpful if we must wear a mask for an extended time because they help us stay grounded in the present moment.
  • Communing with nature.  Walk barefoot in the grass and feel its texture between our toes.  Meditate under a shady tree on a park bench and consider the texture of bark and color of leaves. Hike a mountain trail, focusing on the path’s twists and turns.  Kayak a river, watching how the water flows.  Swim in the ocean and float on the waves.  Practice sky-gazing by viewing stars shining at night or clouds floating by during the day.  Watch rain fall and listen to its sounds on the roof, pavement, and window panes.
  • Singing favorite hymns and/or chanting mantras, either alone, with family, or with a virtual group.  If you were part of a choral, convene the group virtually and take turns leading the songs.
  • Gathering with a virtual community of people who share similar interests, such as cooking, gardening, reading, knitting, or sculpting.  Because we are creative beings, sharing our creativity with others reminds us of how many different gifts we have to give one another.  Whatever the group, ensure that each person has time to share about their current project.
  • Enjoy more time with pets, if we have them.  Walking the dog, stroking the cat, milking the goats, even feeding the goldfish and filling the bird feeder remind us that we are all God’s creatures, great and small.

As we continue navigating our new way of life, let us remember that God lives and moves and expresses in each of us, 24/7/365, always and in all ways.  The more we become aware of God in the midst of everything around us, the more personal God becomes to us, not as some amorphous thing in a building, but as the source and sustenance of our entire life. 

Wherever we are, no matter what is occurring, we can affirm: “Wherever I am, God is.  And so it is.”  And so we allow it to be.