For so many of us, we feel like we are swimming in unknown waters.
If you’re in the midst of deconstructing your faith, it can be scary. If you’re engaging contemplative practices but have no idea what’s “right” or what’s “wrong,” it can be disorienting. If you’re just trying to feel grounded and yet you feel as disconnected as ever…it can be absolutely soul-breaking.
When I think back on my last decade of life – and I bet this goes for you as well – I can think of numerous people, experiences, tools, practices, ideas, events, frameworks, quotes, and words of wisdom that have influenced me, even in the midst of this confusion and challenge. Perhaps especially in times of confusion and challenge.
We’re being formed all the time by that which we surround ourselves with.
And so one of the questions of inner work and of spiritual formation is this:
What are the practices you’re engaging and the experiences you’re having that are helping you to sink into the depths of Presence?
Over the past ten years, here are just a couple of the practices and experiences and tools that have helped me in this inner spiritual work:
- The breakdown of my engagement/relationship
- The political campaign I worked on
- Contemplative Christianity
- Somatic Experiencing
- Resmaa Menakem
- Centering Prayer
- The Enneagram
- Shadow Work
- Richard Rohr
- Mary Oliver
But that’s just me – and I invite you to make your own list.
In the meantime, here are 7 tools and resources that might support you in your own inner work.
1. Contemplative Meditation/Prayer
In a world of noise, sometimes the most clarifying spaces are those of silence.
Contemplative meditation, whether it is a structured practice like Centering Prayer, a moment of gazing, Buddhist meditation, or something else entirely, invites us to become acquainted with the Divine within each of us. It is in these moments of silence that we create space for the “sound of the genuine,” as Howard Thurman referred to it, to be heard and engaged with.
When I first began living these practices in my life, I would often fit them neatly into a four part structure:
I would work to make sure every one of my days included aspects of each of these in a deeply intentional way. It was a bit constraining, but it helped me focus my life and stay – here’s that word again: intentional.
Contemplative spirituality isn’t about doctrines or belief systems; it is about sinking into a depth of Presence here in the current moment that allows us to feel and experience the Divine.
Here are a couple resources that might support you if you’d like to engage contemplative practices.
- Closer Than Breath
- Tia Norman (Insight Timer)
- Center for Action and Contemplation’s Daily Meditations
2. Shadow Work
There are parts of us that we don’t want to look at or admit are there.
The renowned psychoanalyst Carl Jung theorized that each of us has within us a “shadow” – the parts of ourselves we would prefer to ignore, evade, and avoid.
- Inner narratives,
- and so on.
But we don’t only have personal shadows – we also have communal and societal shadows as well. And these shadows, the parts of ourselves, our communities, and our societies, are constantly impacting the ways we see and understand the world around us. These shadows, when left unexamined, keep us from from being present to our lives.
This is where shadow work comes in.
Shadow work is a process of increasing our capacity to be aware of and in connection with our shadows, not to destroy them, but to hold them in gentleness and care.
If shadow work isn’t done, we will largely continue to perpetuate the status quo, being carried along the waves of our lives and never sinking beneath the surface. Some may describe this experience as operating on autopilot or becoming numb to everything around and within us.
It is through this gentle shadow work that new experiences of presence and life become possible.
If you’re interested in engaging with shadow work for yourself, here is my free 5-day email series guiding you gently in this exploration.
3. The Enneagram
Here’s a tool you’ve most certainly heard of by now.
The Enneagram has gained in massive popularity over the past ten years thanks to Instagram and people’s desires to engage in some form of inner work. It is an extremely accessible tool that allows you to go about as deep as you want to.
You can use it as a party trick or as a deeply impactful inner work resource.
In short, it is a personality system that gives words and language to who we are as individuals in the midst of our communities. It can help name and shed light on inner belief systems, outer behaviors, and – for me, this was the most important part – how and why we relate with others in the ways we do.
My friend Kenna Ledbetter, who is an Enneagram Coach, described it as “one of [her] biggest tools to support [her] own grieving process since and throughout the pandemic.”
Again and again I’ve heard folks exclaim when they first use the Enneagram: “I feel seen!”
And I agree – this is a practical and accessible tool for seeing deeply.
Here are two of my favorite Enneagram teachers:
4. Somatic Work
“Somatic” is a new word for many of us in Western culture, but the concept is pretty intuitive.
Each of us has a body and our bodies carry the stories of our lives. They aren’t just vehicles for our brains, which was unfortunately what many of us were taught. Instead, they hold our experiences of the world through muscle tension, blood pressure, trauma responses, gut reactions, and so on.
Our bodies have a form of knowledge that our minds simply don’t.
Here is an example that was a big “unlock” moment for me:
Imagine you’re walking down the street and you’re thinking about the weather.
It’s a beautiful day and there are no clouds in sight. The sun is warming your back in a way that isn’t causing you to sweat. It’s just pleasant. And as you’re walking on this sidewalk, you see someone coming toward you. Your body – without your brain even processing the moment – tenses us and enters into a defensive posture as you pass the person walking the other way. Perhaps you even clench your bag closer to yourself.
Your body has just reacted to a perceived threat faster than your brain could rationally examine if the threat was even real. (This has massive implications regarding racism, profiling, stereotyping, and even purity culture.)
You’ve had a somatic (body-based) fear response.
Somatic work is the process of grounding and settling your body, learning to listen to the language of its knowledge. If you can take time to become acquainted with your body, you can begin to change these default responses.
Here are three questions to get you started with somatic work right now and a couple resources to go further.
- Where are you carrying tension right now?
- When you are afraid, what does your body do?
- When you are entirely relaxed, how does your body shift?
This is a simple one and yet so many of us have a hard time “sticking with it.”
Journaling is a great way to process your experiences, emotions, beliefs, and narratives. Just sitting down and dedicating time to it seems to create a sense of spaciousness and permission to let go of our to-do lists.
And there are tons of ways to go about it:
- Stream of Consciousness Journaling
- Prompted/Structured Journaling
- Questions-Only Journaling
- Reflective Journaling
- Visual Journaling
- Bullet Journaling
- Daily Journaling
- Art Journaling
If you’ve wanted to start journaling but need someone to guide you, there’s nobody better than my friend Melissa over at the Kindred Journaling Café.
6. Spheres of Influence
Here’s a hard truth for many of us middle class, white progressives: We often desire to be part of the change, but acquiesce to the seduction of comfort.
This is a fear response.
It’s different for everyone, but it’s often a fear of change, of loss of power, of failing, of not being good enough, of letting go of what we have, and a fear of “rocking the boat.”
But in a world of climate change, white supremacy, and heteronormativity, we need to rock the boat.
We need to engage our personal, communal, and societal spheres of influence.
A sphere of influence is anywhere where your voice and presence carries some form of weight – where your opinion and presence matters.
- Personal Spheres: family, close friends
- Communal Spheres: work places, volunteer orgs, schools
- Societal Spheres: organizing spaces, broader community orgs
It is in these spaces where you can make the most impact and change in the day-to-day. By focusing your changework in these spheres, you can also maximize the results, even if the outcome is not in your hands. There is so much to do and no time to get lost in the narrative of “I don’t know what to do.”
Identify where the harm is and go listen to what is needed.
For more on this, I use this framework throughout my book Unmasking the Inner Critic: Lessons for Living an Unconstricted Life.
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