About a week after I returned from my travels in Italy last summer, a friend asked me if I did any yoga during my trip.
I shook my head, gave him a little smile and responded, “I didn’t want to be spiritual on this trip.”
It’s kind of humorous really—what does that even mean? Is spirituality a quality we can just turn on and off? Clearly, in this interaction with my friend, I was defining it in terms of my actions (or lack thereof). No, I didn’t do any yoga. I didn’t even think about it. I didn’t meditate or listen to Abraham-Hicks or do any of those other things I consider ‘spiritual activities’ at home. I drank wine and coffee and ate all the unhealthy things I avoid in my day-to-day life, and I partied until the wee hours with my favourite Italians of the trip, G and V, whom I met on the full harvest moon in Naples. In short, I didn’t restrict myself the way I usually do.
However, I did have a particularly unsettling experience that served as a personal wake-up call of sorts. It was one of the most challenging moments of my journey. I felt incredibly alone, powerless and in fear. I was in my tiny hotel room in Florence. Being so far away from my life back home, feeling so free to do whatever I wanted, feeling so overwhelmed by the adventure so far, feeling so much wonder and gratitude, and yes, frustration at times…everything seemed to come to a head.
I realized that for years—my whole life—I’ve been playing various roles, and most of them aren’t ‘me’. I hear the voices of religion, culture, family, friends, books, spiritual teachers…but where is mine in this cacophony? Would I even recognize it if I heard it? I’ve flown around much of the time, literally and figuratively, without a real grounding or knowing of who ‘I’ am…let alone being strong and confident in that knowing.
Not hearing my own voice has prevented me from having a really open and authentic relationship with God (Source, Universe, Love…I call it by many names). God has been ‘someone’ I’ve had to convince, impress, and seek favour, approval and permission from. And that night, I felt the intense anger—and pain—surrounding that. I felt the heavy toll that pretending and judging (myself) has taken on me. I have not been living freely and authentically.
I see now that what subsequently took place was probably the most honest and real conversation with God that I’ve ever had. I thought I disliked overly-touristy Florence, but maybe the city’s deep beauty and religiosity and emotion and history stirred something completely unexpected within me that was just waiting for release.
I’m understanding that my notions of spirituality have been limited, and limiting, for me. I’ve been applying the rules, doctrines and opinions of others, to how I perceive myself, and judging myself for falling short of those standards.
And now I ask: Why have I kept ‘spirituality’ and ‘pleasure’ in such distinct, mutually exclusive categories? Even though in theory I’ve believed they can be intertwined, I’ve never fully allowed it in my own life. There’s always been some sense of guilt or wrongness there. That is, until this trip, when I allowed myself to just be ‘Aleya’ the person and not the spirit. Enjoying doing everything she wanted to do, not obsessing about her higher self or past lives or karma or what-if’s or ‘what would they think’, etc.
To take a break from those intentionally spiritual acts I’ve been so accustomed to (either through practice or in telling myself I ‘should’ be doing more of) was, somewhat ironically, what my spirit had been calling for. To bring me back to balance, to help me examine what truly works for me. It was a reset.
Have I done my yoga and resumed all those other activities that took a hiatus in Italy? Yes. But things feel different. Deeper, and more authentically ‘me’. Inspired by my own desires for divine connection, than the voices and opinions of others. Discovering what that unique connection is.
I’m intrigued that my life is taking a direction where spirituality and pleasure are more meshed, in a way that is most meaningful and perfect for me. I am giving myself permission to create my own relationship with God. One where we’re more equal partners. Perhaps even friends. Maybe that night in Florence was the game changer.
I hope to hang on to this feeling as long as possible. I like to think that on a deep, unshakeable level, it can never escape me.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Editor: Rachel Nussbaum
Photo: Author’s own