Books, Retreats, and the Grown-Up Work of Growing

It doesn't always require a great personal crisis to spur an adult to growth. Maybe you just have a small, nagging, uneasy sense of being stuck. Then a friend says, “read this book.”

The book is the Bhagavad Gita. Or it's a new translation of the book of Psalms, which, you realize, you hardly know at all other than the 23rd. Or it’s a collection of meditations by Thomas Merton, or Thich Nhat Hanh, or Annie Dillard, or Joanna Macy, or Marcus Aurelius, or Neale Donald Walsh. Or it’s the poems of Hafiz or Rumi. Or The Record of Linji. Or Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha, Robert Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way, Eckhart Tolle's A New Earth, or Richard Bach's Jonathan Livingston Seagull. (I'm not passing any judgment!)

Whatever it is, you read it. The words seem to glow on the page. You finish the last page and immediately start on first page again, re-reading, stirred, in love with the echoing of the words in your soul, called to explore further.

This kind of thing is more commonly a young adult experience. Still, it can happen at any age.

Or maybe instead of “read this,” your friend says, "come with me on this week-long spiritual retreat." You go. You do weird things that a month before you’d have sworn were much too ridiculous for you: sweat lodges, drumming, excruciating pretzel-twisting yoga, vision quests, deep guttural chanting, or sitting very still and quiet for half-an-hour at a time, 15 times a day. "This is silly," you think. "It’s stupid. Why did I ever come on this?" But you stay. And on the next-to-last day you catch a glimpse of your life. In a flash, you see how stuck it has been while you thought it was moving along just fine, and in that glimpse also a vision of how it can be different, freer, more relaxed, accepting, celebratory.

We adults can settle into developmental cul-de-sacs. When we do, a personal crisis, or something else, might reawaken us to the growing we did continuously as children.

When we were kids, our muscles got bigger all by themselves. As adults, we have to drag ourselves to the gym, or the jogging trail, or some exercise routine.

When we were kids, our brains were getting smarter all by themselves. As adults, it takes some discipline to make ourselves study a new area of knowledge.

When we were kids, it seemed that wonder and delight were built into the fabric of the world and we couldn’t avoid them. As adults, we fall into cynicism and it takes a deliberate discipline to keep alive in us that spirit of the child, that presence to the wonder and beauty inherent in everything.

Our inner life is something we can’t get out of – but as grown ups we might also avoid going into. So we hover: Can’t get out and won’t go in.

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This is part 2 of 6 of "What Growing Looks Like"

Next: Part 3: "If You Can't Get Out, Get In"
Previous: Part 1: "Growth Amidst Perfection"

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