What’s in Your Spiritual Toolbox ~ Rev. Chris Kell
We hear a lot of talk about spiritual tools boxes, especially now when we need all the help we can get to make it through these troubling times. But what is that question really asking? What tools do we carry in our spiritual toolbox, and how do we use them? And, is there anything in there to help us navigate the upcoming months? Let’s give this some thought and see what we come up with.
Talk starts at 17:55
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*Talk transcription for the Deaf and hard of hearing available below.
Good morning. Chris Kell here again, and before I get into the talk for today I want to thank Asha and the One World band for their wonderful and inspiring music. I always enjoy listening to them, and I imagine everyone out there in Zoomland does as well. Each performance leaves me wanting and waiting for more. Their music is truly a gift that comes to us from their hearts. Thank you all.
And this sort of leads me into today’s talk. Asha and the band’s music and the pleasure they provide is a perfect example of a gift given to us freely from their spiritual toolboxes. For me, they mirror the words of the musician John Coltrane who once said, “My goal is to live the truly religious life and express it through my music. My music is the spiritual expression of what I am, my faith, my knowledge, and my being.”
Every time the band performs, whether it is for sacred gatherings or secular events, these musicians are reaching into their toolbox and pulling out tools that not only support their inward journey of self-exploration, they share those same tools with us to support us on our paths.
We hear a lot of talk about spiritual tools boxes nowadays, days when we can use all the help we can get to make it through a disturbing and scary time. It seems like every spiritual self-help expert is telling us that we need a spiritual toolbox, but what exactly does that mean? What is a spiritual toolbox? Does everyone have one? And if we do, what tools are in there, and how do we use them? Is there anything in our toolbox to help us navigate the upcoming months?
For starters, I define a spiritual toolbox as a set of spiritual practices or activities that we use for comfort and inspiration in our journey of self-understanding.
According to the interspiritual website Spirituality and Practice, spiritual practices are specific activities you do to deepen your relationship with the sacred and the world around you. Practices help you connect to God (or whatever name you use to describe that “something more” beyond yourself). They enable you to become actively engaged with your inner self. And they expand the breadth of your experiences, encouraging you to relate in a particular way to other people and the whole of creation. (https://www.spiritualityandpractice.com/)
Spiritual practices are not consigned to a designated place or time; they are not activities to add to our busy schedule or crowded “to do” list. They are what we do every day. Spiritual practices are how we wake up and come alive to the spiritual reality all around us. Spiritual practices give us a road map as we travel on our spiritual journey.
Simply put, spiritual practices are anything that support our inward journey of self-exploration. They take us beyond the five senses to experience the divine within us. With the proper intent, everything we do can be a spiritual practice –– a primary tool in our toolbox, ready for us to put to use as needed.
Sadly, when I think of sustaining my spiritual life, many times I don’t think about choosing a tool to help me. I don’t know if you’re like me, but a lot of the time I think my spiritual life will be all that I want it to be if I just wish for it and set the right intention.
Yet, as Anaïs Nin reminds us, “There are very few human beings who receive the truth, complete and staggering, by instant illumination. Most of them acquire it fragment by fragment on a small scale, by successive developments, like a laborious mosaic.”
The 20th-century Catholic priest and writer Henri Nouwen once wrote that “Through the spiritual life we gradually move from the house of fear to the house of love.” By immersing ourselves in creative activity, we can still those voices around us and in us — we can enter the stillness that characterizes the “house of love.” We can open ourselves and experience spaciousness.
Interfaith Minister Rev. Maggie Oman Shannon echoed both Nin and Nouwen when she wrote in the Huffington Post that:
“In this wired, wild world, it is harder than ever to truly calm oneself – everywhere we go, we are assaulted by noise, stimulation, the never-ending crawl at the bottom of our television screens. . . .
. . . by immersing ourselves in our creative [spiritual] activity, we can still those voices around us and in us – we can enter the stillness that characterizes prayer and the ‘house of love’ [Henri Nouwen]. We can open ourselves and experience spaciousness.https://www.huffpost.com/entry/spiritual-toolbox_b_3456104
So okay, if spiritual practice is a component of our toolbox, do we have the tools we need to facilitate spiritual activity? Father Sam Martin (Diocese of La Crosse, WI) explains that spiritual tools are “things that help us to grow personally, but maybe also help us to be more available to others” –– things like the band’s music, for example. Therefore, the tools we put in our toolbox should empower our spiritual practice and support us as we move forward on our journey of spiritual exploration.
Unlike physical tools such as hammers and saws that we can touch and wield with our hands, some spiritual tools are intangible attributes we use all the time. We all have them –– the go-to, tried and true ways we communicate with and honor the Divine, like prayer, gratitude, thanksgiving, compassion, positive thinking, non-attachment. The list is long, and we use all these tools at one time or another. They are the everyday essentials in everyone’s spiritual toolbox.
However, I believe there is also another kind of spiritual tool box –– a material toolbox filled with tangible tools that we use in tandem with our intangible box of spiritual practices.
“But wait a minute,” you say; “I thought we were going to talk about a spiritual toolbox. How does this work? How can I put material things in a nonphysical, intangible spiritual toolbox?”
Well, the toolbox I want to tell you about is physical, but the kind of tools you may want to put in it include a book or tablet for journaling and a pen or pencil. You could add coloring pencils or crayons and a mandala coloring book. Maybe you want to put in mala beads or a rosary, a copy of a much loved prayer, poem, or affirmation. You could include a candle, some crystals, oracle cards, favorite photos – items that speaks to you about love and hope and desire and dreams. Anything that resonates with you on a spiritual as well as a sensual level. They are both practical tools to elevate our spiritual practice and spiritual tools to nurture our divine spirit.
So, what does my material yet spiritual toolbox look like, and what tools do I carry inside? Let’s see if we can identify some things to put in this other toolbox that will enable us to build our house of love.
First of all, visualize what your toolbox looks like. A container that is easily portable would be ideal. It could be a wicker basket, a shopping bag, or even an Amazon box. Let your toolbox come to you without judgment.
Take a good look at your new toolbox and decide if it needs anything extra to make it beautiful. If the box is plain, perhaps wrap it in some attractive paper. Maybe it needs some pretty ribbon, or some glitter and sequins. If a more natural look is your style, keep it simple; maybe a tackle box or a briefcase would suit you. It could be a shoe box or a backpack. Whatever you choose, make your toolbox pleasing and appealing to your own sense of self. And make sure it is the right size to hold all the tools you’re going to put inside.
Here is my material spiritual toolbox.
If you are stuck for ideas, think of it as choosing material items that resonate with you on both sensual and spiritual levels. These tools are a jumping-off point. We choose them because they help us feel things, and can serve as reminders to stop and focus on what matters.
Look for items that match your interests, challenges, hopes, values, and visions. This will most likely be different for each person. Rule of thumb is, just choose items that stimulate and elevate your senses; in other words, those things that get your spiritual juices flowing. Here are some ideas based on the five senses.
To stimulate your sense of smell you might choose your favorite essential oil, incense, or candle; sage for smudging; herbs, potpourri, and flowers are all nice.
Next, things that look beautiful to you: crystals, stones, photos of loved ones (including ancestors and animals). Don’t forget a small book or two. My favorite is The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz.
For taste, put in a little some delightful tidbits that tastes delicious; I usually go for chocolate.
Bells, music, even your phone, can provide sound. But remember –– the phone is for listening only, no texts, emails, or talking.
Touch is anything that feels good to your skin, like a soft piece of cloth for an altar, a feather, or the smooth coolness of prayer beads.
Don’t forget to include items that stimulate your creativity. Maybe a handiwork project like knitting or crocheting, a journal book, coloring book, or stationary for letter writing. The list is probably literally endless, and depending on your personality and interests, will be unique to each one of us. And, you may want to include larger items like a drum, or a book, or other favorite items that are easy to carry along with your toolbox.
By now, your toolbox may be getting pretty full, but there are some more things you can find room for. Some of the things in my spiritual toolbox that take up no space at all include: unconditional love, both for me and from me, my angel companions, prayer, faith and trust in the Divine, kindness, acceptance, joy, divine grace, forgiveness, and listening and being available to others.
So, now that you’ve got your material toolbox put together, let’s figure out how to use it. Let’s put our spiritual and material tools to work. Let’s go outside!
I believe the fastest way to transform our very beings is to spend time in the natural world. In his bestseller Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder, journalist and child advocate Richard Louv challenges us to make the best use we can of the restorative powers of nature and to establish a more balanced existence that can transform both our private and public lives. Louv explains how reconnecting to the natural world is fundamental to human health, well-being, spirit, and survival. Connecting to nature can improve how we live, work, play, exercise, explore, travel, and relax. He calls this the nature principle, and says that we need more involvement in the natural world for balance and happiness. https://www.spiritualityandpractice.com/books/reviews/view/21186
There are a variety of places you can go to be in nature even if you do not have a yard. Maybe you could go to a neighbor’s yard like Rev. Melanie does. Go to a park, the woods, or the lake. Sit on your front porch, or your deck or balcony. But be outside whenever possible
If the weather is not cooperating –– maybe it’s too hot or too cold, or perhaps it’s raining –– try listening to the rain while sitting next to a live plant or some flowers, or listen to recordings of waves, water sounds, or relaxing music, even a recording of birds chirping. Ask your dog or cat to come sit with you. The idea is to connect with nature in some perceptible way, so that your attention can be lifted out of your usual surroundings and transported to a place where you can be inspired and soothed by a connection to the natural world.
And even if you are the most die-hard indoor dweller, you can enjoy being in the open. Just start slowly, spending a few minutes outside, then extend your time in nature until you are comfortable for longer periods outdoors.
Okay, so we are out in nature, which by the way, is a spiritual practice all on its own. We have our material spiritual toolbox with us. I also brought a chair to sit in, but you might want a blanket to spread out and lay down on.
Now what? I recommend you find a serene spot as private as possible, and sit quietly for a few minutes listening to the natural sounds around you. Birds, critters rustling in the leaves, even children’s laughter. Just listen, until gradually your heart slows and a sense of peace and calm permeates your being. If you feel like being more active, there are a huge variety of spiritual practices from which to choose. You can: hug a tree, meditate, go for a walking meditation, do yoga, breathe consciously, listen, sing and dance, drum, chant, journal, write a letter, do some spiritual reading. Or simply continue to experience the silence and self-reflection.
These may be the only spiritual practices you need, but let’s take a look at what’s inside your material spiritual box and use it to create a singular ritual for a special intention. Close your eyes now, and imagine what that would be. See yourself taking out what you need to create a ritual right where you are. (Brief pause here)
Next, think about the components of your ritual. This could be as simple as drumming for a few minutes or dancing to your music. Or you could add as many of your tools as you wish to create a more layered and complex ritual. You could call upon the natural elements of Earth, Water, Air, Fire, and Spirit using the tools in your box to create an altar and symbolize each of your five senses as they relate to each element. For example, you might include photos of your ancestors to represent Spirit and unlimited potential, crystals signify Earth for grounding, a bottle of Water for purification and wisdom, feathers symbolizing Air for new beginnings, and a dragon figurine or picture of the sun for Fire, to denoting creation. Let your imagination be your guide; let Spirit move you.
But, do not let your inhibitions get in the way. Feeling embarrassed or ill-at-ease may seem like a convenient excuse for giving up; but it’s really not. This is a spiritual practice, operative word being practice. The more you allow yourself the freedom of expression, the easier and more meaningful the rituals and practices become.
If you really do feel unbearably awkward, try it out in private indoors first, then consider moving outside. The rewards of spending time in nature and connecting with the Creator of all things are well worth a little bit of initial discomfort.
Creating your material spiritual toolbox can be fun as well as inspirational. But what really is the purpose of rituals and communing with nature? Is creating a material spiritual toolbox just some crazy, trendy, new-age nonsense, or a meaningful spiritual practice in itself?
The answer to that question is “Yes.” Creating a material spiritual toolbox is a spiritual practice. It is an ongoing practice, and like all practice we get out of it what we put into it. Every tool we use needs to be cleaned, oiled and maintained to stay in prime condition. Consistent practice using our material tools, even when it may seem trivial to some, inspires our inherent spiritual tools, and together they can bring deeply meaningful results.
As we move forward on our spiritual path, we may find what nourished us in one season isn’t as satisfactory another time. Sometimes we come to a fork in the road and are called to explore in a new direction. That’s a good time to open up either toolbox and find tools, practices, and rituals that speak to us wherever we are in the present moment.
Remember, whether it comes from your intangible spiritual toolbox or your material spiritual toolbox, spiritual practice is a process, and it changes over time. We grow in cycles, so revisiting the same tool at different intervals could produce completely different results; it might take you to a new depth of understanding. And if you don’t like something, or feel like it’s just not right for you anymore, let it go. As Mr. Rogers says, “Often when you think you’re at the end of something, you’re at the beginning of something else.”
When we use material tools with intention and awareness, we bring the physical body into a place of receptivity, openness, and sensuality where we can find moments of peace and calm in the midst of chaos. Through practices that develop inherent qualities like compassion, forgiveness, and gratitude, we provide an opening for the heart chakra to soften into love and appreciation for who we are. The spiritual tools in our toolboxes, both the tangible and the intangible, help us to grow into our spiritual selves and grant us greater access to the divine power within, and that is what will sustain us in the coming days and months.