If we baby boomers have a lot of something, it’s a lot of time to reflect. And for Santa Barbara transpersonal psychologist and author Diana Raab, that has meant reflections about spirituality. What she has come to realize is that for her, writing is a spiritual practice.
My father was a Holocaust survivor and for me, as a baby boomer, his experience left me somewhat confused about my spiritual practice. Even though we cannot release ourselves completely from our own heritage, I’ve come to believe that we have to find our own way, individually, to the spirituality that resonates within us. I’ve finally realized that writing has become my true spiritual path.
Halfway through the last century, my mother and father emigrated from Austria and Germany, respectively. My father arrived in 1947, after enduring five years in the Dachau concentration camp. He talked about losing his family in the Holocaust, and sometimes talked about God, but in his heart he thought that if there was a God, he or she would not have taken his family in such a way.
My mother’s sense of spirituality leaned toward yoga, meditation classes, and occasional visits to psychics. It has been said that children typically take on the religious or spiritual beliefs of their mothers. This is true in my case, since I do lean more toward Eastern-style spirituality. However, I do not totally deny my Jewish roots.
When growing up in the 1960s in New York, my father took me to the local synagogue during major Jewish holidays but for him, it was simply a traditional bow to his parents. My father was what some might call a “minimalist Jew,” and he instilled in me the idea that religion separates people and leads to war. His belief was that religion creates the illusion of bringing people together, but in reality, it does just the opposite.
As an avid meditator, and having recently returned to school for my doctorate in transpersonal psychology, I realize that spiritual practice comes in many forms. My grandmother died when I was ten, and shortly after, my mother bought me a journal by the author of The Prophet, Khalil Gibran. She told me to chronicle my feelings, and encouraged me to see that creativity and self-expression were high-level forms of spirituality. Gibran’s wise quotations on the top of each page inspired my own. One passage in particular still resonates with me when I teach writing for healing: “Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars.”
During my early college years, my quest for spirituality included a course in Transcendental Meditation (TM) with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Over the years I’ve tried various other meditation techniques, but I still use the mantra given to me more than three decades ago.
At the age of 23, I married a Canadian man whose parents were also Holocaust survivors, but whose family completely abandoned Jewish traditions. While my husband and I raised our children, the question of religion resurfaced. We decided to adhere to my father’s model as minimalist Jews, meaning that we would follow most of the celebrated Jewish holiday rituals, but remain unaffiliated. When our children questioned our practices, we taught them the importance of loving-kindness, but never equated it with any particular religious practice, always focusing on the spiritual aspect.
Today, our children are in their 20s and 30s, and they also find solace in creativity as a spiritual practice— whether painting; designing books, clothes, or merchandise, or engaging in meditative and yogic practices. Still, it will be interesting to observe the choices they make when it comes time to raise their own children.
Given my continual quest for spiritual support in the Eastern traditions, when the Dalai Lama visited my home town, I found myself passionately pulled into, and moved by, his words. After his talk, I drove home, walked into my backyard, sat down at my outdoor writing table, and cracked open my journal. I glanced up at the blue sky and listened to the sweet chirps of birds in the trees, which were bursting with the purple flowers of early spring. All my spiritual musings were coming together. I became very aware of my surroundings, the magic of nature, and the role of writing and creativity in my spiritual life.
At this point, I believe that the world can do without religion, but cannot do without spirituality — whether it takes the form of writing, mindfulness, compassion, or smiling throughout the day. These measures unite us rather than divide us. Now that I’m in my 60s, I’ve come to believe that we’re all works in progress — whether we’re examining our heritage, or discovering the spiritual practice that makes us feel most alive and inspires our hearts to sing with joy.
Diana Raab, Ph.D.is a transpersonal psychologist in Santa Barbara, California. She is the author of eight books, including her latest poetry collection entitled, Lust. She’s editor of two literary anthologies, and the author of two memoirs, and her writings have appeared in numerous trade and professional publications and anthologies. She is a regular blogger for Psychology Today, The Huffington Post, BoomerCafé and BrainSpeak.