Opening the Box by Cara Spinosa

Cara Spinosa is a first-year Esperanza teaching fellow living in intentional community in Lawrence, MA. She serves as a teaching assistant at the independent, tuition-free Esperanza Academy for middle-school-age girls from low-income backgrounds. 

I don’t consider myself a very spiritual person. But last year, when I was deciding what I wanted to do after graduation, I found myself only applying to programs that had a religious aspect to them. I never felt like I had the opportunity to explore my religion or my religious options before, and I thought that having a program with time built into it to do just that would be perfect for me. When I heard that we were each getting a spiritual director to help guide and support us throughout the year, I thought, what could be more perfect?

After my first meeting with my spiritual director in August, however, I was having second thoughts. How do you define spirituality? What spiritual practices do you keep? How does spirituality relate to your daily life? If you recognize a higher power, what does that look like to you? Questions like this were thrown out and kept rolling around in my head, and I tensed as I realized that I didn’t know the answer to a single one of them. This was a box that I had stapled, duct-taped, and welded shut inside of me years ago and that I had always been too afraid to open again - and I wasn’t sure if I was ready to do so now.

As the months went on (and my resistance became more and more apparent), our sessions diverged from spirituality specifically to the broader question of, what is on your mind right now? In every monthly session, my spiritual director always managed to take even the simplest things that were preoccupying me and turn them into a process of reflection and self-discovery where we would try to find the source of all of these thoughts and feelings together. At first, this process did not seem particularly spiritual to me. Helpful, for sure, but spiritual? I wasn’t sure. But, throughout this year, I’ve come to realize that taking the time to learn more about myself and how I relate to the world around me is necessary before I can even begin to think more deeply about my spiritual or religious life. Religion is still something that seems to be in my distant future, but working through my individual wants and needs is something that seems accessible and extremely helpful at this point in my life. How could I possibly know what I believe in and what I’m looking for in a religion if I don’t have a developed sense of self?

So what do I know about myself now? I’m a worrier who needs to learn to focus more on my certainties than my doubts. I’m passionate about education, and I want to go to graduate school to pursue that field. I crave stability and community in my everyday life. I have needs that may be different from others, but valid nonetheless, and it’s okay to put myself first sometimes. These may seem like simple things, but for someone who doesn’t often take the time to reflect on myself, these are transformative revelations that will help me long after I finish my year here.