Live Well, Do Good

Book explores one year of living spiritually

Brandon Sun, September 28, 2020 - David McConkey

Are you curious about what it might mean to live more spiritually? Have I got the book for you! Canadian writer Anne Bokma spent a year exploring this topic and reports back to us from the field. Her book is My Year of Living Spiritually: From Woo-Woo to Wonderful – One Woman's Secular Quest for a More Soulful Life.

Bokma lives in Hamilton, Ont. She and her husband have two daughters who are grown and on the verge of leaving home. For four years, Bokma wrote the “Spiritual but Secular” column in the United Church Observer (now called Broadview magazine). She was inspired in part to spend an investigative year by American experimental lifestyle writer A.J. Jacobs. (Last year, I reviewed his book on gratitude.)

“I decided I’d immerse myself for a full year in spiritual living,” Bokma writes. She would bring to her project, “a seeker’s eagerness, combined with a reporter’s skepticism.”

year Her range of pursuits is awe inspiring. She selected such spiritual samples as creating a home sacred space, doing yoga, journalling, singing, meditating, celebrating, focusing on gratitude, being in solitude, taking psychedelic drugs, reflecting on rituals, letting go of attachments, and facing death.

One avenue of exploration led her inward to self-improvement, including cutting down on screen time, drinking less and reading more. Another avenue led her outward to engage with others, including storytelling, dancing and protesting.

Almost as an aside, she identifies one activity as “the ultimate spiritual practice.”

Bokma weaves her own stories through the narrative of the year, adding the depth of personal honesty to her spiritual forays. The arc of everyone’s life is naturally framed by two big events: birth and death. Then there are the satisfactions and disappointments in between: like childhood, adolescence, education, work, relationships, separations, parenting, community, sickness and health. Sometimes we pause to try to make sense of it all. Bokma touches on all of this – with candor and gentle humour.

Bokma pays particular attention to her life as a woman. She also shares stories of other women in her life. These include the travails of bullying by teenage girls, restrictive gender roles and sexual abuse. Then there is the wonder of childbirth, motherhood and female solidarity.

Is living spiritually related to living religiously? Bokma considers this question throughout the book. She was raised in a fundamentalist church in rural south-western Ontario. She writes about those beliefs, her leaving the church as a young woman, and the heartache of the lifelong rift with her family. Bokma also traces the winding paths of her own personal religious and spiritual journey.  

Our lives are lived within larger contexts. Especially now, when we are living in – with a capital “H” – History. Reading her book, you can pinpoint its timing: just into the Trump era and just before the pandemic. Bokma describes being a Canadian woman finding herself suddenly thrust into the new Trump reality. And she completed her book in the days of blissful respite before all of us citizens were suddenly thrown into the turbulence of 2020.

A self-described extrovert with an “addiction to busyness,” Bokma’s frenetic energy fuels her quest to do as many things as possible. She spends the year racing from one activity to another: shopping for crystals, communing with witches, floating in an immersion tank, decluttering her house, visiting a psychic, joining a choir, getting a tattoo. In the wake of this frenzy, she still saved some space to incorporate new understandings.

“The year did result in some changes, big and small, that brought more joy and meaning to my life,” Bokma notes as she wraps up. “I experience more moments of appreciation, sometimes even amazement.”

Is living spiritually a quality you explore by looking into yourself or by going out into the world? Or both? This leads me to one quibble: Bokma never defines “spiritually.” But maybe a definition would just trammel a notion that is best allowed to fly free?

I am grateful that Bokma carried out her year-long project, giving us a book rich with information, insight and inquiry. I look forward to reading whatever she might next choose to observe and comment on, especially as the pandemic and associated changes rock our world. My Year of Living Spiritually is available at the Brandon Public Library.

Oh, and by the way, what does she identify as “the ultimate spiritual practice”? It turns out to be simple and available anytime to everyone at no cost: expressing gratitude. So, to author Bokma, I say, “thank you!”

* * * 

See also:

My Year of Living Spiritually . . . on     on

Book Explores Gratitude for the World in a Cup of Coffee

A Year of Living Generously

Ordinary Lives, Extraordinary Stories

Appreciate Everyday Goodness All Around Us

How Do You Be a Good Person?

Enlightenment Values Are Needed Now More Than Ever

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