The Spiritual Practice of Changing the Filter

Today I’m drinking a glass of water that tastes much better than the one I had yesterday. Not that I noticed anything wrong with yesterday’s water, but I did notice that it was time to change the filter I use. The difference is dramatic, the taste softer on the tongue—something like cashmere vs. leather.

The water filter works beautifully when it’s fresh. It removes minerals and chemicals, yielding the clear, sweet essence of water. It accomplishes this by absorbing the unwanted elements, but after a time it simply cannot take in any more. The filter’s loss of function is subtle, incremental, and at first it’s hardly noticeable. But eventually the filter stops working, and will actually introduce impurities into the water if it isn’t changed. The water tastes bad.

All of which has me thinking about the psyche’s filters.

Messages, images, and information are everywhere, more than we can ever process. The needs, demands, requests, and unthinking effects of other people’s actions continually challenge our ability to respond. We cannot let everything in; there’s too much. But determining how to filter our experience requires effort.

When the air is thick with frustration and anger, callousness and mindlessness, that’s what we most easily absorb. Without a conscious effort to resist them, negative mindsets permeate our way of being. It’s important to see the world around us as clearly as possible, but to live compassionately requires being careful of what we allow to become part of us.

Yet even when we are mindful about the ways we sort and learn from our experience, eventually the filter becomes too saturated to do its work. The anxiety we encounter begins to color our own emotional life. Thoughts become infused with the taint of fear or resentment in the air around us. It’s time to change the filter.

The upper portion of my Brita pitcher is designed to hold the cylindrical filter securely and allow it to be changed easily. I just lift the lid and drop the new one in. Sometimes I wish I could do that with my mind, but our filters are more complex. It’s through spiritual practice that they become clean again.

The hardest part about cleaning or changing a water filter is remembering to do it. That may be the case with our psyche’s filters as well. The means of restoring spiritual strength and resiliency are as different as people are varied. But we all need our spiritual health to live fully and well. We need the ability to cleanse our thoughts, perceptions, emotions, and motivations. We need a way to experience the pure, sweet essence of life that will nurture and sustain us.

Cleaning the filter might happen through prayer or meditation. It might mean a walk in the woods, yoga, or an exercise routine. It can occur in the experience of music or poetry. It could result from our own means of artistic expression. It may grow out of our relationships or from doing our best work.

Spiritual practice restores us and enhances our ability to take in what we need for health and wholeness. In whatever way we find effective, it’s important to keep up with those practices that cleanse the filter. It changes our way of being in the world, and that changes the world.

What helps you to cleanse the filter?

If you’d like to read more, I’ve posted a reflection on the recent talk by Diane Ackerman as part of the Kentucky Women Writers Conference over at the KaBooM Writers Notebook. It’s called Paying Attention, and offers a look at one way of changing filters by closely observing the natural world.

When a Week Holds Too Much

Some weeks I feel like nothing more than clay thrown on the potter’s wheel. Hollowed out by forces beyond my control, I see once again that I am not in charge here. Life presses in, making it clear that I have not reached my final form. The potter is not finished with me.

Yet just as I’ve been pressed and pounded, I’ve also been stretched and shaped. The vessel’s curved sides are taking shape, rising in accord with the potter’s vision in these last few turns of the wheel.

We have a great deal of freedom in what we do with our lives, but we are not in control. Sometimes the best I can do is to be good clay. I can try for the balance of malleability and resistance that allows the formation of a good vessel. I can try to sustain the cohesiveness that allows good clay to hold its form.

The sum of the past several days may feel like more than I can hold—challenge and loss, hope and disappointment, love and sorrow—yet the week has nonetheless brought all of it. So I act as I am able, and respond as I can. I cannot assuage my friend’s grief, but I can offer soup and love. I cannot make the world kind, but I can make laundry clean. I cannot make life easy, but I can be grateful for the ability to work.

I cannot see the future, but I can appreciate the beauty of the world around me. I cannot make my wishes come true, but I can take a risk and reach toward them. I can neither force nor forestall change, but I can accept the love and grace that remain constant.

The wheel keeps turning; a hand I trust remains on the clay. All will be well.

What is the turning wheel bringing to you?