Alex Cotrufello, 129 YinD
I didn’t grow up with a religion, unless you count the collective mass of spiritual influences my mother brought into our home during my childhood. Some of the more traditional prophets from her Catholic upbringing made occasional appearances. There were the requisite Mother Mary statues standing tall on the bookshelf, as well as a framed antique portrait of Jesus with luscious locks of hair keeping an eye over our living room. On the other hand, there were the more exotic beliefs she had acquired throughout her life as a hippie. By three months old I had an intricate astrological chart made for me, predicting every detail of my future based on where the planets and stars were located in our solar system at 11:55 P.M. on the day of my birth. Next to Mother Mary laid chakra cleansing crystals, and Buddhist quotes plastered our fridge on the importance of living in the present moment. With all of this, you’d think I would have adopted at least a thing or two to add to my own spiritual repertoire. But none of it clicked. Though I felt there is important wisdom within many spiritual traditions, I didn’t like the religiosity or mysticism associated with most of them. My beliefs didn’t fit in the typical 4×6 box that traditional religion provided, nor did I thrive in the unboundedness of the mystical spiritualism universe. This has lead me to fasten together something of my own, informed by my practicalism, love of stoicism, and resonating pieces of time-honored wisdom on how to live a worthy life. In this way, I am Dr. Frankenstein and this thing I’ve created is my spirit creature; it consists of interchangeable pieces of many different philosophies, stitched and sewn into one unified being, and given life, meaning, and purpose by its inventor. All assembled and glued together, my spirit creature looks something like this:
The brain to my creature is mindfulness. It is the thing that gives me logic in times of emotional overload when I need to take a step back, examine the inner and outer influences that are triggering a reaction in me, and to separate myself from those negative feelings. When I can disengage from negative emotions and see from a clearer perspective, I am better able to improve upon my good parts, retire the not-so-good ones, and accept that which is out of my control.
The backbone to my creature is stoic philosophy. It is the thing that holds me upright and keeps my head held high through hardship. One of the main positions of stoicism is that an obstacle is not really a barrier but rather just another path. Life is uncontrollable and therefore we should accept everything that happens to us as necessary and transform what we might consider bad into an opportunity for growth. This line of thinking has changed the way I understand the world and has helped me reframe even my worst experiences into something with positive value.
The hands to my creature are connection. They are the things that reach out for others. Building and maintaining strong relationships has always been the most important thing in my life. There is no real me without sharing myself with those I’m closest to because connection is a self-actualizing experience. When one forms a deep bond with another, we realize that we are not alone and that others have the same hopes and fears that we do. I think in this way, connection expands our sense of empathy and helps us better understand our place in the world.
Lastly, the heart to my creature is vulnerability. It is the thing that is most susceptible to being broken, and yet is the most crucial piece needed to live a healthy life. We have to be willing to take risks and expose our true selves to the world if we want to become more resilient and creative. In order to do this, we need to be compassionate with ourselves when we fail or make mistakes, as well as with others who are doing the same. Vulnerability has allowed me to be authentically me, rely on the people in my life to hold me up when I fail, and keep striving, even when it’s terrifying to do so.
My spirit creature has been my moral compass through the best and worst of times, though for most of my life I thought that I was a spiritual free agent. I now realize that these fundamental principles are my form of spirituality, no matter that they don’t quest to explain the universe, nor our place in it. Instead, it gives me a personal roadmap of the paths to take in order to lead a worthy life. The world is changing more rapidly than ever, as is our understanding of it. Experiencing life from a different cultural perspective has only exacerbated the feeling in me that most of what we think we know is just our own subjective reality. I think that’s why so many people my age are buying less store bought, cookie cutter versions of spirituality. We’re realizing that the range of human experience is vast and needs room for subjectivity. This has led to more and more of these creatures running around, trying their best to guide their personal Dr. Frankenstein’s by the hand. These creatures might not be perfect, and we may have to continuously swap out a faulty part for something more evolved, but at least they are created by us.
Read Alex’s other articles Single and Surviving, Alex and Linda’s Fantastically Exhausting Mother-Daughter Adventure, and Hannah’s Site Through Alex’s Eyes.