Growing up, I didn’t talk about “spiritual experiences” with my family or my friends. We talked about things like: where do jokes come from, how many times can you say “ha” in a row before you actually start laughing, what is the long form of the name “Biff,” would it be worse to have to drive to school every day in the world’s ugliest, rusted out, most beat-up pick-up truck or in the world’s biggest, shiniest Hummer.
My unwillingness to write about spiritual experiences without imaginary air quotes is silly. I am embarrassed because it’s important to me, and I don’t want to sound silly when I talk about it. It’s like when my little sister Sonia used to practice a dance she made up in front of us. “You can smile,” she said, “but you can’t laugh.”
I had a spiritual experience the other day. I was biking home from work on the I-90 bridge. It was the perfect storm: first of all, biking to work is an empowering experience. A couple of mornings a week, I braid my hair, strap on my messenger bag, and haul ass over Mercer Island to Bellevue. There’s a beautiful bike path over the island, and biking up its hills sometimes feels like I’m on a treadmill in a pool of molasses. It’s a serious workout. At work, I take off my sweat-soaked t-shirt and shorts and put on a dress. I flip my hair extra hard those mornings.
But biking home from work is really where it’s at, because not only am I done working and on my way to an excellent and gigantic meal, I don’t have a clock to beat. I leave my watch in my bag and I cruise over the molasses hills (that’s a lie–I pump my legs very slowly and methodically up over each one, and when I get to the top, I exhale so damn hard I think I scare the pedestrians). Biking home from work, I’m usually a little punchy and tired, but also exhilarated. Maybe it’s the runner’s high I so rarely experience while running; I feel like a queen. I think, “World, eat my dust.” (I should tell you that I get passed by 100% of other bikers.)
Regardless, this was the mood I was in while on the I-90 bridge the other night. It was a key ingredient to my spiritual experience; I was primed to feel good about something, because I felt so good about myself.
The second ingredient was the bridge itself. The I-90 bridge is a floating bridge, meaning it rests on the water. When I bike across it, right around the middle, I am literally feet away from Lake Washington. Mount Rainier, the snow-topped behemoth, is over my left shoulder. Over my right is the smaller but no less snowy Mount Baker. And up ahead is a wall of beautiful old two-story houses in the neighborhoods of Leschi and Mount Baker, evergreen-filled Coleman Park, and the city’s skyscrapers.
It’s an amazing spot.
So that was part two. Part three was, I think, an oxygen deficit. I had just pumped my legs so hard up Mercer Island’s last hill that I was exhaling as if I had been drowned. I was forcing the air out the way my track teammates taught me in high school: WHOOOOOSH.
I thought to myself, What am I breathing out? It was a prime opportunity for some yoga-inspired meditation. I’m breathing out fear, I thought. I’m breathing out imbalance. I greatly fear imbalance while biking on the I-90 bridge. I’m breathing out judgment. I’m breathing out comparing myself with other people: with Andrew, with my friends, with my family.
Then I thought, What am I inhaling? I tried a few different things. I’m inhaling joy, I thought. But joy? What’s joy? Joy’s what you get to feel when you do something great, when something wonderful happens to you. I’m inhaling happiness, I thought. Didn’t work; what’s happiness? I don’t think it’s just lying around waiting for me to breath in. I don’t think it works that way. I’m breathing in pride. Well, that was a little better. I like pride. But pride isn’t really objectively good. It’s not something you necessarily want to fill your lungs with. I’m breathing in God, I thought.
Ahh, that was better. I pumped my legs while the breeze blasted the sweat on my stomach and shoulders and breathed in again. The headache I’d had all afternoon at the base of my neck lessened for a few minutes. I saw the blue lake and the green trees and the cars whizzing by my protected path, and I breathed in again, still thinking, I’m breathing in God.
Afterwards, it made me think of a meeting I went to in college. My roommate (and best friend) Megan had been going to the Christian fellowship on campus and I tried it out for a while.The meeting was always held in a while linoleum-floored humanities classroom, with flimsy fold-down-desk chairs and a high ceiling. One night, there was a speaker. It was dark outside but the lights buzzed overhead. The room was full, maybe with thirty people, but not crowded, and after the leader welcomed us and led us in prayer, another girl from my hall, Christina, introduced the speaker.
Christina held her hand over the man, who stood behind a podium perched on a desk. Our guest was Mark Potter, a very thoughtful and smart person who speaks about God and spirituality for a living. He was maybe late thirties, early forties, with dark hair and an easy, understated manner. He closed his eyes while Christina prayed in that free-form, evangelical Christian style: “Father God, we ask that you bless this speaker. More of you, less of him, God. More of you, less of him.”
I guess the “you’s” were really “You’s” because she was talking to God. I was surprised that Mark stood for this sort of thing. More of God, less of your creative genius? Didn’t we ask him to come speak because he was awesome? But Mark, eyes closed, nodded his head as if in affirmation.
That’s what came to mind after I breathed in God on the bridge the other day. More of you, less of him.
It was strange.