Espials: Emotional and Spiritual Learning

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Outside of self-help books that often do great jobs of having an open discussion and conversation about a subject and also often fail at driving associative powers through and around said subject, there are not many materials available for one who wants to attempt a study of a trait, quirk, personality, or emotion. Reading enough can get you to places where you can draw conclusions and associations, consciously or unconsciously, based on how different authors dance around or address a subject. Often without institutional or communal support, though, it can feel impossible to find the authors that seem to unlock the meaning and potential of said trait, quirk, personality, or emotion. 

When I began to allow myself the time and space to introspect fully, I realized that the connections I’d been forming all along were coming to me. I would quote authors whose poems I was unaware I’d memorized; synthesize arguments I was previously unaware of comprehending. Without focusing too much on myself, I think both the time and space were better allowed for within the domain of therapy: I finally became financially stable/privileged enough to afford it, and therefore, I granted it. With my therapists questioning, and the dedicated time to introspection and healing, therapy gave power to and unlocked an associative element that I’d previously known as dormant. 

Mushrooms on the trunk of a tree. Courtesy of Barb Landguth.

While, as much as I would like to, I can not give any and all of you therapy. Instead, I’d like to provide the Espial: a spying on the associative ways in which your emotive-spiritual behaviors function.

 I do not claim to be an expert on any of the forthcoming or arrived subjects. I have read widely, certainly, but I am also aware that there is an infinite wealth of knowledge available in experiences and books that I have not, will not, or can not entertain. This is to say: take an espial with a grain of salt; these are not definitive, one-off practices but beginnings or middle-steps to thinking more critically regarding those emotive-spiritual behaviors. 

What is Involved in an Espial

An espial course will have three main parts to it: a reading component, discussions and exercises to accompany the readings, and a closing creative act. The goal, therein, becomes to strengthen the bonds between the intuition, the associative powers, and the nets of creativity. Proper stratification acknowledges each interconnecting axis of meaning-making, and an espial is hoping for no different. 

So often we are finding memories bubbling to the surface as we re-enter familiar environments or engaging in relationships with lengthy ascribed narratives. Without the assistance of several dozen journals worth of notes on each relationship (looking at you, Proust), it can feel impossible to give proper emotional allocation in the present moment. 

These espials are attempting to uncover the roots of resolution for complicated and potentially painful emotional-spiritual connections. 

Beyond an uncovering, though, is the promise of a consistent and intentional creative practice to enable the intuitive mode. Consistency, afterall, is the key to consideration. How many times have you walked down a crowded sidewalk and felt perturbed by the world’s lack of consideration of its surroundings: a car rolling into blocking the crosswalk as it prepares for a turn, a person walking slowly in the opposite flow of the other walkers, a group of five blocking the entire width of a sidewalk, but also the passing local businesses tucked behind corners and the familiar people facing homelessness who’ve run out of something to drink for the day. 

Enabling intuition is to allow malleability: the knowledge of one’s unconscious understandings is also the knowledge that not every statue is a fracturable object, not every sculpture begins with a hammer. Trust the hands. 

Readings for Emotional and Spiritual Learning

The readings involved in an espial will be a handful of essays picked with the intention that they are speaking fairly directly toward an application of the subject, accompanied alongside several creative works: films, online galleries of visual art, poems, stories, essays, novel excerpts. 

These’ll be included in a .pdf available for download alongside each course.

Exercises for Consideration and Creativity

Exercises are intended to be tangible practices. They may involve you going into public places and pursuing certain degrees of creation. They may involve you writing, drawing, singing, dancing, and any other assortments of joy. 

What I am encouraging with an exercise: a devotion to an action of creativity that regards the subject of the espial considerately. What I am discouraging with an exercise: concrete adherence to a system of rules. This is to say: do not follow the exercise completely if, for any reason (ableness, emotional integrity, spiritual integrity, etc.) you cannot follow the exercise. I try to craft the exercises with a degree of consideration in mind, however, there are simply far too many situations in the world to craft an exercise that uniquely fits each and every body, mind, and individual. 

A salmon buffet from Brooks Falls, Alaska bears. Courtesy of Lee Pastewka.

Creation: Utilizing the Imagination

Creation is the heart of an espial! Creativity is the satisfaction of that fundamental desire to make! Creation, also, can be a lonely art. Without community, creativity often feels most at risked of being stifled. One of my favorite quotes is a tweet from Eduardo C. Corral, “I really only have two close poet friends,” which, in his context, is incredible to believe: as a lifelong educator and writing community member. But it speaks to the possibility and power of both intention and community without personal obligation. 

This is all to say: create! Please? And, if you so desire, share your thoughts, journals, or creation if you are so inclined with: me, your friends, your family (if you are an individual with a healthy relationship therein), or #espial wherever and find our own community. 

How to Expand After an Espial

A complication can never just end. Fortunately or unfortunately. This is how I hope an espial feels. But what’s more: when challenging the subjects at hand, I think, the best that could be accomplished is to set yourself up for further and future complications. 

When dealing with something so fundamental as the subjects these espials will be dealing with, it would be naive to think that after a few dozen pages and some exercises you’d exhaust the potential territory that subject may cover. 

Instead, it is my sincere hope that the practice of introspection and consideration continues to course alongside you.

Currently Published Espials

  1. On Shame:
  2. On Reward:
  3. On Awe:
  4. On Fear:
Salvador Dali, from Alice in Wonderland watercolor