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When I rounded 40, much to my surprise, my stubborn atheism began to give way. My early rebellion against a strict Roman Catholic family had brought me into my red-wine-swilling, Sartre-reading 20s, which in turn had evolved into a decade-plus of hard work in my chosen career (journalist and writer, now at a national newsweekly). And here I am, more than four decades into life, a professional, married mother of two, grasping for Something More.

The God of my childhood is not what I'm after. What I'm seeking is a rugged, everyday type of deity—one that can provide a compassionate lens through which to view my life, a split second of serenity between the moment the milk gets spilled on my new cashmere sweater and my reaction. I need a spiritual practice, if only to comfort myself that while I am clearly getting older, I'm doing my level best to get wiser, too.

I'm not entirely without direction on this. I do get glimmers. When I feel the presence of my higher power, I'm calmer and kinder to other people. It's easier for me to wait my turn, and I move about my day with the assurance that my life has purpose beyond making the school lunches or meeting my latest deadline. The problem is I don't always feel it. I can go for days, okay, weeks, without a whisper of spiritual connection. And then life gets rockier. Outwardly, not much changes, but inside I begin to feel an undertow of self-doubt. I worry more about the future. I become both grandiose (I plan to simultaneously renovate my house, improve my son's math scores, and write a best-selling novel) and more reluctant to take even the simplest actions. And so, with no small amount of foot-dragging on my part, I set myself a goal: to find a way to increase my spiritual bandwidth.

On the face of it, I think, this shouldn't be hard. Nearly every religion since the dawn of time uses the same basic method to connect with God. According to them, finding God is easier than buttering toast. Empty your mind. Open your heart. Receive God's blessing. Simple? Not for me. My life is not what anyone would call contemplative. My waking hours are jammed to the point of bursting. Some days I'm nearly swallowed whole by practical concerns. I try to pray. I've even taken a meditation class, but while everyone else was looking inward, I made a meticulously detailed grocery list. The only reliable way I've found to calm my mind is through strenuous exercise. Though I'm not exactly what you'd call a hard body, when I'm sweating it out at the gym, jogging fast in the park, or surfing, the physical exertion can be almost devotional. I look like a gasping weekend athlete, but on the inside, my mind is slowing, the relentless mental chatter quiets down, and sometimes I can get a clear channel to God. I decided to build on that.

Next: Embarking on a spiritual journey

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