St. Patrick: The myth, the legend
Saint Patrick's Day is both a religious and cultural day of remembrance and celebration, recognized all over the world. Today, many of us put on our green garments, and claim at least some fraction of Irish descent. Others may venture to a St. Patrick's Day parade, visit a cathedral for High Mass, or indulge in a pint or two of Ireland's finest brew. But, what do we really know about St. Patrick?
Well, St. Patrick was not of Irish descent. That should make the masses feel better about their Irish claims one day per year. I'll wager that many of you didn't know St. Patrick was actually kidnapped by Irish pirates, and help captive for six years during his teenage years. As a slave in Ireland, St. Patrick worked as a sheppard. Only then, did he find religion. That's right, the famous saint was not always a believer, despite his father and grandfather being religious figures in his home of Britain.
The short version of a long, and uncertain story, is that St. Patrick gained a sense of spirituality during his time as a slave. The isolation and grim conditions of slavery led him to open himself up to a higher and wiser being. After being led by visions to his escape, St. Patrick found freedom in his 20s, after finally returning home to Britain. His journey was reportedly rugged and straining, but he found the strength to see it through.
What's interesting is that Patrick's venture into mission work led him back to Ireland, the place which held a specific stigma of his captivity. He overcame the trauma of his past to seek change in his present. Now, there are few records of Patrick's life, and those which exist are only brief accounts of his life. Because of this limited reference, we do not know the actual motivation he felt, driving him back to Ireland. Let's assume it was motivation of genuine and positive influence.
While in Ireland, St. Patrick was not so welcomed, and, according to his letters, experienced much ridicule for being there. It is suggested that he may have been held captive again during his chosen life in the Green Isle. The story suggests that he persevered, regardless of the trials and tribulations.
Other than an enlightening account of St. Patrick on St. Patrick's Day, why is a mindfulness-based therapist writing about the life of a Christian saint? Well, my attention is drawn to the strength found and used through spirituality. Do not mistake my use of spirituality for religiosity. They are, in fact, not the same thing. Spirituality refers to the inner strength and enlightenment we experience from a higher and wiser power. There is no defined being or doctrine of worship in spirituality, just acceptance, peace, and inner strength. Religion, on the other hand, is where we insert rules, specific beings of worship, and indoctrined rituals, beliefs, guidelines, and sometimes, consequences. Spirituality is innate and untainted. Religion is subject to interpretation of humans, therefore, vulnerable to human error. For the sake of this publication, I will not go any further into these differences. I just wanted to make their distinction clear.
In a time of likely feeling trapped, isolated, and perhaps beaten, Patrick was able to open himself to connection with a higher, wiser presence; greater than the individual self. Through this, he was able to find strength to get through the hardship of enslaved shepparding, and thereby, gain resilience to aid him throughout the next chapters in his life.
For those who have experience trauma or any life-altering experience, resiliency is an invaluable trait. This trait is what allows you to move forward, creating new experiences in the present, and building a future that is not victim to your past. For so many, spirituality is at the root of this resiliency; accepting that no matter where, when, or who you are, there is an accessible strength from which you can pull to reach balance in your life.
Another part of spiritual awareness is acceptance of what you cannot change, courage to change what you can, and the wisdom to know the difference (Serenity Prayer). Letting go of the desire to control that which is greater than you, frees you to focus on the here-and-now, which can be influenced by you. There is a great deal of trust and acceptance in God, the universe, or another higher power energy, required to reach this acceptance. When you experience it, you will know. Much like St. Patrick, this experience is when you have permission and strength to let go of anger, while opening up to freedom and peace.
Be safe, and enjoy the day. Remember to live for today, and that today also influences tomorrow.