Spirituality & ADHD
Brains are weird. It is the machine that keeps our body alive. Sometimes, it is the computer that has crunched the numbers and tells us, “Hey there’s a chance that thing you are about to do could kill us,” and other times it is the decision maker which determines maybe we are better off without knowing any of the details. It helps us understand the world and the people in it and helps us make the connections that are essential to our well-being and survival. It is also the part of us that can make us feel disconnected at times, even if that connection is still there. And this perception of disconnection can be related to anything, especially relationships; not just ones with ourselves and others, but our relationships with deities and spirituality as well.
When I say “brain,” I mean more than that lump of stuff encased in our skulls. I mean our nervous system, our senses, and all the systems in our body that have evolved to get us to survive the world like we do. And even though there are many similarities in the brains of humans, there are so many things that make brains as individual as the person it is attached to.
I’ve always been interested in psychology and the way brains work, but I took a really deep dive a few years ago when I discovered I could have ADHD. I did some research on people who were diagnosed with ADHD and how they used technology. Listening to the challenges they had to overcome daily, I had related to just about every struggled they detailed. The more I learned about ADHD the more certain I was that I had it, so I talked to my doctor about a diagnosis. She confirmed it, and that was the final validation I felt like I needed to explain why I do the things I do, or don’t do. Since then, I have been exploring my life and what I’m trying to do with it. Or what NOT to do with it. In this series, I will share what has worked for me or what I’m currently exploring. In today’s column I’ll discuss the shifts in my perspective I felt were necessary to improve my spiritual well-being and how I’ve adapted my practice to work with my brain. The next column will be on the ways my ADHD brain works with Hekate, Athena, and Hermes and the “bag of tricks” that make up my practice.
Your mileage may vary, but I hope to provide you with a little food for thought!
This maxim from the Temple of Apollo at Delphi is foundational to a fulfilling life and a lot harder to achieve than one might think. I have always been an introspective person, I enjoy shadow work and therapy, I love learning how I tick. Despite all of this, I didn’t get the best understanding of myself until my fortieth year on the planet. So much of what I thought I was supposed to be as determined by social norms and media was still insidiously ingrained in my psyche. I couldn’t figure out what was “wrong” with me that I couldn’t keep a consistent devotional practice, or why I couldn’t just keep doing the things that everyone seems to do so easily, to list only a couple of examples. Learning that I’m neurodivergent shifted my perspective dramatically because my brain does not work with many of the systems that are in place today. Where conformity, consistency, and productivity are the standard, I have instead chosen to value deviation, flexibility, and rest. “Surety brings ruin” is the second maxim by which I live
To better understand my spiritual self, I first defined why it was important to me in the first place. What do I get out of my spirituality? What goals do I have with it? Is it fulfilling? For each of these questions, I asked myself “Why?” 3-5 times to really get to the root the question is trying to dig up. And when I got to that root, I saw how it felt. Was I okay with it or was it something that no longer served my best interests going forward? If the latter, I considered changing or eliminating it.
For the aspects of my spirituality that were indeed fulfilling, I leaned into them to get that dopamine rush that followed. Brains with ADHD seem to have lower levels of dopamine, the chemical that plays a role in feeling happy and pleasure, than neurotypical brains. Focusing on enjoyable things, whether they are textbook spiritual practices or not, could increase the amount of dopamine and thus, the levels of happiness and pleasure. I allow myself to learn about anything I have an interest in even if I won’t “do” anything with it. I let go of that internal expectation and I’m much happier now not feeling like I need to apply what I learn unless I’m inspired to.
I like to journal as I try new things to help myself remember what I tried, what worked, and what didn’t work. I have at least 7 notebooks that I actively keep track of what I learn and practice. I’ve let go that dream of compiling everything into one big, beautiful book because separate places to track separate thoughts seems to work a lot better for me. I also try to make a note what I was feeling at the time and anything else that was going on. This way I have a list of “go to” components for my spiritual practice. I remind myself that not everything will work all the time, and the first time I try something could be very different from the next for better or worse. Just because something does or does not work once doesn’t always mean that will always be how it is.
If you tried anything I mentioned above, I have some additional recommendations for you to shift some of the perspectives that worked for me. Again, your mileage may vary!
- Deviate from the norm. Your practice does not always have to look like anyone else’s! There are so many 101 books out there that provide an outline and directions for how to begin something new. These guidelines are great for newcomers to have to begin but tweaking a practice to make it your own not only personalizes it but makes it something that you are more likely to keep doing. That said, be mindful of closed practices and traditions that do require things to be done a certain way each time. You should have a good sense from your teachers and mentors of when you can deviate and when you should not. If you aren’t sure, ask.
- Stop calling yourself lazy and understand the real reasons why you might not want to do something. Some possibilities include and certainly aren’t limited to: maybe your body and mind are telling you to rest, maybe your habit of perfectionism is overwhelming you, or maybe the thing you think you should be doing isn’t something that that serves you at this time. Ask yourself why you don’t want to do something and see what comes up for you and see what it is you need to take care of first. These three reasons are what usually come up when I feel “lazy,” and instead of doing the thing I feel like I “should” be doing, I either allow myself to rest, I break things down into chunks that feel manageable and allow myself to just do my best with the energy that I have, or I release myself of my obligation.
- You don’t have to actually “do” something with your practice. We live in a world of capitalism where the demand for productivity frequently precludes all of our other needs. It has been ingrained in us that if we learn a skill we must do something with it, make money from it, or teach it to others. I’m here to tell you it doesn’t have to be this way. Learn for the sake of learning if that is what brings you the most fulfillment and joy!
- Just do the side quests if that’s all you want to do. There are some video games out there that I play just to do the side quests because I don’t find the story all that interesting. There is no reason we can’t take some time out of the storyline of life to do the things that are the most interesting to us.
- Get curious! Sometimes we do want to keep up part of our practice but we’re feeling uninspired and bored. Just like the relationships with have with romantic partners, sometimes we have to spice things up with our relationship to our spiritual practice. Find something new to shake things up or attempt to transmute the feelings of dissatisfaction into ones of mystery and curiosity.
- Give the chaos in your brain a name. I call the overthinking, anxious, and impulsive part of my brain “Eris” because sometimes it feels like someone just tossed a golden apple in the middle of a crowd of gods at a wedding to stir up emotions that end up starting a war. Eris did this because she was upset she wasn’t invited to the wedding, so I make sure Eris gets invited to everything I do. She seems less interested in stirring the pot when she feels acknowledged!
As with everything else in life, proceed with curiosity, prioritize flexibility so you can adapt to the environment at hand, and act with forgiveness when something doesn’t go right and use it as a learning moment instead. I definitely can’t say I’m anywhere near perfect at doing all of these all of the time, but being able to focus on what I need in the moment has really helped my spiritual practice come a long way. I hope there is an idea or two that you find helpful or interesting enough to explore yourself!
About the Author:
Montine is an astrologer, tarot reader, and occultist living on unceded Duwamish land that some call Seattle. A forever student, journalist, and queer gender-nonconforming femme, she spends her time listening to the stories people tell with the hope of understanding many more perspectives than her own. Recently diagnosed with ADHD and self-diagnosed as autistic, she is rediscovering the world through a neurodivergent lens and transforming her life to work smarter and not harder. She writes an annual called Book of My Shadows which explores different ways to use the energy of New and Full Moons for personal growth and exploration and one of her current hyperfixations is studying the Greek Magical Papyri.