Cultivating Spirituality: Where to Start?
Millions of people around the world belong or subscribe to organized religion. They view it as their rock, their guide, and their motivation for living a good life. But in the last few decades, organized religion has been on the decline. Millennials, in particular, are shying away from the dogma, tradition, and politics of the major faiths. The largest-ever study conducted on American religion found millennials to be the least religious generation in the last six decades — and likely in history.
Despite the fact that young people are turning away from the religions of their parents and grandparents, 80 percent of millennials still say that they believe in a higher power or are spiritual in their own way. The youth of today are discovering that organized religion doesn’t have a monopoly on spirituality. They are finding new and personalized ways to nurture their inner selves and connection to the divine.
If you’re interested in cultivating your spiritual side but feel that traditional religion isn’t for you, here are some ways that you can explore spirituality in order to feel more connected to God, nature, the universe, yourself – whatever feels right to you!
What is Spirituality?
“Religion is belief in someone else’s experience. Spirituality is having your own experience.”
Spirituality is a broad term that has many different connotations, uses, and meanings. To summarize, it relates to the human soul or spirit rather than material things or the physical world.
For centuries, spirituality and religion were inextricably linked. Today, the word can encapsulate anything relating to the spirit. Whether it is a relationship with a higher power, the pursuit of personal growth, a search for meaning or satisfaction in life, or a belief in supernatural concepts.
While religion is about following a prescribed set of rules, traditions, or beliefs, spirituality is entirely subjective and can be defined in just about any way you want. Some people choose to express their spirituality by keeping the aspects of traditional religion that they enjoy, like the practice of prayer or a belief in God, while forgoing the parts that they don’t. Others seek comfort in aspects of Eastern religions or philosophy, while others are drawn to nature-based paganism or New Age practices. Some choose to only look inwards in self-reflection for their spiritual fulfillment, while others may involve outward influences. There’s no right or wrong way to seek out spiritual meaning, so it will be different for each individual.
People who subscribe to more traditional religious beliefs may decry this a la carte approach to spirituality as meaningless and perhaps even self-centered. However, many promoters of modern spiritualism believe that as long as your chosen practice is providing you with comfort, inspiring you to be a better person, and is leaving you with positive, hopeful feelings, you should choose whatever spiritual route feels right to you.
Why is Spirituality Important?
Spirituality is important to people for different reasons. Some rely on it for comfort, inner peace, happiness, or self-actualization.
Because spirituality is such a personal and ever-changing thing, the reasons for pursuing it are endless. However, one tangible reason that experts point to is that it’s connected to overall physical and mental wellness.
Studies have shown that religious or spiritual people are typically:
- Happier and feel more fulfilled,
- Thought to experience lower rates of anxiety and depression, and
- Thought to enjoy better health.
It’s even thought that people who hold spiritual or religious beliefs could have an 18 percent reduction in mortality, which is comparable to the benefits that come with eating a healthy diet.
How to Cultivate Spirituality?
Just as it is important to care for your body and mind, it’s important to nurture your spirit too.
Whether you’re embarking on your very first foray into spirituality or you already consider yourself a spiritual person but are looking for a new path to explore, here are some ways that you can feel more connected to your spiritual self.
Spirituality is about growing and being better and the only way to grow is to learn. Expanding your mind will help you expand your spirit and there’s no wrong way to go about it.
If your only experience of spirituality is through a more traditional religion that’s no longer a fit for you, research another faith that you’re unfamiliar with to see if any of its concepts or practices resonate with you. If you’re looking for answers about the meaning of life and our purpose for being, listen to a lecture by a philosopher or spiritualist to learn about some theories on existence. We highly recommend anything by Eastern-influenced philosopher Alan Watts or astrophysicist Carl Sagan. If you’re searching for meaning within, talk to a therapist to learn some new things about yourself.
By setting an intention to learn more about the world and your own consciousness, you’ll always be able to find something new and beautiful to fee connected to and be in awe of.
Meditation has been practiced by Buddhists, Hindus, Taoists, and other Eastern religions since prehistoric times. It is the practice of focusing inwards in order to achieve a spiritual state or sense of calm.
While it is still a pillar of many Eastern faiths, it’s also been adopted as a secular practice that’s been found to reduce stress, anxiety, sleep disturbances, and high blood pressure. These are all positive things that can contribute to your physical, mental, and spiritual well-being.
Some meditation is about focusing on an intention or mantra, while the goal might be to clear their minds completely for others. Meditation might sound easy but many actually find it difficult to be still and focused for minutes at a time and even find that it takes some practice. If you haven’t meditated before and don’t know how to start, we recommend reading a book or a guide on meditation or trying out a phone app like Headspace or Calm to help teach you the ropes. Pretty soon you’ll be zenning with the best of them.
Suspend (or Embrace) Your Disbelief
There are a lot of different spiritual practices out there that young people are getting into, including:
- Tarot readings;
- Crystal healing;
- Psychics, and;
Many people truly believe in the knowledge and healing power of these practices, while others point out that there is little scientific evidence to support them actually working.
You may not believe in any of them. However, just because something can’t be proved to be tangibly “real” doesn’t mean it’s without benefits. In 2010, a Harvard study on the placebo effect found that patients who knew they were taking placebo pills still experienced a significant improvement in their condition, which researchers concluded proved the power of the mind-body connection and our ability to self-heal.
You may just enjoy reiki because it calms you or look to tarot cards as a prompt for self-reflection. If it feels good, do it. Whatever brings you a little closer to feeling peaceful has to be a good thing.
Seek out Nature
Many people who identify as spiritual find themselves drawn to the natural world. It’s no wonder as the earth is a living thing that’s all around us and has so many gifts to offer and so much beauty for us to admire.
If you feel a spiritual connection to nature, be sure to explore that by communing with the natural world on a regular basis. Whether that’s by taking walks in the park, going camping, or just taking a peaceful moment to appreciate a tree or a flower that you pass by.
Some people who identify as spiritual find themselves drawn to the nature-based practices. This includes practicing smudging, making natural offerings, or celebrating the festivals of the pagan Wheel of the Year, which marks the earth’s seasons and solstices.
However you choose to connect with nature, know that you’re not just nurturing your soul, but your mind too. Research has shown that people who take time to enjoy nature can have a lower risk of depression and experience fewer negative emotions.
When things are going wrong in your life and your worries start to pile up, it can be overwhelming, stressful, and even depressing. You might find yourself focusing more on your troubles than on the good things that you have going on your life.
Gratitude is about taking the time to be thankful for your past, relationships, circumstances, and even the material things you have in your life. Studies have shown that gratitude can offer a multitude of benefits. This includes:
- Better sleep;
- Improved moods;
- A stronger immune system and;
- Improved cognitive health as you age.
Some people practice gratitude by reciting daily mantras or incorporating thankfulness into their meditation or practices. Others find that keeping a gratitude journal in which they write down specific things that they are grateful for. You can be thankful for big things, such as your health, home, or friendships, or small things, like a sunny day or a good meal. By incorporating gratitude into your spiritual life, you will contribute to your overall sense of well-being.