Humans are spiritual beings by nature. We feel a deep, emotional connection to the world around us that begins at birth and lasts until our final breath. Spirituality is an essential part of the human experience and key to understanding both the universe and ourselves. It helps us to see beyond our own reality and embrace the inevitable changes in our lives.
For many of us, spiritual development is not an easy journey. It’s a deeply personal path that all of us must come to understand on our own. As tough as it might be, though, embracing your spirituality can end up changing your life for the better.
What is Spiritual Development?
As humans, we’ve been blessed with the gift of introspection. It gives us the unique ability to reflect on ourselves and our minds, breaking through as better people every time. Spiritual growth is an important step towards self-improvement.
Spiritual development means different things to different people. For some, religion is the key to spirituality. Others get to know themselves through interests and hobbies, while others still dedicate themselves to charitable causes.
No matter which path you choose, spiritual development is a growing process. It helps us to understand our inner selves better. Whether we realize it or not, our spiritual self is in a constant flux state that can change day to day, or even from moment to moment.
Spiritual growth involves abandoning harmful or unrealistic beliefs that might hold you back in life. You become more aware of your inner self, embracing all that you are. This includes both the good and the bad. An important part of spiritual development is realizing not only your potential but also acknowledging your shortcomings.
For many people, spiritual development is somewhat of an awakening. It leads us beyond the plane of our own existence, introducing us to universal truths that can bring us closer to the people and the world around us. It involves looking past your own self-interests and realizing how you fit into the world as a whole.
Each of us is bound to have a different definition of spiritual development. As humans, our spiritual beliefs are one of the few things that set us apart from each other. Spirituality is present in all of us, from the religious to the secular. It primarily stems from our connection to the world around us.
Spirituality isn’t always easy to see for all of us, however. Many people have negative thoughts, beliefs, or habits that can stunt or even halt their spiritual growth. We must constantly be aware of our inner selves, and instead of shying away from introspection, we should embrace it.
That being said, spirituality can’t be used as an excuse to impress our will on others. Equally, it doesn’t give us a license to shirk our responsibilities, act irrationally, or alienate others. It’s important for each of us to realize that our spiritual journey is our own, and while we can help to guide others, there’s no one path down which to direct them.
The Stages of Spiritual Development
Embracing spirituality is an important part of healthy development at any stage in life. For some, it centers around faith and devotion. Others find a sense of spiritual peace in nature, while others still may seek it through yoga, meditation, or art.
One of the most unique aspects of spiritual development is that it’s a deeply personal journey. Each of us grows in our own way and at our own pace. However, there are certain stages of spiritual development that each of us experiences over the course of our lifetime. Each step in the growth process introduces you to a new part of yourself, molding you into a more complete person each day.
Birth to Toddlerhood
As a small child, there’s little that we can do for ourselves. We rely on others to bathe us, feed us, and teach us how to approach the world. During our first few years, our dependency on others makes us more likely to blame those around us for our shortcomings rather than looking at our own behavior.
Anyone who has spent time with a toddler knows that kids are self-absorbed by nature. Often, they aren’t even aware of their spiritual self. They’re more concerned with the physical realm. During this stage, we’re more concerned with survival than spirituality. We don’t necessarily see ourselves as an interconnected part of the world; instead, we view things as happening to us rather than considering ourselves an active participant.
It’s because of this that early childhood is sometimes known as the “victim stage.” We aren’t yet able to claim responsibility for ourselves and our actions and feel separated from the world around us. It isn’t until we’re able to embrace our own path that we progress to the next stage.
As we grow older, we come to accept a greater sense of responsibility for our place in society. Instead of overreacting or directing blame elsewhere, we learn to not only accept our mistakes but to learn from them.
Once we’re able to accept responsibility and sometimes blame, we become capable of taking control of our lives. Instead of seeing things as happening to us, during childhood, most of us come to understand that we drive our own future.
We learn that we shouldn’t give power to those around us, but rather, wield that power ourselves. We begin to see how we can improve ourselves and our lives, starting with our emotional and spiritual selves.
For most of us, it takes time and effort to learn how to be the main driving force in our own lives. Childhood is often a period of emotional turmoil as we struggle to figure out how to carve out our path on this earth.
Parents, teachers, counselors, and other authority figures can help to guide children along this journey. However, it’s important for adults to remember that spirituality is different for everybody. While it’s fine to help children along their spiritual path, we should never try to impress our own will or beliefs on others. This will only lead to confusion down the road.
Instead, we can help children along their spiritual path by showing them how to understand themselves. We can encourage them to express their passions and show them how to be happy and productive members of society. With gentle guidance and mentorship, children can forge their own spiritual path.
As teenagers, we still don’t see ourselves as completely independent of the world around us. Many of us come to understand how the world works through us, considering ourselves agents of greater forces without recognizing our own power.
During this stage, we place value on abilities and achievements over inherent qualities such as forgiveness and compassion. Our spirituality as teens is largely defined by how those around us see us.
While we understand that we have the capacity to change the world, we also begin to understand how to let go of our own control. We begin to see the value of working as a group, which can be both a blessing and a curse.
On one side, we start to see ourselves as part of the bigger picture, connecting us to the people and the world around us. On the other, as teens, we tend to recognize the consequences of our actions as more of a group effort. We’re still unwilling to be the sole controller of our own fate.
Like young children, teens can benefit from experienced spiritual guidance as they struggle to forge their own path. When they’re lost or confused, the advice of a close peer or adult can help them to get back on track again. Though it may take years, most teens eventually grow into their place in the world with a healthy foundation for spiritual identity in adulthood.
Adulthood and Beyond
For most of us, it isn’t until we’re well out of our teens that we reach the final stages of spiritual development. We finally begin to understand the influence we have over the world, and how to wield it to achieve our goals.
Instead of seeing things as happening to us or through us, we realize that our actions have direct consequences. We see our unique experiences as part of a greater framework and recognize that we are a small yet significant cog in a larger machine.
At the same time, we also develop a deeper appreciation for the spirituality of others. Once we get out of our own heads, we’re able to recognize that it’s not only our thoughts and beliefs that are changing the world. We see that billions of other people think, feel, and act in a way that’s completely separate from our own beliefs.
Part of spiritual maturity is welcoming and valuing diversity instead of shying away from it. Once we’re able to embrace our inner selves completely, we can work on understanding the minds of others with tact and grace. We develop a sense of empathy that allows us to connect with the people around us, regardless of race, religion, or beliefs.
Learning to become a part of the rich fabric that makes up our world can often bring a sense of peace and fulfillment to an otherwise troubled mind. By learning to understand others, we erase much of the mystery that shrouds spirituality. We can even learn new things about ourselves by taking into account the beliefs and values of others. With a sense of peace and purpose in life, we can achieve whatever goal we set out to accomplish.
Tapping into Your Spiritual Self
No matter what stage you’re at, tapping into your spiritual self isn’t always easy. For many of us, it can be a deeply emotional experience that’s not always pleasant or comfortable. Fortunately, though, there are plenty of different ways that we can encourage ourselves to grow both spiritually and emotionally.
Follow Inspiring Examples
One of the best ways to understand your own spirituality is to follow the example of someone you admire for their moral, social, and emotional intelligence. For many people, this comes in the form of a religious figure or leader. These are often prime examples of the spiritual values that people wish to embody, such as kindness, charity, and compassion.
Spirituality doesn’t necessarily need to be rooted in religion, however. People also find solace in the ideals of popular public figures, including stars and politicians. It’s important to find an inspiration that aligns with your own unique values.
If you don’t have a role model or mentor, you can still use the wisdom and advice of others to grow spiritually. There are countless books, blogs, and other sources that can help to lift your spirits and guide you along the right path. If you remain on the lookout for spiritual influence, you’re bound to find it.
Look Inside Yourself
Turning to others for advice isn’t always the answer. Sometimes, it’s necessary to stop and look within yourself if you want to grow as a person. An important part of spirituality is understanding and accepting your own wants, needs, and desires.
While it may sound simple to get to know yourself, for many of us, it isn’t easy. It takes time and dedication, but in the end, it’s well worth the effort. People who take the time to get to know themselves are much more emotionally balanced and spiritually sound. Self-introspection can also help you to set and achieve the goals that will take you where you want to be in life.
Some people turn to religion to help find themselves. It offers the framework that people need to be a better person and follow a fulfilling path in life. No matter what religion you follow, the teachings can be an invaluable tool for spiritual growth.
Introspection is possible without religion as well. Many people come to know themselves through yoga and meditation. Meditating each day gives us a chance to escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday life and instead concentrate on ourselves. Just a few minutes can make a significant difference when it comes to your spiritual and emotional self.
When meditating, it’s important to get in the right state of mind. It’s best to choose an area that’s calm, quiet, and secluded. Many people find it helpful to set up a special space with gentle music, incense, and even plants to help them get in touch with nature.
Spirituality is never a solitary path. As humans, we’re social creatures, and it’s important that we recognize this. Happy, fulfilling, and meaningful relationships are a key aspect of spiritual development through the course of a lifetime.
Empathy is vital to any strong relationship. We need to be able to understand others in order to connect with them on an emotional and spiritual level. However, empathy isn’t necessarily an inherent trait. It’s something that requires practice and patience.
As children, it’s up to the adults in our lives to help build the emotional intelligence that we need to understand not only our own feelings but also those of others. Over time, we develop the ability to place ourselves in another person’s shoes. We learn to see things from their perspective and become slower to judge, instead approaching new people with patience and tolerance.
By building empathy, we become better able to address our own spiritual issues. When we’re able to forge meaningful relationships with others, we give ourselves both the tools and the opportunity to look inside ourselves and pinpoint what needs changing. With self-improvement comes a stronger sense of spirituality.
Practice Positive Thinking
It’s difficult to accept your own nature if you’re internally putting yourself or others down. Positive thinking can go a long way towards emotional health, especially for those who are prone to anxiety and depression.
Positive thinking requires constant awareness and frequent introspection. As soon as you realize that negative thoughts are invading your brain, you have to drown them out with positive ideas consciously. Eventually, this process will become second nature and happen automatically.
A part of positive thinking is learning to disregard your situation and instead find happiness from within. If your positivity comes from external influences, you’re always bound to find yourself coming up short. Instead, recognize your personal best.
Never push yourself too hard, and try not to get disappointed when you don’t succeed. Instead, treat every mistake as an opportunity to learn and become a better person. If you set goals, always keep them reasonable and achievable to help keep yourself motivated.
Positive thinking can help you to change your perspective on yourself, others, and the world around you. It makes you predisposed to enjoying yourself, opening you up to new experiences, relationships, and adventures. Try to make a habit of being happy to help you on your spiritual path.
Our minds and bodies are closely interconnected. When our physical self suffers, our mental, emotional, and spiritual selves suffer as well. To develop in a spiritual sense, you need to take care of your body through diet and exercise.
Staying active can help to boost your mood and reduce the risk of mental health issues such as anxiety and depression. It also helps to clear the mind, allowing you to focus on your inner self. After a workout is a great time to meditate or reflect on your spirituality.
Experts recommend that you get at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity per week. This includes activities such as walking, swimming, or even housework. You can also do 75 minutes of vigorous activity each week, such as running, dancing, or team sports.
Just as important as exercising is eating right. An unhealthy diet will leave you feeling drained, depressed, and too mentally exhausted to concentrate on your spirituality. You should aim to eat a healthy diet that keeps you alert and focused.
One of the best diets for mental health is the Mediterranean diet. This meal plan cuts out empty carbs and red meat, focusing instead on whole grains and seafood along with plenty of fruits and vegetables. This sort of diet has been shown to help improve mental faculties and reduce the risk of dementia.
No matter what diet you choose to follow, you should aim to eat plenty of lean protein and greens. Fruits and vegetables contain antioxidants that we need to keep both our bodies and our minds functioning at peak capacity.
Connect with Nature
Standing at the top of a mountain range or looking out over the vast expanse of the sea inspires awe in even the youngest and most inexperienced of us. Throughout history, humans have always felt a deep connection to nature that we portray in art, song, and other media.
Connecting with nature can help you to get in touch with your spiritual self, helping to ground you and bring you closer to the world around us. It reminds us that we’re a small but important part of this world, and that like everybody else, we have a role to play in the future of our planet.
There are plenty of ways that you can connect or reconnect with nature. Even if you live in the middle of the city, you can always take a few moments to remind yourself where you came from. You can go for a hike out in the wilderness, stroll barefoot in the grass, or even simply introduce some plants to your home setup.
Join a Spiritual Retreat
If you aren’t sure where to get started on your spiritual journey, sometimes embarking on a retreat can help. These are often led by spiritual experts who have the wisdom and experience to help guide you along your own personal path.
There are all sorts of spiritual retreats geared towards different passions, hobbies, and interests. Many focus on areas such as religion and meditation, while others offer a looser approach. You don’t necessarily have to travel to some far-off and exotic land to experience a spiritual awakening; simply joining a meditation group at your local park or signing up for yoga at the gym can help you to achieve your full spiritual potential.
What Spiritual Development Means for Us
Spirituality pervades all areas of society. Whether we realize it or not, it’s an important part of our daily lives. Religion, philosophy, and even government all center around the ideals of the people.
Growing spiritually can help you to improve in all areas of life. It can improve your mental, emotional, and even physical health. When we feel in touch with our inner selves, we experience less stress and distress. Spirituality can help to free us from fear and anxiety, giving us hope for the future.
Spiritual development also improves resiliency. When we face obstacles in life, we need to be able to overcome them in a calm, rational, and productive manner. By learning to take control and accept responsibility for our actions, we learn how to avoid becoming a victim of circumstance. We’re able to maintain a positive outlook no matter what might be going on around us.
Spiritual growth isn’t just important for us as individuals, but also as a society. Since the dawn of humanity, our sense of spirituality has driven some of our greatest accomplishments. Historical art, architecture, and literature can often be traced back to the spiritual beliefs of the time. They have helped to inspire people for thousands of years to become the best version of themselves.
If everybody is in touch with their spiritual and emotional selves, we can all live in greater peace and harmony. By embracing spirituality as a personal journey, we can come to accept ourselves, and by extension, others. Spiritual growth helps to rid us of the hatred and bias that so often blinds society.
It’s crucial that we do everything in our power to help foster spiritual development in the generations that come after us. We must serve as mentors, teaching those younger than us how to follow their own path in life. By doing so, we ensure that those who follow us are able to find their place in society and lead rich, fulfilling, and productive lives.
The Bottom Line on Spiritual Development
No matter what your definition of spirituality might be, it’s an important part of healthy emotional development. Spiritual growth is a never-ending process, helping us to discover the deepest facets of ourselves and come to terms with our own nature.
Whether you’re well into your journey or just now beginning, embracing your spiritual self can change your life. Expanding your vision beyond the simple concept of self allows us to fit in within society and lead rich, fulfilling lives.
The road to spiritual development is never easy, however. It takes time, energy, and dedication to reach self-actualization. While there’s no single right way to approach spirituality, there’s plenty that we can do as individuals and as a collective to realize our own inner potential.