Becoming your best self takes grit, determination, persistence, but above all, knowledge of who you are. But where do we find who we are to become and who we were born to be? Spiritual thoughts and practices live to bridge the gap between these ideas.
Spirituality has taken a sharp turn away from the religion that drives much of our world today. Instead of searching for answers in organized institutions, spirituality involves a direct connection from yourself to God. This personal connection usually is what launches a spiritual journey. But, we need to know where we came from to see where we are going.
What Does It Mean to Be Spiritual Today?
We give our time to a multitude of things throughout the day. From scrolling a phone screen to cooking meals or planning the next board meeting, our attention is constantly pulled in different directions. But, whatever we devote our time to, whether it is deemed spiritual by the world or not, is what we worship. Worship is simply the act of giving our attention, no matter how fleeting, to something.
Often, humans feel overwhelmed with a lack of purpose when they have been giving their time and attention to things that they do not feel passionate about. So, people often try to guide their thoughts and actions through prayer, meditation, and mindfulness. These help us to center ourselves on more profound and valuable things than a fad.
Seeking the Divine in Prayer
Prayer is the laying out of requests before God. It is a two-way form of communication, where you can lay your requests, supplications, thoughts, or praises before someone or something you believe to be powerful. Prayer allows you to let go of often heavy thoughts that have been burdensome on your heart.
However, it can also be a joyful thanksgiving. Research shows that thanksgiving gives way to happiness and joy. So, when you practice expressing these thoughts, you may begin to experience a spiritual renewal yourself.
Responding Instead of Reacting Through Meditation
Meditation is the act of controlling your attention on something while you train your mind. Similar to following the liturgy in religious ceremonies, but it takes place on a personal level. By choosing a quote, proverb, idea, or feeling to dwell on, you can let it take hold of your mind. Now, this is difficult, and beginners need to start small.
Focusing on a lifegiving phrase for sixty seconds can calm your mind and ease your spirit. In fact, for thousands of years, meditation has been a practice in every single religion, as it genuinely guides spiritual thoughts. Nowadays, there are many phone and computer apps to help you focus and increase your meditative skills.
As you grow in this practice, you will be able to control your thoughts better, helping decrease stress, pain, and poor reactions. It has been shown that meditation can decrease blood pressure and boost the immune system, mood, and brain functioning. Meditation will help you focus your thoughts and be more in touch with your body.
The perception of meditation has developed into mindfulness in recent years. Where the practice of meditating focuses on one thing, mindfulness is allowing yourself to focus on everything as long as it is in the present. With the world around us continually pulling us to the past and future, mindfulness brings us back to the here and now. Often, meditation makes mindfulness easier.
Where Did Modern Spirituality Come From?
All of these practices have sprung out of the development of modern spirituality. You may have heard someone say when asked about their faith, “I am spiritual but not religious.” This phrase developed out of the Transcendentalism movement in the 1820s and 1830s.
Pioneered by Ralph Waldo Emerson, this movement redefined spirituality, leading it from the organized religion of early America to an intense spiritual experience focusing on nature, the self, and the connection with the physical world.
This breaking off from the norm of spirituality lit like wildfire. Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman quickly added to the fire being kindled by the poets and lecturers of the time. His poems, “I Sing the Body Electric” and “Song of Myself,” bring the reader to believe the human body is worthy of adoration and is intrinsically connected to the spirit. His writings, among others of their time, were some of the most personal spiritual thoughts published at the time.
As personal spirituality spread and access to it erupted, the spirituality industry started booming. From festivals and yoga studios to seemingly unlimited shelves of self-help books, it is all around us now. How we choose to focus our spiritual thoughts can make unbelievable differences in our daily life and demeanor.
How Can I Seek Out the Truth in My Daily Life?
Truth. Everyone seeks it, but we will never know if those who claim to find it have indeed discovered it. So, how do we go about seeking truth from day to day? By focusing our spiritual thoughts and reaching for a connection with something outside ourselves.
Many people look to their families and ancestors to see what they believed. Often, beliefs passed down through generations have a wealth of wisdom in them. Others look inward, similar to Whitman, and praise their own body, mind, and soul. Yet others, seeing the evil of the human heart, look to an Almighty God who could be behind everything.
We know simple truths, like where we live and what we ate for breakfast. Other truths are so well documented, the world accepts them as fact even if no one living was there. This is a great space to start when seeking the truth. Look through history and the different spiritual texts. Which ones have historical support and backup for being realistic?
Do note, that every religion will have utterly detestable crimes and crusades carried out in their name. However, look beyond those when you can to see what is the driving force behind their truth.
In addition, consider the natural world. From the smallest snowflake to the great sequoia tree, each reflects unique creativity and abundance that is simply not seen anywhere else. Take time to appreciate these things and get inquisitive about them. Perhaps test out some meditation while out in nature.
Scientists have studied so many realms of the earth; it is vital to do it ourselves as well. When you find what aspect of nature that intrigues you, dive into it and discover the indisputable truth behind it.
With these, keep in mind that there are often short-held beliefs that seem like the end-all at the time. So, take each loud voice crying out and compare it with the rest of the world and history. Is it the truth?
What Are Common Themes Throughout Religion?
As you are seeking truth and walking out your spirituality, you may take note of a few different things recurring throughout your search. Deities, for one. Someone who is incredibly powerful, often a creation story, and intense passion or love of some sort usually find their way into most religions.
With this, rules and guidelines do as well. Afterlife theories usually rest on how one has followed those established rules, but some do not. But, we can see that having something to follow and walk-through is an almost universally desired thing by human beings. Of course, some of us want that list of items so we can check them off, while others want to know what to do to go against the flow. This desire for knowledge is what drives spiritual journeys.
Justice, power, and forgiveness flow through all the world’s religions. Whether gods are fighting over opportunities, seeking to right wrongs, or granting unfathomable grace, they each pull at the soul. Freedom has been sought by all sorts of people and is almost universally desired. Religion and spirituality aim to provide just that: the freedom from whatever binds you, physically, emotionally, or spiritually.
Working through different world religions can provide a glimpse into what might be a spiritual thread throughout all humanity. Let’s walk through some of the most popular religions in our world.
Began by Siddhartha Gautama during the 5th century, Buddhism instructs its followers to follow a code of morality, self-denial, and meditation to achieve a state of enlightenment, known as nirvana. The four noble truths are this list of guidelines that give access to the ultimate peace.
These proclaimed truths tell followers that our inevitable suffering comes from desires. So, when desires cease, so does pain. To stop your cravings, you must follow Buddha’s eightfold path, which leads to the ultimate freedom in nirvana.
The eight-fold path leads you through getting your view, resolve, speech, conduct, livelihood, effort, mindfulness, and meditation into the right place. Buddhism lines out clear rules for how someone should achieve the pinnacle of spirituality. Actions flow out of our thoughts, so by training their thoughts, a follower of Buddha can have desirable actions, thus becoming a more moral person.
There is a deep sense of justice within Buddhism as well, known as karma. Karma is the idea that as one does good moral deeds, these deeds will encourage good things to happen to the same person in the future. However, if one does immoral actions, they will experience more pain and suffering later on as an effect of this.
Buddhists also believe in reincarnation. So, your morality or goodness can affect how you are born in your next life.
With all of this, we can see how Buddhism has justice, rules, morality, and peace as driving factors. These can be seen in most world religions, although they manifest in different ways.
The world’s oldest monotheistic religion, Judaism, has been the starting point of many others. Founded by Abraham over 4,000 years ago, it is a monotheistic religion devoted to the worship of God. Through ten major commandments listed in the Hebrew Bible or Torah, jews adhere strictly to their law to please God. Jews believe they are a chosen group, as God made a special covenant with Abraham.
For Jews, the land of Israel is their promised land that they believe God has granted to them to prosper in. To this day, this has been a point of contention in the Middle East, and there is no end in sight, as different religions each claim it as their own.
Jews also follow the teachings in the Talmud, a group of essays, commentaries, and other writings on Jewish law and their interpretation. In addition to their rules, Jews observe a sabbath day where they do not work, but instead rest and focus on community and prayer. As there are a variety of sects of Jews, their adherence to different laws differ.
For example, most traditional jews will still eat kosher, while other more liberal jews may relax some of the rules surrounding it.
Through all of this, Jews have a strong sense of identity and are together awaiting the Messiah. The expected Messiah is someone who will save the Jews, establish a rule, and bring peace and prosperity to them. This prophecy is where other religions choose to break off from Judaism.
A breakoff of Judaism, Christianity was started by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, who is believed to be the Jewish Messiah. Christians follow his teachings, which are recorded in the Bible, consisting of 66 books. They are a compilation of historian’s records, Jewish texts, and letters from the first Christians to a variety of churches.
There is only one requirement to make it to the afterlife in Christianity: belief that Jesus of Nazareth lived a perfect life, died, and was resurrected in order to give all mankind forgiveness for their immoral actions. Essentially, Jesus is the king of the world and saved all humanity from their immorality.
The reasoning behind this involves Christians believing the following is true: first, that any amount of immorality separates someone from being holy and able to commune with God. Second, no one has lived a perfect life, except Jesus, who can make it to the afterlife and be in God’s presence on their own.
Thirdly, that because of Jesus’ perfect life, he was able to atone for everyone else’s immorality, known as sin, through his death. This story of grace, love, and justice is what allows one to commune with God and make it to heaven. It is in this that Christians profess their faith.
Christianity, though, states that faith without actions is dead and worthless. So, Christians seek to help the poor, widows, orphans, and others in stressful situations. Through community at local churches, service, and personal prayer and meditation, Christians develop their relationship with God.
Islam was also a breakoff of Judaism, out of the Prophet Muhammad’s teaching in the seventh century. Similarly to Judaism, following strict rules and the belief in one God is the basis of this religion. However, Islam praises Allah as God instead of Yahweh. Islam itself means surrender, which is played out through all Muslims surrendering to Allah’s will as laid out in the Koran. Today, Islam is the fastest-growing world religion.
Five central beliefs bring Muslims in line with Allah’s will. First is that Allah is the only God. Next is that followers must pray five times per day, at specific times while facing their holy city of Mecca. Muslims must also give part of their money to the poor or those in need. Additionally, Muslims fast from food and drink from sunrise to sunset for the month of Ramadan.
This denial of self through fasting is standard in every single religion. Lastly, if able, Muslims are encouraged to make a pilgrimage to Mecca during the 12th month of the Islamic Calendar.
Through all of these things, Muslims gain or lose report with Allah, and this affects their afterlife. Teaching varies slightly between denominations, but all believe in the direct connection of adherence to the law and how well you are treated after death.
Justice, action, and the peace experienced when submitting to Allah’s will are prominent themes throughout Islam. One cannot be a Muslim and simply only believe, you must also act. This connection from the head and heart to the actions is one that crosses all religious lines and perhaps can lend us more insight into our spiritual thoughts.
Why Are Rules, Justice, Love, and Grace So Powerful?
These ideas of fairness and rules flow through just about everything humankind touches. Universally acknowledged, stories and examples of justice, man’s downfall, and forgiveness are found in every corner of our world. Most people want to be good. They want others to admire them for their kind heart, good deeds, or fair rules. But, most of us cannot seem to live up to the standards we set for ourselves. Perhaps that is why you are on a spiritual journey right now.
Almost every religion revolves around these things, as they get to the heart of every human. But, with so many different rules and lines, it can be challenging to figure out what is true. This is where knowing yourself, your experiences, and your beliefs are most important.
Someone has probably hurt you, but you have probably hurt someone else severely, too. If you have done either of these, then you understand how mind-boggling forgiveness can be. Someone deserved to be punished but instead was met with love.
This grace is a powerful thing that fuels deep spiritual connections. If you have ever chosen to love someone less than perfect daily, then you know what it means for someone to do that for you.
Whether you adhere to any of the religions above, it can often be a long path to figure out what drives you, who you are, and where you belong. But, looking through the elements of justice and love all around the world can help us decide what we want our spirituality to look like.
Can I Express Myself Spiritually Without Religion?
So, maybe you don’t fit into any of these religions right now. But, often, you need to know what you are not in order to figure out who you are. Let’s walk through a few questions to get to the core of what drives you:
- When in your life have you felt most at peace?
- What values are you passionate about and guide your decision-making process?
- Find a quote or proverb that inspires you. Meditate on it for three minutes. What did you learn?
Often, your friends and family have great insight into who you are, as they get to see you from a unique perspective. If you are comfortable, ask those around you what they think drives you and makes you feel alive.
When you begin to get a grasp on what you are passionate about and what you need to work on, you can dive deeper into your spirituality. The religions we walked through above all have a connection from the heart and what you believe to the physical actions you take.
So, if you want to seek justice for the oppressed, consider volunteering at a local refugee shelter. If you find your body carrying a lot of stress and anger, consider joining a few yoga classes at a local studio.
When you begin taking steps to put your beliefs into practice, your spirituality evolves and blossoms into something brand new. This connection between the physical and spiritual is beautiful. It has recently been the interest of much research.
What Is the Mind-Body Connection?
Many people eat less or completely lose their appetite when stressed. Others eat everything in sight while pulling at their hair and getting a stomach ache. Some people have lived months longer than doctors anticipated with what simply seems a great attitude. What is it that drives this? The mind-body connection is the ability for your emotions, feelings, and thoughts to influence your physical body in numerous ways.
This is why the physical aspect of spirituality is so important. If you only focus on your mind and spiritual thoughts, then there is still half of you that is disconnected from the rest. We have covered prayer and meditation, but numerous others also help connect these two.
In the Jewish scriptures, dancing expresses joy, gratitude, and thankfulness. Then, spirituality inside manifests itself into the world through this physical movement. Perhaps dancing will help your body and mind feel more cohesive.
Yoga, tai chi, and martial arts encourage intense focus and a calm state of mind. They focus your body and mind in incredible and powerful ways. There are classes all around most cities and towns, and beautiful communities ready to take you under their wing.
Painting goes as far back as humanity, from cave walls to modern art. It allows people to express their spiritual thoughts in ways that words cannot. Fasting is an incredibly direct route between the physical body and mind.
By refraining from food for an appropriate amount of time, you can remind yourself of the need to work on your spiritual journey. So, try exchanging a mealtime or two with prayer and meditation. Feeling the physical need for something can be an active driver in spiritual ways.
These are only a few of the ways people connect their mind and body. So, consider one of these avenues to help get what is inside out.
Can I Create My Own Kind of Spirituality?
CS Lewis wrote of Christianity, “Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance. The only thing it cannot be is moderately important”. However, this applies to any religion. Every religion believes that their way is the ultimate truth, but this simply cannot be. We can never honestly know the answer to this, though, perhaps until we die.
When we begin to pick and choose bits and pieces from different doctrines and religions, we make our morality and our own rules. This leads to everyone playing the same game of life by vastly different guidelines. Now, what one person deems as true and good is seen to another as a disaster waiting to happen. So, carefully tread as you dig through what is right, honest, and beautiful.
So, Where Do I Begin?
Spirituality, in essence, is the connection between you and the divine. Perhaps you have had an experience you cannot quite understand and are searching for answers. This is where other people’s stories come in. In the end, it is often other’s journeys that show us glimpses of insurmountable power or unyielding love that draw us closer to the truth.
So, take a few minutes to keep a journal. Write down what you know to be accurate and what you have some critical questions about. Make a list of people you respect and admire. What is the connection between all of them? Reach out to some friends to help walk you through this. Spirituality is a journey best undergone with others. Community and relationships challenge us, uplift us, and share the burden with us.
Incorporating Spiritual Thoughts and Practices Into Your Daily Life Can Bring Peace to Your Soul
Whether you are delving into a religion, or contemplating your own life experiences, being intentional about your spiritual journey is of utmost importance. Years of complacency can lead to life felt unlived when you look back on it. Instead, seeking peace, love, justice, and harmony within yourself, God, and the world will bring a depth to your life that many never find.