Spirituality is simply the exploration of the big questions and possibilities of our human existence.
But many of us feel we cannot explore our spirituality on our own terms owing to past experiences with religion, or the belief that only organised spiritual groups can tell us what is and isn’t spiritually true. However, no one is better placed to describe your truth than you. If you are a searcher and a seeker, looking to cultivate your spirituality in 2021, here are some areas to consider.
Firstly, the bad news – you can’t ‘create a spiritual life’. But only because your life has already started and it’s always been spiritual! As embodied consciousness, life itself is a spiritual journey. So the good news is, you’re most of the way there already!
But there are countless ways to shape and nurture a life which holds space for spiritual experience, reflection and action – as many ways as there are people. If you’re unsure, here are some useful places to start:
- Beliefs are overrated – but explore your nudges
As a spiritual mystic, I’m not overly concerned with beliefs or definitions. You don’t have to have a set of beliefs. In fact, best not to – it leaves you open to new information and experiences. But everyone has ‘inklings’. Those hard-to-describe but powerful convictions – that there’s more to life than ‘this’; that we’re connected to nature and each other in mysterious but remarkable ways; that our experience on this planet means something. Whatever they are for you, I invite you to explore your nudges. Nurture them. Read around them. They may change and grow as you explore, but they are prompts from your deepest self. They are inviting you to a more profound, ever-changing sense of knowing and connection with yourself and others.
- Tap the well – get connected
Pretty much all faith paths and spiritual traditions have a common thread about connection. Some call it meditation, some prayer. It describes that state in which you can sink below the choppy surface of life and listen out for the tug which invites you deeper. It is in the present moment that we can find connection and truth, or as Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh writes ‘only the present moment is real’. Prayer, meditation, music, worship, dance – it doesn’t matter especially what gives you that sense of presence. Being ‘in the zone’ or ‘in a state of flow’ might describe the same phenomenon. But whatever gives you that quality of awareness and connectedness is the core of individual spirituality. Find that thing for you. Nurture it. You may find seated meditation very challenging, but walking mindfully comes more naturally to you. You may find a unique sense of presence when singing. You may find yourself most connected when spending time in nature. Whatever it is, find it and tap this well as often as you can. Do so with discipline and intention – time tapping the well is never wasted.
- Work on yourself
Everyone collects emotional baggage as they go through life. Healing your own hurts, trauma and conditioning may be the greater spiritual work you’ll ever do. Healing brings us closer to our essential selves, and clears away the stuff which gets between us and the other souls with which we share this life. You can explore therapy, self-study, mindful movement – whatever is possible and safe for you. Show commitment to your own growth and you’ll find that the path to healing is also the path to deeper spiritual connection.
- Explore ritual
Ritual has been a part of human community since the earliest societies. It simply means a practice or behaviour that has certain repetitive elements and which seek to achieve a particular (often shared) purpose. The singing of happy birthday over a candlelit cake is a ritual intended to celebrate the birthday person (whether they want that or not…). The repetition of the Lord’s Prayer reinforces shared beliefs and also gets the whole room praying aloud together. Celebration of the new year with partying and festivities, it has been suggested, allows us to reconnect with the dawning of time itself. When acts are ritualised, it helps us to recognise and enter into the sacredness of any given moment. Historian of religion Mircea Eliade writes that rituals create a ‘time out of time’. You can gift that to yourself – a time away from chores, obligations and the mundane realities of life, to connect with what truly matters. Again, it’s easy to think that only religions or established groups get to define what rituals are meaningful or valid. But this isn’t true.
Actually, it’s simpler than it sounds. For instance, at the end of my daily morning meditation, I always bring my hands together in a prayerful gesture and simply count three things I’m grateful for. I light a candle before I write creatively. Sometimes, I burn dried mugwort (a European variant of the more widely-known sage) to cleanse my physical and mental space. There’s a particular tree stump, all that remains of a once-beloved hawthorn, which I pat on my morning walks, to remind myself that the woodland has a life and power of its own that I must respect.
Take a moment to consider any rituals you have with family, friends or by yourself. Now consider how you might use the tools of ritual to create special time in your own day or week. For more inspiration, read Casper Ter Kuile’s beautiful and practical book ‘The Power of Ritual’ or take a look at my post ‘4 rituals for meaningful moments‘.
- Find community
I believe the pillar of spirituality which has been most affected by our drifting out of the churches and temples is community. Many of us ‘spiritual but not religious’ types (SNBRs – we’re a real thing!) have our own sacred nudges and practices, but the element we find it hard to replicate is community. And, though building and living in community can be challenging and require compromise and honesty, it can also expand and sweeten our spiritual lives tenfold.
The beautiful thing about our ultra-connected world is that you can find community by putting a few words into a search engine. And there are communities, forums and other groups that are gathered around every conceivable interest. The internet also allows us to explore what might appeal to us from the safety of our home. Whatever your ‘nudges’ are, there’ll be other people exploring life through the same lens as you. So get exploring. And I’d love you to join this community by signing up to my fortnightly email!