So, you feel called to adopting a spiritual practice! Maybe you feel a deep calling, but don’t know what’s right for you. Maybe you’ve been hearing a lot about spirituality and are curious but don’t know where to start.
Today the world around us is changing at a faster pace than ever, leaving us with much uncertainty and anxiety. On top of that, there are also ever increasing options available to us in various aspects of life, leaving many of us feeling confused around what the right choices might be, and our purpose in life.
I was a seeker since entering my teens, searching to quench my thirst for something deeper, something that made sense to my innermost being.
My mother’s upbringing was in Christian Science, and my father’s background in typical Japanese atheism, adopting cultural practices from Buddhism and Shintoism without deeper connection to its source. As a child, I occasionally went along to Sunday school when visiting relatives, but no doctrine was overtly forced upon me. I felt free to explore my beliefs about the world.
In my teens, I explored churches of various backgrounds, embraced pieces that resonated and felt helpful from each experience, but without finding one that truly clicked.
It was in my early twenties that I was invited to a ceremony lead by a shaman from Peru, through a journey of Ayahuasca, psychedelic drink from the Amazon with a long history in the surrounding cultures, and known to many around the world as a sacred plant medicine. Unexpectedly to me at the time, although not surprisingly as I write this, the experience gave me a profound shift in how I see and experience the world thereon after.*
Although the experience with Ayahuasca gave me a powerful connection to a sense of divinity in my own existence and especially in nature, I needed something different to keep me going and growing on a daily basis and continued to yearn, not to mention the physical symptoms I was suffering from as a result of unrecognized yet deeply seated anxiety. After graduating from college on the East Coast, I followed what felt like intuitive guidance and moved to the San Francisco Bay Area, oblivious to it being a hub for spiritual seekers. I didn’t have any source of income prospect, schooling to attend, or any other plan but to simply explore (and survive!) life. I had one friend in the area, and that was it!
About a month after arrival, I connected with a group of Buddhist Mystic Monks. They were a unique group that practiced karma yoga through computer programming, and although I intuitively knew that their practice was not my ultimate spiritual style or ‘home’ if you will, I spent nearly a year connecting with and learning incredible things from them which still carry much weight in my understanding of myself and the world.
Over time, though, it became clear to me that I needed to go my separate way, especially when I stumbled upon Foundation for Spiritual Development, where one learns to reconnect to their spirit self and hone their intuitive skills. I had shivers upon my first class there, and knew immediately that my spirit had led me to move to the area a year prior for the very reason of attending this school. The knowledge and tools I’ve gained over the years through classes here have been a powerful and essential guide in the past many years, that have helped me heal and grow, and feel much more confident and comfortable in this world. There may come a time to move on from this too, as this path too is not for everybody or for always, and I trust I will be guided in the timing and direction of the steps to come.
Spiritual Practice Defined
To give you a precise definition, here are words from Revs. Drs. Bil and Cher Holton at The Global Center for Spiritual Practices: Spiritual practice refers to the intentional and purposeful choices you make, actions you take, soul deepening habits you adopt, and rituals you perform each day to nurture your connection with your Divine Nature. It means becoming consciously one with your Higher Self so you can master the art of living by staying connected with your own truth and purpose.
So whatever you choose, it will be intimate and personal, and carry significance in your life. I like to choose one that blends into each and every part of my life, that informs, guides, and supports all that I go through daily. For some, it becomes the obvious focus in their lives, in their calendars, in their activities, in their social lives, in their travels. What’s right for you?
Just like bio-individuality, which describes how each of our bodies are unique and require specific nourishment for optimal function that differs from one another, the right spiritual practice depends on your background, your beliefs, your personality, your lifestyle and environment, what you enjoy and so on. For instance, while the format of prayer is helpful to me, it can bring up enough resistance to negate any positive effects for someone with memories of religious doctrine being forced down my throat. Alternatively, walking meditation can be beneficial to those who tend to disengage from their bodies easily, whereas someone who is always fidgety and is wanting to learn to find peace in physically being still may benefit from a sitting meditation, granted it’s tailored to be short enough and comfortable enough in other ways to make it appealing and sustainable.
Know your personality and work with it. Get to know yourself in great detail to help you tune into what will best support your persona and tendencies. What interests you enough that you will have adequate patience and motivation, especially in the beginning when it’s new and challenging and when you might not have first hand experience of the positive benefits? The Buddhist Mystic Monks previously mentioned had more traces of structure and discipline than what I was comfortable with at the time, whereas practices that lent to more playfulness, creativity and flexibility suited me more. Some people do very well with hardcore discipline, and even motivated by it. What will supplement and help strengthen areas in you that are weaker? Do you seek traditional rituals and community through your practice? Do you enjoy variety or absolute consistency? Do you tend to escape this reality a lot by checking out, and would having sound, movement, incense or even keeping your eyes open be helpful to keep you in touch with your surrounding reality? Do you overly identity with your physical reality and stand to benefit greatly from opening up to other realms and creative visualization? Are you attracted more to being guided by a master of some sort, or a guru figure? Do you prefer highly independant styles where you choose what you do each step of the way, or at least modify the steps?
It doesn’t mean that your ideal choice won’t push and challenge you, but similar to exercise, no matter how golden the promised results may be of a specific style, if you’re not going to implement it, it will do you no good. The right choice is one that you will actually engage in!
When we take on a new routine or lifestyle, it requires change in us on some level, and we aren’t always ready to face it, even if we could really benefit from it. For instance, I’ve realized since that I actually benefit from having more structure and routine as well as a more embodied practice where my eyes are open and I’m engaging each moment with my physicality and less with my imagination, but wasn’t ready to prioritize that over my desire for independence and freedom to be spontaneous or enjoy variety, or my desire to escape and fantasize for a while, which happened more easily in certain styles of meditation…** Of course, there’s room for both aspects to be incorporated, if you are up for that.
You may ask, is it okay to mix and match, to modify however I like? Well, that’s debatable. Some methods rely heavily on the exact format being in tact for you to reap the benefits, whereas others retain their potency even when modified quite a bit, so long as it is modified in a way that benefits you. And some people are purists and will feel wrong altering sacred wisdom that has been passed down through history, and if that’s you, there’s nothing wrong with that!
You can be as strategic as you want in choosing your practice, but for many, it will involve a degree of trial and error. Give things a try, see what works, see what sticks, and go even further by tuning into exactly what about it works for you and why. However, there is a point to sticking to something long enough to see results. Be honest with yourself, and unless something is a definite no, give it some time before throwing it out.
Even when we find what works, that’s not the end of the story… We change over time, and what was once beneficial may no longer be serving you as well, so watch out not to fall into complacency or blindly walking through your practice simply out of habit.
You may find it helpful to have both inspirational components in your practice, as well as meditative components. That said, any activity can be turned into a spiritual practice simply by slowing down and seeking to connect to your highest self and/or divinity in the moment. I’ve listed here a number of key components to seek for when finding and creating a spiritual practice that’s right for you.
- Helps you achieve deeper levels of relaxation; helps you create a sense of inner peace – to feel comfortable enough to trust the universe and let go of whatever resistance, thoughts and feelings that you are holding onto, to surrender, release, and create space to let in more joy. You will still experience some challenge, as getting quiet in your mind and facing challenging thoughts, and letting go to that degree is usually uncomfortable until the process is complete and replaced by a euphoric sense of clearing.
- Helps you feel open and expanded
- Helps you feel light while simultaneously strong and stable
- That opens your heart and mind
- Strengthens your sense of inner knowing
- Inspires you
- Gets your heart singing
- Helps you feel whole
- Helps you feel at one with life itself – like you are one with the world in the most powerful, most beautiful, most loving and humble way with all awe for life. For me, powerful landscapes or beautiful sunsets help me connect to the magnificence of this earth and life as a source of all. I still recall standing in Badlands National Park in South Dakota and feeling an incredible sense of oneness with all of life coursing powerfully through my being and knowing.
- Helps you realize and connect to the sacred, even in the most ordinary and mundane of moments
- Encourages and empowers you
- Challenges you to grow, to step out of your comfort zone and continue stretching as a person
- Helps you create stillness, or quiet and calm, where mental chatter is reduced – involves being in a meditative state – stillness – where your mind becomes quiet so that you feel more connected to yourself and become aware of your thoughts and beliefs that no longer serve you, as well as hearing and sensing deeper truths: there are active and passive styles of meditation, some involving movement, some not, some use sounds, some use chanting, some have your eyes open and some not, and so on.
The following are examples of activities or mediums you might explore to include in your practice:
- spending time in nature
- witnessing beautiful sunsets
- creative and expressive activities such as painting, dancing, singing
- that involve appreciating your body – movement, sex, food (any of these can become escape routes from facing your painful reality, so be honest with yourself if this is the case, but these can all be opportunities of fully appreciating our physical reality in and around us),
- heartfelt and meaningful connections with people…
- volunteering in the community
- reflecting and journaling
- UU prayer beads
- peace vigils
- going on retreat
- sacred reading
- random acts of kindness
- creating sacred space
- having and showing respect for others
- tai chi
- learning to find peace and happiness through a physical challenge
- living simply
- writing haiku
- playing with children
- yoga of all kinds
- reading poetry
- generosity in your giving, including tipping for services
- recognizing and believing in the innate goodness in people around you
- working for social change
- reciting mantras
- learning about the universe
A Note About Meditation
This is a great page to help you start exploring the varous kinds of meditation: http://liveanddare.com/types-of-meditation/
Know that you can start anywhere from 1 minute and onwards of hours and even days! I had a client who was squeamish about sitting meditation, but overcame this by starting with 1 minute a day for some days, then 3 minutes for another many days, then 5 minutes and so on until she could go for at least 30 minutes comfortably. Different amounts of time will certainly have a different effect, but there’s no one right way, you decide what is appropriate for you now.
May this guide aide and inspire you in finding a gratifying spiritual practice! And may you feel deeply connected to the sacred in life and within you, bringing you comfort and strength through rougher times and supporting you to blossom into your most beautiful and amazing self each and every day!
* Please please please be careful if you choose to use any mind altering drug for the purpose of helping you connect to the divine. I don’t recommend it for everybody, and advise a high degree of caution in choosing the environment, the people, the instructions and guidance you follow, and aftercare to help you integrate the experience, as well as proper preparation (it can kill you, literally, if mixed with certain other substances that many ingest on a daily basis).
** There are lots of styles of meditation, and some are more conducive to disembodying and getting lost in the clouds so to speak, whereas some are much more likely to keep you in touch with the present moment in physical reality.