I grew up in a secular household, and I thought this was pretty awesome as a kid. After all, I got to sleep in every weekend because I never had to go to Sunday school. But as I got older, I realized that growing up without religion also meant I'd never considered my spiritual side.
It wasn't until I was in my early 20s working as a nurse in hospice care that I began to question what I believed. Watching my dying patients interact with their families forced me to consider life from a different angle and wonder things like, If the body is just a shell, what happens to that spark of life after we die? Where does that energy go? How are we all connected?
I started to feel a desire to connect with something greater than myself. But I felt lost — like I didn't have the language for what I was seeking. I was shy and fumbling in my search for what I now recognize as a spiritual practice. I was looking for some sort of formalized way that would reliably connect me to the divine … to my soul, I guess.
It took me a long time to establish my own spiritual practice. My path was slow and awkward with many stops and starts, but all the while I was led by a gentle yet insistent tug from the divine.
My practice and beliefs are personal and unique to me, as other people's are to them. I don't follow one specific belief system or dogma. What I follow instead is a collection of truths, observances, and touchstones that unswervingly lead me back to peace and encourage me to live with an open heart.
Here are eight simple steps you can follow to help you build your own spiritual practice.
1. Set your intention.
Don't worry, establishing a spiritual practice doesn't mean you have to start wearing crystals and chanting mantras right away. The first step is simply acknowledging that you want to become more spiritual in the first place.
Your intention can be as simple as saying to yourself, "I want to learn more about spirituality in general," or it could be as formal as sharing your intention with friends in order to celebrate your start on this lifelong journey. Consciously acknowledging your yearning and curiosity, even if only to yourself, is like opening a door and setting out on the path of the seeker.
2. Feed your mind.
Read everything you can get your hands on. Start with something like Soulcraft by Bill Plotkin or Care of the Soul by Thomas Moore — both of them are great primers on fostering sacredness in everyday life. Watching documentaries is also a great way to get a lot of digestible information on a given topic. I Am is an inspiring documentary that's available on Netflix right now.
Listen to lectures, like John Searle's TED Talk, "Our Shared Condition." If you don't know where to start, talk to people. Go to your local alternative bookstore and ask for recommendations. Feed your inquisitiveness. Knowledge and curiosity are the cornerstones of any truly rich spiritual journey.
3. Be still every day.
Our connection to spirit, the universe, or whatever you prefer to call it, is primarily a felt experienced. Therefore, a great way to establish a strong spiritual practice is to set aside time to intentionally quiet your thinking mind using meditation, chanting, or mindfulness. All it takes is 15 minutes a day.
Find a quiet spot where you can sit comfortably and undisturbed, set your timer, and observe your mind. If that seems daunting, start with a guided meditation. There are tons of free apps (Insight Timer: Guided Meditations is one of my favorites) and recordings available online (I like the ones on Tara Brach's website). Find one you like and commit to following it once a day.
4. Don't neglect your body.
The mind, body, and spirit are all connected, so don't forget to employ your physical body in your pursuit of the mystical. Dancing, drumming, practicing yoga, singing, even playing sports, are all deeply intuitive ways to express our spiritual selves using our bodies. See if you can get out of your head and simply allow your body to tell you what it wants.
5. Approach your practice with playfulness.
You may believe that a spiritual practice must be solemn and serious — it's anything but! According to the legendary Deepak Chopra, joy is one of the five noble emotions, and laughter is its language. So approach your budding practice with a light heart. Laugh at yourself, laugh at your teachers, laugh at the sheer silliness that is the human experience.
We are mammals made of recycled star-stuff rocketing around on an anomalous blue planet in the vacuum of an exploding universe and yet somehow we allow ourselves to get derailed by jammed printers. How could we not laugh?
6. Watch for signs.
As you begin to cultivate a spiritual practice, you may find that the universe sends you little hints and clues to encourage you on your seeker's path. These signs may be as simple as having three different people recommend the same book or connecting with a kindred spirit through a seemingly random occurrence.
Want to speed things up? Ask for signs. One of my favorite practices is to write the universe a letter. Request help with whatever you are struggling with and thank her for her guidance. Stay open and you will begin to feel subtle course corrections as you travel through life.
7. Connect with your tribe.
I used to believe that spirituality was a solitary endeavor — I could not have been more wrong. If you want to feel your practice really take shape, get together with other seekers. Attend workshops, classes, and retreats.
Join an online community or host an informal gathering of other people on their journeys. There's an energetic resonance that only comes from being part of a group.
The best thing about establishing a spiritual practice is that you can make it all your own. You alone get to choose what works for you, and there are no hard-and-fast rules. Cherry-pick from any discipline, idea, or philosophy that speaks to you. Try everything and trust your gut. Whatever fuels your interest, resonates with your heart, and feeds your soul … do that!
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