Article: Cultivating a Spiritual Life

Spirituality in Nature

By Dave Hood

“To be spiritually literate, we need to embrace the world, believing that it is full of meanings which we can discover.”—Spiritual literacy

A man strolls through the woods, listening to the birds chirping, the rustling of the leaves, the river flowing in the background. A middle-aged woman takes photographs of her urban setting, and then creates expressive paintings. A young man takes up Buddhism, meditates, and strives to live a compassionate life. A young woman studying to become a social worker fights for social justice, attending a peace march. What does each of these people have in common? They have embraced spirituality.

Definition

What is spirituality? Spirituality is not religion. You can be spiritual without embracing a particular faith, such as Christianity, Islam, or Judaism. Some people are religious, but lack spirituality. Others are spiritual but don’t belong to a particular religious group or institution. You can live a spiritual life, despite not believing in God (Atheist or Secular Humanist), or not knowing whether God exists (Agnostic). Though you don’t have to be religious to be spiritual, “faith” is a powerful spiritual practice. Those who imbue their lives with faith receive the gift of peace of mind, spiritual wisdom, and hope. They read sacred texts, pray, meditate, contemplate the mysterious questions of life, and much more.

Depending who you ask, people will give your different definitions of spirituality. They will define spirituality in terms of expressing it as emotional, thinking/cognitive, or action/behavioural, and so any definition will include one or more emotions, beliefs or values, and spiritual practises.

For some, spirituality means feeling a sense of awe, wonder, or pleasant emotion when experiencing beauty, such as a mountain or water fall.

For others, spirituality means to transcend the “self” and experience the sacred. When we experience something spiritual, we move beyond “the sense of self,” and feel an expansion of consciousness. For instance, prayer, meditation, contemplating beauty, enable us beyond the self-focused ego.

For some, spirituality means embracing particular set of beliefs or a set of values. Many spiritual people believe in social justice, being kind and compassionate to others, helping those in need, ending the suffering of humanity. In the West, many spiritual people believe in God or the divine.

For many, spirituality is a journey. It is a yearning and searching for meaning and purpose in life. A desire to find answers to life that can seem to have only existential meaning. Many believe that we are born, we live, we suffer, we grow old, we die, and then there is nothing. Embracing spiritual beliefs and practises is a remedy for existential angst.

For most, spirituality means carrying out one or more spiritual practices, such as prayer, meditation, contemplation, reading of spiritual wisdom, living mindfully in the present moment, avoiding conflict and living in peace, observing the beauty in the ordinary, reading the sacred in life, becoming aware of the shadow, our alter ego, and coping with it.

Reading the Sacred in Everyday Life

How can we read the sacred in everyday life? The sacred is experienced through the senses. It comes to us as metaphor, symbol, story, personal experiences, anecdote, allegory, and more. To live a spiritual life, we must awaken to it. We awaken by becoming aware of our surroundings, living in the present moment, gazing through one of the following spiritual lens: Sacramentalism, Panentheism, divinization, inter-being.

Sacramentalism is the belief in the divine, which is expressed in objects, events, places, and people. It is also focusing on the sacramental objects and rites, such as baptism, marriage, confession, prayer, meditation, last rites, taking a pilgrimage. Each faith has its own objects and rites of Sacramentalism.

Panentheism is the belief that everything is God, and God is everything. In other words, the divine is within you, nature, animals, plants, the world, and the cosmos. We observe the world, discovering that some people tap into the spirit and embody the virtues of the sacred.

Divinization is the belief that we are all vessels of the “Holy Spirit.” In Christian theology, divinization means deification, making divine. It literally means to become more divine, more like God, or to embrace a divine nature—love kindness, goodness, peace, and so forth

Inter-being is a non-theist view that all of creation is interconnected. The environment, plants, animals, humanity, the cosmos—each is interdependent and interconnected.

We can use any of these perspectives to read the sacred in everyday life.

Obstacles to the Spiritual Life

What prevents us from living the spiritual life? There are many obstacles. Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat identify a few in their splendid book, Spiritual Literacy:

  • Busyness. Always distracted by responsibilities, work, and chores—not having spare time for spiritual reading or spiritual practise.
  • Mindlessness. Being lost in thought, perhaps worried about the future, or tormented by the past. When you are distracted from the present moment, you are unable to experience the sacred, such as beauty in the ordinary.
  • Cynicism. It is manifested in many ways, for instance, the belief that God does not exist. The view that spirituality is nonsense. The opinion that spiritual people are magical thinkers.
  • Complexity. Believing you must undertake many intricate, complex practises, extensive study, and experience an epiphany to become spiritual.
  • Superficiality. Those who lack spirituality “skim the surface,” and so they miss the truth of what lies beneath the weeds of human existence. They fail to see the sacred in the routines or ordinary. For instance, the call of a loon on a peaceful lake can missed or experienced as “the sacred.” It all depends on your values and beliefs.

Benefits of a Spiritual Life

We all are spiritual people, but first we must awaken by discovering how to meld ourselves with the spiritual. To become spiritual, we must make a conscious choice, and then we must inject spirituality into our daily lives. There are many benefits to living a spiritual life:

First and foremost, living a spiritual life gives you the gift of meaning and purpose. According to positive psychologist, Martin Seligman, meaning is one of the five elements of well-being.

Spiritual wisdom will provide you with answers to life’s mysteries, some of which haunt or generate existential angst, such as, why do I suffer? Why do others suffer? What is the meaning and purpose of life? Does God exist? How can I transcend my “self” and experience some higher power, the divine, God? What is the soul? What is the spirit? Is there an afterlife?

You will schedule time for those activities that make you feel spiritual, for instance, savouring beautiful sunset, walking through the woods, reading poetry, soaking up a piece of art work. These will calm you, give you peace of mind, and remove stress from your life.

Spirituality contributes to self-actualization, aiding you in becoming the best person you are capable of becoming. Examples include Ghandi, Buddha, Christ, Mother Teresa.

Spirituality helps you cope with pain and suffering, such as illness, tragedy, death. It provides you with hope for a better future.

Spirituality fills your soul with kindness and compassion, helping you build friendships rather than creating enemies.

Spirituality inspires you. It injects the spirit of creativity into your life. You are able to use spiritual experiences to create works of art, such as a poem, painting, photograph, or an uplifting piece of music.

Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way suggests that “spirituality can release blocks, lead you to ideas, and make your life artful. Sometimes when we pray for guidance, we’re guided in unexpected directions. We may want a lofty answer and we get the intuition to clean our bedroom. It can seem so humble and picky and that you don’t necessarily think of it spiritual guidance.”

Embracing spirituality provides you with a more optimistic view of the future, so you will feel happier in the present moment.

Spirituality supplies you with moral compass, which points you in the right direction. You become aware of what is right and wrong, inspiring you to live a moral life.

Anne Lamott, author of the marvelous book on writing, “Bird by Bird,” tells us that “writing and reading decrease our sense of isolation. They deepen and widen and expand our sense of life: they feed the soul. When writers make us shake our heads with the exactness of their prose and their truths, and even make us laugh about ourselves or life, our buoyancy is restored. We are given a shot at dancing with, or at least clapping along with, the absurdity of life, instead of being squashed by it over and over again. It’s like singing on a boat during a terrible storm at sea. You can’t stop the raging storm, but singing can change the hearts and spirits of the people who are together on that ship.”

Spiritual Practices

How can you learn to experience the sacred in everyday life? There are many spiritual practises you can incorporate into your life. In fact, the authors of the website “Spirituality and Practise” identify 43 different spiritual practises that will add meaning and purpose to your life, as well improve your well-being. Here are twelve easy to learn and powerful practises that will generate spirituality within you:

  1.  Live mindfully in the present moment, instead of being distracted by thoughts, worries, the future. To live mindfully, you must become aware of what is unfolding in the now. You can awaken by using your senses— seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, touching—living in the here and now.
  2.  Read spiritual wisdom. Perhaps the poetry of Mary Oliver or the tome Spiritual Literary by Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat. Read the bible. Study Buddhism. Learn from all religions. Contemplate the wisdom of the sages, like Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Buddha, Christ.
  3.  Make time for prayer, contemplation, or meditation. You will become aware and experience spirituality by embracing these practises.
  4. Spend time by yourself in solitude. Use this time to fill your “self” with the sacred, anything that evokes awe or wonder or a peaceful mental state. Perhaps you’ll take a walk in the woods, sit and meditate, read a spiritual book and then contemplate the wisdom, listen to uplifting music that is imbued with the spiritual.
  5.  Keep a spiritual journal. Journaling will calm and clear your mind, allow you to tap into your soul, reveal what is buried in unconsciousness. Write in it every day.
  6.  Observing the beauty in everyday life, such as the changing colour of autumn leaves or a Black Eyed Susan blooming in the garden.
  7. Live in peace. Peaceful people embody an inner state of calm and refuse to express violence toward others. They embrace peace and live a peaceful life. You can do the same. Show respect and dignity toward others. Believe in social justice, and fight for these causes. Resolve disputes amicably. Use physical force only as a last resort, when your life is threatened.
  8.  Be compassionate to others. Walk in another person’s shoes. Become sensitive to the suffering of others. When you notice someone experiencing hardship or misfortune, ask yourself: How do they feel? Assist others in reducing their pain and suffering. You might live compassionately by carrying out small acts of generosity, such as the simple deed of giving some homeless person your pocket change.
  9. Be kind to others. Treat them as you expect to be treated. Live by the Golden Rule. You be can kind in many ways: Showing patience and tolerance. Expressing compliments and giving praise. Sharing what you have with those who are in need.
  10.  Make time for silence. It is the inner sanctuary. It can be a place of rest and spiritual renewal. It will enable you to hear your soul speak.
  11.  Embrace reverence. Be respectful to all of humanity, nature, animals, environment. The alternative is to pollute, to be disrespectful to others, to be cruel to animals, to be wasteful of resources.
  12.  Express gratitude. Be thankful for all the blessings in your life, such as good health, savings in the bank, a roof over your head, food on the table.

“You do not need to work to become spiritual. You are spiritual; you need only to remember that fact. Spirit is within you. God is within you.” (Julia Cameron) Each of us has a spiritual hunger. When we nourish our need for spirituality, we become more creative and happier. We are able to experience peace of mind in times of pain and suffering. Our questions about the mysteries of life are answered. We live with meaning and purpose, which improves our well-being. First, decide to become spiritual, then embrace one or more spiritual practises you feel are important. Make spiritual practise part of your lifestyle.

Additional Reading

To learn more about becoming spiritual, read the following:
• Happiness: Unlocking the Mysteries of Psychological Wealth by Ed Diener and Robert Diener
• The How of Happiness: A New Approach to Getting the Life You Want by Sonja Lyubomirsky
• The Art of Flourishing by Jeffrey Rubin
• Website: http://www.spiritualityandpractice.com
• Spiritual Literacy: Reading the Sacred in Everyday Life by Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat
• Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life by Karen Armstrong
• A Religion of One’s Own by Thomas Moore
• The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle
• How to Wake Up by Toni Bernhard
• The Art of Happiness: A Handbook for Living by Dalai Lama
• Awakening to the Sacred: Creating a Personal Spiritual Life by Lama Surya Das

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About Dave Hood

Lover of poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction. Professional photographer and writer. Without the arts, life would be rather mundane, like a walk down the same old path on a dull day.
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