Developing your own spiritual practice

If asked if we follow a particular religion, many of us would say “I’m spiritual, not religious.” But can we claim we’re as spiritual in our lives as we want to be? In truth, we’re all very preoccupied — with our jobs, our families and the hundreds of distractions that fill the modern world. So how can ordinary people, who just can’t run off to the monastery, develop our own particular connection to spirit?

First off, what is spirituality? There are many definitions, but in general it is the personal connection to a non-material dimension of life called variously God, the Divine, the Soul, the Sacred, Presence or Consciousness. People experience this realm in different ways, but the challenge is how to make this relationship an ongoing part of our lives.

Regular spiritual practice can help us cultivate the sacred in our life. But there is no one-size-fits-all program that works for everyone. “Practice” can refer to a wide range of activities — not just the traditional sitting on a meditation cushion or twisted in an intricate yoga pose. Which discipline to adopt is about what works for you, your personality and your circumstances.

Here are some suggestions for cobbling together your unique set of spiritual practices:

  • Be mindful. Meditation is just a fancy name for mindfulness, the practice of being fully aware of what you’re doing, thinking and feeling. It can be done anywhere at any time: while eating, walking, standing in line, doing chores or just sitting.
  • Establish your own daily ritual. It may be as simple as five minutes of mindful breathing and stretching, the repetition of affirmations, a chanting practice, or the slow enjoyment of a cup of tea.
  • Spend time in nature. It’s as easy as a walk in a park. Nothing is better for tuning into the silent presence that resides outside and inside of ourselves.
  • Express gratitude. Recognizing and appreciating the many blessings of life (large and small) is a great way to change your outlook for the better. Gratitude naturally increases empathy and compassion for yourself and others.
  • Seek out like-minded people. Find a community where spirituality is a priority, perhaps a meditation circle, yoga studio or study group.
  • Read uplifting, spiritual books. We’re blessed to live in a time when so many ancient and contemporary wisdom texts are available to us. Pick one that most speaks to you!
  • Keep a journal. Recording your deeper thoughts and feelings will help you open to greater insights along the the spiritual path.
  • Stop and breathe. Take a quick “spiritual break” throughout the day by becoming aware of your breathing. For a few minutes notice the rise and fall of your chest and belly, the flow of air in and out of your nose. The racing thoughts in your mind will naturally slow down.

You don’t have to adopt all these suggestions, just try a few to get started. And you don’t have to beat yourself up if something doesn’t work. Just try something else. The main point is to commit to a regular practice that works for you, even it’s for only 5-10 minutes a day.

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