Spirituality For Beginners: Healing The Mind And Body
What do you think of when you hear “Spirituality For Beginners”? If you were raised religious, particularly under Christianity, you may mistrust the word spiritual. Taking a step back from your beliefs for a moment, consider the word and open your mind to the endless possibilities that can be found in it. Many of us (millennials) are searching for purpose and peace. We want to ensure that we are living our healthiest and most fulfilled lives. But have you considered that what you might have been looking for has been under your nose this entire time?
I know this sounds like an infomercial for some new age religious group, but that’s really the nature of things that have been religiously-affiliated over the years (there is a difference). As society and research progresses and improves upon the knowledge that we have, the balance of science, psychology, and spirituality has continued to show that there are benefits in considering a life that involves some level of spiritual commitment.
What Is Spirituality?
For me, it was taught that you question and avoid things that were or seemed to be entrenched in spirituality. I say this not to spark a religious debate, but to point out that we’ve always been taught that there is a difference between religion and spirituality. The line is very thin. Most of the spiritual practices today are borne by major religions. For example, Buddhism has significant connections to Hinduism.
For every religion, the spiritual practices developed were in direct rebellion against it, but its guidelines will follow the doctrines of the original religion. As such, they both get confused frequently. Thus, a person can be both religious and spiritual or, religious or spiritual only. Spirituality focuses on a direct experience with developing one’s higher consciousness, while religion is built on a set of beliefs, practices, and guidelines that an individual follows in order to live what they believe to be the best life.
Spirituality is difficult to define because it is one of those things that means something different to everyone. If you asked a random Jamaican on the street what it meant, they may tell you that it had something to do with Obeah or Vodou (the former may be spiritually entrenched or involve mysticism but does not have the distinguishing characteristics of spirituality; the latter is, in fact, a religion—thank you Kristina for explaining).
The definitions of spirituality all mention some similar characteristics like belonging to the universe, belief in a higher power, seeking ultimate truths of life and human purpose, having a relationship between self and the divine, as well as encountering limitless love and moving towards personal wholeness.
Spirituality For Beginners: What Spirituality Means For Mental Wellness
Since I’ve managed to bore you to death with the terminology of it all, Let’s get down to business. The demarcation between spirituality and religion is not the only hurdle we have to overcome. We are faced with finding the right balance between Spirituality, Psychology, and Science. The early centuries found themselves deeply entrenched in religion and its importance in maintaining the health and wellness of human beings.
As time progressed, however, and science became a staple (and solely dedicated to refuting the existence of any higher being apart of our existence), religion and its offsprings were shunned. Similarly, as psychology developed, it shunned the idea of any supernatural control over the science of the mind. Since this period, more research has been conducted to delve into just how much a spiritual or a religious focus can help a suffering mind. Like all things balance must be found between the three – science, psychology, and spirituality.
Since spirituality involves a search for meaning, purpose, and hope as it relates to a sacred entity, it is believed that these practices and commitment to the values found within spirituality may actually have a significant impact on a patient’s condition, emotions, and behavior. Practicing actively in spirituality may influence someone with a mental illness to adopt healthy coping mechanisms; increasing their ability to deal with stress, loss, and illness, also allowing them better thought-patterns in order to make positive decisions.
Spirituality specifically focuses on developing these habits in order to get closer to the/a higher power, whether an external one or an internal one. Spiritually claims to aid in not only refocusing the mind in order to live better for ourselves but for the individuals around us.
Spirituality achieves this repurposing and refocusing in several ways. The main ways in which it allows for these changes include:
Being focused on developing a person’s sense of self gives power to the belief that the power of change ultimately lies in high self-esteem. Also, being able to recognize that the connection to a higher purpose and progress in it foremostly benefits us, the individual. It also accepts individuals regardless of their other belief systems (all-inclusive). It allows for a mixing of practices and does not discriminate.
Involves meditation and self-reflection. It encourages developing a life philosophy, whether it is to help others, focusing on art, or exploring nature. It also promotes self-expression via art, religion, poetry or writing, among other means. Mindfulness allows for a deeper focus on where we all fall on the spectrum of life. It allows for a better appreciation of our surroundings and how we interact with our physical spaces.
Spirituality For Beginners: Benefits of Practicing Spirituality
Do I still sound like an infomercial that is trying to sell you the latest must-have gadget? Probably. But my main intention is to point out that while some of us (millennials) may be turning our focus away from traditional ways of religion, our mental illnesses may benefit from some structure, and spirituality for beginners might be a way to find that. Everything in life has its shortcomings or pitfalls, but ultimately we can’t turn our backs on trying something new because of skepticism and doubt.
2018 has seen an increase in the number of individuals who participate in different types of spiritual practices. While many of the practices have been around for ages, a widespread renewed interest in them seems to have come at a time where mental health and wellness has become a top priority. I have attested to the use of two already to aid with my anxiety; Mindful Meditation and Yoga. Other practices include Prayer, Breath and Energy Work, Somatic Techniques, Chanting, and Asceticism.
Meditation: is an exercise to control your attention. While there is still no quantitative proof of how exactly it helps with mental illnesses, like anxiety, there has been documentation of people faring better by practicing some types of meditation. There are three main types of meditation: focused attention, open monitoring, and pure awareness. Meditation is key in many spiritual traditions from India, such as Buddhism, Yoga, Tantra, and Jainism.
Prayer: is typically likened to religious practices but can be adopted for spiritual practice as well. In energy work, you may be encouraged to script your prayers in order to manifest your needs. It is considered pure communion with the divine.
Breath And Energy Work: is the movement of the body by way of breathing and paying special attention to how it moves through our body. It is typically done with the aid of visualization and mantras. Energy work is used to purify, heal, calm, and energize the spirit and soul. Energy work utilizes different tools, like crystals, incense, and sage in order to invite positive energies and dispel negative ones.
Somatic Techniques: are used in conjunction with breath-work because it focuses on the posture and movement of the body in order to develop better health and enable free energy flow. Yoga typically fits here, as well as Buddhist mudras and exercises from tantric schools.
Chanting: can be used in tandem with prayer or focusing the mind for meditation. It is also used to memorize texts instead of just reading them. Chanting also develops feelings of surrender in some.
Asceticism: is focused on periods of intense self-discipline and allows no self-indulgence. It includes activities like fasting, intensive retreats, and vows of silence. It is thought to be periods of spiritual cleansing. It develops willpower, self-control, and a sense of peace and contentment.
The physical act of these activities is to enable us to develop Qualities of Mind or Heart. These include virtues like tranquility, equanimity, humility, detachment, loving-kindness, compassion, trust devotion, discipline, courage, mindfulness, concentration, truthfulness, morality, discernment, and energy.
These qualities are maintained and developed further through reflection and study. By being mindful of them in our daily activities and choices we can see improvements in our overall demeanor.
I personally am not of the belief that spirituality by itself can work to completely cure physical and mental ailments for all persons. Some people will be able to keep up the drive and consistency spirituality works need in order to become common practice. Others fare better from a physical or scientific approach. Modern researchers are inclined to believe that a balanced approach may even be best for some individuals. More studies are being conducted today so we can make more informed decisions on what would be best.
The truth is, many of us need the idea of divine power to give us hope that one day our situation will become more manageable, or better yet, resolve itself. It has been unfortunate that some of us still mistrust things of these nature because of zealots who use them to belittle our mental health experiences and link our suffering to not practicing “the right way”.
We must remember to allow each other to find our footing in our own beliefs and morality where necessary, without judgment for what works best for our individual minds. We should strive to remember that while we may find like-minded individuals, it does not mean that their practices and treatments will work for us as well. Trial and error is an important aspect of life.
Even though something doesn’t work or does work at first, we shouldn’t automatically write off other activities as inaccurate and inept to deal with our problems, rather we should always seek to learn more and find new ways of coping. Being receptive to activities and treatments is what will see us through in most cases.
The world is still learning, and every day new developments are made in the world of science and spirituality/religion. We should allow the changes to happen freely and intentionally. Even if we are met with discourages and negative opinions. Never let fear or doubt decide whether or not you are going to try something new.
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