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How to be spiritual without being religious…

In today's fast-paced and often chaotic world, the pursuit of mental well-being has never been more crucial. While many approaches to mental health focus on medication and therapy, it's essential to recognize the role that spirituality can play in promoting emotional and psychological balance. It’s important to note that when I discuss spirituality in this context, I’m not referring to a specific religious doctrine or dogma but rather to the profound and personal connection to something greater than ourselves. I meet many people who don’t resonate with how we do spirituality in the west. They are left wondering how to live a spiritual life if they don’t go to church or don’t want to subscribe to the ideas that western religion offers. Spirituality requires no believe in something someone else says is the truth! It can be personal and something that feels right for you, in your own unique way.

Defining Spirituality: An Ambiguous Journey

Spirituality, much like the concept of God, is an inherently ambiguous term. It means different things to different people and encompasses a wide range of beliefs and experiences. But don’t let that put you off. In the context of mental health, I believe spirituality refers to the practice of connecting to something beyond our immediate, ego-driven concerns. It's about finding one's unique structure of belief about life, its purpose and your place within that. This personal connection to a larger whole can provide a sense of meaning which is often crucial for maintaining good mental health. We need to feel connected as humans for our bodies to relax and feel safe and uniting with something bigger our selves can provide this. This connection can help put our everyday struggles into a different context, making them easier to manage.

Meditation and Expanding Consciousness

One of the most accessible ways to delve into spirituality is through meditation. On a basic level, meditation is about finding stillness and embracing it. Our lives can be frantic, overwhelming and stressful which over stimulates the sympathetic nervous system making it very difficult to truly relax. Some people live in a constant state of “fight or flight”, never really exiting that state which in the long term can be damaging to our bodies as well as our mental health. Our brains need time to integrate what we have learnt and without mental space in the day this becomes very difficult to do. We are not meant to live this way and in my work as a counsellor I believe that it is responsible for many of the cases of anxiety and depression I see. Meditation enables us to access a state of consciousness that transcends our everyday thoughts and concerns as well as helping us to slow down. In various eastern spiritual traditions such as yoga, Taoism, and Buddhism, this heightened state of awareness is often described as a state of transcendence or enlightenment.

In yoga, the term "Samadhi" refers to the highest state of consciousness, where the individual self merges with the universal consciousness. In Taoism, the concept of "wu wei" involves living in harmony with the natural order of the universe, transcending the ego's control over us. While I’m not suggesting that these concepts are the only way to explore spirituality, both point to the possibility of learning to identify the thought and concept-based version of who you “think” you are, and that it is indeed possible to learn to witness this from a higher state of awareness. I recommend reading “The Power of Now” by Eckhart Tolle for more information on this, a book that I can truly say changed my life.    

A life of devotion and self-awareness

Spiritual practice can also be about developing more discipline in our day to day lives. If we stay in control of our selves by being measured and aware of our fleeting wishes, we can make better choices and live more healthily. By paying close attention to the choices we make, the desires we have or even thoughts about us or other people, we can develop much better self-awareness which leads to knowing our true self more deeply. I believe that fostering self-awareness can be a spiritual practice in and of itself.

Whilst not an exhaustive list, discipline can be found in:

·         The food we eat.

·         The amount of TV we allow ourselves to watch.

·         The way we speak to others.

·         The way we speak to ourselves.

·         The types of thoughts we have.

·         How much exercise we do.

·         The people we surround ourselves with.

Most of the things we expose ourselves to in life are a choice, even if they don’t always feel like they are. I’m going to say that again: Most of the things we expose ourselves to in life are a choice, even if they don’t always feel like they are!

Nature's Healing Power

Another vital aspect of spirituality for mental health is the recognition of our inherent connection to the natural world. We are not separate from nature; we are a part of it. The healing power of nature has been well-documented, and it's no coincidence that many people find solace and peace in natural settings.

Whether it's a walk in the woods, the sound of ocean waves, or the scent of fresh flowers, nature has a profound effect on our mental and emotional well-being.

When we remember that we are nature, we can develop a deeper appreciation for our environment and a greater sense of responsibility for its preservation. This connection can provide a source of meaning and purpose in our lives, contributing to our overall mental health. The planet, the solar system, the universe are so profound and miraculous and are all nature. We are made from stardust, our place in this system is important and you could say that humans are an example of the universe becoming self-aware. I think that’s pretty amazing, and helps me to feel humbled by this awe-inspiring reality we find ourselves in.

In a world that sometimes seems intent on self-destruction, embracing spirituality can be a powerful antidote. By connecting to something greater than ourselves, exploring our individual beliefs about life and purpose, meditating to expand our consciousness, and recognizing our connection to nature, we can find a sense of peace, purpose, and balance. This form of spirituality is not about dogma or rigid rules; it's about living a spiritually fulfilling life that supports our mental health and helps us navigate the challenges of our complex world. What ever you choose to believe is up to you.

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