What is spirituality?
This is not an easy question to answer, since spirituality deals with aspects of human life that are at once intensely personal and difficult to describe. But to provide a very basic definition, spirituality refers how each of us perceives our relationship with the wider world. This includes how we interpret the meaning and purpose of our lives, and our personal understanding of and interaction with universal aspects of life that can be perceived only through inner reflection, rather than through our physical senses (sight, hearing, smell, touch, taste).
Is being spiritual the same thing as being religious?
For some people, but not for all, developing a sense of spirituality does involve connecting with a specific religious belief or practice. But you do not need to identify with a specific religious denomination or set of beliefs to look for and find a larger spiritual meaning in life. Spirituality is the recognition that something beyond ourselves influences us and the world around us. While some people associate that “something” with the notion of a deity or god, others simply acknowledge the presence of some form of “higher power” in the universe.
What does spirituality have to do with taking care of myself?
Research suggests that cultivating some sense of spirituality can help people build their own sense of identity, meaning and purpose, find more significance in relationships, handle adversity, and experience life more fully. Studies have also indicated that having a sense of meaning or purpose in one’s life (even while struggling to understand exactly what that meaning is), is associated with better mental health.
Developing a spiritual practice
Spiritual development is a lifelong process that is unique and personal to every individual. At times difficult, at times joyful, this process occurs to some extent within almost everyone, regardless of their specific beliefs, whenever they pause to consider the meaning of life and their place in the world.
If you are interested in developing your own sense of spirituality and/or your own individual spiritual practice, you might consider pursuing one or more of the following:
Study – There are countless books and websites devoted to spirituality in its many forms. Although specific recommendations are beyond the scope of this website, you might want to visit your local library or bookstore to look for resources that might help you explore your own path of spirituality.
Meditation - For centuries, people of all different beliefs have practiced meditation as a strategy for connecting with their own sense of spirituality, and disconnecting from the physical stimuli and the pulls and demands of everyday life. Research indicates that meditation can be helpful in reducing stress, speeding recovery, increasing the quality of life, and, in some instances, reducing pain.
Meditation can be divided into two different approaches:
- During concentration meditation, an individual focuses attention on a single object, and continues to return the focus back to that object, even when his/her mind wanders. The object can be almost anything that doesn’t trigger the mind to change focus. Focusing on a specific object creates a neutral point upon which to center one’s energy and attention. People often use a mantra, which is a simple word or phrase repeated over and over again, a visual object, or even the breath. Concentration meditation appears to be a most helpful approach for achieving relaxation, which in turn can reduce stress.
- Mindfulness meditation focuses a person’s attention on the present moment. When we allow ourselves to be truly aware of the moment, we pay attention to physical sensations, sounds, thoughts, and feelings without attaching judgment to them. As is the case with concentration meditation, a person’s mind will tend to wander. When that happens, the goal is to recognize it and bring the mind back to the present moment. Mindfulness meditation has been associated with reduced stress, increased quality of life, reduced pain and faster recovery from injury or illness. To learn more about how to practice mindfulness meditation, visit mindfulness.
Prayer is often used to cultivate a stronger spiritual/religious connection, ask for guidance to cope with difficult life events, seek forgiveness or help in forgiving others, or express a sense of gratitude. There are many resources for learning more about prayer. Books, websites and information provided by specific religious organizations can all be helpful in understanding more about how others have benefitted from prayer, and how you might incorporate prayer into your own life.
Many people find comfort, strength and guidance on their spiritual path by sharing with others. The most familiar examples of spiritual community are religious organizations, or congregations, which are organized around a specific set of beliefs. If you think you might benefit from connecting with a specific spiritual or religious community, you might want to explore the possibilities in your area. Think about your specific beliefs, and what you are hoping to gain from the experience, and find out more about the beliefs and practices of nearby groups. Many people tend to make these decisions based on the religion or spiritual practice they experienced while growing up. It’s important to remember that, as an adult, your views may have changed and you may want to explore a broader range of options.
Regardless of your specific beliefs, cultivating a sense of spirituality is one more tool you might want to consider adding to your self-care toolkit. Undertaking your own personal spiritual journey may provide you with an additional source of strength and insight as you recover from depression.