There was a time, not so long ago, where most families headed off to a church, temple, mosque or shul regularly every week. Many of us count some sort of religious practice as a large part of our childhoods, but that doesn’t mean we necessarily continue that practice into adulthood.
The religious landscape has shifted in recent years. For example, there’s been a rise in movements like new atheism – a group of very public, very vocal atheists who strongly oppose religion and the raising of children under religious instruction. And there also appears to be a growing move towards spirituality and away from formal religion.
Of course, many good people still practise their religions, and find a great deal of solace in their beliefs and rituals. Spirituality, however, is a broader concept – it aims to help you find a deeper connection with other living things around you, and concentrates more on life here and now. While religion is a specific set of organised beliefs and practices, usually shared by a community or group, spirituality is more of an individual practice and has to do with having a sense of peace and purpose rather than being tied to a specific deity or dogma.
Finding your purposeSo, how do you set about finding purpose, assuming you feel as if you don’t have one? And peace? Is it possible to find peace in a world gone mad?
Well, purpose gives us somewhere to aim. It gives us a reason to get out of bed in the morning, and keep putting one foot in front of the other when the boss is having a bad day or our teenagers are acting out.
Ask yourself: who do I want to be? What legacy do I want to leave behind? How do I want to make an impact on those I come into contact with? What lights a fire inside of me when I think about it? Those kinds of questions will help you to define your passion and purpose. It’s a great starting point for building a life you can feel proud of. Once you do that, you can start to live consciously, mindfully, instead of just lurching from one crisis to another.
When you pursue purpose, it begins to give your life both direction and meaning. And this will be different for every person. Maybe you will find purpose in volunteering your time at a children’s home, old age home, or an animal shelter. Perhaps you could mentor someone, or act as a big brother or sister to someone who needs a helping hand. Maybe your purpose is to be found in your job. But it pays to take some time to think about what really puts a light in your eyes, and then find a way to do that in some small way.
Simple spiritual practicesPursuing what you feel is your purpose is the beginning of instilling a sense of peace in your life. But there are also some spiritual practices you can adopt to help keep your mind calm and at rest. The easiest one of these is mindfulness meditation, which has been shown scientifically to have very positive effects on the brain from changes in grey matter volume to reduced activity in the “me” centres [the default mode network (DMN), the brain network responsible for mind-wandering and self-referential thoughts] of the brain to enhanced connectivity between brain regions. Studies have also shown that meditation helps to relieve our subjective levels of anxiety and depression, and improves attention, concentration, and overall psychological well-being.
This is a very simple type of meditation to implement. Simply sit somewhere comfortable, where you won’t be interrupted, and close your eyes. Focus on your breath wherever you notice it – perhaps at the edge of your nostrils, or perhaps as it fills your chest. All you do is pay attention to your breathing – notice it. And as soon as your mind wanders, gently bring it back to observing your own breathing. Just 10 minutes a day can make a huge different to your state of mind, and help you to find a greater sense of peace.
Another simple spiritual practice to adopt is journaling. Taking the time to write down your thoughts and feelings in a stream-of-consciousness, unedited way first thing in the morning can help to centre you.
Taking up activities like yoga, Tai Chi and Qigong are movement-based spiritual practices that can bring you into the present and help to calm you and instil a sense of peace.
Finally, the way you treat others and connect with them can make an enormous difference to your inner peace, and for that you need only to adopt the simplest spiritual practice of all: the ‘religion’ espoused by the Dalai Lama. He’s said it several times, in different ways, but the message is the same: “My religion is very simple. My religion is kindness.”
Embracing your very own form of spirituality, finding your purpose and a sense of inner peace in whatever way works for you will not only help you ease your relationships with those around you, but will also help you to respond to life’s trials with increased grace and resilience.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of 1Life or its employees.