“We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.” --Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
What exactly is “spirituality”?
I use the term to refer to one’s relationship to the life source of the universe. What you choose to call this life source is not important. The potency and scope of it are omnipresent: this doesn’t warrant a single, perfect name. What is important is that you are aware of and connected to it. Cultivating your own spirituality involves strengthening and enhancing this relationship. It must be nurtured. It must be prioritized.
It’s inevitable that different cultures will have different names and ideas about this thing that many of us can inherently feel. This is okay. Contrary to what you may have been told, it’s not because one group was lucky enough to be privy to the Ultimate Truth. Rather, it is because there are billions of people with perspectives you don’t share. This is also okay. We run into trouble when people feel as if everyone must share their perspective(s).
To say that these powerful mindsets have caused some misunderstandings is a colossal understatement. Indeed, differences of spiritual opinion have been responsible for a great deal of the world’s atrocities. But whatever you choose to believe--and thankfully most of us live in a place where we get to choose--you must remember that it is always a choice. It follows, then, that any system of religious or spiritual thought is as valid as the next.
It doesn’t matter how many people subscribe to that system: it doesn’t make it more “right.”
That you have faith in a system is to be respected, but please do not claim to be a rational, analytical person and then have the audacity to purport to know the Truth. These are the seeds of an imperialistic mindset. You either believe something or you don’t, but you cannot tell people that you Know. This kind of overt paternalism is precisely what people are wary of in a global civilization with a surfeit of information at their fingertips.
I contend that we can improve in every aspect of our lives until our bodies and/or minds fail us. Why should your spiritual enlightenment be any different? You should strive to improve spiritually, just as you do in any other area of personal development. Additionally, I think that what we believe and why is something that needs to continue to evolve for the rest of our lives. Otherwise, it can become stagnant, intolerant, and quite possibly, dangerous.
I’ve included spirituality in Useful Things because I believe that spending time being mindful, aware, and connected have benefitted me immensely. I think they will benefit you, too.
Practice meditation daily.
The hardest thing to do is to start meditating. Once you get going a few times and actually notice the benefits, it will be easy to stick to. It might even become an obsession. As far as things to obsess over, this is fairly benign.
I was advised to start with 5 minutes a day. EVERYONE has five minutes a day to devote to themselves. Sit still for five minutes a day, close your eyes, and pay attention to your breathing. Pay attention to your thoughts. Observe the different voices at work in your mind, and heed the fact that they may not always be steering you in the right direction.
I generally meditate for thirty minutes at a time now, generally once per day. Sometimes it’s longer, rarely less, but I’m sure it’s a highly individual thing. My greatest breakthroughs come in the 15-20 minute range (so far), so I like to be deep in my meditation for at least that long.
You might notice old memories popping up that you haven’t recalled in years; you might be inspired to create something you would normally never do. The point is, if you give yourself this gift, you will discover much more to you than you know or remember. You will also notice that life outside of the meditative state is enhanced as your practice evolves.
Pay attention to the natural world at least once per day.
It’s part of being human to start taking for granted all of those things that we once gushed over. The newness wears off and your mind moves on to other things. But the outline of the world is always changing, so give it a look, every day. This will bring you back to your place within it, and you will start to see things you’ve never seen before, or be reminded of what you used to marvel at.
This is what being mindful is all about. Take five minutes and be at peace in your environment. Give clarity a chance to settle around you. Allow yourself to grow aware of the connections.
I saw some dew on a perfectly shaped spider web last year that blew my mind. I was so thrilled at finding it that I spent the rest to the day telling people about it. Our planet is host to such amazing creatures and chemical reactions and by the time we are adults we are highly skilled at ignoring it all. This is particularly the case if we happen to live in urban areas. Start to give Outside the attention it deserves, and watch a part of you awaken.
Pray for positive things for yourself and others.
It doesn’t matter how you pray. You don’t need to frame it in any plodding incantation in order to make it more powerful. Prayer is emotive intention. Your goal is to concentrate your intent in such a way that you are sending it out into the universe. Do it in a positive way, and often, in order to stay on your path.
It also doesn’t matter to whom or what you pray. Again, you are disseminating your consciousness into the world. I’ve come to believe that tenacity, in all of it’s various forms, is rewarded with results. Your constant intentions conveyed into the fabric of reality will bend the universe to your will. You just have to accept that it probably won’t be in the way that you imagined.
I had my passport and all of my personal effects stolen en route to Argentina one year, while traveling with my girlfriend. The following 36 hours were extremely stressful, difficult, and the obstacles seemed insurmountable. We got to Buenos Aires one day later than anticipated, complete with a new passport for me. It was less traditional “praying” and more asserting my will to make it all work out. And it did.
Never discount the power of your intentions.
Study all of the world’s religions and recognize the similarities and differences.
I am amazed at people that find one belief system fallacious yet completely accept another. Human beings that believe in deities or live their lives according to old texts are on equal footing--it doesn’t matter if it’s Greek gods or Islam.
Beliefs come from things you were told or read, particularly if they’re silhouetted against the backdrop of a system (Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Christianity, etc). No one should tell you they have it all figured out. But if they do, you are smart enough to realize only a charlatan would try to convince you of that.
That being said, I think there is something useful in just about every organized religious belief system out there. Whether they are suggestions (even if they come across as rules) for what to eat, how to treat people, or what to aspire to, you can learn something positive. Keep this in mind when sorting through hopelessly archaic and oppressive material.
It bears repeating that your spiritual and religious predilections should evolve with your experience and time on the Earth. For example, you will encounter things in meditation that you simply cannot by attending mass. Alternatively, you will experience powerful energies at Baptist church services in the South that are unparalleled anywhere else. Give them all credence, and choose your own path.
Be aware of Fear and its effect on the planet and its people.
Frank Herbert said it best: “Fear is the Mind-Killer.” It prevents us from doing what we love, saying what we think, becoming who we are. Fear comes in too many forms to list here, but suffice it to say that if you have any regrets about anything, Fear and your inability to overcome it were probably partly responsible.
Sometimes it helps to try to stand back from the situation and merely observe your fear. Try to figure out why you are afraid. Is it something you can change, or work at? Is it something that you can eventually overcome, or will you let it hinder your progress forever? If you want your spiritual development to be speeded up in any way, learn to manage your fear in the same way that you manage your expectations.
I battle fear on a regular basis. Whether it’s knowing juvenile Great Whites hang out where I surf, having to audition for roles against more experienced actors, or just questioning my self-worth, I am constantly struggling against that which could overwhelm me. I then acquiesce to my fears, and do my very best to face and conquer them. It doesn’t always work, but I have found this to be the most effective way to at least begin to address this type of challenge.
Acknowledge amazing moments and circumstances.
It happens regularly. You don’t have to call them miracles or signs of something greater at work. But you should certainly enjoy the complexities of the way the world weaves moments together in inexplicably impressive ways.
When you’ve been around for a while you start to notice that things “line up,” so to speak. The power of these moments is capable of bringing about major life changes. I first got really excited about this when I decided to pursue acting full time in the fall of 2010.
Around this time I read The Alchemist, by Paolo Coelho, and found myself nodding my head at the consistent similarities in the text. (This is required reading if you feel the power of the universe in any appreciable way.) It was a very inspiring time creatively, and this book seemed to encourage my artistic aspirations and endeavors. It ultimately helped pave the way for my eventual move to Los Angeles two years later.
There is so much noise in the world. You are being bombarded daily by sensory and emotional pollution that doesn’t serve you. The universe communicates by demonstrating the interconnectedness of everything. It doesn’t always speak louder than the rest of life, so make sure that you are listening.
Strive to be impeccable in your daily interactions in the world.
Stop lying to yourself and others. Do things well. Let your sincerity shine brighter than anything that you try to convey. Be the best version of you that you can be. The rest will take care of itself.
I spent many years in half-hearted pursuit of a dream to play music professionally while working as a personal trainer. I was following what Steven Pressfield calls “shadow careers” in his book, Turning Pro. I wanted the thrill of performance, but I wasn’t ready to commit entirely to one discipline yet. As a result, I spent my days advising people on how to live clean, get strong, and stay healthy; I spent my nights rehearsing with various bands and drinking and smoking myself into oblivion.
When you focus on doing things really well, when you stop half-assing your daily tasks and start doing everything from washing the dishes to writing your thesis to the best of your abilities, everything else around you will improve. Get good at everything. Then, strive to get better.
Treat yourself to a cleansing juice fast for a few days.
I was turned on to this by the great documentary, Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead. I was in very good shape already, but I lost eleven pounds in five days, and I felt fantastic. There is something completely awesome about the way you experience the world around you after loading your body full of the enzymes and nutrients of fresh vegetables and fruits for a few days. It’s nice to give your body a break from all of the things you put into it, which may include (short list): prescription drugs, caffeine, alcohol, cannabis, excessive sugars, tobacco, amphetamines, wheat, supplements, and dairy, among others.
You will notice that you begin to look different. Your skin will take on a “glow,” and people will comment on this and ask you what you are doing. You will feel light, and energetic, and you will want everyone to understand, so you might talk their ear off about juicing. That’s what I did. Also, the first day without caffeine was absolutely brutal for me: far worse than anything I ever felt when I quit smoking cigarettes. This was indicative of how much coffee I was consuming and how physically dependent I was on it. So I changed.
I recommend at least three days at a time, because that was where I, and many others started to really feel the effects. Going longer may or may not be for you. However, I have yet to hear of the individual who does mostly vegetable juice for at least five days that isn’t completely overwhelmed and thrilled with the experience. Do it a few times a year, just to dry out and experience those physiological changes.
Alternatively, I recommend a water-only fast. You can read about my 5-day water fast results here.
Avoid hurting people.
This seems so easy to avoid, but is truly difficult. It goes way beyond physically hurting people (although you should definitely avoid that, unless it’s your job). Emotional injury is worse. When you offer a critique, think about how fragile you are. Try to remember that discouraging art, creativity, and effort, is extremely damaging. We’ll believe anything, us humans. It is both a blessing and a curse.
There are certain types of people that love to be right. I’m one of them. We act like we’re blessing the earth with our judicious opinions, often publicly crushing the confidence of those we seek to educate. We should stop this silly shit. It doesn’t win us anything (except on Jeopardy), it’s often polarizing, and generally says more about us than the point we’re trying to make.
There’s enough bad news going on in the world these days, so be nice. You’re probably way more fun to be around when you are. I’ll do the same, and hopefully we’ll be able to leave the world better than we found it.
Record spiritual breakthroughs and circumstances surrounding them.
When you have incredible meditations or feelings of connectedness, you should document what’s going on in your life to revisit those breakthroughs when you slip out of that progress. It is in our nature to be dynamic with our emotions, attitudes, and general sense of well-being. This is something that needs to be accepted. However, when you happen upon a rough spot, it’s nice to know that you can recreate the conditions that existed when it all seemed so effortless.
Write down how much you sleep, what you eat, what you’re working on, how you exercise, and any other factors that you feel are capable of influencing your spiritual evolution. It’s great to have a map to find your way back when you inevitably get lost.
Float in a sensory deprivation chamber.
This is a wonderfully useful thing. You will be in utter darkness in an Epsom salts bath with a greater salinity than the oceans. This will allow you to float easier and give much- needed relief to your muscles, fascia, and bones. Soon you will be enveloped in stillness, and have the capacity to focus on whatever you need to.
This is often called the “lazy person’s meditation” because you are able to reap many of the same benefits as someone who makes a practice of meditating. If you aren’t able to get your daily practice in, you could probably schedule a float in lieu of a massage once a week. The benefits will be palpable and extensive.
I had my first float at Float Lab in Venice, Ca. I remember wondering if I would experience any anxiety, whether the duration of time in the small chamber would create any claustrophobic preoccupation. I was pleasantly surprised to splash around like Gollum at the roots of the Misty Mountains, unconcerned with the material world. I don’t think there’s a decent substitute for that in a completely sober and mentally alert arena. Give it a shot and find out what’s in your head.
This piece was originally published in the book Useful Things.