Are you “spiritual-but-not-religious”? You’re in good company, as it’s now the fastest growing “religious” affiliation in the US. I recently came across a great definition of what being a member of this group means, via the Rev. Jody McDevitt of First Presbyterian Church in Bozeman, Montana:
They may have had negative experiences with religious rules, rituals, or hypocrisy. They may sense sacred presence in nature and in human relationships. They may even pray regularly, outside the bounds of a religious community. They acknowledge a dimension of life which is beyond a material, earthly experience—a spiritual dimension—but choose to seek connection with that dimension on their own terms.
Yet, to be an official card-carrying member of the Church of Spiritual-But-Not-Religious, I believe you can’t just talk the talk, you’ve got to walk the walk. This means engaging in some form of a regular practice, one that taps into and nurtures the “spiritual dimension” you feel within you.
Your spiritual practice can be a simple one.
I recently heard an interview with Oprah who was asked about her spiritual practice. Her response: “I wake up each morning and give thanks.” She gives thanks for the birds chirping outside her window and all the other good things in her life, before moving on to her day.
One of my favorite spiritual authors is Mirabai Starr who discusses the need for a regular practice in her new book Wild Mercy: Living the Fierce and Tender Wisdom of the Women Mystics. Mirabai has an expansive view of what it means to be a spiritual practitioner, as this passage indicates:
It doesn’t hurt to engage in some kind of disciplined practice, such as meditation or prayer. Silent sitting becomes a magic carpet that rescues us from identifying with every neurotic thought that pops into our minds and every emotional distraction that threatens to abduct us. When we purposely build periods of reverence or stillness into our days, we practice gazing through the eyes of love, and we get better and better at seeing love everywhere we look. Your practice may take the shape of twenty minutes a day on a cushion or aimless solitary walks on the beach. It can look like kneeling in a church or a mosque or simply like following the flow of one breath to the next with your full attention.
In his classic book A Religion of One’s Own, Thomas Moore recommends that we take the idea of spiritual practice a step further and schedule our days like those of a monk. This means setting specific, simple tasks to accomplish, not just in the morning, but throughout the day. This both grounds us and reminds us that there is more to life than our daily chores or job. Moore advises us:
Instead of just letting your days unfold spontaneously or being at the mercy of an inflexible busy schedule with family and work, you might set up a few regular activities, like meditation before breakfast, listening to music before lunch, being quiet after 10 p.m., eating simply in the morning and taking a quiet walk afterward.
On his podcast, the author Tim Ferriss (The Four-Hour Work Week) has stressed just how important it can be to establish a regimented routine, especially in the morning. He believes that with regular practice, it can help you get each day off to a fresh, clear-minded start. It better prepares you for the challenges and opportunities that may come your way.
Ferriss has found that if he can do five specific activities each morning, he can practically guarantee he’ll have a great day. While his list is not entirely spiritual in nature, I think the intentions he sets are right on. Here’s his list, with my notes in italics:
- Make your bed. It may sound silly, but it sets the tone for the day.This small accomplishment can lead to bigger ones.
- Meditate. For 20 minutes each morning. He recommends the Headspace app. It can be a big help if you’re having trouble focusing. You might also check out the Sam Harris meditation app.
- Hang upside down using an inversion table. Not for me, but there is lots of evidence that that it cures back pain and helps fight stress.
- Enjoy a cup of good, brewed tea. I prefer coffee fan and start each morning with a hot cup in quiet contemplation. There’s nothing like sitting in a comfortable chair, when the house is still dark and quiet, and enjoying those first few sips.
- Write in a journal, including making a “to do” list. On his list, Tim includes all the people he needs to give thanks to that day. You might also consider journaling at night to prepare for the coming day.
I’ve also created my own “list of 5,” activities I try to do each day as part of my regular morning routine. When I take the time to engage in this practice, instead of rushing headfirst into the day, I find I’m more relaxed and better able to handle any strife or challenges that come my way. My list:
- Stretch. I’ve found that as I get older, my body is stiffer in the morning. That’s why the first thing I do upon awakening is hit the floor and stretch my back, arms and legs.
- Meditate/Prayer of Gratitude. The benefits of meditation are well-known, but I also make sure to say a prayer of gratitude each morning.
- Exercise. If you want to stay healthy, you’ve got to move! I run at sunrise 4-5 times a week and walk at various points throughout the day.
- Spiritual Reading. I find this puts my head in a good place. I read new texts but also return again and again to what for me are classics.
- Breathe. At some point during my morning commute, I put the focus on my breath. I’ll breathe in and out, deeply, several times. It’s reminder to keep breathing throughout the day, especially during moments of stress.
Are you ready to start your own spiritual practice?
Start with one or two activities and then gradually try to build your practice to 5 daily steps. You can use some of the ideas you just read about, but this list is far from complete. You might also consider activities like yoga, traditional prayer, walks in nature, listening to spiritual podcasts and performing daily acts of kindness.
Before you know it, you’ll be on your way to creating your own spiritual practice, one that will make your life a little richer and more complete. You’ll feel better about the world around you–and most importantly, better about yourself.