Do you consider yourself “spiritual, but not religious? (Aka SBNR.) If you’re like the majority of Wake Up Call readers, you just answered yes. And if that’s the case, you may have a problem, the same one I encounter from time-to-time.
Those of us who have left the world of organized religion, or were never a part of it in the first place, can often have a deep-seeded yearning to connect with something greater than ourselves. You might call it a spiritual itch. I’m going to label it the God yearning.
For the SBNR, the God yearning is a thirst that attending regular religious services does not quench. Yet, like our body’s need for water, it’s something we must tend to—because if we don’t satisfy our spiritual thirst, we can start feeling unsettled. Disconnected. Adrift at sea without a lifejacket. It can feel like we’re empty at our very core.
The solution? We need to engage in activities that touch the soul.
I believe the God yearning we feel originates in our souls. The soul is located in a place far from our thinking brain, and much deeper than the emotions of our heart. If the human body was a tree, the brain is located in the leafy crown, the heart is the trunk, and the soul is in the roots, collecting nutrients and anchoring us to life. If the roots are not strong and healthy, it can wreak havoc everywhere else.
How do we tend to the soul? Through spiritual practice and rituals that enable us to see there’s more to life than our daily routines of work-eat-sleep and the pursuit of material gains. The soul wants something more profound. Think meaning, purpose, a deeper connection with the world around you and especially with the Divine. And the best way to satisfy the longings of the soul, may be to engage in spiritual practices.
Yet, often we come up short in our efforts to feed and soothe the soul. In the book Awake at the Bedside, the Tibetan Buddhist Anyen Rinpoche asks us to reflect on how much time and effort we put into our own personal spiritual practice:
- Are you practicing regularly and for as long as you would like?
- Are you able to incorporate all the practices you wish to master into your daily practice?
- What are the obstacles that stand in your way?
If your spiritual practice is lacking, it’s time to take action.
In the book Ageless Soul, the soul virtuoso Thomas Moore stresses the importance of creating “an original spiritual practice that is rich and meaningful.” Moore relates spirituality to the need we have for transcendence, the insatiable urge to be “everything we can hope to be, to be constantly moving on and upward toward a greater more comprehensive sense of self.”
Thankfully, Moore has provided us with a list of six spiritual activities that can put us on the right track. If you don’t have a spiritual practice, it’s a great place to start. If you do have a practice, they’re excellent reminders of the diverse activities that can satisfy our spiritual yearnings and stoke the spark of God within.
6 Ways to Reignite Your Spiritual Flame
- Live a more contemplative life. Moore tells us that as we grow older, we can “adopt a quieter and more reflective persona.” This practice can include sitting with a morning cup of coffee and reflecting on your life, considering where you have been, where you stand and what you plan to do in the future. Or simply taking the time to sit and breathe and appreciate the trees or flora outside your window. The key is to carve out the time to simply “be” in quietude, even if it means penciling in a 15-minute contemplation session on your daily schedule.
- Explore different ways to meditate. Moore says that too many people have a narrow view of what it means to meditate and reminds us that “you can meditate in a thousand different ways.” Need some pointers? I have previously written several stories about the many dimensions of meditation including the thinking meditation, the heart meditation, and the breathing meditation.
- Walk in nature. Get moving at the pace that best suits you. Moore advises us to “enjoy the walk but do it with the intention of being pulled into the depth of the natural world.” Living on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, I favor walks and jogs near the water, but even a walk around the block in the middle of a bustling city can have a rejuvenating effect. As Gladys McGarey says, to stay happy and healthy, “all life needs to move.”
- Keep track of your dreams. Moore believes that dream work “keeps you in touch with the mysterious dimensions of your experience,” offering insights and stirring the imagination. The key is to keep a pad and pencil next to your bed and then, before you shut out the light, make the conscious intention to remember and write down your dream. Another key: write down your dream immediately upon awakening before it slips through your fingers like sand. Then, analyze your dreams to see what they might by trying to tell you.
- Serve the world. Moore cites the example of Jesus who spent his time teaching and healing, as well as Ralph Waldo Emerson who later in life became politically active, speaking out against slavery. The humorist David Sedaris spends hours each day picking up trash near his home in the English countryside. Take action in the way that speaks to you, your surroundings, and what makes you tick.
- Study the best spiritual ideas. Moore points out that for centuries study has been a central part of spiritual life. Moore’s personal favorites include the Tao Te Ching, Black Elk Speaks and the writings of Jung and James Hillman. I would point to the works of Thomas Moore himself, including The Soul’s Religion and A Religion of One’s Own and John Templeton’s enlightening compendium Wisdom of World Religions. Choose whatever books or podcasts that will light a spark in you.