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Eight Baby Steps to a Big Spiritual Shift
If you ever find yourself at a loss for spirituality, you aren’t alone. Spirituality, that feeling of interconnectedness that seems to come into life almost magically, is a desirable but elusive state of mind. Certainly a good week’s worth of yoga classes can bring out wellbeing in anyone looking to feel more balanced, but a sustained experience of spirituality requires more than a recreational yoga schedule. So what’s an eco-conscious, healthy life-styler to do to get more spirituality?
There’s good news. A growing field of research proves what any nun, monk, or mystic could have told you: spiritual feelings come from repeating with intention habits that require concentration. Dr. Andrew Newberg, a founder of a new area of neuroscience called neurotheology, conducted brain scans of praying nuns, chanting Sikhs and meditating Buddhists, and found remarkable differences in brain activity for those claiming to be in a deep spiritual state. What does this mean? Spiritual habits, the kind that focus the body and the mind together, do add up — they have the power to bring about the transcendent feelings we get when we feel connected to something bigger than ourselves.
Feeling more spiritual begins in the brain, but only after behaving more spiritually on a regular basis. Creating new habits is never easy, but the following steps inspire focus in daily life, which soon leads to intention, concentration, and — wait for it — a more spiritual life.
Take a deep belly breath and the brain reacts like lightning, sending a soothing message to the sympathetic nervous system. As this “calming” portion of the nervous system gets triggered to regulate blood pressure, heart rate, circulation and many other bodily functions, the brain takes notice and remembers the experience of feeling relaxed, centered and content. Make time for deep breaths at least once a day to bring the body and mind into a self-made tranquility — the equivalent of making a deposit into a spiritual memory bank.
2. “Forget” your phone.
Find time each day with which to welcome some non-electronic space into your consciousness. Constant awareness of incoming data creates a dopamine surge that researchers say can raise stress levels and even be addictive. Worried you’ll be less productive if you’re not multi-tasking? Actually, multi-tasking makes you less productive. Studies at Stanford show that multi-tasking has lingering negative effects on a brain’s ability to perform efficiently. While at first it may feel a bit like working without a net, turning off the smartphone for even an hour is the first step to sustained focus and authentic connection with yourself and others.
3. Do errands in your community.
Time management aside, there’s something to gain from doing the legwork of errands. Looking into your dry cleaner’s eyes, returning the smile of your bank teller — this is real connection with real people, and research tells us that an increased sense of belonging works wonders on low mood. Positive community contact motivates individuals to give more of themselves, one study from the British government shows. Giving more of oneself is the gateway to spirituality.
4. Plant herbs and take care of them.
Fresh herbs in the house offer a fast-track to interconnectedness. From seasoning your ice tea to scenting your body oils, picking from your own stock of peppermint, spearmint, rosemary and lemongrass brings you into direct contact with nature, which, according to Native American healing methods, is the first step to finding physical and spiritual balance. After a few uses, enhancing life with a plant becomes second nature.
5. Give thanks quietly before you eat.
The act of saying “thank you” before you eat shifts the mind from a state of consumption to a state of generosity and abundance. A quick, quiet moment of consciousness can honor so many — the farmers, the grocers, the cook, any Great Spirit you call on — not to mention yourself. You may even find, after trying this once or twice, that eating without a quiet blessing before hand lacks a certain pleasure. The solution? A silent thank you.
6. Listen to a friend.
Listening is indeed an act of love. Sometimes the best service a friend can provide is presence and witness. Finding a true friend comfortable with a quiet, active role when you need it isn’t always easy since life is loud and busy, so listening for a loved one in need will not go unnoticed. Let them spill it. Resist the urge to comment or commiserate, as no input is often the most nurturing input of all.
7. Close your eyes.
Soul-to-Soul Parenting Author Annie Burnside says, “Creating spaces and places for sacred contemplation is a vital means of bringing spirituality into your daily life.” Whether this means reminding your family about their ability to choose quiet time, or setting aside a room where it’s all about the dark behind your eyelids, a short time in silence — even 12 minutes each day — does wonders for clarity, memory and joy.
Writing with pen on paper intuitively triggers a creative part of the mind that often gets brushed under the rug of daily life. Use a fast-moving roller ball pen (so you don’t lose a single seminal thought) on a notebook that is for your eyes only. As Natalie Goldberg, author of Writing Down the Bones writes, “Handwriting is more connected to the movement of the heart.” Create a writing practice to record your heart’s whims, dreams, concerns and revelations, and notice your heart and mind’s response.
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