Nurturing and developing your spirituality may be just as important as eating a healthy diet, exercising, and building strong relationships. Taking the time to reconnect with what you find meaningful in life and returning to life’s big questions can enhance your own sense of connection with something larger than yourself.
Cultivate empathy and compassion
Empathy is the ability and willingness to fully understand another person’s experience and connect it to your own—for example, rather than seeing an irritable coworker as a nuisance, you may recognize that they are reacting to stress in the workplace. Compassion is the practice of responding to this realization with kindness—because you understand why the coworker is in a bad mood, you respond with extra patience and listen deeply when they complain, rather than snapping back.
Andrew Weil, author of Spontaneous Happiness, describes empathy and compassion as “learnable skills that can bring greater happiness into your life and improve all of your relationships.” They are important to spiritual development, he explains, because they help you get out of self-centered ways of thinking and help you make connections with others. There are many ways to develop your sense of empathy and compassion, including:
- Listening deeply. Let go of assumptions that others feel the way you do, and allow yourself to fully listen to the way they describe their experience. Prioritize what the other person has to say above what you yourself would like to say or gain from a given conversation and just listen.
- Taking others’ perspectives into account. In addition to simply listening to others, open yourself up to imagining what it would be like to be in their shoes. How would you feel if you were in their situation?
- Look for the good. Positivity researcher Barbara Fredrickson recommends boosting compassion by actively considering others’ positive qualities. Encouraging yourself to acknowledge the whole picture of another person will help you see them as a complex, dynamic human who is worthy of kindness and compassion.
Identify (and live by) your beliefs and values
Making a list of your beliefs and values will help you live with intention. This list will be fluid, so recognize that it’s natural to shift and revise your values throughout life. Some of the questions you may ask yourself are:
- Discover your callingWhat matters most to me?
- What drives my actions?
- What do I believe is right?
If you need help coming up with your values, you might try a value sort activity.
Find a spiritual community and friends
Join a spiritual group, whether that is a church or mosque, meditation center, yoga class, or a local group that meets to discuss spiritual issues. The benefits of social support are well documented, and having a spiritual community to turn to for fellowship can provide a sense of belonging and support.
Letting go of blame is not easy, but the rewards of relinquishing negative feelings are aplenty. To practice forgiveness, Stanford Forgiveness Project director Fred Luskin suggests finding the right perspective—parsing out whether your feelings are coming from the actual experience of someone wronging you, or whether your anger is intensifying as you re-hash the situation. See how those feelings are affecting you, and let go of what is not helpful. Be gentle to yourself as well—you don’t have to re-establish contact with the person who wronged you in order to forgive. As Luskin says, “Forgiveness is for you and no one else.”
Seek transcendence through nature, art, or music
Spend time outside. Feeling a connectedness to nature has been linked to decreased stress, better connections with other people, and a heightened sense of purpose and oneness with the world. Take a leisurely walk outside alone or with friends, or work in the garden, soaking in the details: the expansiveness of the sky, the wind moving through the trees.
- Allow yourself to get lost in music you enjoy. Whether it’s listening to an album on your headphones or playing the piano yourself, music can incite feelings of connectedness, purpose, meaning, faith, and hope. Close your eyes and allow yourself to fully immerse in the listening experience.
- Sit with a piece of art. This could be a painting in a museum, a sculpture in a local park, or even a piece of colorful graffiti—anything that calls out to you. Ask yourself why you are drawn to this particular piece. Do you recognize something about yourself or some universal truth in its colors, shapes, or textures?
Be good to yourself
Boost positivityThe nonphysical aspects of spirituality can make it feel as if it is a remote practice, separate from the rest of your life. But this isn’t true—spirituality, just like the other aspects of wellbeing, is profoundly influenced by other factors in your lifestyle.
Exercising regularly and eating a nutrient-rich diet with lots of vegetables and fruits is one way of reminding yourself that you care deeply about this life and this body. Paying attention to what you eat is important, too: according to Jon Kabat Zinn, practicing mindful eating “allows you to drop right into the knowing in ways that are effortless, totally natural, and entirely beyond words and thinking. Such an exercise delivers wakefulness immediately.”
Treating yourself with compassion is just as important as treating others well, says Kristin Neff. “When we experience warm and tender feelings toward ourselves, we are altering our bodies as well as our minds. Rather than feeling worried and anxious, we feel calm, content, trusting, and secure.” The broadening effect of these positive emotions can enhance our sense of curiosity, wonder, and awe—all feelings that contribute to spirituality.
Make contemplative practice a part of your everyday life
The benefits of adopting a contemplative practice—such as meditation, prayer, yoga, or journaling—have widespread effects not just on spirituality, but on physical and emotional health as well.
- Take yoga class or practice chair yoga at work
- Dedicate 15 minutes each day to writing in a journal
- Listen to a guided audio meditation
- Join a spiritual community, such as a church, prayer group, or meditation center to share a contemplative experience with others
- Eat mindfully, savoring and appreciating the food that you have and minimizing distractions during meals
- Set aside time for prayer or reflection each day
- Try a guided body scan
- Watch a nature-guided relaxation video
This guided forgiveness practice has three steps:
- We begin with those whom we have caused harm, intentionally or unintentionally.
- Next we turn our attention to those who have similarly caused us harm, intentionally or unintentionally.
- And, finally, we turn our attention to self-forgiveness, for ways we may have harmed ourselves, intentionally or unintentionally.
Soothing nature video
Can't get outside? Immerse yourself in a lush, green forest with this 5-minute video.
Created by renowned nature photographer Craig Blacklock in collaboration with the Center for Spirituality & Healing, this unique video uses the sounds and sights of a northern Minnesota forest coming to life to help you feel relaxed and connected with nature, even if you can't get outside.
Cervinka, R., Röderer, K., Hefler, E. (2012). Are nature lovers happy? On various indicators of well-being and connectedness with nature. Journal of Health Psychology, 17(3), 379-388.
Fredrickson, B. (2009). Positivity. New York: Three Rivers Press.
Luskin, F. (2004). Nine steps to forgiveness. Greater Good. Retrieved from http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/nine_steps_to_forgiveness.
McClean, S., Bunt, L., Daykin, N. (2012). The healing and spiritual properties of music therapy at a cancer care center. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine;18(4):402-7.
Neff, K. (2011). Self-compassion. New York: HarperCollins.
Rancour, P., Barrett, T. (2011). Art interpretation as a clinical intervention toward healing. Journal of Holistic Nursing; 29(1):68-80.
Weil, A. (2011). Spontaneous happiness. New York: Little, Brown and Company.