What Is a Spiritual Practice?
“I’m not religious. I’m spiritual.”
The first time I heard someone say that (many moons ago in the dark ages of my youth), I didn’t understand what they meant. In my mind, spirituality and religion were the same. That’s probably because “spirituality” and “religion” are often confused.
In the simplest terms, spirituality is within you, and it’s part of what makes you who you are and how you live your day-to-day life. It’s how you interact with (and your response to) the world around you. It’s living each day with the feeling of being connected to something larger than you.
Now, religion, on the other hand, is defined as the following:
- The belief in and reverence for a supernatural power or powers, regarded as creating and governing the universe.
- A particular variety of such beliefs, mainly when organized into a system of doctrine and practice.
The two can definitely be intertwined and often are for many of us, so much so that the lines are often quite blurred.
That said, a spiritual practice can stand on its own without religion because it’s more about an inward journey and our growth on a soul level, a personal understanding rather than an outward worshiping of something.
Spirituality can come through basically anything you practice regularly that puts you in touch with your higher self and fosters the growth of your soul.
There’s a great post over on the Chopra Center blog that goes into more detail about the differences between religion and spirituality if you’d like to read more.
How Do You Develop a Spiritual Practice?
These are the three key steps I’ve found to be most vital for myself:
Choosing a Practice – Your practice can be anything you want. It does not have to include prayer, meditation, or any other specific activity. Choose something that inspires you, interests you, or makes you feel more connected to your higher self.
Remember, this is all about personal growth and helping you tap into your higher self. Don’t continue forward with activities that don’t feel fulfilling and rewarding for you. You can change course at any time. Not sure what to do? Never fear. I got you! We’ll talk about that in a couple of minutes.
Commitment – You have to make the decision that you want to cultivate and maintain a spiritual practice. That may seem elementary, but it’s genuinely the entire foundation. You have to be willing to carve out the time to make this happen, no matter what.
Popular theory states that it takes 21 days to create a new habit. Well, commit yourself to 21 days no matter what. By the time you hit the end of the 21 days, your practice has become a habit, and this is the kind of habit that will certainly enrich your life.
Frequency – Now that you’ve made the commitment, you need to decide how much time you want to devote to it. At first, it may be as simple as 5, 10, or 15 minutes per day. As you continue to grow and deepen your practice, you might find yourself wanting to expand on this.
It could be that your time to devote is a certain amount of time on a weekend morning if you can’t make time daily. Go with whatever feels right for you, because each person’s practice is individual to them.
The Benefits of Cultivating a Spiritual Practice
When you commit yourself to develop and stick with a spiritual practice, you’ll notice subtle changes beginning to happen within you. You may feel calmer, more at ease, and less stressed.
Putting in the time and effort to develop a regular spiritual practice has had wide-ranging effects across my entire life. The benefits can be different for different people, but here are a few:
- Increased creativity
- Stronger intuition
- A deeper connection to others
- Clarity and focus are enhanced
- Improved mood
- A reduction in stress
- More profound compassion and understanding of others
- Feeling calmer and more at peace
These changes tend to have a ripple effect, which can impact others in our lives in positive ways as well.
More patience and compassion and an improved mood? Our significant others and children will undoubtedly appreciate these changes within us.
Improved clarity and focus? A definite benefit in the workplace.
What Makes a Spiritual Practice?
So now that you’ve decided to develop a spiritual practice, your question may be “What kinds of things should I do?”
Since so many of us do associate spirituality with religion, we tend to overcomplicate things here. Subconsciously, we believe there must be a set of rules to follow or a box to stay inside.
You can toss that thinking out the window right now.
Why? Because, honestly, there is no right or wrong answer and the more we overthink it, the more complicated it seems. It’s a vicious cycle and often leads to us just not even starting.
Trust me. I have wasted so much time in my life overthinking so many things and failing to just make a decision and get started because of my fear of failure or imperfection. It can be crippling.
Stop overthinking and just *start* somewhere. It will gradually all begin to come together from there.
Can reading be a form of spiritual practice? Absolutely.
How about painting? Yep.
Sitting quietly with a cup of tea and listening to the wind in the trees outside your window? Most certainly.
It doesn’t have to be complicated because spirituality is really all about connecting with your higher self, which leads to homing in on that feeling of connection to something much larger than you.
In a nutshell? Inner peace and calm. That’s what you’re after here.
Whatever that “special sauce” is that fosters that feeling within you, do that because this is a very personal journey, and no one else’s to define but yours.
My practice involves time spent journaling with a tarot or oracle deck in the early morning hours when my husband and daughter are still asleep. Sometimes I read or paint. Sometimes I do all three.
I brew a small pot of tea, or a cup of coffee, light candles and incense to begin, take a few deep breaths and set an intention to remain present and focused on what I’m working on. Doing this helps me to remember to rein my mind back in if it begins to wander to other things, which can sometimes be a problem if we have a lot on our plate and our mind. If this happens to you, take a moment to refocus before continuing.
I enjoy the peace and calm of the early morning hours. It helps me to feel refreshed and ready to take on my day, so this is a natural time choice for me personally. You may prefer evening hours, or hours that fit whatever your work and life schedule are.
These are some suggestions to give you some starting points:
- Gratitude – make a list of things for which you’re grateful.
- Journaling – you could combine this with the gratitude exercise and create a gratitude journal, you could journal with tarot or oracle decks, journal about your hopes and dreams, or simply use journaling as a cathartic exercise to just get your thoughts out onto paper to clear your mind.
- Affirmations or Mantras – find mantras or affirmations that appeal to you and use them to start your day, or to help you settle into sleep at night.
- Physical Movement – yoga, martial arts, dance, or stretching are just a few ideas here. Maybe getting out into nature for a walk among the trees or hiking a mountain trail are more your thing.
- Energy Clearing – try taking a salt bath to help you relax and detox your energy field. This is great for winding down your day and preparing for a restful night.
- Visualization – light a candle and stare into the flame, take some deep breaths and slowly release them, focusing your thoughts on your dreams and goals. Visualize your ideal life, as if you were already experiencing it.
- Meditation – this can be just a few moments of conscious breathing and intentionally working your way mentally through your body and releasing any tension, or it could be a full-blown hour-long guided meditation.
- Contemplation – Take the time to think about your life, your goals, and your dreams. You could take a walk in nature while doing this, or sit quietly and stare into the flame of a candle. Personally, my favorite way to spend time contemplating is through stargazing. I love to lay outside at night and look up at the sky. It somehow helps to bring things into focus for me when I take a step back and think about just how small we are in the big picture. It somehow lessens the size and scope of life’s problems for me.
Your practice will most likely look very different from mine. The key here is to find something that helps you tune in to your higher self.
Things that you enjoy so much that you find yourself turning inward and losing track of time are a great way to tune in to your higher self and can actually be considered a form of meditation in and of themselves.
It’s not necessary to have a dedicated space for spiritual activities, but you may find it personally beneficial to have a specific space set aside for this purpose in your home. It’s really, again, so much about personal preference.
The space you create for yourself can be a cozy corner in your studio apartment or the vast open space of a mountainside just out your back door, and anywhere in between. It can change from day-to-day if you want. It’s all about you and what you choose to create. Don’t place limitations on yourself.
I am fortunate to have a beautiful sunroom in my home that I use specifically for this purpose. It has large windows, is full of houseplants, and houses a beautiful antique vanity where I set out my crystals, burn incense, light candles, and decorate for the seasons.
I can also see the sunrise over the mountains from this room, which is one of my favorite parts of the entire day. I have Reiki music, or occasionally nature sounds, playing on a loop at low volume 24/7 in that space. It’s peaceful, calm, and very inviting, which makes it conducive to spiritual workings.
That said, if you don’t have an entire room to dedicate to a spiritual space for yourself, please don’t be discouraged.
You don’t need a lot of space for this. In fact, you don’t need a dedicated space at all — any area in your home where you feel comfortable and at ease will work.
A quiet corner with a cup of tea and your journal is just as worthy as an entire room, and it’s incredible how much of a change something as simple as lighting a candle and a stick of incense can make in a space.
Please make the most of what you have and personalize it to make it feel more conducive to what you’re trying to achieve.
Last But Not Least
So, what now? Are you ready to get started? I hope so!
Committing myself to develop a daily spiritual practice is one of the best things I’ve ever done for myself and I hope the same for you.
As your practice grows and you begin to see the results of your time and effort blossoming in your life, you may find it worth branching out into other activities. Explore and expand and be amazed at the growth you experience in your life.
If you’d like to include a religious practice alongside the spiritual one, do! For many people, the two very naturally go hand in hand, one supporting the other.
As you make this journey, you will most likely discover the essence of who you are as a unique individual, clarifying your own life’s purpose and your personal values. I hope that your life will become more meaningful and fulfilling as you travel this path, I know that mine has.
I would love to hear about your favorite spiritual practices and how they’ve impacted your life. If you care to share, drop a comment below!