What Matters Beyond the Physical Details of Your Life

Spiritual Practices

The consolations of meditation, prayer, and ritual

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There are long-established practices that help people ground themselves according to their particular beliefs and ideals. As with all practices of any kind, however, there are more effective and less effective ways of pursuing them.

We are not looking here to judge the validity of these practices, in terms of whether their implicit assumptions (about belief in God or in a spiritual plane of reality, where applicable) are literally true. But if your own beliefs and your personality allow you to participate in contemplative, spiritual, or religious practices, then the question we do want to address is: how do you make them work for your benefit?

If your beliefs dictate that you abstain from these practices, of course, then by all means do so. Or if you think that some of them simply do not suit your personal style or temperament, then focus on the ones that do. Studies consistently show, however, that people who are able to seriously engage in spiritual practices tend to benefit in terms of their overall health and happiness.

Spiritual Practices relate to other areas of Spirit:

Spiritual Practices relate to other areas besides Spirit:

Spiritual Practices Sub-Topics and Resources

“The Tree of Contemplative Practices,” an illustration on the Center for Contemplative Mind in Society website, includes essentially all spiritual practices, but also others such as storytelling, calligraphy, martial arts, and volunteering that are not normally lumped into this group. This is valid, in that nearly all activities, when performed with discipline, mindfulness, centeredness, love, gratitude, devotion, or other conscientious virtues or emotions, can have spiritual benefits. Rather than try to deal with all these many possibilities, however, we will limit ourselves to three main groups – and even within these, there exist far more varieties and useful resources than we can begin to name.

And as a bonus, three books and two websites (only one of them free) that cover wider ground: first, Essential Spirituality: The 7 Central Practices to Awaken Heart and Mind, by Roger Walsh, who draws on all the major religious traditions to advise us on practical steps toward reducing craving, cultivating emotional wisdom, living ethically, meditating, awakening the senses, growing intuition, and pursuing spiritual action (rating = A+). Second, Everyday Spiritual Practice: Simple Pathways for Enriching Your Life , edited by Scott W. Alexander, with brief essays by 40 different writers covering both religious and secular practices, including somewhat surprising ones like vegetarianism, quilting, and art (rating = A). You can also try Spirituality for Dummies, by Sharon Janis, which is a bit random in its organization but full of solid information and interesting surprises (rating = A). “Spirtuality and Practice” offers a free e-newsletter along with its extensive website discussing 37 spiritual practices, plus info about books, audio tapes, and many other resources (rating = A). Finally, the “Spiritual Strengths Finder”, from the Body Mind Spirit Healing Academy, which for $29.95 will produce a moderately useful 20-page booklet outlining your spiritual and personality strengths (and also what could block you spiritually) after asking you some 120 mostly easy questions (rating = A-).

“When we speak of meditation,” explains Jon Kabat-Zinn, author of one of the books recommended below, “it is important for you to know that this is not some weird cryptic activity, as our popular culture might have it. It does not involve becoming some kind of zombie, vegetable, self-absorbed narcissist, navel gazer, 'space cadet', cultist, devotee, mystic, or Eastern philosopher. Meditation is simply about being yourself and knowing something about who that is. It is about coming to realize that you are on a path whether you like it or not, namely, the path that is your life...[that] is always unfolding, moment by moment; and that what happens now, in this moment, influences what happens next.”

Meditation may not be for you, but if you don't really know much about it, you might look at some of these sources and find that it isn't what you perhaps thought it was, and that it might indeed be for you after all.

Sources relating to specific religious denominations are easy to find, but are too numerous to list on this page. Here are sources that address the topic in a more general way.