By Michael Kimmel
I don’t consider myself religious, but I do consider myself to be on a spiritual path. I want a kind of spirituality that is practical; something I can use every day to enjoy my life more.
Spirituality can exist within the context of religion or not. You can be agnostic and spiritual or non-religious and spiritual. You can even be an atheist and be spiritual.
To me, you’re on a spiritual path if: 1) You believe that something fundamental holds the world together, whether that’s God (by any name), some type of universal consciousness, nature, or the human spirit; 2) You’re generally self-aware and inwardly working on yourself; and 3) You’re doing something to improve the world around you.
Practical spirituality can offer you joy, peace of heart and mind, and a sense of meaning … if you “practice” (e.g., live) it. Our “monkey mind” usually gets in the way, bombarding us with all kinds of random, distracting, not-helpful thoughts.
What to do? In this new year, instead of making resolutions, why not try some (or all) of these ways to practice spirituality:
If you’re new to meditation, start with a minute a day and add a minute each subsequent day: set yourself up for it to be easy. There are many ways to “do” meditation: sitting quietly and focusing on your breath is a nice, simple way to begin.
2. Check in with yourself regularly.
Be curious about what’s going on in your body, mind and heart. For example, what does your mind feel like when you wake up? Spacious and clear, or already thinking about everything you have to do that day? Is that different from your mental state around lunchtime or in the evening? What words frequently appear in your constant inner dialogue? What are your most common stress triggers? Where do you hold tension in your body?
There is no right or wrong to any of this stuff, so be compassionate and don’t beat yourself up. Start with periodic quick check-ins and over time they’ll get easier and easier to do. Checking in with yourself can be a real gold mine of helpful information (all about you).
3. Pick an easy-to-achieve self-improvement goal.
Research has shown that starting with a small change and making it easy for yourself to succeed is what leads to lasting transformation over time. You could start with this question: What’s the smallest step I can take today to move my life forward? Set yourself up to win, go slowly and gradually.
4. Look for ways to serve others.
Most of us want to do good in the world and may be tempted to go big and help as many people as much as possible. Sounds good, but please consider your abilities and limitations: Be kind to yourself. Don’t be a martyr (that doesn’t help anybody). Do whatever you are inspired to and capable of, and know that it makes a real difference.
That $5 donation to your favorite charity? It helps. So does a hug and a listening ear for a friend who’s having a rough day. Volunteering for an evening at a local soup kitchen? Even one hot meal in one stomach makes a positive difference to the owner of that stomach.
Did you let someone merge in front of you in traffic today? I guarantee you made them feel better about their fellow humans.
5. Try being a little more humble.
Many people misunderstand humility, thinking it means taking a back seat to others. But true humility isn’t self-effacement. It’s having a clear understanding of what you have to offer, without getting caught up in your ego (e.g., “Aren’t I great because I’m so damn humble? Everyone should be like me”).
Uh, no. That’s not it.
Humility is a combination of recognizing what you’re lacking, knowing when you choose to defer to others, and assessing where your strengths lie. When you’re clear on these things and offer yourself humbly but without shame or shrinking, everyone benefits.
May your new year be full of practical spirituality and may you reap all the benefits!
— Michael Kimmel is a licensed psychotherapist who specializes in helping LGBT clients achieve their goals and deal with anxiety, depression, grief, sexually addictive behavior, coming out, relationship challenges and homophobia. Contact him at 619-955-3311 or visit lifebeyondtherapy.com.