We all have different ways of getting there and feeling that there is something greater out there. What is it? Where does it come from? How do we get there?
I recently joined a book club in Vienna and when we got to discussing the books we enjoyed I mentioned that I had enjoyed learning about spirituality. To my horror when they asked me to elaborate on what exactly is spirituality I was unable to provide a coherent answer.
I could have said simply “something bigger than ourselves”. Instead, I rambled on about what leads to the feeling of spirituality, differences between spirituality and religion as well as the feeling of “awe” commonly associated with spiritual episodes.
Spiritual episodes can arise from walking into a church, the meditation bell ringing, seeing a perfect hat above a volcano or while giggling to yourself at the back of a shop in Amsterdam. In order to have a more coherent answer next time, I decided to dive deeper into what spirituality is and write about how to reach it.
The three paths
There are three ways to get there: religion, meditation and psychedelics. These might seem very different but they all center around love. Love is the greatest thing and it is natural that love would be something that makes us feel small.
I have experimented deeply with Religion. I have been to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and kneeled at the sit where Jesus supposedly rested before his accent. Practitioners at this site impressed me with their level of devotion. I was in awe at the idea that all the stories I had heard about JC growing up might actually have some backing. I mean, where there is a rock, there must have been a man, at least some version of him.
I had a similar experience with the Wailing Wall. The significance of the site was obvious from the feel of the atmosphere there. Seriously, if you want to feel spiritual, just go to Jerusalem and walk around, the place is magical.
I am not a strongly religious person; for me, religious-spiritual experiences have come through visiting churches all over the world and feeling the love that others have for god.
This love is obvious in the architecture of churches. Centuries of innovation have led many of them to give you an immediate feeling of awe when you walk through the doors. They are purposely designed to be grand in order to make you feel small and show you that there is a powerful force in the universe.
Spirituality in religions can also be felt through the practices of those religions. Many of the rituals and songs that have stayed relevant over the ages are those that naturally slow the rate of breathing. This rate of breathing, (typically around six breaths per minute) leads to a relaxed, spiritual state of selflessness and love.
While religious practices can help you feel more spiritual and part of a strong community, they come with a lot of baggage. They require you to believe in that religion and can separate you from people who do not share your faith. For me, religions have too much history to be a modern means of spirituality.
For further reading please see:
- Outgrowing God – Richard Dawkins
- Waking up – Sam Harris
- The Practicing Mind – Thomas M. Sterner
- How to Change Your Mind – Michael Pollan
- The Craving Mind – Judson Brewer
Meditation tends to be associated with Buddhism as it is a central pillar of that religion but it is possible to have a deeply meditative practice without ever reading Buddhist teachings.
All you need is time, practice and dedication. Meditation is very much a “you get what you put in” kind of practice. It takes years before you can just close their eyes, start breathing at six breaths a minute feeling spiritual but you can get there.
If you don’t feel the spiritual warmth just by focusing on your breath don’t worry, I usually can’t either. There are a number of ways you can enhance your practice such as singing mantras, appreciating your blessings, or visualizing positive experiences.
Visualizing/ reflecting on the positive aspects of your life or practicing loving-kindness can supercharge your meditative practice. I have used this technique at times when I am feeling lonely or isolated.
I have visualized being with my girlfriend at times when we are apart to I have felt closer to her and as a result felt less lonely. I have also jumped down the rabbit hole of gratitude and kept thinking of more things to be grateful for because of the euphoria it was giving me.
Taking the time to learn this practice can be very beneficial for decreasing negative emotions as it teaches you to notice them as they come up and start influencing you.
The downside of meditation as your medium to feel spiritual is that it is probably the hardest path to spirituality. You are in complete control which means that you need to find the time to meditate and be willing to put in the effort if you want the benefits. Alternatively, you could just get high.
Before I go too deep into how drugs can help you be more spiritual I want to start this one with a disclosure. I am not recommending you get high.
It can grant you instant access to spirituality, but it comes at a cost. It can also drag you down into a dark abyss that will leave you more miserable than you can imagine. When it’s good, it’s really good but when it’s bad, it’s really bad.
The spirituality I am talking about here can be attained by the consumption of either psychedelic mushrooms or marijuana. Both are natural substances that can make you feel spiritual but in different ways.
They both make you feel love for everything and everyone you have ever known but the effect is fragile, short-lived and highly dependent on your ability to navigate the high.
There can be an “afterglow” effect after the influence of the drug wears off but even that is typically gone within a month. So, while using drugs is the easiest way to get in touch with your spiritual side, the potential downside might not be worth the risk for you.
The best way to use this backstage pass to the spiritual realm is as an enhancement to your regular meditative practice. It can be easier to go deeper into meditation when your neurons are firing at random and the realizations made during these drug-fueled meditations can carry over to deepen your regular practice.
There are three paths leading the way to spirituality. All three methods have their pros and cons which I have outlined as best I can above.
For me, the central path of meditation is the best path to take. Delving too deep into religious texts can cause you to reject some aspects of reality.
Meanwhile, taking mind-altering drugs can cause you to lose touch with reality altogether. We all have something capable of giving us a feeling of awe in our life and we can use that feeling to grow together.
The central dogma of spirituality is love, a love of self, a love of others, a love of beauty, and a love of love. All three of these paths can lead there and you can choose the one that best suits you best, it doesn’t have to be just one.
The most important thing is that you make a path and follow it even when it gets hard. The greatest joy is found just on the other side of the greatest hardship.
In order to get there, you need to persevere and I know you can do it.
Just keep going, you are almost there.