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Why You Can Benefit From a Spiritual Practice — Even If You Don’t Believe in God
How to achieve inner peace without religion, mantras, or crystals
Years ago I asked a ruthless family law attorney for her top piece of legal advice. Her answer surprised me because it had nothing to do with “winning.” She told me she urged her clients to maintain their spiritual practice. Although I didn’t ask her to explain, I have a pretty good guess why she thought spirituality was mandatory for surviving divorce.
When things fall away – and they will, divorce or no divorce – the only constant you have is the ritual of a spiritual practice. When practiced consistently, this discipline will become your anchor. It can’t be taken from you in a divorce settlement, amid the chaos of a toxic relationship, or through the passage of time.
Maintaining a spiritual practice will help you tolerate things that seem intolerable. It will also help you shift from a scarcity mindset to one of abundance, so you stop getting yourself into crappy situations that make it hard for you to move forward in life. Changing the way you think and committing to right action means that you will begin to attract healthy people and be available for positive experiences.
So how do you do that, exactly?
A 4-Step Guide To Beginning a Spiritual Practice
You don’t need to believe in God, chant a mantra, or order crystals from Amazon. And you don’t need to wait to shed your cynicism before beginning a spiritual practice. You just need the willingness to use a few practical tools, preferably on a daily basis. Set aside ten minutes in the morning and follow this simple 4-step guide.
1. Keep a gratitude journal.
Begin your practice by jotting down five things you’re grateful for. They don’t have to be big things. List items you probably take for granted, such as “a hot shower” or “food in my refrigerator.” When you shift your thoughts from what you don’t have to what you do have, your mood will improve. And when you feel better, you’re more likely to get off the couch and direct your energy to something that benefits you and others.
2. Read something inspirational.
It doesn’t matter what it is, as long as it’s hopeful and provides guidance on how to live wisely. Any of Anne Lamott’s non-fiction books are a great choice. Courage To Change, the Al-Anon daily devotional, provides excellent, practical tips on aligning your actions with a greater purpose. But really, anything that makes you feel supported or invites you to consider an enlightened perspective will do.
3. Write down your intentions.
You can use the same journal in which you keep your gratitude lists. I prefer the word “intentions” to “goals” because it takes the pressure off a bit. Write down things you want to manifest in your life. It could be a healthy romantic partner, improved relationships with your children, or a successful career change. Be sure to include things that benefit others, such as sending healing energy to a suffering loved one or donating time or resources to a service organization. Don’t get bogged down in how you’re going to do these things, just write what you want.
4. Meditate for at least 3 minutes.
This fourth step builds on the three that came before. When you wrote your gratitude list and read something inspirational, you prepared your mind for meditation. When you recorded your intentions, you picked your focus for meditation. So now that you’re in the right frame of mind (or even if you aren’t, at least you tried) and you’re clear about what’s important to you, close your eyes for 3 minutes (if you can tolerate more, that’s great!) and reflect on your intentions.
Visualize what you want actually happening. If you catch yourself craving a particular outcome, observe the physical and mental energy that comes along with unrequited longing and turn your energy back to your intention. The important thing is to focus on what you can control – naming what you want – instead of obsessing about what you can’t really control – if and how it happens.
If you don’t notice a change after diligently following this practice after 3 days, or 3 weeks, or even 3 months, don’t despair. And don’t give up. Developing a spiritual practice takes time. Just because you don’t notice any big improvements in your mood or obsessive thinking doesn’t mean the practice isn’t working. Keep at it. The “magic” isn’t really that magical. It’s the culmination of routine, repeating the same simple acts until they become a ritual.
Your skepticism will subside one day when you realize your foul moods don’t last as long. Your capacity to enjoy your own company has increased. Opportunities you couldn’t have dreamed of start coming your way. And when bad stuff happens, you’re better able to deal with it.
Gradually, you’ll become aware that you are no longer white-knuckling your way through life, that this new way of being is something you’ve grown into.
Because you’ve maintained your spiritual practice.
(This post originally appeared on VirginiaGilbertMFT.com)
Is Your Mindset Sabotaging Your Success? (The Covey, July 2018 issue)
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