Cultivating a Thriving Spiritual Practice

If you are reading this, you are most likely a spiritual seeker. Perhaps like me, you are on a path to find answers to the big existential questions such as the meaning and purpose of life, the nature of God, or the existence of consciousness beyond physical death. If you are beginning your journey, then you are likely in the knowledge-gathering phase. This is a good and natural place to start. The information you gather in the first years of your journey are essential to help develop a positive spiritual perspective. However, whether it occurs a year down the road or a decade or two, a day will come when spiritual knowledge for its own sake will no longer suffice. Sooner or later, we must all look at our growing library of books and wonder – what does all this mean for me and for my life? How can I turn this spiritual knowledge into spiritual practice?

For me, the process of evolving from knowledge seeker to spiritual practitioner has been very slow and fraught with a lot of kicking and screaming. I’m only now beginning to understand the path before me, so I do not come to you today as an expert. I only wish to share my foibles with you, so perhaps if you find yourself going through a similar metamorphosis, you can recognize it for what it is much sooner than I did.

This past year, I have been stumbling around in spiritual darkness, tripping over my own failed expectations. During a year plagued with death, illness, and anxiety, I turned inward to what I assumed to be a well-founded spirituality. I expected comfort and guidance, but found emptiness. I could draw on theories, beliefs, and spiritual evidence a plenty, but none could soothe a broken, grieving heart or calm a mind filled with anxiety. I raised my fist to the sky and demanded spiritual guidance like a child having a temper tantrum. When, predictably, my demands were not indulged, I found myself feeling inexplicably betrayed and abandoned.

After Ann, my closest friend and fellow spiritual seeker, passed away tragically last September, I selfishly expected her to contact me, proving her continued existence in the afterlife and giving me some much-needed advice from her now expanded perspective. This was my ego looking for validation, which is the antithesis of spiritual wisdom. If Ann does exist somewhere, she was wise not to feed into my demands. I should have been humbly looking inward toward my own consciousness instead of expecting Ann to prove herself with parlor tricks and provide easy answers. At the time I could not see beyond my own ridiculous demands, and my spiritual tantrum continued through early summer.  That’s when my first revelation hit me like a bolt of lightning.

It sounds so obvious now, I am chagrined that I did not see it earlier. I had expected to reap the rewards of a spiritual practice that I had never actually cultivated. For a decade and a half I had developed a wellspring of intellectual knowledge, but it was never integrated into my life. It was Ann who lived it, not me. Ann was always the sensitive one; the one with the dreams and visions and a deep, lifelong spiritual connection. I just lived vicariously though her experiences, believing that sharing in Ann’s experiences were a suitable substitution for my lack. After Ann died, I realized I could no longer siphon spiritual meaning from her life. My massive library of books; all of the knowledge I had contributed to our partnership; provided little comfort or shelter from the doubt and hopelessness I felt.

Once I realized this, with some embarrassment, I still found myself without direction. How does one live spiritually? I was flummoxed. Walking the path of developing personal spirituality means no religious rituals, no spiritual leaders and no congregation to facilitate a spiritual connection. In fact, I realized with great fascination the tremendous importance of the ritual to religious believers during the lockdown. Besides young people attempting to socialize at underground parties, religious gatherings were the second most common reason why people broke the prohibition against gathering. The ritualistic aspects of religion make up quite a large part of religious participation and some of the most pious felt they could not practice their religion properly without it.

Since there are no rituals defined for a solo spiritual path, I tried to reason out how I could turn the knowledge from various spiritual sources into everyday practice. A primary belief is the separation between body and soul, or mind. When the body dies, the non-physical aspects of the mind/soul/consciousness is believed to survive. Through consciousness, one could attempt to pierce the veil, reach the wisdom of the whole self and perhaps even gain wisdom from guides. The state of one’s consciousness may also affect the afterlife environment.  Some sources suggest that the mental worlds of our spiritual home will reflect our state of being, for good or ill. Before I could live spiritually, I decided, I should examine the state of my own mind. Should I survive death, I needed to make sure I was someone I really wanted to live with for all eternity.

I was disappointed by what I found. My mind had become lazy, judgmental, and distracted. I either spent time thinking about all of the terrible things that would happen, or all of the terrible things that had already happened. I spent very little time in the present, where I had the power to actually change my circumstances. My first mission was to become more mindful. To accomplish this, one must find a higher mental perspective where one can observe one’s own thoughts and dismantle any that are disingenuous or defensive. Going into the dark corners of your own mind to identify your worst mental habits is not easy. If you aren’t paying attention, your ego will take control, looking at everything from a victim-perpetrator mentality. One of the most difficult exercises are those where you stop and analyze snap judgements and knee-jerk reactions. Often, you will find them to be somewhat distorted. Also, I try not to multitask in my personal life. When having a conversation with someone, try to be completely present instead of looking at your phone or letting your mind wander. Cooking, eating, reading, working, and playing with the dog or spending time with children are all examples of activities where you can practice being completely present and focused on your primary activity. All this is, of course, an on-going process, but I have already found it rewarding and insightful even if I often have to remind myself to stay focused!

Next, I had to let go of my need for spiritual hand-holding. At times of great uncertainty, I would beg my guides for answers. Often, I would only receive some validation after I had made a decision and not before. I have come to accept that we are masters of our own destiny, for better or worse. Guidance may be available from beings in consciousness in a wider perspective, but they will not divert us toward easier circumstances. As much as we want it to be easy and comfortable, life was never meant to be painless. I was looking for an escape from adversity when I should have been asking for the guidance to build the strength necessary to face the challenges already before me.

Lastly, I need to develop a meditation practice. There is no shortcut to becoming familiar with your own mind other than spending time with it. In silence. Alone. The idea has always scared me. I have spent so much time distracting myself with the constant input of information and stimulus, I was actually afraid to allow myself space to be alone with my own awareness. I have been faltering with meditation, I will admit. However, it has helped me to learn that I do not need to meditate for a long time in the beginning. Five to ten minutes should be sufficient. Also, meditation need not be about clearing one’s mind. I find it far more instructive to observe my thoughts and practice being present, rather than allowing my mind to wander. Meditation doesn’t require sitting in the lotus position or even closing one’s eyes. You can find yourself in a meditative state just by gazing out the window or taking a walk. The important part is becoming attuned to the present moment in a relaxed state. I found this video on meditation by Big Think to be quite helpful as a starting point.

Depending on your spiritual beliefs, there are many more ways that you can incorporate them into your practice. If you are so inclined, I would recommend learning out-of-body techniques, or experimenting with the Monroe Institute’s hemisync technology. Reiki and spiritual healing can be an excellent experience if you find an honest and sincere practitioner. Unfortunately, there is a thriving market for new-age and spiritual trinkets, divination tools, workshops, retreats, coaches and nearly everything else you can think of. I would tread extremely carefully. Most of these try to appeal to our baser desires for material wealth, fame or status. The goal is to release our desire for such things, not to attempt to use spiritual ‘tricks’ to try to obtain them more easily. When in doubt, remember this: there is nothing whatsoever physical needed to turn inward and find peace and spiritual connection. All of the world’s major religions also have a prayerful or meditative component that encourages connection back to the source. All it requires is determination and time.

I found a channel called Awaken Insight a few weeks ago that I have found to provide some excellent practical advice for spiritual seekers.  The video below describes that point in your spiritual journey where spiritual knowledge must be turned into spiritual practice in your daily life in order to progress. If you feel that you are in a similar place as I am, perhaps you will find some enlightenment in this video as well.

I wish you all a fulfilling, spiritually-rich new year!

15 thoughts on “Cultivating a Thriving Spiritual Practice

  1. Haven’t heard from you in ages. Great to know you are still searching. I enjoy your erudite posts. Rick, Australia

    On Sat, 2 Jan 2021 at 08:07, The Search For Life After Death wrote:

    > Jenn posted: ” If you are reading this, you are most likely a spiritual > seeker. Perhaps like me, you are on a path to find answers to the big > existential questions such as the meaning and purpose of life, the nature > of God, or the existence of consciousness beyond phys” >

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Claudia, thank you for your comment! I always amazes me how synchronistic life can be at times. Glad you found the blog and hope to see you around. 🙂

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  2. I’m delighted you’ve found your spiritual way, Jenn. I hadn’t realised until I arrived on this page just how long it is since I’d heard from you. You thoughts and ideas are always stimulating. I’m thankful I don’t face a search for life after death having found my answers many years ago, but I can identify with your own recent travails. One thing I’ve slowly come to accept is that each individual has to find understanding in a personal way. Sometimes we can provide a pointer towards where to look but searching still has to be done by that individual. Others’ experiences may help provide the pointer but are not a substitute. Learning is very much a personal journey as you’ve indicated.

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    1. Thank you so much angus. Yes, it’s been a very long time since I’ve been able to write. It was not for want of trying. I have close to 40 half finished drafts. Interestingly, once I realized how I needed to proceed spiritually, they writer’s block immediately lifted. I hope one day to have the knowing that you do, but until then I now know that there is no substitute for personal experience. Thank you for your support, I’m so grateful. ❤️

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  3. Your ‘voice’ rises out of this blog as rational, kind, compassionate, and wise. Appreciation is coming to you from those of us who know the search is never ending (as it should be)! Thank you, and good health, happiness, truth, and beauty is wished for you and other readers for the measure of 2021.

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    1. Thank you so much for your kind words. It’s been such a difficult year for everyone. I truly hope 2021 brings a fresh start to all. Thank you, mlhe, it warms my heart that you have been on this journey with me since the beginning. Yes, the search will never end, and I’m in it for the long haul. Thank you and best wishes for good health this year!

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  4. Dear Jenn – it is wonderful to have a new post from you. I wanted to thank you for all your valuable insights. When I found this page a couple of years ago, at a sad moment in my life, you have no idea how much your writing helped me and allowed me to discover new ‘directions’ that are now very meaningful. I feel it important that you should know just how much you can inspire people….
    So, Bonne année from France.

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    1. Dear Christine, you have truly lifted my spirits with your kind comment. I wasn’t sure after all of this time if anyone would still be around. To hear that this blog was helpful during a difficult time in your life means a lot to me. Thank you so much for taking the time to let me know. Best wishes to you and a happy new year!!

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  5. Yes, it’s been ages and ages! It wasn’t for want of trying – I just had the world’s worst writer’s block. Once I understood ‘the lesson’ of how I needed to move forward, the writer’s block disappeared. Thank you so much for sticking it out with me and for your support. Hoping you have a nice summer in Australia! It’s cold here, so I am jealous! Take care and best wishes for a good 2021 as well 🙂

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  6. Happy New Year Jenn, you shine more bright, a beacon for the nights and days, conquering and being vanquished, of those who are challeged by the sky, if they need more, more struggle, forgetting, remembering, may be in a movement to regain and regain onself a thousand times. You are affirming, and with wisdom and ‘soul’ that is a gift from the sky to those who are lucky to hear your thoughts.

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  7. Yay, a new post!

    On a serious note, though, don’t beat yourself up for feeling selfish or having an ego that wanted validation, or wanting to get a sign from the great beyond, as all those are normal desires that everyone on the spiritual path feels at one point or another. In fact, this whole post feels so familiar to me because I’ve gone through something very similar: I, too, had a mountain of spiritual books, but after ten years or so of acquiring and reading them, I began to lose the drive to keep getting them; in retrospect, that’s because I wanted external sources to provide all the answers I sought, but at some point during their lives, every spiritual seeker eventually moves forward to the stage where they learn to rely on the voice within them for guidance.

    How does one include a spiritual practice in daily life? I like to look at it as trying to live a life that’s harmonious and productive in a way that benefits you, those around you, and the world at large: Being kind, being helpful, offering a shoulder to cry on, listening to someone who wants to talk without offering judgement, and providing a product or service that benefits others. Is it easy? Hell no! I still curse like a sailor at people who run lawnmowers at 7 in the morning, get ticked off at the smallest things, and have a lot of days where I desire death and destruction to humankind for our stupidity and insanity. But you’ve just got to forgive yourself for your failures and keep moving forward; it’s a lifelong process, not something you can accomplish in a few years, or even a few decades, and then become the Dali Lama and chant Ommmmmmm in temples every day in the Lotus position. We’re all seeds struggling to become trees, and we all struggle through dirt, rock, and soil to finally break through to the sun.

    The thing that’s helped me the most during all these years is something I’ve mentioned before in a previous post: Every morning, I ask God to please guide me through the day so that I may continue to accomplish my purpose for being on this earth, and to help others do the same, according to my highest good, and the highest good of everyone I meet, with ease and grace. While this doesn’t protect you from the pains and misery of life, it does give a strong sense of purpose and focus to your days, and more often than not things happen that, in hindsight, seem like they were engineered instead of being a random coincidence, like getting a job you didn’t want, but in hindsight provided stability, a steady paycheck, and healthcare when you needed it the most, and allows you to keep getting those things when so many other people lose their jobs.

    Lastly, I do diverge from you, Jean, with regards to God and other spiritual beings on the other side. While they don’t save us from bad or unpleasant experiences, my experience is that they do want to help and don’t abandon us to flail around, even if all they can do is help to give us strength and courage to face difficult circumstances. God can nudge us in the right direction, but we still have to take the steps in that direction.

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  8. Glad to see you posting again. The guy on youtube on not reading spiritual books anymore is referring to well know phenomena ‘spiritual bypass’. I agree that one’s life is the food for our spiritual process. It seems like I/we are getting what we need for our growth. And it doesn’t need to be either or with books and life experience – balance.
    My destiny was to meet living guides and guidance. When i finally found my path and teacher it was like a tractor beam picked me up and delivered me to another world. It was a social world with sangha, fellow seekers, and a director of activities. That was long ago in another galaxy. What I came away with from that is the value of sangha fellow seekers/finders. Though I do my own work I do it in the company of others who are working also. This provided me much needed support of various kinds. maybe this digital medium can provide that now? Some furthter words about that below.

    A good community is needed to help us resist the unwholesome ways of our time. Mindful living protects us and helps us go in the direction of peace. With the support of friends in the practice, peace has a chance.

    If you have a supportive sangha, it’s easy to nourish your bodhicitta, the seeds of enlightenment. If you don’t have anyone who understands you, who encourages you in the practice of the living dharma, your desire to practice may wither. Your sangha—family, friends, and copractitioners—is the soil, and you are the seed. No matter how vigorous the seed is, if the soil does not provide nourishment, your seed will die. A good sangha is crucial for the practice. Please find a good sangha or help create one.
    Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha are three precious jewels in Buddhism, and the most important of these is Sangha. The Sangha contains the Buddha and the Dharma. A good teacher is important, but sisters and brothers in the practice are the main ingredient for success.

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  9. Wow, Jenn – I’m so glad I checked back in here. Reading your latest post was like reading a description of my own struggles since my sister died. Thank you so much for sharing your experiences and insights.

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