I grew up going to Christian schools. They were often lovely, and I was mostly taught and treated well. But I struggled to understand God there*. In those early years, God was a formidable (not particularly loving) figure to me, and practicing religion was less about a relationship with Him and more about a strict set of rules I was meant to follow, lest I end up in the fiery pits of hell.
I think that was meant to scare me, but more than anything it pissed me off. And so God and I broke up for awhile, and—as has been my pattern in many broken relationships since—I decided to just act as if He didn’t exist. I tried to go about my life, acting as if I were the sole captain of my journey, and ignoring the many synchronicities and miracles and lessons that God repeatedly tried to put in my path.
But He wasn’t making it so easy. Occasionally, I would find myself praying “accidentally”, starting a conversation with God before quickly realizing that we were no longer on speaking terms (because He no longer existed, of course — according to me). Often, I would stumble across an article or have a book literally fall off the shelf in front of me at the bookstore (seriously) that would speak to God and the Universe and spirituality, and I’d feel myself getting pulled back in before I’d slam it shut.
Eventually, I couldn’t deny it any longer. I believed in God and spirituality. But after our estrangement, I knew we had some catching up to do. I was pretty scarred by my early experiences with Him, or what I had been told about Him. And so I set out to cultivate my own spiritual practice, as we worked out this new relationship together.
Because that’s what a spiritual practice is: it’s a relationship. It’s your relationship with God, the Universe, Spirit, Guide, or whatever you call the higher entity that supports and guides you. And, like any other relationship, it requires your time, attention, and devotion, in order for it to grow.
I don’t claim to be the expert in this. As you’ve learned, God and I are getting reacquainted after many years at odds with one another (well, I was more at odds with Him than He was with me—or so He tells me). So, I am learning right along with you. But in that learning, I have found a few ways that are helping me develop my own spiritual practice and deepen our relationship.
If you’re also looking to cultivate a spiritual practice and a strong relationship with a higher entity, I hope these ideas will help you do the same.
Know That Spirituality Is In You
Your spiritual practice doesn’t occur in one place. Churches are great. Meditation retreats are wonderful. Prayer circles are awesome. But your spiritual practice goes where you go. It is within you. It is on your living room couch, it is in your classroom, it is on that hike. Prayer—that ultimate connection to and conversation with spirit—can happen anywhere. How cool is that? So don’t feel like you have to be in a certain place to begin (or continue) your spiritual practice. Make a habit of connecting and conversing with your guide wherever you may be.
A spiritual practice costs you nothing (monetarily, at least). When God and I first got back together, I was all: “Oh, I need this mala necklace! And that meditation chair! And a retreat in Bali! And ALL of these leather-bound books on spirituality!” That’s all well and good (and yes, if you’re wondering, I would still like all of those things), but I don’t need them. And neither do you. What we need for a thriving spiritual practice is entirely free: an open heart, a deep relationship and daily conversation, and a commitment. We just need to show up. And that doesn’t cost a thing.
Protect Your Practice
Here’s the thing about spirituality and one’s practice of it: it is highly personal, and yet, eeeeeeeeeeeverybody has an opinion about it. Seriously, everyone. Be open to learning, of course, but be protective of your personal practice and experience. As with any other relationship, you can listen to other people’s advice (assuming you respect them and what they have to say), but what you do and say behind closed doors is ultimately and powerfully up to you.
Make It a Habit
I know this takes some of the romanticism out of it, but it’s important. Spirituality is still a practice—and, like playing the piano, you have to be dedicated. If it helps you, schedule time on the calendar to meditate, to pray, to attend church, to practice ritual. There’s nothing wrong with needing the gentle reminder of a calendar alert when you’re first cultivating a practice. Be consistent with your practice and continue to show up for it every day (seriously, every day). It’s not called a practice for nothing.
Have Patience With Yourself
Cultivating a spiritual practice is a journey, not a destination. There is no endgame. It’s a lifetime of deepening that relationship we talked about earlier. Take joy in that—in your learning and in your growth. Unlike practicing playing the piano, this practice can be fun (just kidding, piano players; I’m simply musically-challenged and deeply jealous of your dedication and ability) and you can take heart that you have the rest of your life to personalize and perfect it.
Remember that your spiritual practice is completely unique to you. It doesn’t need to look or sound or act like anyone else’s (mine included).
Can you borrow ideas? Sure—but try them out and keep only what resonates for you; only that which deepens your relationship and practice. If it feels inauthentic or uncomfortable, let it go.
My own spiritual practice is stronger than ever, but I also know that it’s a process. My faith can (and will) continue to grow stronger, and my practice will continue to grow deeper. I hope these tips help as you cultivate your own practice, but I also hope that you find exactly the experience you need to support exactly the spiritual relationship that you want.
As I heard Annika Martins, spiritual curator, and fellow TGWK guest editor, say in a recent Periscope: “You have your own permission”.
Make your spiritual practice exactly what you want and need for it to be.
And so it is.
*Please know that I mean no disrespect to the Christian religion, or anyone who practices it. I have a lot of love for it, actually! I simply speak of my unique perception of my limited experience at one specific place at one short time in my life.
Photo by Chelsea Bock