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Posts from the ‘Thoughts’ Category

Religion vs. Spirituality

Most of my friends know that I’m not the religious type but a few that don’t know me too well have asked whether or not I’m “spiritual”. I’ve always found this to be an interesting question and one that I tend to give what I think is an unorthodox answer to. For most people I think spirituality and religion go hand in hand, and in  a way they do, but that doesn’t mean they can’t also exist separately.

A quick Google search of the term “spirituality” conjures up definitions mostly concerned with its meaning through religious belief.  But my favorite definition is the one that Wikipedia provides, in which they write:

“The term spirituality lacks a definitive definition, although social scientists have defined spirituality as the search for “the sacred,” where “the sacred” is broadly defined as that which is set apart from the ordinary and worthy of veneration.”

This definition encompasses the more modern meaning of the term as well as the original definition concerning things that are holy. My own conception of spirituality aligns more with humanistic psychology which attempts to explain the human drive towards self-actualization. The part in Wikipedia’s definition that really stands out to me is, “…where ‘the sacred’ is broadly defined as that which is set apart from the ordinary and worthy of veneration.” In its purest form “sacred” has always been thought of as pertaining to religious belief, and this would make sense given the context in which the word had first arose. There was once a time, believe it or not, when the vast majority of humans believed in higher powers that closely monitored every action of an individual human. During these times religious ideologies held the worldview of all of humanity and there wasn’t much room for anything else. But as we’ve seen in modern times, thousands of ideologies can exist in a single city, and words tend to lose their original meaning. So when I see Wiki’s use of the word “sacred” in their definition followed by “that which is set apart from the ordinary and worthy of veneration,” multiple ideas fall into the category of “sacred” to me. These ideas include those that are found in art and those that are found in science. I realize that at this point I’m blatantly suggesting my own personal opinion of what is sacred. And that’s the point! What is sacred to an individual has diversified greatly since the days of old, when people were forced to think that a select few things could be held as so. I have now told you what find sacred, and that is art and science. And unsurprisingly I’m not the only one who thinks this way. There are a countless millions of individuals who I’m sure would agree there. And why not? Science and art are very much capable of producing ideas and objects that are undoubtedly worthy of “veneration,” and that are clearly set apart from the “ordinary.” So by broad definition I’d say that the various constituents of art and science are more than qualified as sources of spirituality.

Basically, when people ask if I’m spiritual I tell them “yes.” I draw my spirituality from the wonders presented to me through various art forms and scientific facts. I stand in awe at creative genius, and it gives me goosebumps to ponder fantastic quotes like Carl Sagan’s, “we are a way for the Cosmos to know itself.” And I think that everyone is spiritual, although most people won’t admit it or aren’t aware, probably because of the residual connotations of the term.

Spirituality is inspiration. It is our fuel; synonymous with drive. It is our passion and willingness to better ourselves in order to reach our goals. If you want to know where you draw your spirituality, think about what it is that gives you goosebumps. And if you aren’t quite sure what that is, then perhaps it’s time for some spiritual introspection. Get out there and experience more of the world and maybe something will touch you in a way that ignites a fire in your chest, and then you will know.

I’m going to draw this post to an end before it becomes too much like a self-help blog. I may brush on this topic a little more; probably going a little more in depth about the humanistic psychological side of things. Until next time!

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Meditation (mindfulness) [First post!]

Having just created this blog, I’ve naturally been searching my mind for a good first post to write. The topic I’ve randomly decided to discuss first is meditation. I know that this subject has many connotations associated with it (for better or for worse), but to be clear my current meditative practices align simply with the idea of “mindfulness“. That is, the practice of being aware of only the present moment and to disregard thoughts as reality and instead view them in a purely observational way. It’s important to note that I personally don’t follow any religion, nor am I superstitious in the slightest, but I do believe spirituality to be something separate from both religion and the supernatural and something worthy of implementing into anyone’s life. Perhaps my thoughts on religion vs spirituality can be discussed further in a seperate post.

My introduction into mindfulness meditation began a couple of years ago through my desire to seek help with anxiety. While the symptoms and severity of clinical anxiety are often inflated subjectively, I realize that every human being has the tendency to feel anxiety (or any emotional state for that matter) to some degree and at some point in their lifetime. It was pretty clear to me that I was an anxious person, although nowadays I don’t claim to have as severe anxiety as I believed I had when I wasn’t as educated in the subject. Currently I’ve realized that my anxiety is about as prominent as the next person’s, and that I really don’t require medication or intense therapy like I once believed. After briefly consulting with a couple councilors and after much exposure to the topic on the internet, my world had been opened up to a promising solution to my anxiety.

I was taught that breathing is central to this practice. Breathing is the one thing we are guaranteed to be doing at any second of the day, so naturally if one were to seek attention to something in the present, then breathing should be the center of focus. The idea is to sit comfortably in an area with minimal distractions. Begin focusing on your breathing and while doing so, count your breaths in some way. I personally count down from 20. This will help accentuate the focus on breathing. While breathing you will begin to notice thoughts gradually pouring into your awareness. This is the tricky part. It’s important not to get wrapped up in these thoughts, and to instead allow each thought to float on by indifferently. If you do (and you will) get caught in an enticing thought bubble, then try as best you can to refocus on breathing and counting. It’s easier said than done.

Anxiety and depression stem from thoughts of past and future. Thoughts of the past are unchangeable, yet we waste a large fraction of our mental resources wishing things would’ve turned out differently. Likewise, it’s easy to get caught up in thoughts of the future which may cause us unnecessary worry that affects us in the present. I’ve always found this interesting: past and future don’t actually exist; they are only products of our mental architecture. Forward-thinking and the formulation of memories obviously serves as a biological advantage when viewed in a certain light, but these days they’ve become mental abilities that tend to debilitate most individuals. The major downside to being able to perceive a past and future is the fact that it’s all still being processed through the amygdala, which is a primitive neural faculty responsible for the generation of emotions. So when we’re laying in bed dwelling on a depressing thought of the past, our brains process this memory alongside the amygdala and cause real physical symptoms of this depression in the present. You can then see how this is a conundrum and how the need to keep your thoughts in the present is imperative! 

To be honest, mindfulness mediation is not something I’ve been able to keep up with consistently. My life will become insanely busy and I’ll forget all about the meditative endeavor. More recently however the subject has become dominant in my mind once again. I plan on moderately documenting my personal experience with meditation with the advent of this new blog. As I research further into the topic I’ll be sure to share all the techniques, history, and science behind the practice that I’m sure to discover! My current goal is to set aside at least 10 minutes a day to training my mindfulness muscle. Expect to hear from me on this topic soon!