In today’s world of seemingly incessant stress and anxiety, psychologists and social scientists continue to research how to establish and maintain an emotionally healthy mind. Recently, there have been studies dedicated to determining the links between spiritual engagement and achieving a sense of serenity and well-being.
It is first imperative to discuss what is meant by spirituality. Virtually all religions offer a mystical tradition and have done so throughout history such as Christian Gnostics or Islamic Sufis, with more obvious examples in Zen Buddhism. Their commonality is that all have envisioned spirituality as an active seeking for a path to some higher power which includes developing a relationship with the Divine, seeking meaning and purpose in life, and promoting personal growth.
This can be a journey that leads to union with a specific deity, such as God, or can even be seeking an abstract or metaphysical understanding of a higher power, sometimes conceptualised as feeling connected with all creation or feeling at one with everything, as the Buddha expressed. The spiritual path can be described as commencing with a sort of psychological analyses conducted by the self; one must face their own ego, seek to understand it fully, and then dismantle the ego to reveal a healthy and innocent heart. This is a heightened level of religiosity, as people can often fall victim to simply going through the motions. Rituals and traditions such as prayer, meditation or fasting are only truly beneficial to calming the soul if the intention is to sincerely try to commune with the Divine.
Research has shown time and time again that the impact of spiritual activity can significantly help people deal with problems such as trauma, mental illness, substance abuse and other such afflictions of the mind. Similarly, it is common for patients with terminal illnesses to turn to spiritual methods of coping with severe anxiety and fear of death. One study in the International Journal of Applied Psychoanalytic Studies found that symptoms of depression were diminished when spirituality is used as a method of coping, and that anxiety about death was found to be diminished among people who engaged in spiritual activity as well.
There are several ways to practice spirituality, and they can be different for each individual depending on what brings them calm:
* Meditation and prayer (including the concept known in the Islamic tradition as Dhikr, or Eastern religions concept of reciting a mantra)
* Yoga or Thai Chi
* Being in nature
* Speaking with religious or spiritual leaders
* A self-imposed vow of silence
* Reading spiritual books or poetry
Many of these methods exist already in religious rites, but they require a genuine intention of quieting the mind and connecting with the unseen that exists all around us. Meditation is a common practice, a person need only sit and allow the mind to let go of the difficulties that often face us. It costs nothing more than putting forth mental effort to release the mind from constructions of judgement and dissatisfaction. It is a process that seeks to find contentment and satisfaction with the universe. Through this, it is understood by spiritual people, psychologists and academic researchers, can be found a fundamental way to change the way we think, the way we feel, and the way we interact with the world around us.