I was born into this world as a skeptic.
Some of my first words and phrases were “What’s that?” and “Why?” I’m someone who has always sought to understand, someone who has questioned and inquired about the ways and workings of the world. In some ways, this has served me well. It has helped me relate to people who are different from me; to understand (or at least respect) opposing views, however deep my convictions are. This curiosity has led me all over the world, with a yearning to discover people and places that feel foreign, and then search for all the ways we are alike.
Back when President Trump was elected, I did not automatically conclude that half the country was evil. Shocked, angry, and disappointed as I was, the outcome motivated me to learn about the opposing issues, and to understand that fear is ultimately what drives most people to make the decisions they make. Fear of economic stability. Fear of terrorism. Fear of safety. Fear of the ability to protect our loved ones.
I do not believe that hate trumped love. But I do believe that fear did.
I also grew up with a deep resistance to religion; its rules and dogmas and scriptures. Its alienation and its propensity to incite wars and cultural divide. Even though I have also felt, on some level, that there is a natural order to the Universe, that there are things that cannot be explained or rationalized, I have spent most of my life tuning out that intuition.
It has really only been in the past few years that I have grown more open to exploring my spirituality. Meditating, using yoga to feel connected to “my source” rather than just a way to build muscle and release toxins. Reading, and exploring, and simply being open. I will never prescribe to any particular religion (I’m a Taurean, and I like to do things my own way). I still feel a weird aversion to using the word God (it makes me feel like some dude up there is using me as his pawn). I prefer the words “Love” and “Truth” and “My Higher Self.” But that’s just me. That’s where I’m at.
At this stage in my journey, I feel safe in calling myself a spiritual skeptic.
One of my favorite spiritual books I’ve read over the past couple years is The Universe Has Your Back
by Gabrielle Bernstein. Gabby is, by far, my favorite modern-day spiritual leader, mostly because she’s just so damn relatable. The following passage from her latest book spoke to me on a deep level.
“I have the privilege of witnessing thousands of people embrace their spiritual natures. It’s incredible to see people wake up to their connection to love. But far too often, I also see that these spiritually conscious people are extremely unconscious about what’s going on in the world. Or maybe they’re aware because they watch the news and read the paper, but they are apathetic to the issues. There’s nothing more upsetting to me than highly spiritual people who are disengaged from the world around them.
While I do not recommend getting sucked into the drama of the news, I feel it is our responsibility to consciously wake up to what’s going on around us. If we ignore what’s happening we’ll fall into the trap of apathy and forget the importance of our light.
Being conscious of the darkness in the world fuels our desire to bring more light.”
When I read this passage, it was like a switch went off. I am, by nature, a humanitarian. A highly sensitive soul who cares deeply about people, animals, and the planet… about doing the right thing. I’ve grown up holding on to the idea that you had to choose between being chaste and being someone who fights the good fight.
These words drilled into my consciousness that you don’t have to choose. In fact, having a spiritual practice and having a practice of fighting for what’s right go hand in hand. You can only fight so hard without feeling that, on some level “the Universe has your back.” On the other hand, what’s the point in being a “light-maker” if you don’t plan on actually improving the world and helping people shift their mindset?
No matter where you’re at in your spiritual practice and beliefs, whether you’re a devout Christian or a Zen Buddhist or someone who has a gratitude practice, I encourage you to continue exploring, but also to continue questioning.
The world cannot afford for you to live in a spiritual bubble.
One of the main goals of meditation is to cultivate a sense of joy and contentedness. And I feel like this attracts people for largely selfish reasons. There is the scientific research
to back up the idea that meditation and mindfulness makes you less stressed, less reactive, and overall happier.
But we need to dig further. We need to start using our practice not only to heal ourselves, but also to heal the world.
Here are five things you can do to help combine your spirituality with humanitarian work.
1 | Identify what causes you are most passionate about
There’s a big difference between being “sucked in to the drama” of the news, and having basic understanding of what’s going on in the world.
The former goes a little something like this:
I can’t peel my eyes away from the TV, everything is horrible, we’re all doomed, OMG why is everyone so evil? I’m gonna go take a nap.
The latter goes a little more like this:
Oh wow I had no idea there were still so many anti-Semitist sentiments in this country. This is a big problem, how do we go about healing this? I’m going to start researching organizations that have already started this healing process and see how I can dedicate my money and/or time.
Damn, global warming is really messing things up in this world. I don’t want to keep contributing to this problem. I’m going to start reading books and blogs for more guidance on how to switch to a greener lifestyle.
2 | Meditate on your intentions
Basking in your feelings of doom is un-productive and will literally wreak havoc on your mental and physical health. I suggest taking as little as 5-10 minutes each day to meditate, as a way to clear your head-space, get grounded, and get clear on your intentions.
3 | Speak up and take action
The world doesn’t get better simply by us praying and meditating. The world gets better by us taking action. I hope that at this stage in the game, you’ve identified what causes you’re passionate about. I’m not suggesting you quit your job and join the Peace Corps, but there are other, more realistic ways you can help. You can dedicate an afternoon each month to volunteer in your community, you can fuel a discussion with your peers about such-and-such cause, and you can donate your money.
4 | Practice loving-kindness
It’s easy to cast off “the others” as the “wrong” and “stupid” and “ignorant” ones. But that’s just the ego talking. Remember that the root of most, or all, evil in this world is fear. Help drive fear out of this world by practicing kindness and compassion, even to those you find it hardest to do so.
5 | Take care of yourself
You can’t pour from an empty cup. Make sure you’re eating health-promoting, natural foods, foods that our bodies are designed to consume, and foods that aren’t destroying the planet. Set the intention of moving your body without abusing it. Take a few moments out of your day to reflect on what you’re thankful for. Give yourself an oil massage (or better yet have someone do it for you). Drink a cup of your favorite tea. Read an inspiring book.
Life is about finding a balance of doing things that are good for the world, and doing things that are good for yourself.
Do you have a spiritual practice? How does it contribute to your sense of purpose?