Part 6 of the What Does This Have To Do With Wellness? series.
Religion, spirituality and philosophy, have kind of gotten a bad reputation, and don’t get me wrong that is for a lot of important reasons. All of these have been used in harmful and negative ways by powerful people and institutions to manipulate and oppress various peoples throughout history, and in many cases that continues to happen. This is of course horrible, unacceptable, and should never happen. For that reason, I can understand why people want to just throw it all away and not look back. I also felt that way for much of my life, and I still have days where I feel that way.
But is it all bad? In theory, if you took away the power-hungry people, and the corrupt institutions, is the rest all bad?
Before I say anything else I want to say this post is not going to tell you to go join my church, or join any organized religion for that matter. I think it is important to be transparent and acknowledge my own personal bias. I am a member of an organized religion, the United Church of Canada, and I identify as a Progressive Christian. However, what I will be talking about here is not Christianity or Christian doctrine. I’m not here to preach, I promise I won’t quote the bible at you. Honestly, I don’t even know it well enough to do that.
I don’t have all the answers; in fact I don’t think I really have any when it comes to religion or spirituality. But I do think that spiritual exploration and questioning has been beneficial for my mental health and wellness.
So, what does spirituality have to do with our wellness?
I’m going to use the word spirituality because I think it carries with it less negative associations than religion and it doesn’t imply the same sense of organized or institutionalized set of beliefs. But you can apply these ideas to religion and philosophy too. Spirituality it seems is just the more approachable cousin to both philosophy and religion.
Spirituality to me is really just wondering and thinking about life’s big questions like: why are we here, how did we get here, and what is life really about? It’s discussions about morality, living ethically, and the nature of our mortality.
To some extent I think to be spiritual is just to be human. Humans have always sought to explore and know, and asking the big questions is worthwhile even if they aren’t answerable. It can help us to better understand ourselves, even challenge who we want to be and how we want to live our lives. It can change how we relate to the world and others around us.
Exploring the why’s and what’s that lie deep in our hearts and souls ( i.e. do you you think there is such a thing as a soul?) is important for our wellness and mental health. It can give us opportunity to connect with other people, other ideas and perspectives on life, it connects us with our humanity. It can give us feelings of purpose, reason, hope, and peace which are all very beneficial to our mental health.
How can I explore my spirituality (other than by joining a religious organization)?
There are many practical ways to do this. Spiritual exploration doesn’t have to be formal, fancy, or intimidating. It can be as simple as learning about other peoples and cultures in documentaries or museums, seeing other ways of living (locally or otherwise), learning about the many world religions, beliefs, and philosophies. It doesn’t have to be in a church on Sunday mornings as we are so often told.
And, you don’t have to pick one set of beliefs, it doesn’t need to be a specific religion, you can take what you want and leave what you don’t want. Your beliefs are unlikely to fit perfectly with one religion or philosophy, and that’s okay. There is no one thing you need to believe or do in order to explore spirituality.
Spiritual exploration can come from scientific learning too – learning about the world and how it works can change how we think and feel about life. When we learn for example about the incredible biodiversity that exists on earth and the complexity of life in all its forms, it can lead us to profound feelings and experiences. Learning about the magnificent inner workings of our brains and bodies can help us tremendously and encourage a sense of spirituality too.
So, it’s not about believing a specific thing, or having the answers to the big questions, but it is in the experience of exploring things that are greater than ourselves that we benefit our mental health and wellness. I worry when we rightly get rid of the rigid leaders and often exclusionary institutions and that we forget to keep these good parts. The opportunity to connect deeply with other people and the world.
It is often in these experiences that I feel most at peace, and the most motivated to help myself and others. Wonder at the world and a taste for deep exploration are invigorating feelings that can inspire us in so many different ways. Inspire us to know ourselves, better ourselves, help others, and care for the world.
P.S. stay tuned for the final part of this series next week! Check out part 5 from last week!