What Does a Spiritual Awakening Look and Feel Like?

The Huffington Post Religion blog recently tried to answer that question by anonymously asking their readers to tell brief stories about their own spiritual experiences using the app Whisper. If you frequent with this blog, you know that we like to talk about spirituality in broad terms. Spirituality means something different for everyone but at the same time helps to unite us as believers in a greater power. Spirituality can mean praying in a church for some or simple meditation to clear one’s head for others. Some people even find spiritual experiences in sports like surfing.

That’s why this HuffPost piece was particularly interesting. Experiences ran the gamut from people who felt that God had spoken directly to them to those who felt a closeness to nature was a spiritual experience and everything in between.

We’ve selected a few of the most interesting responses. To see them all, visit the full piece on the Huffington Post Religion Blog.

When I used to pray it was always like "why don't I get anything good in life" then I  realized I should be thankful for a lot like my health and family so once I started thanking him and trusting his plan for my life things started getting better

To me, god is nature. God is not a personal being or individual. I feel close to god studying biology, doing research, hiking and camping. Nature is amazing and is a higher power on it's own.

Yes because somehow when things are at the worse he always finds a way to encourage me to keep living and to keep faith.

When I was severely depressed this past winter I bought a spiritual book and the first thing I read related directly to my life and situation and I started bawling my eyes out. I looked up and said "thank you". It truly helped me get through.

Open Source Spirituality: Part II

Spirituality in the internet age

Will the open nature of the internet age start to affect how we think about spirituality?

In the last installment of this post we talked about what open source and p2p mean and how the concepts have helped to create the democratization of media creation, news, art, and countless other areas.  There was a recent post on Open Democracy discussing how these concepts could be applied to spirituality and possibly lead to a more collective, rather than hierarchical view of how human beings experience spirituality.

One of the salient points of the article is that religion and spirituality are often products of their times as much as the times are a product of religion.  A great example of that is the structure of the early Catholic Church.  The Church came rose to prominence in the power vacuum that was left by the fall of the Roman Empire. The political and economic system that replaced the centralized imperial governance revolved around strongmen controlling small fiefdoms that were farmed by peasants who were tied to the land. These fiefdoms also supplied soldiers and waged war against their rivals all while pledging fealty to the strongman or lord.  If this sounds like the complete opposite of what Jesus preached, it’s because it is.  So why did the Catholic Church also organize itself in a similar fashion with priests pledging fealty to Bishops in powerful cities, who in turn pledged fealty to the Pope?  One of the reasons the church structured itself this way was because of the political and economic system of the time.  The church mirrored that organization not through a conscious decision, but because that was the best way to structure an organization in the low middle ages.

So what does that have to do with the democratization of spirituality? If the organizational and sociopolitical system of the middle ages imprinted itself onto the Catholic Church, doesn’t it follow that the spirit of democratization and the open source sharing of ideas and technology would imprint itself on our concept of spirituality?

The Open Democracy article argues that as free sharing and contribution continues to become the way of the world, these ideas will eventually shape how we think about spirituality. No longer will a priest be pouring ideas and spiritual validation downward, but members of the spiritual community will act as equals and share their ideas amongst one another to create a democratized spiritual experience for everyone.

This idea is a bit academic, but there is definitely something to it.  Maybe the technological concepts of open source software and p2p sharing will lead to a democratic sharing of spiritual ideas and experiences without the hierarchy that often accompanies religion.

Open Source Spirituality: Part 1

Spirituality p2p

Will p2p sharing trickle into the way we think about spirituality.

In the last ten years the landscape of the digital world has changed tremendously.  Everything from high-end photo editing software to video production equipment to the ability to easily create your own website have become readily available and non-cost prohibitive.  This has led to academics and observers to trumpet the “democratization” of almost everything. While the term has become somewhat of a platitude, it does ring true for areas of expertise that used to have a high barrier to entry.

There’s nothing stopping a 10 year old from going on Code Academy and teaching himself how to build a website at almost no cost. Musical instruction that used to require expensive private lessons is now available for free on YouTube. It’s not unrealistic in 2014 to teach yourself how to make a living being a graphic designer with a few months of internet research and dedication.

The term “open source” is one that goes hand in hand with “democratization” in many ways. Originally a term that applied only to software, open source now means something along the lines of anything that can be shared and modified by others without paying licensing fees or even permission. The operating system Linux is a pure open source OS favored by many computer programmers. Wikipedia, one of the highest trafficked sites on the internet is essentially an open source encyclopedia, allowing anyone to contribute and edit.

So how does the open source world we live in relate to spirituality and religion?  A recent Open Democracy article discusses how the concept of Peer to Peer (p2p) sharing that has changed the face of technology may also be applied to change the face of spirituality.  Check out part 2 of this blog post when we’ll discuss what this means in a little more depth.

Meditating Your Way to a Better Immune System

Meditation in Michigan

Meditation can lead to a stronger immune system.

For the third installment of this series, let’s talk about the most concrete benefit that the Yahoo Health article on spirituality as a means to a healthier life covers.  Research has actually shown that meditation, prayer, and other spiritual behavior can actually lead to a better functioning immune system.

So how could this be?  Some people believe that it is the spiritual engagement itself that leads to healing.  Perhaps humans have the ability to tap into a greater power through meditation or prayer which can help boost our body’s illness fighting capability.

The more palatable explanation for scientists and doctors is that the daily routine of calming activity that leads to greater healing capacity.  Kelly Turner is an oncologist working out New York City who summarizes the idea well: “It’s not what people believe in but whether they had a daily practice that made the difference.  When you are in deep prayer or meditation, your fight-or-flight response goes off and your rest-and-repair turns on.”

In other words, concentrating on your spiritual self can be such a calming and soothing experience that your body can stop spending its energy on processing stress or protecting itself and start utilizing those resources to repair your body or fight off an illness.

For more information on how spirituality can actually increase immunity, delve deeper in this study published in Brain, Behavior, and Immunity in 2012.  The gist is that subjects who engaged in 2 month-long meditation regimens saw an increase in their immune systems ability to ward off potentially harmful illnesses.

If you’re still not convinced that spirituality can boost your overall mental and physical health, read the entire Yahoo Health article for even more benefits of leading a spiritual life.

Preventing Depression Spiritually

Depression and Spirituality

A new study has shown the spiritual living can lead to a reduced chance of depression.

It’s long been postulated that leading a life of spirituality can lead to actual benefits.  Researchers recently gathered at the New York Academy of Medicine and shared their findings which seem to somewhat validate the idea that incorporating elements of spirituality into your life can help you conquer or prevent both physical and mental ailments.  Yahoo Health has the full story.

Let’s look at some of the compelling evidence presented and discuss the specific ways it might be able to help you improve your own mental and physical health.  In this installment, we’ll talk about how living spiritually can help prevent depression.

The Yahoo piece notes that one of the major risk factors for developing depression is living in isolation.  Those who feel separated from loved ones are much more likely to report feeling depressed.  Human beings are social animals and oftentimes we can self-perpetuate a cycle of loneliness.  Your friend asks you to go to a party and you don’t want to go because you feel down on yourself but one of the reasons you feel down on yourself is because you aren’t been social.  Sound familiar?

Spirituality can help to alleviate this vicious circle by giving you a reason to engage socially on a regular basis.  Psychotherapist William McCann is an expert in community and family medicine at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in North Carolina.  He believes that spiritual activities whether they be organized religion, volunteering with a community group, or even joining a yoga class that meets regularly.  These types of activities give the attendee a sense of being part of something.  It can also lead to a feeling of camaraderie that when lacking can lead to depressive feelings and thoughts.

Staving off depression is just one way spirituality can lead to a happier healthier life.  Check back soon for more ways to improve your body, mind, and soul.