What are the things that most make your life feel meaningful? When have you felt that you are experiencing a rich quality of life? What are the elements of those times that have given you that sense of living fully and deeply?
A few years ago I spoke with a man who had lived a very successful life by society’s standards. He had made a lot of money. He had a comfortable life, good friends, and lots of opportunities for amazing experiences. Many of us would be tempted to look at his life and think that he had it all. And yet he felt that there was something missing. He had every reason to have a rich and meaningful life, but somehow he felt empty and lost.
The key element, as he expressed it, was that his life was shallow. There was no real meaning to it. There was no depth. There were lots of activities but no purpose. Lots of experiences but no reason behind them. And lots of opportunities but little connection with his soul. But when he found a sense of spirituality, this all changed and he discovered how to live deeply.
WHY LIVE DEEP?
You can be forgiven for wondering why you should even care about living deeply. Perhaps you’re quite happy with your life. Sure, there are things that you wish were different, but everyone feels that. So you go to work, eat, sleep, and repeat. You find moments of pleasure and connection where you can. And you don’t ask too much of life so that you’re not disappointed. And perhaps that works for you.
But for millions of people, the so-called normal life doesn’t work. We are living through a pandemic of depression and other mental health struggles that arise out of a sense of meaninglessness, emptiness, and despair. So many of our family members, friends, work colleagues, and neighbours are wondering what the point of their existence is. So many of us are trying to avoid the voices within us that tell us that there must be more to life than this.
Somewhere inside of us, we all long to feel more deeply connected with our deepest selves. We long to feel that we belong in the universe and are connected with the Life that permeates it all. We long to feel a deep connection with at least one or two other people. And we long to feel that our lives mean something, that they have a reason for being, and that they matter in some way that is bigger than just our own little selves.
And when that longing begins to be addressed, we start to live more deeply. We begin to touch the things that give us meaning, connection, and a reason for living. And then our lives, no matter how ordinary and simple they may be, become magical and vibrant. They are filled with a richness and depth that changes everything in significant ways.
HOW TO LIVE DEEP
I have discovered that all the things that bring this sense of depth, meaning and connectedness are related to spirituality. We may not think of these things as spiritual. That’s usually because we imagine that spirituality means becoming part of a religion, or believing in a god, or following some guru.
But spirituality is not about these things. Religion and spirituality are not the same, although they should be related (they often aren’t). Spirituality isn’t even about believing in a god.
Spirituality, from my perspective, is about just three things:
- A deepening awareness of ourselves, the world, others, and the Life that sustains us all. And alongside that, an awareness of what makes life meaningful and healthy.
- A sense of intentionality. This is about living life on purpose, not by accident. It’s deliberately choosing our lives, values, and relationships instead of just going along with whatever happens. It’s being proactive rather than reactive in our living.
- A deepening experience of connectedness. As Esther Perel is famous for saying, “the quality of our relationships determines the quality of our lives.” And the more we recognise and own our place in the web of connections of which we are a part, the richer our lives become.
When we live with these three qualities running through everything we are and do, our lives feel much more whole, meaningful, and deep. And this is essentially what spirituality is about.
Of course, one of the primary by-products of a healthy spirituality is that we start to care about things other than ourselves. We become more compassionate and seek in some small way to do our part to alleviate suffering in the world. And we become more generous in seeking ways to make a contribution to the betterment of the world.
HOW TO FIND A DEEP LIFE THROUGH INTENTIONAL SPIRITUALITY
So how does spirituality empower us to live deep? Spirituality is the journey into deep living. But spiritual practice is the vehicle that gets us there. Very few people automatically seek a deeper awareness of their own thinking and motivations. Even fewer seek a deeper awareness of the forces that shape and influence our world and lives. And many of us struggle with living intentionally, however much we may wish to.
A deep life doesn’t just happen any more than becoming fit or learning a new skill just happens. We need to practice consistently and regularly to master the skills of deep living. How do we do that? Here are some suggestions:
- We need to find the practices that speak to us. There is no shortage of options, so we can all find something that connects with our unique needs. We just need a way to still ourselves, calm our chattering minds, guide our reflections, and notice what is happening within us and around us in the world.
- Once we’ve found a practice that works we simply need to repeat it as often and as consistently as we can.
- And in order to do that, it can be helpful to set aside a little time each day, or once a week, or in the irregular moments that arise in our chaotic lives. And then we can place our practice within a framework that ensures we get the most value out of our time.
We need to prepare ourselves in some way—focussing on breathing, lighting candles or incense, or reading a passage of Scripture, poetry, or other literature.
Then we need to be intentional about reflecting. This means letting go of assumptions and preconceptions and opening our minds to new wisdom, insights, and perspectives.
It is always important to have some way to respond to what we’ve experienced in our reflections. If we don’t do this we lose the wisdom we have received. Journaling, either in a physical book or on a device, is one of the best, time-tested ways to do this. But there are other practices that can work just as well if they suit us better.
And finally, we need to integrate our spiritual practice into how we live. This can take the form of beginning the day with affirmations, or setting challenges for ourselves through a period of time, or creating daily moments to pause and remember our intention for the day, the week, or the season.
The goal of doing spiritual practice like this isn’t to have amazing experiences all the time. Those experiences will come, and we become more open to them when we are more intentional and consistent in our spiritual practice. But what we really need is the tiny, daily shifts that add up over time. If we get nothing more from our spiritual practice than feeling a little more peaceful, or shifting an attitude slightly, or seeing something from a slightly different perspective, it can still make a significant difference to our quality of life.
So what’s your favourite spiritual practice? How has your spirituality made your life deeper? How has it given you a better quality of life? What would you recommend for those seeking to add an intentional spiritual practice to their lives? I’d love to hear your insights and experiences, so please leave a note in the comments. Just a small contribution like this can help others as we do this spiritual journey together.
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