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How to be spiritual… without being weird or religious

I’m an atheist – I’ve never believed in a god. I’m a follower of science; I believe that scientific method is the best way to find the truth about something. I’m a materialist – I don’t believe in souls and spirits and things beyond the material realm – I believe everything that exists can be measured somehow.

So where does a guy like me go when he wants to be spiritual??

In this post, I’m going to share my definition of spirituality and some of the ways I practice being spiritual.

This is to help guide other people like me who want a deeper sense of meaning, purpose, and connection, but don’t want to follow a religious doctrine, don’t believe in paranormal things, and don’t want to dreadlock their hair and consistently smell of potpourri.

Here’s how I go spiritual without bibles, beads, tarot cards, or woo woo of any kind.

Definition of spirituality

For me, this is about meaning, purpose, connection, and enjoyment of life.

Spirituality is about exploring why I do things, and looking for better reasons and intentions that create a healthier more enjoyable life in the longer term.

It’s about addressing things that make me feel disconnected and lonely, like my ego and limiting beliefs, and trying to align my perspective to the truth that everything is connected to everything, and therefore a sense of being “apart” is an illusion.

And mostly, it’s about recognising that the human mind is wired toward endless suffering; that we’re never quite content, never quite accurate in our views, and never embracing how wonderful it is to be alive. Spirituality is about finding ways to counter this suffering and actually fucking enjoy being alive occasionally.

It’s a practice

For someone like me, if it isn’t practical, it isn’t helpful.

When I say “spirituality” I am always referring to behaviour. It is something you DO, not so much something you think or feel.

Sure, it’s largely about beliefs and perspectives, however these are managed and changed by aligning my actions with the beliefs and perspectives I wish to have.

So let’s look at some examples of how to BE spiritual, without needing to attend any churches, festivals, or thinly-veiled excuses for sex parties.

Core values work – Integrity

More than anything else, my sense of meaning and purpose comes from continually trying to improve on my integrity. I have a list of core values that I’ve developed over many years and honed into a nuance set of principles. Integrity means aligning my behaviour with these principles.

This brings spirituality into everything that I do. When I speak, I focus on how Honest I’m being. When I do menial tasks around the house, I focus on how Responsible and Present I’m being. When I attend to my work and hobbies, I constantly seek opportunities for Courage, Curiosity and Respect.

Your entire existence can become a spiritual experience if you can just remember to figure out WHY you’re doing something before you start doing it.


 

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Priming

Following on from that, and very practical tip for living with integrity is “priming”, which means to deliberately set your intentions for the next action or activity you’re about to participate in. Choose which of your values are most relevant to this situation, and set goals as to how you wish to practice them right now.

Before my BJJ class, I might set the intention of focusing on Bravery, which means choosing difficult partners to roll with or practicing my Czech language skills with a new potential friend.

Before I confront my wife, I might set the intention of Patience or Compassion, reminding myself to slow down, listen, and look for a win/win outcome.

Before I go to the gym, I might address my sudden drop in motivation by committing to Discipline, and giving myself the option of just attending the gym for a short time so that I at least show up.

Mindfulness meditation

Meditation used to mean sitting around, saying “Ohm”, and generally feeling pretty smug about it all.

These days, there is hard neuroscientific proof that spending time focusing intently on what is occurring in the present moment is immensely beneficial for your cognitive functioning and general wellbeing.

I like to practice what I call “walking meditation”. Rather than sitting still with my eyes closed and “meditating” as an action on it’s own, I try to bring my attention to what I’m doing during everyday tasks. I focus on things like the feel of the steering wheel in my hands while I drive; the residue of food on the fork I’m washing; the sense of heat in my shoes as I walk to the shops.

In other words: paying attention. It’s the simplest method for feeling connected (and getting away from those pesky thoughts).

Pro tip: for anxious people who really struggle to get out of their mind, try physically difficult things like balancing on one foot using just your tippy-toes. The need to focus on your balance will steal your attention away from your thoughts.

Education and belief challenging

It’s safe to say the concept of “expanding awareness” falls into the category of spirituality. Thankfully, you don’t need ayahuasca or rhythmic chanting to branch out. Education, particularly the kind that forces you to see life from a different perspective, achieves this goal nicely.

This is a specific type of learning, where you go to seek understanding of either a) the perspective of someone you disagree with, b) a topic you know nothing about, or c) an update on a topic you’ve become complacent and smug about.

Basically, seek to prove yourself wrong.

Listen to the best arguments from the other side of the political fence. Explore topics that intimidate you. Find people who you know see things differently to you and ask them how they arrived at their conclusions.

Physical discomfort and manual labour

Many of the greatest philosophers were also deliberately physical. It’s rumoured that Plato sometimes got up and flexed his muscles as a way of winning an argument; Sun Tzu was a great warlord; Socrates was a renowned wrestler; Wim Hof immerses himself in ice cold water for fun.

When it comes to spirituality people often get too cognitive and emotional, and seem to overlook the unity between mind and body. One inhabits the other, so they cannot be separate. Science consistently demonstrates that our internal experience, consciousness, and mental state are massively impacted by the state of our bodies – our muscles, organs and blood.

So get moving!

Dig holes and mow the lawn by hand. Walk the long way to work. Turn your shower to cold right at the end. Test to see how long you can sit completely still. Don’t wear gloves at the gym. Try sleeping on the floor one night.

Do these things simply to experience discomfort, making your body stronger, tougher, and more resilient. You’d be amazed at how often this feels like a spiritual experience, especially once it’s over.

Stoicism

My favourite philosophy is also my greatest source of practical guidance for spirituality. While I don’t believe in gods etc. like the ancient Greeks, I do like the idea of logos, the connecting force running throughout the entire Universe.

Amor fati means to love fate. In practice, I’ve found this means to make the most of what you’ve got rather than wishing for something else. If you play the hand you’ve been dealt instead of complaining about other people’s cards, you’ll find yourself feeling like you’re in alignment with reality.

Premeditatio Malorum is the practice of preparing for worst case scenarios. This is more mental than physical, but in essence it’s about taking that hypothetical question our anxiety asks us – “What if…??” – and actually answering it. Prior to an activity you’re feeling uncomfortable about, actually imagine how exactly you will handle things going wrong, even if that means running away, taking a beating, or accepting a loss. Rather than dreading it, prepare for it!

Listening and receiving

Carrying on from the point about education, allowing yourself to be still and just receive information from the outside world – without actually seeking anything in particular – is a great way to feel connected.

You could just people-watch while you drink your coffee. You could randomly sneak into a lecture hall and take a class on who knows what. Pay attention while your child is telling you about their day and try to imagine what it felt like to be them.

Empathy is the greatest source of feeling connected – to understand what it’s like to be someone else. Explore people, ask them to tell you what it’s like to be them, and really listen. Don’t respond, don’t try to solve their problems, just hear them out.

Journalling

My most consistent daily spiritual practice is journalling.

This is where I reflect on what I’ve been doing throughout the day, what’s happened to me that caused an emotional reaction, and most importantly, how I responded and the reasons behind my actions.

I give myself feedback, as if I’m my own coach and cheerleader. I encourage good behaviour and chastise breaches of integrity. I remind myself of my principles. I notice the things I should be grateful for. I forecast possible futures based on present trends.

This is more than anything a way to simply stop and observe the life I’m living so I don’t miss it.

Giving freely and acts of service

Nothing makes us feel more separate and unsatisfied than wanting something we don’t have, especially when we then try to take it or get it some other way. It creates an instant illusion of lack.

Giving is the cure to this empty neediness.

But it can’t be giving as a method for getting. It can’t have a transactional quality. It must stand alone – giving for the sake of giving.

That means no thanks, no recognition, maybe even no awareness from others that you gave at all. Find a way to make your corner of the world a better place, and quietly do it just to be someone who contributes. It will make you feel like you’re part of the greater whole.

Being still

Most people are busy and stressed because of a secret subconscious strategy to never be too still. People are afraid of what might come up if they don’t occupy their mind with frivolous activity.

This isn’t even meditation, it’s more basic and untethered. Just sit still. That’s the only rule. You can get attached to thoughts. You can feel that it’s pointless. Nothing matters.

You have no goal but to endure sitting still for a period of time.

You’d be amazed at what comes up. You might daydream. You might reminisce. You might get an itchy arse. You might burst into tears.

And what you’ll realise is that this is the ultimate act of surrender – a state of completely letting go of control. Let the universe happen to you instead of trying to make something happen.

Sacrificing outcomes

Many great thinkers have all separately arrived at the same conclusion: suffering comes from attachment.

When we’re unwilling to lose an imagined result or outcome, we immediately start to suffer. We become needy, lacking, scarce, and desperate. We start sacrificing integrity to manipulate our way to victory. We lose ourselves to chase something that always turns out to be much less meaningful and satisfying than we hoped it would be.

To counter this, a spiritual practice that requires great courage is to deliberately lose. Not through lack of trying, but through choosing impossible challenges.

Asking out that cute stranger who’s walking with her parents. Applying for a job promotion that requires qualifications you’ve never even heard of. Attempting pull ups at the gym in front of everyone when you’re 100lbs overweight.

And even when you are winning, try occasionally giving the win away. End the great conversation without asking for a phone number. Let someone else get the last muffin on the tray. Allow the white belt to submit you in front of your fellow blue belts.

Lose just to let go of your attachment. You’ll feel freedom when it’s done by choice.

Enduring emotional discomfort

Finally, a basic rule I follow is this: if I feel uncomfortable about the thought of doing it, I pretty much have to do it.

This is a spiritual practice in a number of ways.

Firstly, I’m surrendering to the universe. I’m saying, “Go on then, do what you gotta do!”

Secondly, I’m facing my demons. I’m only uncomfortable because of fears, trauma wounds, and societal conditioning. When I walk into the fire, the burning cleanses me of weakness and limitations.

And finally, I’m embracing the sense of being alive. I used to pursue endless comfort, only to later realise that this left me numb and dead inside. I want to live, and that means experiencing the full range of feeling – not just happiness and calmness, but also confusion, stress, anger, anxiety, humiliation, and shame of all kinds.

The more I experience these things, the less they cause me suffering. I actually enjoy states like confusion and anger now, something I once thought impossible.

 


So there you have it: some tips on how to be spiritual without having to get into stuff you just don’t resonate with.

And of course…

How you can make massive progress in just a few months!

You can do all this on your own.

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Thanks for reading

Hope to speak to you soon

Dan Munro

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