Making Spirituality Your Own

Forget dogma and find the truth for yourself.

A vibrant spiritual practice weaves the beautiful tapestry of our lives, over which we have creative authority. Its pursuit is worthy not only for the sense of connection we gain, but for the pure joy it brings to our daily lives. Sadly for so many of us, we don’t know this joy.

I was raised in a somewhat Catholic home. While the faith was practiced earnestly by family members that I truly admire, it was also misused by others as a catalyst for prejudice and a cover of false morality. I was turned off from a very early age by the constant focus on fear and guilt. It also seemed horribly out-of-date with irrelevant sermons and its humdrum hymns. However, I was unsettled with an intense craving for connection with a higher power so I stayed with the faith for much of my youth.

By my early twenties, I had fallen out of church and had begun backpacking with an outdoorsy group of friends. We explored the Hoh Rainforest, Yellowstone, Yosemite, the Redwoods, and so many other beautiful parks throughout the country. I felt so connected out in nature; it was there that God’s spirit made itself known to me. It was there that my soul felt resonance. I was inspired again!

At 28, I went with a boyfriend to one of these hipster mega-churches with donuts and coffee in the foyer, really great sermons by a young charismatic preacher, and rock music. I was moved by the spirit and even got baptized. Yes! I was born again! Inspired, I signed up for a mission trip to Thailand, where I worked at a girls’ orphanage in Udon Thani for a couple of weeks. That’s when my spiritual life changed.

After my work at the orphanage was finished, I went traveling around the country for a few weeks on my own. I visited all of the tourist sights, which just happened to be Buddhist temples. Throughout the city, I saw so many people worshiping this deity. There was even a statue in front of a McDonald’s in Bangkok where people would bring offerings before going in for their lunches. I looked around and I saw so much joy present. They call Thailand “The Land of Smiles” and a visit there makes it so evident why. What a beautiful culture! That was where it dawned on me that I had more options than Jesus.

When I returned home, I read voraciously about Taoism, Buddhism, Paganism, Hinduism, and over the next few years I began reading the work of great Sufi poets like Rumi and Hafiz. I listened Deepak Chopra and Marianne Williamson and I dove head first into books such as The Secret, Tao Te Ching, and A Course In Miracles.

I realized I wasn’t limited to the narrow scope of religion I had been exposed to as a child, I was a grown woman and I had options. I sorted through the clutter and began to discover the truth for myself.

Life in western culture feels unlimited, but we don’t seek what we don’t know. We are not limited to the tiny slice of lifestyle, religion, culture, and philosophy we’ve been exposed to. We acknowledge that mom, boyfriend, boss, and friends are entitled to their beliefs, and so are we. It can be scary to discuss new ideas with family or friends who are closed-off, but if we can be brave and release ourselves from religious dogma, instead opening to diversity, we find that church is not the only place where God dwells.

Traditional institutions like the Roman Catholic Church and its spin-offs certainly contain valuable concepts and practices, evidenced by the same truths echoing throughout time and other cultures. We’re all saying the same things. What Catholics know as Holy Spirit, Hindus call Prana, and the Chinese call Qi/Xi, but it’s all the same in essence. Its recognition, care, and celebration do not depend on the institution that named it. The Christians, Hindus, Muslims, and Buddhists can lay just as much claim to this beauty as Carl Jung, Hafiz, Paolo Coehlo, You, or Me. Religious rites and rituals were never the intentions of the enlightened beings who have shared their learnings with us.

Even our own language possesses colloquialisms that validate the Chakra system of the Jainists, Hindus, and Buddhists. Sayings such as finding his feet, a broken heart, or hard to swallow are summations of wisdom gained throughout eons of experience that demonstrate the psychological and physical properties of their corresponding chakras. Churches, yoga, astrology, psychics, and psychologists are all valid ways to tune into the self, but these keep us looking outward for answers. At the end of the day all we really need is intentional awareness and evaluation of our lives paired with thoughtful right action, and this comes from within. We become aware of our true nature through internal practices such as self-reflection and meditation.

As empowered individuals, our belief system need not be dictated by our family or church. When we write-off ideas like out-of-body experiences, psychic powers, healing hands, or God’s voice, we close ourselves off to experiencing them. As we openly evaluate and move through old-held beliefs, we gain new wisdom and life skills. As open-hearted beings, we grow into harmony with ourselves and the world around us.

As a child and young adult, I believed extrasensory perceptions like clairvoyance, clairaudience, seeing auras, healing another with one’s own hands, or out-of-body experiences were fantasy. This is what I was conditioned to believe. But as my spiritual horizons have opened, I have personally glimpsed each of these.  

Because spirituality is not one-size-fits-all, we must allow ourselves time, space, and freedom to explore. We set ourselves up for the journey by learning foundational concepts that we reference along the way. Esoteric principles such as the chakras, grounding, centering, significance in ritual, and that thoughts become reality are all practical tools for navigating life. Understanding these, we begin the process of reconnecting, a healing that can occur through physical and emotional practices like yoga, prayer, breathing exercises, vision boards, journaling, release rituals, and intention setting. These actions peel back the layers of conditioning that obscure us from the true laws of nature, that keep us feeling empty and lost.

The truth is inside of us and shows itself through intuition. Everything we need to know to move through this world with grace and joy exists deep inside, beyond our physical bodies and beyond our thinking minds. It is the law of nature, or what Buddha called dhamma. We know exactly how to live in accordance with this law, but we’ve been conditioned to look outside of ourselves for answers. Don’t settle for what you were taught; make your spiritual life your own! The truth is universal and accessible by all despite race, religion, or status. The comfort and beauty you’ll discover within are so worth the search.

We all know the truth deep inside.