I have before me the daunting task of writing about spirituality. Sense of meaning. Finding purpose in something larger than ourselves. In my mind, kind of up there with creating world peace and reversing climate change.
And yet, my heart still hurts from the attacks on Lebanon. And the randomness of attacks on Paris. The daily stream of refugees pouring out of seemingly godless areas in the hope of attaining the most basic of needs: shelter and safety. Then there is the unpredictable violence that has pervaded 2015 in places closer to home, almost every day, when someone has apparently lost their own tracking device for building relationships and instead has veered off into the direction of taking human life. These horrors, especially in this season when we look to our souls for our personal connection to meaning in the world, seem to beg the question: Where IS my sense of meaning? How can I, one small person in an ever-growing world of massive proportions, find meaningful purpose that can guide me in my larger life trajectory, in my daily life decisions, in my moment-to-moment human connections?
Apparently, I am not alone in this search for meaning: this drive is fundamental to who we are and to what makes us uniquely human. Over a half-century ago, those at the root of the positive psychology movement, Abraham Maslow, Viktor Frankl, and Carl Rogers, emphasized that once our basic needs are satisfied, we quickly turn to “deeper stuff,” seeking greater understanding of how to define our lives. (Whitbourne, 2014). More recently, developments in neural and cognitive sciences echo these earlier claims, revealing that this higher-order search for meaning is central, not only to the human experience, but to the broader concept of flourishing (see Templeton Report, A Science of Spirituality for the 21st Century, 2015). The Report goes on to discuss the concept of “embodiment,” or the notion that this spiritual search for meaning and the revelations that derive from it involve not only the mind but the body, calling deeply on our physical awareness and leading to deeper thought, perception, and a sense of well-being. As the author states, “…the body is central to the direct experience of reality sought in spiritual practice, as well as the benefits that follow.”
Contrast this with another human reality: we function reflexively and unconsciously most of our waking moments. We’re not aware of where we’re about to place our foot for our next step, much less connecting with our mind/body revelations about our place in the world. “However, when we want to see the world in new ways (…) we need to “wake up” to the habitual reactions that constrain and limit our perception” (Templeton Report, 2014).
How can we catch ourselves in these moments of unconsciousness and “wake up” to our internal awareness of our mindful thoughts and kinesthetic perceptions that occur while having those thoughts? It only takes one deceptively easy step: PAUSE.
Stop the madness and pause for one second. It only takes a split second to breathe and find our connection to something larger than our individual reality. That one second “buys” us the time to expand our awareness beyond the Walter-Cronkite-of-our-brain that wants to give us up-to-date reactions, comments, and judgments of every thought that flies by. PAUSE.
What do you notice inside your body when you pause? Notice the parts of your body that are resting on a hard surface. Just notice them. Pay attention to your breath. Allow your body to take up more room just by thinking it into that new space. And PAUSE.
How does this relate to spirituality? Without this pause and internal self-reflection we run the risk of losing the moment-to-moment beauty, kindness of others, quirky events, sparks of hope and gratitude, the key elements of transcending the mundane and embracing that which is beyond our “full knowing.”
How can we bring this habit of “finding meaning” into our daily lives? Again, PAUSE. Consider how you can use one of the character strengths that are seen as expressions of spiritual values: kindness (compassion), forgiveness (acceptance), bravery (fearlessness), and then actually use it. Or try expanding your use of one of the character strengths considered to be most tied to the virtue of transcendence: appreciation of beauty and excellence, gratitude, hope, humor, and, of course, spirituality itself.
PAUSE. What will you do this season when you pause amidst the bustle? How will you feel a connection to a greater purpose? How do you experience that in your heart, mind, and soul?
Simply believing life has meaning makes life better (Whitbourne, 2014). So, here’s to a better life.