Do you ever experience the feeling that there is a deep knowing within you, right below the surface, struggling to make its way into consciousness? That’s how I’ve felt about this post for the past few days. I realized my mind was attempting to name and expound on my spiritual needs. There’s plenty of room for various opinions on what these needs might be; my list is by no means comprehensive. Rather than viewing these experiences as outcomes of our spiritual journey, I am conceptualizing them to be a hunger within us, one that is best satiated with spiritual encounters rather than left to grow as a gnawing ache within us.
1. Awe and Wonder
What takes your breath away? For me, this is almost always a scene found in nature. Earlier this summer, the edge of a storm system passed directly over my house and met up with another system with a different air temperature. I looked straight up and saw individual clouds swirling around, like improvising dancers, across the sky. It felt like observing a fireworks finale where so much happens at once that it’s difficult to process each element. I was filled with a sense of amazement, as well as a hint of fear when the hail started making its way down.
I think it very hard to manufacture something that gives us this same reaction. I rarely find it when I visit big-ticket locations because I’ve already anticipated what I will discover. Instead, it’s been the faint path in the woods leading to a meadow filled with flowers that tends to pull me in. I don’t need these experiences every day, but I hold onto them when they occur as glimpses into the spiritual realm.
An outflow of experiences that induce awe and wonder is often a sense of interconnectedness. This could include connecting with a Deity, the universe itself, the earth or humanity. The more I’ve grown to accept myself and let go managing the impression others form of me, the more the concept of interconnectedness has resonated with me. A divine sparkle can happen when, through interaction with another person, we intuit a shared sense of the mystical. Spiritual rituals and practices in groups can also fling us into the wider web of the universe, beyond our individuality and separateness.
When is the last time you let yourself wander solely for the sake of generating insights and stimulating creative forces? I tend to draw inspiration by looking at beautiful things, touching items of various textures, and inhaling delicious creations. In fact, I recently caused quite an allergy attack for myself when I spent time strolling through a spice store, where I simply had to smell every single offering. It may be strange to connect behaviors like window-shopping to anything rising above our consumer culture, but for me, when I consider all the imaginative human force it takes to make handcrafted fair-trade items or other such products, I find my creative passions stirred.
Kaldiscopes of color and a symphony of sounds can be found outdoors. Consider indulging your sense of hearing by listening to music. You could also focus on your vestibular senses by experiencing how your body moves over various surfaces and elevations.
After reading a book about the dismal conditions in an inner city, I completed a writing assignment in a sociology class many years ago. I was so enthused about how I was going to go out and change the world that the professor read the entire text to the class. I half-cringed in embarrassment and half-swelled with pride. My naiveté was immense in terms of how I analyzed the challenges and potential solutions for the ills of the world.
A seed generated there that continues to grow in me. It forms a basic realization which harkens to note that self-interest and getting more for “me and mine” isn’t what most of us feel we are called to do with our lives. Empowerment can look very different depending on our individual assortment of privileges and disadvantages that we face in society. I believe challenging unfair power structures and advocating for the less fortunate can go beyond a social and economic need and become a spiritual need when we attempt to make more right and more just the society in which we find ourselves.
Gratitude is often impressed upon us as an alternative to complaining. “Just be grateful for what you have,” #blessed and assorted platitudes can be used to silence our sense of injustice in the world. I complain with the best of them, so I don’t bring this judgment into my thinking here. Instead, I long for the ability to see the world through grateful eyes and celebrate the moments where I find myself pressing hand to heart to acknowledge a blessing. When I give myself space to engage in spiritual practice, I find expressing gratitude arises in me as a natural desire that is easily satisfied.
I recently shared my view on compassion and how it can help us respond to the inequality and violence in the world. I believe it to be spiritual nourishment, one that we can benefit from receiving as well as bestowing to others. Much has been written on the differences between sympathy and empathy. Genuine moments of compassion involve us trading places with another, seeing the world as he or she sees it, and then comporting ourselves toward that person through a newfound appreciation for his or her struggle.
I don’t think it is always an arduous slog to attain compassion, instead, it can be a spontaneous experience which may catch us off guard with its intensity. Trauma survivors, in particular, might yearn for experiences of compassion, as these involvements restore our connection to humanity and our faith in the goodness of the human heart. Empathetic listening and understanding can cast light into the walled-off places in ourselves, which, when exposed, allow us to shine in our spiritual adornments.
Many individuals who have suffered trauma fall into a trap of seeking that with which they are already acquainted, even if it causes them additional harm. For instance, one of the ways I cope is by isolating myself, so I have to challenge myself to reach out to others during difficult moments. A sense of freedom and lightness can follow choices we make where we let go of burdens and false beliefs that weigh heavily on our souls. I’m often taken aback at how much something held me back. Only after I liberate myself from an old pattern can I see what it was costing me. I think it is when we are regular communication with our inner selves that we are best able to access the aspects of our lives from which we can unburden ourselves.
The need for release can also occur within the context of a loss as we grieve. In this case, letting go could include setting free our expectations of a certain future or our desires for things to work out a particular way. This kind of loosening can be extremely difficult, as we would rather hold fast our grip onto that which was safe and familiar. Some of the deepest spiritual work we can do as humans involves opening to what actually is instead of what we wish would be.
Sometimes I wonder how much time I’ve actually been “alive.” What I mean here is how much of my day is filled with contemplating the past or stressing about the future, rather than embracing the moment in which I am existing. We have a need for presence—for being present as life presents itself to us. Now that I’ve practiced mindfulness and attuned to my breath with sufficient consistency to attain present-moment experience, my mind feels fuzzy and detached and my soul feels disconnected when I go away from it for too long. My mental and spiritual needs have merged together in this area.
For those of us who have endured traumatic experiences, being in our bodies and aware of our surroundings might not feel like an invitation to which we want to RSVP. I think we may crave it though; it grounds us like nothing else can. Perhaps being present is channeled through presence—the presence of supportive loved ones and Goddess can make the current moment feel safer and more inviting.
Since I’ve begun blogging, a phrase I’ve settled on that feels like it is bursting with hope is that of “a spiritual home.” As a result of my childhood experiences as well as my identity as an adult, I’ve declined contact with the place and people who birthed me. For many years, I’ve felt uprooted, unmoored and adrift. Goddess spirituality has established a sense of a secure footing for me for the first time in my life. This is a need I didn’t fully know that I had, as I spent several years considering myself to be Agnostic and not concerning myself very much with spiritual matters. Now I know down to my bones that I need this place, tendrils sunken into the earth, in my life.
I’m eager to see how my list of spiritual needs aligns with yours, as well as the additional needs you see us as having as spiritual beings. This way of looking at spirituality as series of desires, rather than obligations or outcomes, feels much more uplifting and motivating to me than my previous attempts in life to “become more spiritual.” I plan to spend time in my inner work reflecting on what my unconscious has revealed to me before contemplating how we might more fully meet these needs.