A beautiful sunset overlooking a sweeping green vista. Swelling instrumental music with a powerful, clear voice singing a meaningful ballad. A quiet moment with a loved one and suddenly your heart swells with love and adoration for them. What do these things have in common? These are the human moments that create connection to our spiritual selves. When I left organized religion behind, I was afraid (and told) I would lose the comfort that comes from these beautiful moments. The moments where you feel warmth in your chest and clarity of mind. I was told I wouldn’t “feel the spirit” any more if I didn’t attribute these moments to God speaking truth of his existence and love for me.
Luckily, I discovered these comforting moments-- such as when you feel not so alone in your troubles, feel like everything’s going to work out okay (or at least for the best) or that love is in abundance-- are sought and found by Catholics, Buddhists and Atheists, alike. They are not a ™ of any particular religion or belief system! In fact, I have the ability (as we all do) to invoke this emotional state at almost any time. Here's how:
What is it about music that can cause us to feel so deeply? There are lots of evolution-based theories, such as the ones listed here, but scientists say that music triggers the reward, emotion and arousal centers of our brain. Whatever the reason, religion typically offers lots of musical experiences to help us connect to our spiritual side. You don’t need religion to find music that speaks to your soul. Whether you generally listen to scream-o or pop ballads, you should also look for songs to which you emotionally connect. Perhaps you heard s song in an emotional movie scene, or it was playing when something meaningful happened in your life. Try finding these tunes, melodies, or instrumentals and play them again to relive those moments and feel the warmth in your chest and tears in your eyes. I’ll give you some examples of music that does this for me:
This music gives me chills and immediately makes me think of my love for my spouse. Or the bridge in this song gets me every time. Ahh, youth. Wasn’t Leo so dreamy? This song is one chosen for all my grandma’s grandchildren to sing at her funeral. Since then, it quickly triggers feelings of peace and forgiveness for her as well as feelings of love and the support of my immediate family. If you read the YouTube comments under any of these songs, you’ll see the many comments about the emotional impact of them on people from all over. For me, they immediately trigger thoughts and feelings of love, belonging, connection, and beauty. I see the faces of my children, my spouse or my family and my heart swells with love and gratitude for each; while I simultaneously recognize the fragility of life and even a bit of impending existential loss.
And just to drive home the point, here is an adorable baby being triggered by mom’s singing!
We are also often spiritually in-tune when being part of nature. Whether it’s because you believe a god or gods created nature for man’s enjoyment, or because it’s our mother earth that provides literally everything and to whom we physically/evolutionarily belong, we feel great connection with nature. Nature is a fantastic place to meditate as well, and heighten the likelihood you will feel a spiritually elevated.
Meditation can come in many forms and what’s most important is that you find a method you will actually use. Robin Hunt, a therapist with Family Solutions has a great video demonstration on how to combine meditation and the outdoors. If you’re not likely to sit in nature and meditate, there’s an app for that! This app may help you learn to slow your breathing while concentrating on the beauty all around us. Build nature and meditation in to your day, even if it means sitting on your deck or porch while you sip your morning coffee. Focus on the warmth of the drink, your breathing between sips, your inner thoughts, or attempt to completely clear your mind. Whatever your technique, meditation can take you to a place of inner peace and calm.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, our connections to each other can create feelings of intense emotion and capture that soulful, spirituality we crave. I have vivid memories of adolescence: staying up late with friends and laying out on the trampoline under the stars, talking about life and our dreams and goals. I remember the moments I laid eyes on each of my children for the first time (after their birth or when first meeting them prior to adoption). And my heart still aches with love when I reach out to hold my husband’s hand and I think of his loving dedication to me and our children. That moment of connection, the memory of connection, and the hope for future connection fills our limbic systems with a flood of hormonal responses that give us the tingly feel-goods.
We can also experience a lesser known emotion called elevation when we watch humans “being bros” to other humans or animals. Want to know there is still good in the world? There’s a whole subreddit for that! And Youtube is full of heroic videos because as bad as we think the world is, there is actually so much good. Realizing that can help us feel connected as well.
See how you feel after watching videos such as these:
These heroic, peaceful, love-filled, nostalgic, connecting moments are ones we don’t experience often enough and I’d encourage you to attempt to experience one at least once a day. Religion offers music, opportunities to connect with other humans in shared belief, charitable acts and even quiet places of meditation. It is a great way to “feel the spirit.” But there are many other ways to experience these emotions that don't require religion if you seek them out. Ultimately, these emotions are a form of mindfulness that can help combat feelings of loneliness, stress, depression and anxiety.
For best results, mix and match or combine them all. Go for a walk with your child and belt out a favorite tune together. Attend an outdoor concert with a friend. Talk about life while watching fireworks and holding hands with a loved one. Who doesn't feel good watching Fourth of July fireworks with family and hearing "God Bless the USA" blasting in the background! Meditate in nature. Create the lasting moments that fuel whatever it is you believe we have: Spirits, souls, or powerhouse nervous systems that can bring us just as much elation as anxiety. Take advantage of what makes us unique as humans.
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