Choosing a Spiritual Path
By Betty Hughes, Ph.D., LMHC
How important to you is spirituality? An occasional interest or a lifestyle?
Traditionally a spiritual path is part of a lifestyle. It may include joining some kind of organization. Churches, synagogues, temples or other places of worship can provide a framework for study. The purpose of this article, however, is to address the issue of developing a spiritual path for those of us who choose a more eclectic approach where we pick and choose our beliefs and practices.
In my private practice as a licensed mental health counselor, my philosophy has always included the connections between body, mind, emotions, and spirit. Many times the same emotional problem will impact all four. It is easy to understand the connections between the body, mind, and emotions, but the spirit is sometimes difficult to comprehend, especially for people who are not religious.
So what is the spirit part of the body-mind-emotions-spirit paradigm? An easy way to clarify this is to imagine your full self: Then imagine taking away the body part of the self, then the mind, then the emotions; spirit is that part that is left over. And there is always something left. The “something left” is called “spirit”, but it is difficult to quantify beyond that.
For many clients, the spiritual component is simply their views of their religious affiliation. There is honor in that. For others, they choose to add a “new-age” quality to their religious affiliation. That is also fine. Still other people adhere to spiritual principles without the religious component.
In my view, it does not matter. Calling spirit by various names does not take away the fact that spirit is still there. I have even noticed that some people who call themselves atheists live their lives within a system of contact with very high principles. Spirit is Energy. Energy does not disappear just because you disavow it.
Is it necessary to actually choose a spiritual path? Of course not. Is it advisable? Not necessarily. However, for some of us, myself included, choosing a spiritual path adds an element of discipline that can be quite satisfying. It is similar to structuring an exercise program for one’s physical body. In that same way, the program for spiritual exercise can be honed for more effectiveness over time.
If you are interested in choosing a spiritual pathway to guide your life, consider the following:
- Do you want to work your spiritual path alone or within a group?
a. If you want to work within a group, there are choices you can make. I do advise discernment, however. There are many groups and cults which may not be in your best interest to join. Do your research. You could also start your own small group to study spiritual principles.
b. If you want to work your path alone, you could design your own spiritual track by choosing various projects and adjusting your ideas as you learn. If you choose to work alone, I would advise you to check in with a trusted friend or mentor just to make sure you stay in balance. For example, it is possible to meditate too long, especially in the beginning. Also, it is important to have a well-developed sense of inner guidance that would let you know if you are overdoing something. Having someone to share your questions and revelations with can be quite enlightening and comforting.
- What are you looking for in a spiritual path? Are you looking for answers to certain life questions such as what is your purpose? Or do you just want to be all that you can be? How will you know when you have found what you are seeking?
- Do you even need to call your spiritual work a “path? What does that mean to you?
- How tolerant are you with ideas that cannot be proven with logical facts?
- Do you have a system of “inner guidance” that signals you when you are off-base?
- You may want to try writing about your feelings in order to explore your connection to your inner guidance. You may find it helpful to read the article on “The Art of Journaling” on this same website.
In conclusion, a spiritual path can be tremendously rewarding and/or frustrating. It is important to make decisions slowly, after researching the topic. Respect the pace that you are comfortable with, and be willing to take a break if things get too intense. Spirituality is a relationship between you and your higher self, in whatever form that takes. Love yourself enough to honor your feelings.