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benefits of spirituality

Many people have become unmoored during the pandemic. Some have turned to spirituality … if not religion. Lisa Miller is a clinical psychologist and the director of the Spirituality Mind Body Institute at Columbia U. In her new book The Awakened Brain, Dr Miller documents how scientific research supports the benefits of spirituality. Here’s an edited Q&A.

What is spirituality?
Scientists don’t define spirituality, but a belief and a habit are foundational. …
… First, is belief in a relationship with the sacred—the feeling of being loved and guided. Second, is a desire to share this experience with others.

Does everyone have the capacity to be spiritual?
Yes. Spirituality is innate. Some are more predisposed, but everyone can build spiritual muscle.

What are the benefits?
Spiritual awareness protects against the most prevalent forms of inner suffering, the diseases of despair: addiction, depression, even suicidality. The data has also shown that character strengths like optimism, grit, commitment and forgiveness go hand-in-hand with spiritual awareness.

Many people are uncomfortable talking about spirituality. Why?
We are tone deaf to the difference between spirituality and religious liberty. When we speak of spirituality, we have a fear that we are somehow violating religious liberty. Also, many fear that respect for spirituality is somehow unscientific.

Can we cultivate spirituality at any age?
Yes, but it’s developmentally most accessible during the first two decades of life. There are passages in life when humans are primed to grow spiritually—adolescence and midlife. Also, intense life events nurture spiritually: death, birth of a child, severe illness, divorce.

Can one strengthen their spiritual fitness?
Yes, and it begins with quieting one’s brain. Meditation or prayer helps quiet the racket. Then we can receive and take note of new ideas—recognize what we might otherwise have missed.

What emotions help us become more spiritual?
Gratitude. Awe. Altruism. And it’s a two-way street. For the spiritual these emotions are more naturally forthcoming.

How might one become more spiritual?
Be on the lookout for Synchronicity—where two unrelated events express a deeper common oneness. For example, I might be worried about my son getting a good job after college. Then while walking through the park I see a mother and young boy looking at each other with profound love, and I realize my job as a mother is to love my son no matter what job he gets. We should treat such revelations as valid, while being careful throw them into our head to process. ~

Dan Nygaard