What does spiritual or spirituality mean?
As per Google dictionary, the meaning of spirituality is, “The quality of being concerned with the human spirit or soul as opposed to material or physical things.”
Spirituality is a wide-ranging concept and includes many perspectives. In general, it invites a sense of connection to something bigger than ourselves or connecting with your higher self or higher consciousness. It encourages a search for meaning in life and living life with a broader vision. It has a very universal appeal-something that touches all human beings. People may describe a spiritual experience as sacred or ethereal or mystical or transcendent or simply a deep sense of positive emotions, such as peace, awe, wonder, interconnectedness, contentment, gratitude, acceptance, compassion, unconditional love. These are all the real qualities of our spirit.
There are many spiritual traditions across cultures around the world. Most of the traditions recommend having a spiritual guide or a guru who can facilitate your journey of spiritual enlightenment, the final goal of many of these traditional practices.
What is spiritual meditation?
Traditions worldwide employ spiritual meditation as a way to connect to the divine.
There are thousands, if not millions, of religious and spiritual traditions that include spiritual meditation in many different forms. Just a few examples of spiritual meditation in major religious traditions include:
- Hindu japa mala and mantra meditation
- Sufi dhikr or remembrance of God
- Jewish kabbalistic practices
- loving-kindness or metta meditation in Buddhism
- Marananussati bhavana or reflection on one’s mortality in Theravada Buddhism
- Zazen meditation in Zen Buddhism
- trance states in Shamanistic traditions
- Christian contemplative prayer
“A spiritual meditation is a meditation practice you partake in with the desire to connect with a higher power, the Universe, God, your Highest Self, etc.,” says Jen Alico, a certified meditation coach.
According to a 2017 studyTrusted Source, spiritual meditation focuses on developing a deeper understanding of spiritual/religious meaning and connection with a higher power.
Unlike other forms of meditation, spiritual meditation is about more than stress reduction or relaxation.
“The intention to connect to something greater than yourself is what makes this practice spiritual,” says Alico.
Shaman Nisha, a sixth-generation shaman of Southern African and South-East Asian lineage, agrees with Alico.
“From my perspective and experience of spiritual meditation, the element of spirituality comes from the connection to one’s soul,” says Nisha.
Characteristics of spiritual meditation
Spiritual meditation is a highly individual experience that can feel vastly different for each person.
An important work on the topic in Western thought is “The Varieties of Religious Experience,” written by philosopher, psychologist, physiologist, and Harvard professor William James in 1902.
According to a 2019 study, qualities of spiritual experience can include:
- absorption or loss of a sense of separateness
- hearing voices or seeing visions
- feeling a spiritual “presence”
- a sense of transcendence
- a sense of awe
This list is by no means exhaustive, and reportings of spiritual experiences are incredibly diverse and varied.
Whether you feel an automatic connection to something deeper or feel nothing at all, experts agree you shouldn’t try to force it.
“With any type of meditation, the more you try the harder it will be to achieve a meditative state,” says Alico. “If you are just getting into spiritual meditations, I recommend staying away from conversations where other people talk about their spiritual meditation practice experience.”
This can prevent unrealistic expectations about what your practice “should” be.
“Everyone’s experiences will feel different because we are all beautifully unique individuals,” says Alico.
“In my opinion, this is a practice that cannot be forced nor should any attempt be made to rush into it,” he says.
Some people have reported experiencing what is known as “awakening.”
In Nisha’s opinion, an awakening experience is “an activation of higher consciousness or an increase in our awareness as souls.”
Nisha says these events can be triggered by life changing experiences or the conscious choice to make a lifestyle change to “become more aligned with the soul’s energy.”
While there is some research dedicated to the study of spiritual awakening, there is no scientific proof that it exists.
Understanding the Benefits of Spiritual Meditation
Before you get started with your practice, it is important to really understand what the benefits of meditation are, or in short, why you are doing this practice each and every day. The more you understand the why of meditation the easier it will be to stay focused and dedicated to the artform and to really work at making it a component of your regular routine.
Meditating should be part of your daily ritual just like brushing your teeth. You brush your teeth daily, or even multiple time per day, because just brushing your teeth once wouldn’t really do anything for you. The same mindset should apply to meditation. You need to do it regularly in order to get the results.
So, what type of results can you expect? Well the reason that meditation is so popular and the reason it has been so popular for so long is because it can truly touch virtually every component of your life. Some of the proven benefits include:
- Reduces stress
- Helps with focus and concentration
- Promotes better sleep
- Improves circulation
- Increases self-awareness
- Promotes happiness
- Helps with anxiety
- Regulates mood
- Slows down aging
- Boosts immune health
- Helps with memory
- Promotes better decision-making stills
- Increases emotional strength
These are just a few of the may scientific benefits behind meditation that can change your life for the better. So, now that you know why you should be meditating, it is time to learn how to get started.
Can I get spiritual power through meditation?
Some people mistakenly believe that the point of practicing spiritual meditation is to achieve “superpowers” such as telepathy, the ability to heal oneself and others, knowledge of past lives, visions of the future, levitation, and so on. There’s bound to be a snake-oil guru out there who will promise them almost anything they can imagine, as long as they sign on the dotted line.
The allure of fantastical spiritual powers can overshadow the simple beauty of spiritual meditation practice. Spiritual awareness starts with being honest and kind, and with our commitment to becoming the best human being we can be. A strong desire for magic and miracles makes it very difficult to recognize and appreciate the marvel of being alive and everything that goes into making this possible. What could be more miraculous and magical than the air we breathe, the sunshine we enjoy, simple acts of kindness and compassion, interconnectedness, and everyday blessings of all kinds? Gentle appreciation of the present moment and an attitude of benevolence towards all living beings are the real fruits of spiritual awakening.
Keys to a successful spiritual meditation
The first step is really getting to know yourself. Chances are, you’re going to zero in on features that you’d like to change about yourself – like just about everyone else who commits to self-knowledge. With spiritual meditation, acknowledging and accepting who you are is the first step to truly making friends with yourself. The meditation master Pema Chödrön expresses this beautifully in her book Start Where You Are: “It is unconditional compassion for ourselves that leads naturally to unconditional compassion for others. If we are willing to stand fully in our own shoes and never give up on ourselves, then we will be able to put ourselves in the shoes of others and never give up on them.” Accepting who we are makes it possible for us to accept others as they are. When we connect with what is sacred in ourselves and others, “giving up” is no longer an option.
The Spiritual Meditation Technique
1. Choose A Comfortable Position
Before you begin the practice, the most important aspect is to find a place and position that you will be comfortable in. This involves staying away from the noises of the city as much as possible and surrounding yourself with greenery and the gentle chirping of birds. Spiritual meditation can quickly put you to sleep. To avoid that, you must be extra cautious of the position you wish to meditate in. Choose a position that you are comfortable in, but not something that is way too relaxing and will make you easily drift into sleep. Sit in the Vajrasana, Padmasana, or the Sukhasana. Or you can even sit on a chair with your back straight, or stand up with your back leaning on the wall. Whatever works. Then, close your eyes lightly.
2. Experience The Process
When you have a task to accomplish, what do you usually do? You plan, have the procedure in your head, and follow the pattern consciously. That is how we are used to doing tasks. We plan and execute them in a controlled manner. However, this is not the ideal way to deal with meditation. Here, you will have to let it go. Loosen up and let it take its course in a natural and organic manner. You should be a passive spectator, allowing the process to happen on its own. Do not bother about getting it right or be concerned about the outcome. Let it flow in its natural course.
3. Acknowledge The Thoughts
We live in a world that runs on information. You are always fed with new data in the form of live updates, breaking news, and social media. As a result, your mind is always abuzz with new content and your brain’s reaction to it. It is a never-ending game as long as you are awake, and even during sleep, it is quite a task to calm your whirring mind.
You invariably react to every thought and end up being affected by it. Even while you sit to meditate, thoughts will bombard you. But, the challenge lies in not responding to them and allowing them to control you. Let the ideas seep in like they usually do, but control the urge to react to them. Let them waft away, enabling you to get back to your meditation.
4. Utter A Prayer
As you sit there, preventing your thoughts from maligning your calm composure, choose a prayer in your head. A prayer need not necessarily be related to religion. You can utter anything that means something good for you or something that you like. It could be a word or a phrase. It could be something related to wildlife if you are a nature lover or something that makes you happy. It could even be a mantra.
Now, keep your body loose and relaxed. Breathe naturally and slowly. Observe your breath as it goes in and out. Thoughts interrupt your process, but you know what to do with them. Get back to your body and breathing after every thought interruption. Then, at each exhalation, think of the prayer you chose. Utter it in your head every time you breathe out. Use the prayer as a means to bring back your attention to observing your breath.
5. Reflect On Yourself
Turn your attention to your body and your awareness and presence in the space. Become conscious of your surroundings. Observe how your body feels. Be attentive to your thoughts and breath. Relax completely and stay calm. Open your eyes slowly and sit in the same position for some time. Let the effects of meditation sink in. Feel it, and enjoy the lightness your body feels. Think about the entire process and how you went about it. Notice how you have become less agitated than before the meditation. Accept that your reaction to the process was natural. Finally, come out of the meditation zone, stretch a bit, and go about your day.
Alico’s spiritual meditation
“I recommend putting a pillow or cushion under your bottom, it’s much more comfortable!” Alico says.
- Place your right hand over your heart center, your left hand just underneath your belly button, and gently close your eyes.
- Start to listen to and connect with your breath. Listen to what it sounds like. Feel it as your body moves with every breath. Allow your breath to flow at a comfortable pace.
- Imagine a light inside of you. Visualize the color and brightness. Feel the temperature of it. This light is yours and guides you to a greater power.
- Once you feel comfortable with this light, start to follow it as it moves out of your body and into the sky. Follow it as it moves through the clouds and into the heavens.
- Allow yourself to feel safe and connected in the heavens, even looking around and exploring. Spend as much time there as you would like, being open to whatever may come to you.
- When you’re ready, bring your light back down into your body. Start to come back to the present moment and your surroundings, wiggling your fingers and your toes.
To close the practice, gently open your eyes and move slowly as you come out of your meditation.
Nisha’s spiritual meditation
According to Nisha, this practice is rooted in Southern African and Southeast Asian heritage.
Start by getting into a comfortable seated position, so that your wrists and ankles are not crossed and your back is upright and not leaning on anything.
Make sure you won’t be disturbed and there are no distractions such as phones or music, and give yourself permission to be there for as long as you need.
- Begin by observing the rhythm of your breathing.
- As you become more tuned in to your breathing, allow your awareness to tune into your heart rate. Feel the rhythm of your heartbeats. It’s OK if your mind gets busy. Simply thank your ego for its input and then let it know this is a time it can use to rest.
- Now let your awareness move into your heart space and simply observe how you feel within this space. Is it a welcoming space? Do you feel safe and happy being there? Is there any resistance to being there?
- When you have spent the time you need to in your heart space, allow your awareness to focus back on your heartbeat, then your breathing, then come back into the room and open your eyes.
After your practice, Nisha recommends journaling your experiences and drinking plenty of water.
When to meditate
You can meditate at any time of the day, but Alico believes the morning and evening are best.
“These are the times when our body is naturally more open to connecting and receiving,” she says. “However, if you feel your best doing your meditation at some other point during the day, by all means, do what feels right.”
Nisha agrees with this sentiment.
“Personally, I think it’s important that each individual knows themselves well enough to decide their own best time, as then they are likely to commit to a daily practice,” he says.
If you’re meditating in the morning, Alico suggests journaling beforehand.
“Use this time to write out anything your heart desires, some days it may be lengthy. Other days just a paragraph or two will do. This will help clear your mind before your morning meditation,” she says.
At night, Alico advises practicing spiritual meditation right before you sleep.
“Put your phone on Do Not Disturb mode before meditating and leave it that way until morning. After your meditation, limit your screen exposure and allow yourself to fall to sleep naturally,” she says.
Spiritual meditation is a highly individual experience. There is some scientific research to support its benefits, and it’s practiced in many cultures and traditions around the world.
While spiritual meditation won’t give you superpowers, it may help you connect to something that feels bigger than yourself.
- Alico J. (2021). Personal interview.
- Burke A, et al. (2017). Prevalence and patterns of use of mantra, mindfulness and spiritual meditation among adults in the United States.
- Kadri N, et al. (2020). Impact of spiritual meditation on drug addiction recovery and wellbeing: A systematic review.
- Lifshitz M, et al. (2019). Absorption and spiritual experience: A review of evidence and potential mechanisms.
- Nisha S. (2021). Personal interview.
- Sollgruber A, et al. (2018). Spirituality in pain medicine: A randomized experiment of pain perception, heart rate and religious spiritual well-being by using a single session meditation methodology.
- Voiss P, et al. (2019). Cancer, sleep problems, and mind‐body medicine use: Results of the 2017 National Health Interview Survey.
- Wang C, et al. (2019). Prevalence, patterns, and predictors of meditation use among U.S. children: Results from the National Health Interview Survey.
- Victoria Stokes on April 12, 2021, https://www.healthline.com/health/mind-body/spiritual-meditation#Metta-Meditation-for-Mothers-Day