Self-improvement is a powerful thing – so much so that even athletes learn important life skills and develop their character when they focus on growing as a person, instead of winning the game. If asked what self-improvement meant to you, what would it involve? Getting better grades, achieving a promotion, learning a new skill? Working towards this type of goal is key to achieving much yearned for success, yet authentic self-improvement involves the whole person, and this means honing your spirituality as well.
Why is Spirituality Still Important to Human Beings?
Many studies have found that people who are spiritual – regardless of whether or not they follow a religion – are happier. In fact, taking part in group worship was recently found to be the only community activity that promoted lasting happiness. Being a spiritual person allows us to feel supported and connected. Spirituality, after all, can be defined as the sense of belonging to something larger than oneself; it is a powerful sense of connection to other sentient beings. In this happy, connected state, it becomes easier to love and accept ourselves and to focus on improvements within the self that feed our spiritual needs as well as the needs of others.
Mindfulness, Meditation, and Self Awareness
You cannot better yourself if you lack self-knowledge. Mindfulness meditation, a spiritual-based activity that focuses on keeping the mind in the present and acknowledging our feelings and thoughts, allows us to learn aspects of our personalities that we may not otherwise have known. Research published by the Association for Psychological Science showed that when we pay attention to our thoughts and feelings and observe them non-judgmentally, we “overcome the major barriers to knowing ourselves.” Mindfulness meditation allows us to escape from emotional reactivity (insecurity, blame, and shame) and allows us to truly see ourselves as we are – with our flaws and virtues – so we can make the changes we need to.
Spiritual Experiences that Defy Explanation
Sometimes, a spiritual experience is not necessarily one we seek. This is the case without body experiences, as noted in a groundbreaking work by Raymond Moody called Life After Life. Moody’s work was criticized by mainstream scientists when it was published three decades ago, but today, researchers the world over are studying the possibility that the consciousness does not die when the body perishes. One of the most interesting things that many near-death-experience survivors have stated, is that undergoing an out-of-body experience motivated them to improve by identifying weak traits in their personality that could stop them from achieving their true purpose.
Spirituality vs Stress
Stress has been defined as an epidemic in the U.S. and other countries, yet far from just taking its toll on your physical health, it also stands in the way of improvement, but putting you into ‘fight or flight’ mode. When you are under the throes of chronic or high stress, your ability to make reasonable decisions and to analyze yourself accurately, are impaired. A 2017 Thomas Jefferson University study found that people who take the time to enjoy a spiritual, meditative, or religious retreat, were able to reset their daily life more efficiently. In essence, dopamine and serotonin (‘feel good’ neurotransmitter) systems were improved, enabling participants to enjoy better cognition, emotional regulation, and mood.
The first step to self-improvement is self-knowledge. Spirituality-based practices like meditation have been seen as vital tools for greater self-awareness. Since they calm the mind and inspire us to make changes, they can also be seen as vital tools human beings can use to be the very best version of themselves possible.
Guest Post by Katlyn Underwood