When I was little, my parents took me to church every Sunday. I was sent to a Catholic school where the Ten Commandments were drilled into my head and I was taught that the principles of Christianity were the guidelines I should live by. As I got older and delved further into Catholicism, I realized I was just going through the motions, didn’t agree with half of what was being taught, and wasn’t getting much out of the practices. With this realization, I abandoned my organized religious practice and with it, my spirituality. As a young woman brought up in the city that invented the McDonald’s Filet-O-Fish specifically for Catholics during Lent, organized religion and spirituality went hand-in-hand for me. It wasn’t until recently that I realized it didn’t have to be that way.

So if spirituality and religion don’t have to be one and the same, then what is spirituality, exactly? Well, it’s a personal journey for each individual and there is no one-size-fits-all; it’s different for everyone. But, in general, it’s the relationship people have with themselves and the world in regards to their soul. It is the belief that there is some sort of higher power, be it God or the universe or whatever you want to call it, and that your soul is connected to it.

To cultivate your spirituality is to feed your soul and become self-aware. It is to learn how to deal with events and people in your life with compassion and with the awareness that all of us are connected somehow. We each have this kind of spiritual relationship with ourselves and the world, whether we know it or not.

I’m just beginning to realize and cultivate that relationship. If you want to do the same but you’re not sure where to start, you’re not alone. That was me a few short months ago. I had hit a low point – I was broke, in a rut at my job, and having health problems. I was basically just going through the motions in every aspect of life, including my relationships with myself and others. I knew I needed a change, but I didn’t know where to start. If you find yourself in a similar spot, here are a few recommendations to get you started:

Visit an energy worker

Yes, it sounds bizarre. I literally had no idea what an energy worker was until I met with one. My dad made me an appointment with her because he said she could help with my stomach problems and give me some diet recommendations, but there was much more to it. She was part nutritionist, part therapist, and part spiritual energy doctor.

We talked through my physical problems, emotions, and ultimately my body energy or “aura.” She asked questions to get me to talk about the difficult things hidden beneath the surface and was able to pick up on where my physical body tensed when I talked about certain issues. The scary thing was–she was right. She then was able to impart some wisdom and food for thought on the topics I was concerned about and recommend some ongoing practices that I could use to work through my problems. I left that appointment feeling more at peace and I still use some of her recommended practices today.

Meditate and/or reflect

One of my energy worker’s recommended practices was, in fact, to meditate. I had tried meditation before but had never been able to stick with it. Yes, it cleared my head, but I never felt like I was making any progress. My energy worker, though, told me to download an app called Stitcher and start listening to the podcasts of Tara Brach, a psychotherapist turned Buddhist meditation teacher.

She leads sessions that are recorded and posted to the app–she does both short 20 minute pure meditation sessions and also hour-long “sermons” where she explores a particular topic, sharing stories and experiences with some short reflections sprinkled throughout. For example, I recently listened to one entitled “Vulnerability, Intimacy, & Spiritual Awakening.”

Find the meditation or reflection practice or teacher that works for you and make it a part of your routine. It’s a good way to learn about yourself and become more aware of your inner life so you can start seeing changes in your outer life as well.

Visit a therapist

Therapy is always a good idea, especially if you’re looking to become more self-aware. Your therapist may be able to point out patterns in your life that you and those close to you easily overlook. In order to change some of these unhealthy patterns, it’s important to become aware of them and consciously work on them. Combining the knowledge of therapy and the wisdom of meditation can do wonders for opening your heart and learning to have compassion not only for others but also for yourself.

Journal

Writing out your thoughts and feelings is always helpful because it provides a release. Once you get something down on paper you no longer feel like you have to think about it all the time. Whether you’re angry at someone or you’re feeling lost, writing out the reasons why you’re feeling this way can help you find clarity and figure out what’s really going on inside you. I’ve also tried structured journaling. If something is bothering me, I write down the trigger, the thoughts I had about it, the emotions I felt, how I felt physically, and my impulse. Make flow charts or tables if that’s what floats your boat. All that matters is that you get your thoughts on paper in a way that you can make sense of them.

Create something

Dedicate some time to being artistic. Play music, draw a picture, paint, color, write a poem–whatever kind of expression suits you. Oftentimes our true thoughts and feelings can come out through art even if we weren’t aware of them in the first place. In addition, concentrating on something artistic forces your mind to focus and clear itself of all toxic thoughts, so all that’s left is your true and authentic self.

Consciously remind yourself and practice the lessons you’ve learned

This has been a big one for me. I learned a lot from the energy worker and I’m continuing to learn through my meditations with Tara Brach and through therapy. These focus mostly on becoming aware of my feelings and how to properly deal with them and not judge myself for them, and in turn widening my circle of empathy and compassion to others.

There are times in my everyday routine when I’m interacting with people and I find myself thinking toxic things or judging myself and I am now able to stop, take a breath, and remind myself of what I’m trying to do. I’m able to interrupt my patterns and work at becoming a better version of myself. Doing all the things listed above is pointless if we forget all the lessons we’re learning as soon as we walk out our front door. In order to grow, we have to work to integrate these new patterns into our daily lives.

It’s a continuous process and it’s personal, so there’s no pressure to stick to a timeline or to compare ourselves to others. I take comfort in knowing that I’m doing my best and every day I feel better than I did before. In things like this, we never really get where we’re going because there is always room for improvement somewhere and there is really no limit to what we are able to do, and that’s a good thing.

beginners guide to finding your spirituality and mindfulness