The Spiritual Misfit’s Toolkit
We live in a world where over 300 million people suffer from depression.
I don’t know about you, but the growing global mental illness epidemic horrifies me.
Ditto the way in which it has become a huge money-spinner for the pharmaceutical industry.
Eight years ago, I set out on a quest to try and find the secret to true happiness; to see if there was a way of living in this world that immunises us from all of the fear-based bullshit.
My quest took me down a very unexpected, spiritual path.
I say very unexpected because for my entire life I’d been a devout atheist.
But one of the happiest people I knew back then happened to be a Buddhist – and credited her inner joy to her Buddhist practise, so I decided to see if there was anything in this spiritual malarkey.
For the next seven years I ended up exploring many of the world’s spiritual teachings and traditions, cherry-picking tools from them that could bring me true and last happiness.
The results have been so life-changing that I now want to share my findings with my fellow ‘spiritual misfits’ – people who have been turned off by religion but still believe that there’s Something More to all of this.
Listed below are the 5 core practises at the heart of my toolkit for Spiritual Misfits. I hope they help you as much as they’ve helped me…
Prior to my search for true happiness, I’d believed that if I got another person to love me then I’d be truly happy, after all, doesn’t ‘getting the guy’ = ‘happily ever after’ in so many of our stories? The most beautiful and transforming lesson I learned on my spiritual quest is that the love we are all seeking actually comes from within and that we have to truly love ourselves first before we can fully and unconditionally love another.
In what ways could you be more loving towards yourself?
Free-write some ideas and commit to putting them into practise in the coming week.
In his book Who is Man? Jewish theologian Abraham Joshua Heschel writes: ‘Wonder, or radical amazement, is a way of going beyond what is given in thing or thought, refusing to take anything for granted, to regard anything as final. It is our honest response to the grandeur and mystery of reality,our confrontation with that which transcends the given.‘ As I deepened my faith in Something More the jaded filter through which I’d been viewing the world came off and my capacity for wonder rapidly expanded. Seeking a deeper meaning to life led to me finding daily reasons to be ‘radically amazed’ and I regained an enthusiasm for life’s potential for adventure that I hadn’t felt since I was a child. Wonder is also a gateway to an attitude of gratitude; a sure-fire route to happiness.
Take yourself on a ‘wonder walk’. As you walk look for opportunities to be radically amazed. It could be a stunning landscape or a piece of architecture or a wild flower somehow bursting its way through concrete. You could feel wonder at the giggle of a toddler or the passing melody from a car stereo or the vibrant colours from a street artist’s can.
Take photos of everything that makes you feel wonder, or write them down, in order to fully savour the feeling. Write about how and why they make you feel grateful.
A big surprise for me on my spiritual journey was how important movement can be when it comes to feeling happy. I’ve discovered that my most powerful prayers take place on a dance-floor and that the answers to my most soul-searching questions can so often be found while out walking. Mother Nature, it turns out, is a great teacher. Whether you dance, hike, run or stretch, when you move your body with the intention of connecting to a deeper wisdom, you by-pass the parts of your brain governed by fear.
If there’s something on your mind that’s troubling you, or that you could do with some guidance on, form it in a clear question before moving your body. For example: ‘How can I find the courage to pursue my career dream?’ or ‘How can I get over the pain of my break-up?’
Then, while you are walking / dancing / stretching / running, switch off your thoughts and keep your awareness wide open for any answer that might appear.
I now meditate every day – even if it’s only for five minutes (I try and aim for at least ten) – and it’s changed so much for me. Meditation is like pressing a reset button in your mind, allowing you to calm your fears and anxiety. It’s also another great way of achieving clarity, there’s an incredible power to be found in sitting in silence and letting it all be. A common misconception about meditation is that you need to clear your mind of all thoughts. I’m pretty sure this is physically impossible, the aim of meditation is to become the neutral observer of your thoughts, watching them drift by like cartoon thought-bubbles and not getting sucked into the spiral. By detaching from our thoughts in this way we detach from emotions they trigger in us, which is hugely freeing.
If you’re new to meditation try this simple exercise. Sit or lie in a comfortable position with your spine straight. Bring your attention to your breathing, taking deep breaths in through the nose and out through the mouth. As you breathe in say silently, ‘This is my in-breath’. And as you breathe out say silently, ‘This is my out-breath.’ Keep repeating this in your mind as you focus on your breathing.
When thoughts arise, picture them like clouds or bubbles passing by high over-head, no longer attached to you. Feel your body relax and let go with every breath. The joy of this exercise is that you can do it pretty much anywhere and any time you need a mental reset.
So much of our unhappiness is rooted in past hurts and grievances. Forgiveness is one of the most powerful tools I’ve acquired in the past eight years. I used to think that forgiveness was a sign of weakness; that it meant condoning the actions of the person who’d hurt you, but now I see that true forgiveness requires huge strength. It also sets you free. Clinging on to your anger at another is like drinking poison and hoping they will die – resentment and rage are highly toxic. I don’t think I’ve ever felt happier, stronger or more at peace than when I’ve been able to truly forgive.
If someone has hurt or angered you, pray for them every day for three weeks. And pray that they receive all that you would wish for yourself. I can guarantee you will find this extremely difficult at first but that’s OK, pray through gritted teeth (and if you don’t believe in a god, pray to the universe).
You will be amazed at what happens if you stick at this exercise every day for three weeks.
The exercises featured in this post are taken from my book Something More, a Spiritual Misfit’s Search for Meaning, which is being published by Piatkus in February 2019 and is available to pre-order here.
Follow @SpiritualMisfits on Instagram here.