8 Ways to Discover Your Spiritual Side

07/27/2016 04:57 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

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I grew up in a secular household. As a kid, I thought this was pretty awesome. I never had to go to Sunday school and I got to sleep in every weekend. But as I got older I began to realize that growing up without religion also meant I'd never considered my spiritual side.

In my early twenties, working as a brand-new nurse in hospice care, I began to question my lack of belief. I saw the strength my patients drew from their spiritual beliefs. I witnessed some awe-inspiring incidents while caring for my dying patients and their families that it forced me to view my exsistance through a new lens.

At first I was shy and fumbling in my search for what I now recognize as a spiritual practice. I was looking for some sort of formalized way that would reliably connect me to the divine...to my soul, I guess.

My spiritual practice is unique to me, as I think each person's is. What I eventually stumbled upon is not one specific belief system or dogma but a collection of truths, observances, and touchstones that unswervingly lead me back to peace, that encourage me to live with an ever-opening heart, and that consistently fill me awe and wonder.

If you feel a similar pull of spiritual musing, let me save you some time. I have put together eight simple suggestions you can try to help you discover your own spiritual path.

1. Set your intention.
The first step in establishing a spiritual practice is acknowledging that you actually want one in the first place. Don't worry, I'm not going to ask you to start wearing crystals or chanting mantras. Well...not right away. ;) Your intention can be as simple as saying to yourself, "I want to learn more about spirituality in general", or it could be as formal as creating a ritual to mark your start on this life-long journey. Consciously acknowledging your yearning and curiosity, even if it's only to yourself, is like opening a door and formally setting your feet on the path of the seeker.

2. Feed your mind.
Read everything you can get your hands on. Start with something like, Soulcraft by Bill Plotkin or Care of the Soul by Thomas Moore, which are great primers on fostering sacredness in your everyday. Watch documentaries; one of my favourites that's available on Netflix right now is I Am. If you still feel lost, talk to people. Go to your local New Age-y bookstore and ask for recommendations. Feed your inquisitiveness. Knowledge and curiosity are the cornerstones of a truly rich spiritual journey.

3. Be still every day.
Lao Tzu began the Tao Te Ching by stating, "The way that can be spoken of is not the true way". Our connection to spirit/God/the universe or whatever you want to call it is primarily a felt experienced. This is why most spiritual traditions include some type of formalized stillness practice, such as meditation, chanting, or mindfulness. A great way to establish a strong spiritual practice is to set aside time every day to intentionally quiet your thinking mind. There are a tonne of free resources available online to get you started. Pema Chödrön and Tara Brach are two of my favourite teachers.

4. Don't neglect your meat suit.
Mind, body, and spirit are not separate so don't forget to employ your physical body in your pursuit of the mystical. The experience of inhabiting a body is one of the most profoundly spiritual experiences available to us. Dancing, drumming, yoga, singing, walking a labyrinth, even playing sports are deeply intuitive, bodily ways of expressing our spiritual selves. Not to mention a hellava lot of fun.

5. Approach your practice with playfulness.
You may believe that a spiritual practice must be solemn and serious. But it is anything but! Joy is one of the five noble emotions and laughter is its language. So above all else, approach your budding practice with a light heart. Laugh at yourself, laugh at your teachers, laugh at the sheer silliness that is the human experience. We are mammals made of recycled star-stuff rocketing around on an anomalous blue planet in the vacuum of an exploding universe and yet somehow we allow ourselves to get derailed by jammed printers or cat sick on the carpet. How could we not laugh?!

6. Watch for signs.
As you begin to cultivate a spiritual practice you may find that the universe sends you little nudges or clues to encourage you on your seeker's path. You may begin to notice strange coincidences or undeniable signs that point you deeper into your connection with spirit. It may be something as simple as having three different people recommend the same book, or connecting with a kindred spirit through a seemingly random occurrence. Want to speed things up? Ask for a sign. One of my favourite practices is to write the Universe a letter. Request help with whatever you are struggling with. Thank her for her guidance and don't forget to date and sign your letter. Stay open and you will begin to feel subtle course corrections as you travel through life.

7. Connect with your tribe.
I used to believe that spirituality was a solitary endeavor. I could not have been more wrong. Want to feel your practice really open up? Get together with other seekers. Attend workshops, classes, and retreats. Join online communities like this one. There is a reason that most spiritual traditions are built around congregations. There is an energetic resonance that only comes from being part of a group. That is where spirit resides the strongest. It doesn't have to be a formal gathering. It can be any circle of individuals who support and encourage each other on this ride we call life.

8. Experiment.
The best thing about building your spiritual practice is that it is yours. You alone get to choose what works for you. And there are no rules so don't be afraid to explore. Cherry pick from any discipline, idea, or philosophy that speaks to you. Try everything and trust your gut. Whatever fuels your interest, resonates with your heart, and feeds your soul...do that!

(a version of this post originally appeared on MindBodyGreen)