The term “spirituality” has gotten a bad rap, I think, over the past decade. I rather think the whole idea of making “spirituality” good or bad is rather funny, giving that human beings are naturally spiritual.
Indeed, in the broader sense, spirituality simply refers to the profound sense that one is connected to something much larger than self. You can feel this way at any given moment—while praying, basking under some glorious rays of sunshine, or hitting a perfect shot while playing golf.
From a brain-science perspective, when one feels this larger sense of connection, peptides and neurostransmitters like oxytocin, serotonin and dopamine are flying through the brain and body, creating a state of relaxation, a general sense of well-being, and a more open state of mind. In addition, stress hormones and stress systems that are normally over-activated when an individual feels threatened or disconnected are kept in check, therefore inhibiting the detrimental and harmful affects of stress and the associated bi-products.
Since the beginning, humankind has used spirituality to cope—using imagination, their connection to nature and the spiritual world, to make meaning of a world that did not have science to explain anything yet. Physiologically, science is now discovering that this coping mechanism is indeed necessary for health and well-being.
One only has to gaze at a beautiful sunset, imagine a gazelle leaping through the air, or watch an eagle sore through the sky to feel the sense of being connected and part of something much larger and greater. When we get caught up in our every day lives, the computer screen or the smart phone, we lose this sense of largeness and connection. Rather, our minds close in on just us and the inanimate objects around us, which often do not always imply a deeper meaning or connection.
A great thing about nature is that it is non-denominational. You don’t have to believe in God, a higher power, divine influence or any other religious beliefs to get the benefit that more religiously minded individuals get. Nature, by its sheer vastness and beauty can elicit this feeling and mind/body physiology in anyone. Even better, once you feel connected to nature, you are also more likely to take care of it. Likewise, when you feel more connected to the larger world you exist in, you are more likely to have empathy for the people who surround you.
The Daoist believe that the human body mirrors the landscape of nature. There is an intricate balance between all parts of the body, all parts of nature and between humankind and nature. Each takes care of the other—or is supposed to. Destroying nature is akin to destroying the body. You don’t take care of nature, you don’t take care of yourself. You don’t take care of yourself, you don’t take care of nature. And then what do you have left? A smart phone is not going to keep the oxygen in the air for you to breathe.
Likewise, self care leads to environmental care. Loving the environment results in better care of oneself. Science confirms the Daoist belief when looking at the regulating systems in the body—via feedback loops and auto-regulatory processes that depend on hormones and neurotransmitters, every system of the body, molecules like oxygen and nitric oxide and all of the senses—that pick up pleasantries vs. insults that turn on the stress response or turn it off. Like a pleasant aroma vs. a caustic smell. Nature has the same effect. When you see a flower bloom, your mind and body experience a similar reaction.
Think about it now—what do you feel?
Here are a few simple ways you can connect to your own spirituality muscle:
Gaze at something amazing—something that amazes you, that is, in nature. That state of awe will release oxytocin and other delicious neurotransmitters that give you the sense of a “high”.
You can also take a mindful walk in nature—this means not thinking about yesterday or worrying about tomorrow, but being present and appreciative while walking in nature…admiring the colors of the leaves, the blueness of the sky, the smell of the air or the touch of the breeze. Intentionally using all your senses to appreciate heightens the sense of connection.