I think maybe because she has such a cult following I’ve actually been compelled to rebel and NOT get on the Oprah bandwagon, but my free Oprah’s Life class journal arrived in the mail the other day (long after the series ended, and I don’t even have the OWN channel in the first place) — just another one of those random free things I sign up for when I remember to — and it inspired me to locate the webcasts on her site and start watching them. Well, surprise! I’m loving every minute of it, and I take each class very seriously.

Not exactly where you might expect a post on spirituality to start, but it reinforces the point I’m intending to make: that, at least to me, spirituality and religion are two different things, and it’s up to you to mix and match what you believe in, how you want to spend your time, what you need in your life at any given moment and how both (or one or the other) can nurture you and help you grow during the hard times and the easy ones.

It’s difficult sometimes among the many roles we all play, whether you’re a father, mother, employee or employer, to always feel authentic, always feel like you’re living your truth, your best life and sticking by what you believe in. Heck, sometimes it’s hard to even KNOW what you believe in. Which is why I have these tips to wake you from your spiritual (or religious) slumber, at a time when I’m sure we can all use them:

  • Think outside of the box. For years and years I had guilt about not attending church as often as I felt I “should” — until a very wise woman told me, Don’t go to church because you think you should, or because so-and-so goes, or because you were brought up a certain way; go to church when you WANT to. When you want to connect, talk with God, have a conversation with Him. And you know what? No one had ever said that to me before. The rest of the time I may spend in prayer alone, and I feel okay with that — but that’s my truth, so it may not fit you. The idea here is to realize that not doing “the norm,” or going against the grain, just might fit you. Once you find comfort, you’ll know it’s right.
  • Do some research. The internet is a great place for learning about all kinds of things, but in this instance I would recommend picking up an actual book. Read about Islam, whatever it is that has always interested you or frightens you or seems way too “out there” for you, and explore it. You’ve got nothing to lose, and opening your mind to new expressions of religion and spirituality can strengthen the beliefs you already have or bring you new ideas and inspiration if you’re starting from scratch. We all need to feel that sort of connectedness to some greater purpose or being, no matter how much you may wish that weren’t true.
  • Feel the fear. Even just talking about this on the cooking blog feels strange to me, but one of the things I learned from Martha Beck on her webcast this week was that if you feel uneasy about doing or saying something, it may be because you’re actually telling yourself some sort of lie about your beliefs and how they relate to that action — in this case, that it’s “wrong” or “stupid/silly” to write about this topic on a so-called food or diet blog. Wrong? Stupid? I challenged that belief, and I decided to do it anyways, because it wasn’t something I was truly dreading inside; it’s more of an invigorating sort of fear, which I know I should push through because, honestly, the judgment or the reaction doesn’t matter. In the same way, finding your comfort in spirituality or religion should be just that — yours — and although it may be tough at times, you shouldn’t let other peoples’ comments change your mind. What do you feel when you’re engaging in the spiritual or religious activity of your choice? If it’s comfort, but you feel uncomfortable talking about it to a friend or a relative, it may just be that you’re telling yourself that person will reject you because of your beliefs, so you must be wrong. That’s the lie. No one can say what’s right or wrong in this instance about your relationship with God or The One or The Universe or whatever you choose to believe in. Feel the fear, or the discomfort, or the judgment, and challenge it until you discover the comfort and the truth.
  • Enlist a friend. If there IS someone who shares your curiosity, invite him or her to an event with you, whether it’s a church service or a yoga class. There are a million options out there, and sometimes going through an experience like that (especially if it’s your first time) can create deeper relationships. Plus, you’ll always have someone to bounce your subsequent thoughts and reactions off of. That way, in discussing it with each other, you can also establish whether the activity is good for the both of you or if you need to part ways and strike out on your own. The moral support and familiarity to start, however, may bolster your confidence to get out there and explore.
  • Take it slow. It can be tempting when embarking on any new routine (think exercise) to go all out from the start, and I wouldn’t consider this area to be any different — but asking yourself too many questions and challenging too many beliefs too soon can be more stressful than it is eye-opening. My natural tendency is to plow through everything just to get it done, check it off my to-do list, but that’s the exact opposite approach to take here. It’s a constant journey with peaks and valleys as you find forms of spiritual expression that do and don’t agree with you. If any of you have a vision board going, I would even suggest considering transforming it into a “journey” board instead — this is something I just decided to do myself.
It really is a journey, and that’s not something you can take with you when you go — so do your best to feel your way through it without attaching yourself to any end result or outcome, like proving that you don’t have to go to church every Sunday or confirming your belief that meditation is a crock. Separate yourself from your ego as you explore each next step, and your enjoyment will be much more deep, profound and enlightening. Doesn’t that sound fabulous?