meaning

Religion vs. Spirituality

Many of us are born into a religion. It’s not until we get older that we have the opportunity to question our beliefs and decide if they are for us. This is an opportunity that not everyone takes. It can be difficult to ask the tough questions like: Why are we here? What is the point of life? What happens when we die?

As a therapist I am sometimes the person that gets presented with such big questions. I feel honoured that I get to help someone better figure out what they believe and in turn better understand themselves. That is why exploring your own view on spirituality is so important. Spirituality is more about deciding for yourself what the big questions are and how to answer them. Deciding when and how you feel connected to yourself and others. For you that may not be in a church but in nature, near the sea or being surrounded by those you love. The forest can be your church and any sunny day your sabbath.

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Giving yourself the space to explore what religion and spirituality mean to you is important. It will allow you to better deal with difficult situations. Believing that every experience is to help you learn and grow means that the ups and downs of life are easier to make sense of.  Religion can feel like it opposes spirituality because some of the planets biggest religions have outdated views on woman and equality in general. It’s not their fault, these religions were formed thousands of years ago. Being a person now is completely unrecognisable the world of our ancestors. Which is most likely why more and more people are finding it difficult to relate to religion like our generations before.

If you never ask yourself what you believe you can end up feeling confused and alone. It’s okay to ask questions and change your mind. Life happen and we grow, sometimes our beliefs change. Maybe that’s why we’re here, to ask these questions and figure out an answer. At least we don’t have to ask them alone.

“We are all connected; To each other, biologically. To the earth, chemically. To the rest of the universe atomically.” – Neil deGrasse Tyson

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The Service of Suffering

Over the course of our lives events happen that can leave us feeling overwhelmed, heartbroken or depressed. Have you ever been in the depths of despair and asked why? What is the point of this pain and suffering? How we answer this question affects the way we feel about our life, it’s purpose and how we perceive the world.  These terrible occurrences can shape who we are, if we chose to learn nothing from our pain then we may end up getting stuck in it. Perhaps suffering is a conduit to help us learn and connect to one another. What if there was a purpose to your misery?

While in the midst of a life altering loss or tragedy it can be incredibly frustrating to hear the phrase, ‘Everything happens for a reason.’ Although it may be something you believe, it can be difficult to feel that way in depths of grief. When I speak of learning from painful experiences, I do not assume that this is something that can be done in the middle of the grieving process. It is completely healthy and encouraged to feel your sadness, anger and frustration. However, if you stay stuck in those feelings it can be easy to believe that the world is conspiring against you.

Feeling like a victim is an incredibly lonely place. Watching others have their dreams come true, while another opportunity slips from your grasp. Believing that nothing has and ever will turn out positive for you is heart wrenching. It is difficult to believe there is any point to your misery when you have yet to see a break in the clouds, let alone a silver lining. Often these feelings cause us to isolate ourselves further. Feeling ashamed and believing that we are a failure can make it less likely to reach out for support. Usually having the assumption that no one has experienced exactly what you have, so no one can understand.

The belief that we are separate and alone in our pain is what can make us feel so terrible. However, I believe it is through this pain that we can learn how to connect more fully to each other. The first step is acknowledging that everyone hurts. Everyone has moments of feeling lost and believing their life is a mess. However, when we cannot find that understanding for ourselves it can be difficult to believe that anyone else would. That belief causes many to stay quiet, suffering in silence, never being able to share their inner pain. When the truth is, everyone has a right to feel. If you have been hurt you feel that way for a reason. Trying to convince yourself you do not, will not make those feelings go away; usually it makes them worse.

It is in these dark places within ourselves that there is space for personal growth and understanding. However, that can only be achieved when we find compassion for ourselves and our pain. That means not being judgemental of how you feel. Nothing is gained from thinking and speaking negatively about yourself. These thoughts are not usually facts and if they contribute your misery they are not helping you. If you want to evolve from the pain you need to consider if you have learned or gained anything from the struggles in your life.

As therapists the most common prerequisite to training is ‘life experience’. Which really is a nice way to say suffering. To better connect and help someone move on from their pain you have to have been there yourself. Having the ability to facilitate growth, knowing that in the end there is hope, light and possibility. You don’t have to be a therapist to recognise the benefits gained from living a full life, one filled with ups and downs. The difference is that many people use their losses as a way to separate themselves from others, instead of a way to connect and learn. We should be able to see ourselves in every tear that is shed by those around us, but we don’t.

Suffering disconnects us from ourselves and in turn, one another. This disconnect means that we can find it difficult to relate to the suffering of another. From the stranger we pass on the street to a loved one, the up’s and down’s are called ‘the human experience’ yet we usually perceive them as ‘my’ experience. Living with the belief that what I experience is different from what you experience. Which is only true to a point, I may not know exactly how sadness feels to you or why you have experienced it. However, I do know that when I feel down what makes the difference is knowing I am not alone. I believe is true for all of us.

In an ideal world we would see our struggles as lessons, teaching us to grow. Or we would recognise that no matter the culture or religious background the experience of emotion connects us all. Perhaps suffering is a part of our experience because it allows us to appreciate the joy while also teaching us how relate to one another more fully. Either way, until we give ourselves the opportunity to reflect on all parts of our journey it will be increasingly difficult to learn from it. Allow yourself to believe in a life where your suffering has not been worthless and explore what there is to gain.

“Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.”  – Haruki Murakami