Religion For Dummies
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Two important goals of becoming more spiritual are growth and evolution. Yet with or without any specific spiritual efforts, human beings continue to evolve and grow. This drive is programmed into the very nature of all life — an innate pull toward growth, evolution, and transformation.

Well, then, if everything is happening by itself, why not just coast along for the ride? Why get all involved with learning how to do different spiritual practices? Here's are the reasons:

  • By intentionally doing spiritual practices, you actively support your personal growth and, therefore, working in harmony with the universe.
  • Growth is inherently challenging no matter how you do it, but if you work with the universe, your progress will be smoother and more fruitful. The universe won't have to throw unending disasters and challenges into your life to force you to grow. Life becomes more peaceful and more exciting at the same time.
  • Saying "I want to become spiritual" is like saying, "I want to become healthy." Your focus and determination can definitely help to achieve this goal, but it is also important to practice habits that are conducive to becoming healthy or spiritual. For example, if you want to become healthy, you have to know which kinds of foods are best to eat, how much water to drink, and how much exercise will help to keep your body in great shape. Similarly, if you're looking for spiritual unfolding, you have to know what qualities, disciplines, and practices will guide you to make choices, thoughts, and actions that reveal your spiritual nature.

Effort is the fuel that keeps you moving forward on your journey of personal and spiritual evolution. Of course, you have to also be aware of which direction your effort is directed. Therefore, the goal of spiritual practices is two-fold:

  • Knowing what you what
  • Empowering what you want

Both of these aspects are essential and must come together — the wisdom and guidance to go in the right direction and the power to move in that direction.

Doing practices for body, mind, and spirit

You can use spiritual practices to purify, strengthen, and elevate your body, mind, and spirit. All three are connected. For example, your practices to purify and strengthen your body also support the increased flows of energy that come from your mental and spirit-based practices.

  • Practices for your body: These practices include yoga postures, breathing exercises, and energy balancing — all for the purpose of making your "temple of God" (that is, your body) a worthy vessel to contain and carry the great energy of Holy Spirit.
  • Practices for your mind: These practices include meditation, contemplation, repetition of mantras, study of spiritual teachings, and affirmations — all of which polish the mirror of your mind so it can reflect divine light more clearly and brightly.
  • Practices for your spirit: These practices include reverential rituals, prayer, chanting and singing of hymns, and other devotional efforts that invigorate your love, willpower, surrender, and faith.

Strengthening your willpower

Spiritual disciplines test and strengthen your willpower. For example, you may decide to meditate for a half-hour every morning — but then some mornings you want to sleep in or are thinking about quitting meditation early to go have a nice breakfast. These willpower struggles give you a chance to increase your power of self-control.

Self-control is like a muscle that you strengthen through meeting challenges with your willpower. Gaining more self-control in one area also gives you the strength to free yourself from other harmful habits you may wish to drop in the future.

Suppose you're considering ending your meditation early to have some breakfast. You're sitting quietly, repeating your mantra, watching your breath, watching your thoughts, and quieting your mind, and suddenly, there appears an image of eggs . . . with toast and a piping hot cup of tea. Yum. You try to push the image aside, but your mind is drawn into thoughts of tantalizing aromas, flavors, and textures.

At this point, you may think, "Well, I'm not exactly focused on meditation right now anyway. May as well end it early and get on with my day." That part of the game is where your mind makes excuses to convince you to fulfill your immediate desires.

The important thing to notice is that point where your will meets the pull of the desired object. Your will is saying, "Hey, I made a commitment to myself to meditate for a half-hour every morning and I'm going to do it." But the eggs are saying, "Come here . . . you are getting sleepy . . . ." This moment is uncomfortable but magical — one in which you can use your willpower and intention to create a new pattern and strengthen your resolve.

In the midst of your inner struggle, there comes a time when you may be just about to give in. In that moment, you can take control, using the force of your will to say "no" to the desire. You can stay focused in your commitment to meditate for the full half-hour. This is just like exercising your muscles or your mind. Every time you conquer the pull of your senses, you become more in charge.

Even if you sometimes give in and lose the battle, whatever efforts you have put into confronting that desire or habit still bring you greater strength the next time. However, giving in to desires and habits without even making efforts to overcome them can weaken your willpower.

You can apply this same technique to other willpower situations, such as quitting smoking or maintaining an exercise program. The key is to make a decision and honor it, keeping your word to yourself. This means remaining steady even over the many hills and mountains of temptation that may arise to test your strength.

Practicing being happy

You can develop the habit of being happy just by practicing acting happy. This is not about deception or fooling yourself or others but, instead, tapping into an amazing quality and spiritual law of life. Your inner being and outer expressions reflect one another:

  • If you feel happy inside, it shows up in everything you do.
  • In the same way, expressing happiness outwardly also affects your state of mind, creating greater happiness inside yourself.

During good times, allow yourself to smile; during difficult times, still do your best to smile. It doesn't even have to be a big, outer smile. Just think "smile." Think "contentment." Feel what it would feel like to have a spontaneous, sincere smile playing on your lips.

Don't disregard your grief or anger or walk around with a fake, plastic smile. Instead, try to become established in happiness by practicing being happy.

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