Science & Reason: Spiritual Practice

Some Unitarian Universalists struggle with reconciling the concept of spirituality and spiritual practices with their need for a reasonable approach to their religious journey. Yet, deep in our own history is one of the earliest sources for modern-day concepts of spirituality. It was Ralph Waldo Emerson who spoke out as a pioneer for the integration of rational thought with personal experiences of transcendence. He encouraged people to take their search for God out into the world and find that sense of the holy in the world around them, not in the pews or the pulpit. This idea is affirmed by our naming the direct experience of transcending mystery and wonder as one of our sources in our living tradition. In fact, I think it was quite intentional that this is our first source.

Modern day brain studies of such transcendent experiences shows us how the brain is processing and even creating the sensations we feel, that many call holy, transcendent, or spiritual. Knowing the scientific explanation for such experiences may cause some to consider these invalid or insignificant. But for me they actually make them even more meaningful, and cause me to dedicate myself more earnestly to nurturing such moments because there is evidence that generating such experiences is actually quite healthy for us. For me, this makes the case for the need for spiritual practices in our lives … no less than the need for food, water, sleep, and human connection.

In a time in which there is much chaos, conflict, fear, busy-ness, and worry, there is scientific evidence that it is healthy to nurture the reactions in our brain that create moments of euphoria and well-being. Engaging in spiritual practices can make us emotionally healthier to face the onslaught of bad news, political rhetoric, grief, and over-scheduling. Alternatives for coping with the challenges of life, such as abusing drugs, alcohol, tobacco, or food; or engaging in other self-destructive behaviors, can damage our bodies, our relationships, or our ability to be effective in our work. There are healthier alternatives.

Regular practices that nurture our internal selves (called the spirit or soul by some) are wide-ranging. There’s something for everyone! From meditation to math, gardening to hiking, painting to plumbing. In the UUA’s Tapestry of Faith program “Spirit in Practice” there is a long list of examples of spiritual practices.* Sometimes we may need to experiment with different possibilities to find what we need at this time in our lives to bring us back to center, and prepare ourselves for the unexpected turn in the road of life.

 

* http://www.uua.org/re/tapestry/adults/practice/workshop1/59187.shtml

 

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