Sharon Janis knows firsthand about embarking upon a spiritual journey: While studying neuroscience and film at the University of Michigan, she met Swami Muktananda, experienced a spiritual awakening and planned a two-month stay at his monastic-style ashram in upstate New York. Two months turned into 10-years of study, practice, service and deep spiritual immersion. Inspired by her experience at the ashram, Janis went on to write several books on spirituality, including Spirituality for Dummies, Secrets of Spiritual Happiness and Conscious Evolution: Exploring Who We Are and Why We Are Here. Here, she shares her thoughts on living more spiritually.
It’s a flexible question with a flexible answer. It’s like asking, “what is life?” I often think of spirituality as your personal relationship with God, the Divine or the universe; the relationship between the individual soul and the universal soul. Spirituality is also seeing beyond the physical realm, beyond what you experience with your five senses. If a challenge comes your way, a spiritual point of view allows you to handle it better because you can see that there are many reasons why something can happen.
Living spiritually enriches every aspect of your life. Even sitting quietly for five minutes when you wake up in the morning can change your whole day. People jump out of bed and then they’re rushing from one responsibility to another and their days are very full. Taking time to connect with spirit, with your own self and with your own peaceful center gives you more creativity; it gives you better discernment; you can make better decisions; and you can stay calmer when challenges come up. And it helps you be a better parent or better at whatever you’re doing. If you’re a dancer, it helps you be a better dancer. Becoming connected with spirit also increases your intuition, and intuition is very helpful with anything you want to do in life, even relationships. You can be intuitive enough to know who you should be spending time with and whether they’re being honest. If you’re just living on the surface of life, you’re only seeing the surface.
One: Add pauses to your day. When you stop and center yourself, you reconnect with your spiritual essence. Watch your breath. First thing in the morning pause and bless your own day. Before you eat, offer your meal to God, grace or healthy digestion.
Two: Keep good company and read good spiritual words. You don’t have to believe everything you read, but bathe your mind in positive spiritual ideas. And be with positive people as much as you can. Note what you watch on TV, what music you listen to and what you read. Get some good, positive spiritual books and before you go to sleep, read a paragraph or two. The energy of the words goes into your subconscious, which affects your dreams and then affects your next day.
Three: Approach life with an attitude of service, whether you volunteer or live life looking for what you can give to this world. You’re here for a short time, so ask yourself what you can give.
It’s both. The most important aspect is inside; you need to do the inner spiritual work. But you really have to find your right place. It’s an individual process. That’s the whole point of spirituality. For some people, it may be what they grew up with, and for others it may not be what they grew up with.
One thing I suggest if someone says, “OK, I want to become more spiritual,” is to gather with a few friends who are interested in growing spiritually and go to a different place every Sunday or every week. I did that for about three years; I explored every possible religion that met on Sundays, and sometimes I’d go other days, too. I’ve been to Quaker, Rosicrucian, Catholic, Theosophist, Methodist, Unitarian and Unity gatherings, and it wasn’t so much that I was looking for a place to land as that I was just enjoying the different flavors of spirituality. But for somebody who’s looking for a place to land, it’s a great way to see what’s out there, and to consider what you like about one place and what you don’t.
Ultimately, it’s not so much an outer search, but it’s very helpful to have an outer place to go and other people to grow with on the spiritual journey. I lived in an ashram for 10 years, so I had the benefit of that, and now, for me, it’s more of a solitary, inner journey.
You may find that various emotions come up as the blustery waves of mental activity settle into a peaceful state of mind. Some of the emotions that come up as you begin a dedicated spiritual practice may be from deep in the past, hiding in the crevices of your consciousness and impacting your experience of life from below the surface. You can think of these emotions as the housecleaning your spirit is doing to prepare space for greater purity and light in your life. Some people begin the spiritual path and think that they must be doing something wrong because they’re suddenly feeling more anger than before, or because an old forgotten emotion may have resurfaced. But the process of spiritual growth will help you move forward on your path with a positive mindset that outshines these emotional bubbles.
When you feel “spiritual freedom,” it means that you’re acting freely, you’re inspired in each moment, you’re spontaneous, you’re letting changes happen in your life without always trying to control them and without freaking out about them. You’re living a little bit above the world. You’re in the world, but not of it. There’s a freedom in that because it’s almost like you’re the actor in a movie. You know you’re the actor, so you’re not bound by what the actor you’re portraying goes through. And there’s a similar sense to that when you’re steeped in deep spirituality; you’re here for a visit. You’re enjoying all of the different things that happen in life, challenging and pleasant. This is the story of your life and there’s a great freedom in that.
Look on the web. We haven’t had a resource like this ever in the history of humankind—one where you can actually go and search “spirituality” or any particular spiritual ideas you’re interested in, and find millions of web sites. If you Google the word “spiritual,” it brings up 94 million web sites. You can just read a little bit or watch videos on YouTube. In the book Spirituality for Dummies, I refer to being a good editor: You need to learn to edit things; if you don’t understand something or it doesn’t strike you as right, then just let it go. They have a saying in India that a swan drinks the milk and leaves the water.
My belief is that the universe is beneficent, and that it’s always moving toward greater good. Believing that the universe is good and is creating situations that will help make you better on some bigger level that you may not be aware of gives you optimism.
Growth. Lessons. Learning about other potentials within yourself. Finding new avenues to experience life. Who wants a boring life?
Taking a leap into a spiritual life. I was brought up atheist, but in college I took a class called “Consciousness,” which I thought was going to be about psychology, but it was more spiritual. The professor was a disciple of Muktananda and he took us on a field trip to the local ashram, which I almost didn’t go to because I thought, “Oh, I’m not interested in some weird cult-type thing.” But I just let go and eventually ended up going to New York to meet the guru. I spent the weekend there, and had mind-boggling experiences. I decided this is what I want to learn and I left school and went to the ashram for what was going to be two months and then stayed for 10 years. It changed everything in my life.
For more information on Sharon Janis, visit www.nightlotus.com.
Spirituality for Dummies is for smart souls who know we are all really beginners when it comes to understanding spirituality. Like all books for dummies, the layout is filled with information boxes, bulleted lists, humorous cartoons and quick tips. ...