What does it mean to have a spiritual practice?
Everyone will answer this question differently. For me, I attended church two to three times a week as a child and memorized the ABCs and primary colors alongside prayers and Bible scriptures. It wasn’t until I was in my twenties that I began pondering my learned religious framework and constructing my own spiritual identity.
It was in this venturing that I discovered reverence for some of the principles the religion of my youth had offered me. Discipline, for example, as well as the outward expression of gratitude, continue to prove invaluable in my life, especially as I’ve cultivated a personal spiritual practice in my adult years.
Of course, one doesn’t need to have had a religious upbringing to experience this. You can ascribe to a higher power (or not), and you can belong to a religious institution/faith-based community (or not). Spirituality is entirely inclusive. In ways, it's fluid. It invites questioning and celebrates continued transformation.
Whether you’re curious about developing a practice for the first time or you're eager to deepen your spirituality, consider trying the following:
1. Prayer & Meditation
One of the simplest ways to cultivate a spiritual practice is through prayer and meditation. I’ve found these disciplines help me return to the current moment and root myself in the present (the “what is”) rather than the past (which I can’t change) or the future (which I can’t control). Prayer may make more sense if you subscribe to a higher power(s), while meditation and mindfulness are sacred, time-tested rituals that can be experienced by anyone.
2. Give Back With Time & Money
It’s common in religious traditions to donate time and money, whether to faith-based institutions or nonprofit organizations. But these practices aren’t reserved only for those belonging to a specific religious community. Anyone can donate to NGOs, environmental efforts, and give-back initiatives. Because I grew up tithing and giving a percentage of my income to my family church, I’ve enjoyed continuing this discipline as part of my adult spiritual practice. Through monetary donations, I’m able to connect with nonpartisan organizations in my community and support impact-driven initiatives I believe in.
Likewise, consider implementing a volunteer schedule into your spiritual practice. Spend one afternoon a month serving with a local organization or participating in sustainability projects. Giving back with our time and money expands our worldview and invites us into collective spirituality.
3. Attend a Spiritual Retreat
Now and then, it is worth taking time away for a spiritual retreat—whether at an organized institution or for a solo getaway. Creating space for reflection, mentorship, and education is essential for spiritual growth and continued transformation, and by getting outside of our routine and familiar environment, we can more easily recenter ourselves. Retreats are also excellent for engaging with and learning from others on similar spiritual paths.
To start your search, check out this comprehensive list of spiritual retreats (religious and non-religious) in the USA. There are numerous monasteries abroad (specifically in Europe and Asia) that are inclusive and welcoming, and many are set up for self-led retreats. Some even operate on a pay-what-you-can or work exchange system.
4. Hold Space for Rituals
When I think through some of my most meaningful spiritual rituals, the On Being podcast stands out. I’ve been listening to this podcast for over a year now, and it’s become a beacon in my spiritual journey. I’m fascinated by how many others also listen to this show religiously (pun intended) as well—I once heard a woman say she spent every Saturday morning listening to the latest episode on her front porch. Other listeners have expressed similar sentiments, hailing the show a “consistent hour of peace” and a part of their “spiritual lexicon.”
Of course, this is only an example. Whether you listen to a podcast, attend a weekly spiritual service, or light a candle at the end of the day while reciting a poem or prayer, rituals are a meaningful way to practice discipline and reverence in your spiritual practice.
5. Experience “Carbonated Holiness”
I consider Anne Lamott one of my spiritual guides. Her writing and thoughts on faith have always met me in ways I didn’t know I needed.
“Laughter is carbonated holiness,” she says. I interpret this to mean that, through laughter and light-heartedness, we can connect to the sacred in ourselves, in others, and in the divine. A profound thought, especially as it relates to the western culture's overtly success and performance-driven ethos.
Laughter, play, tenderness—these things can be a part of our spiritual practice, too. (How beautiful is that?) We can connect with something outside ourselves and return to the innocence of youth. For me, this looks like creating time for embodied and playful activities, like engaging in childhood games with my partner, creating art without judgment, and solo dance parties in the kitchen. It’s learning how to let go and laugh more often. Goofiness is some sort of magic, I’m convinced, and the most transformative spiritual discipline is the one where we learn not to take ourselves so seriously.
Do you have a spiritual practice? Share your thoughts and favorite disciplines for cultivating spirituality in the comments below!
Kayti Christian (she/her) is an Editor at The Good Trade. Growing up beneath the evergreens in the Sierra Nevadas, she returns to California after a decade split between states—including three years lived abroad. With an MA in Nonfiction Writing, she’s passionate about storytelling and fantastic content, especially as it relates to mental health, feminism, and sexuality. When not in-studio, she’s camping, reading memoir, or advocating for the Oxford comma.