Defining spirituality is something very difficult and is highly subjective. It is somewhat like looking at an object in darkness, and visualizing what it really is, depending upon one’s imagination, thought and experience. Spirituality, to some, is an eye or a window to the supernatural powers, which ordinary people don’t see. Some define it as the shifting from evil values (anger, lust, greed, violence, boastful, etc) towards humanity and noble virtue, to protect and preserve the world and the creatures living in it, for benefit of all.
Also, spirituality is the way one finds meaning, hope, comfort & inner peace in life. For most, it is the attainment of “self-realization.” “Self” here denotes the ‘Atma’ or soul, the divine essence of man, as distinguished from the ordinary self, which is the human personality or ego. The self is the individualized spirit, whose essential nature is ever-existing, ever-conscious, ever-new bliss.
“Self-realization” is the realization of one’s true identity as the self, one with the universal consciousness of God. It is the knowing- in body, mind, & soul- that we are one with the omnipresence of God; that we don’t have to pray that it comes to us, that we are not merely near it all times, but that God’s omnipresence is our omnipresence; that we are just as much a part of him now as we ever will be. It is the state of cosmic consciousness which is the absolute; spirit beyond creation.
The relation between the soul (self) and the supreme soul (God) is like the one between the ocean wave and the ocean itself. Though seemingly different, they are both Waters. Hence, in simple words, self-realization means realizing that “I am a soul, and I am the God.”
Spirituality demands awareness of “Maya”, which is the delusory power inherent in the structure of creation, by which the one appears as many. It is the principle of relativity, inversion, contrast, duality, oppositional states, whose sole function is to divert man from spirit to matter, from reality to unreality; & is the veil of transitoriness in nature that must be lifted up in order to see behind the creature, the changeless, immutable, eternal reality.
When we dream, our emotions, feeling, sensation associated with the dream, activities seem so vivid and real until we wake up. Just like this, we are actually inside the eternal dream world of Supreme Soul, and self-realized ones are those who have to awaken from it, realizing all and everything is just a dream, untrue, Maya; created by the unconscious mind (God), except the truth of the soul.
Once realized the truth that we are actually soul and not the body; and as the soul being “Non-Karmic”, which means it does no action nor has thought, & hence no reaction according to the “Law of Karma”, which is that of action and reaction, cause and effect, sowing and reaping; reincarnation doesn’t occur as there is no need for rebirth to experience or bear the effect of past action or thoughts; due to the ” Non-Karmic” nature of the soul. Hence, there is an achievement of freedom from the cycle of births & deaths, thereby attaining “Nirvana.” There are different paths to spirituality like- martial art, music, religion, connection with nature, Yoga Meditation, and other arts, etc. Some also find it in their values and principles.
Yoga (from the Sanskrit word ‘Yuj’, meaning union/link/bind) means union of the individual soul with spirit, or union between the limited and cosmic self; and the methods by which this goal is attained. There are many systems of Yoga, Jnana Yoga, Raja Yoga, Hatha Yoga, etc.
Raja Yoga employs mental control, constant attention to the moment, and exploration of consciousness, & meditation- thinking as soul, we try to make a link with the supreme soul. Kriya Yoga is a form of Raja Yoga which includes certain advanced techniques of meditation that lead to direct, personal experience of God.
A Raja Yogi has to pass eight definite steps, before the union with God, as its believed:-
Yama’, moral conduct;
Niyama’, religious observances;
Asanas’, right posture to still bodily restlessness;
Pranayama’, control of prana, subtle life current;
Samadhi’, spiritual ecstasy, superconscious experience, ultimately union with God both beyond and within vibratory creation as the all-pervading supreme reality. The yogi’s consciousness becomes identified with the intelligence in every particle of creation; they feel the entire universe as their own body.
Meditation refers to a group of techniques in which a person learns to focus his attention, & suspend the stream of thoughts that normally occupy the mind; i,e; train the mind not to grasp thoughts as they move through. Mindfulness meditation and the Transcendental (TM) meditation are two common approaches to meditation.
The former originated in Buddhism, & is based on the concept of being mindful, or having an increased awareness and total acceptance of the present. The meditator is taught to bring all the attention to the sensation of the flow of the breath in and out of the body. The intent might be described as focusing attention on what is being experienced, without reacting to or judging that experience; helping the meditator learn to experience thoughts and emotions in normal daily life with greater balance and acceptance.
TM, on the order hand, originated in the Vedic tradition of India. In it, the meditator uses a ‘Mantra'(a word/sound/phrase with a specific frequency, pitch, and intensity) to prevent distracting thoughts from entering the mind. The intent of TM might be described as allowing the mind to settle into a quieter state & the body into a state of deeper rest. This is seen as ultimately leading to a state of relaxed alertness.
Most types of meditation have four elements in common:
- (a) A quiet location with minimum distraction; but not essential for advanced meditators.
- (b) A specific, comfortable posture like sitting (cross leg/lotus position, etc), lying down, standing, walking, or in any other positions.
- (c) A focus of attention may be on a mantra or an object, or the breath.
- (d) An open attitude; i,e; letting distractions come & go naturally without stopping to think about them. When such distracting or wandering thoughts occur, they are not suppressed; instead, the meditator learns gently to observe the rising & falling of thoughts & emotions as they spontaneously occur
The mechanism of action and changes occurring during meditation is not fully known and understood. One way some types of meditation might work is by reducing activity in the sympathetic nervous system and increasing parasympathetic activity; or by bringing significant changes in brain functions.
It is said during deep meditation, ‘spiritual eye’ becomes visible as a bright star surrounded by a sphere of blue light, encircled by a brilliant halo of golden light. It is the single eye of intuition & spiritual perception at the ‘Kutastha’ center (Ajna chakra) between the eyebrows; the entryway into higher states of consciousness. It is also referred to as ‘the third eye’, ‘the star of the east’, ‘the inner eye’, ‘the dove descending from heaven’, ‘the eye of Shiva’, or ‘the eye of intuition.’
Spirituality along with Yoga and Meditation has a profound effect on mental, physical, social, emotional and other dimensions of health. Qualities of spiritual health include: knowing oneself, knowing one’s relationship to reality, hope, positive outlook, acceptance of death, forgiveness, self-acceptance, grateful, commitment, meaning & purpose, clear values, peace with oneself-both inside & outside, and concerned with success and salvation both in this world and thereafter.
Spiritual involvement helps buffer effects of stress, depression, & lessens the frequency of other psychiatric illnesses also- mania, panic disorders, etc; by creating anchors of hope and caring; fostering positive beliefs and behaviors; optimism & promoting a sense of purpose, guidelines for living and regaining a sense of control & lessening impact of negative circumstances with more emotional stability.
IL 6 blood levels are found to be in near-optimal level in spiritual persons. IL-6, as we know, is an immune marker correlated with mood states which acts on other cells to regulate immune system functions. Also, it is one of several inflammatory markers in diseases like heart diseases, stroke, diabetes & is associated with increased stress & depression. Spiritual persons have consistently lower blood pressure and 40% less likely to have diastolic hypertension associated with heart attacks & strokes.
It is an excellent coping strategy by severely & terminally ill patients, HIV+ve/AIDS patients, etc, helping them find new a meaning & purpose in their remaining life with better quality. Spirituality promotes the inner traits which mark happy people: self-esteem, a sense of personal control, optimism, a tendency to be outgoing & a sense of belonging & purpose in life. Spiritual principles help to reduce risk of drug-substance abuse & self-destructive behaviors- suicides, etc, in addition to aiding in recovery from abuse & its consequences.
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