Some of us like to read or play video games in our spare time, some of us like to play in the local softball league, and others spend their leisure time playing the tuba. And then there are those of us who meditate twice a day, read books by Deepak Chopra, and go on meditation retreats in the mountains where you’re not supposed to speak to anyone for days on end. They aren’t looking to become full-time monks, but they spend a significant amount of their spare time developing and exploring their spiritual life.
Does that count as a hobby? Lots of people nowadays have spiritual leanings but don’t believe in any particular religion, and if people do choose to act on their spirituality, it’s often because they were raised in a traditional way and grew up going to a church, temple, or mosque. But then some people are naturally drawn towards some kind of spiritual practice because of their personality, experiences in life, or some combination of the two, and they find themselves seeking out activities to satisfy this need.
Spirituality can be something that you explore in your leisure time while you carry on a career or are in school, so it can certainly be a hobby. You don’t have to devote your whole waking life to developing your spirituality if you want to make any spiritual progress. Plenty of people carry on little habits or activities that improve their spiritual lives without moving up into the mountains, swearing off all material possessions, and becoming a hermit.
If spirituality is a hobby, what hobbies are spiritual?
Having a good spiritual life doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing proposition, and you don’t even have to think of yourself as religious to get the benefits of practices that have been part of spiritual traditions. Lots of people seek out practices that came to be as part of a spiritual tradition, like meditation, for benefits that aren’t directly spiritual. Yoga started long ago in India as a way of getting closer to God, but now it’s thought of in our society as an almost completely secular form of physical exercise.
And on the other hand, activities that no one typically thinks of as spiritual can certainly satisfy spiritual urges. Something as everyday-seeming as sitting outside on your porch and watching the sunrise can be a beautiful and transformative experience for some. Whenever I walk around my neighborhood, visiting all the parks and climbing all the hills in it, I feel refreshed and rejuvenated not only physically, but on a deeper level.
Even sitting quietly in a park or in a museum, alone with your thoughts, can bring about the same experience. Conversations with close friends can also be as spiritually fruitful as talking to your priest. When it comes down to it, anything that makes you feel a strong sense of meaning in life and connection to others counts as spiritual.
Below are some tried-and-true spiritual exercises that anyone who wants to find an outlet in life for the spiritual part of themselves can try out, or develop further if they’re already interested in them.
Going to a Church, Temple, or Mosque
There are lots of people out there who feel like they should go to church more than they do. Here’s that little nudge of encouragement to start up the habit again! This option may seem obvious, but it’s also one of the most common and time-tested spiritual outlets out there.
The regularity of going to church, the community it creates, and the spiritual guidance on offer from people who have devoted their lives to helping others figure out their spiritual selves are some of the big advantages of going to church. It’s a lot easier to feel like life has meaning, connection, and purpose when there are people around you engaged in the same practices, going to the same services, and absorbing the same teachings as you. Of course, some institutions might have doctrines that you don’t morally agree with, or they might be dogmatic in their approach, but if you look around you’ll likely be able to find one where you’re comfortable.
Meditation practice is one of the most common ways that people nowadays satisfy their spiritual needs. It has the advantage of being something you can do by yourself, and it’s not dependent on any abstract dogma or set of beliefs that you have to follow in order to get its benefits. It also tends to relieve anxiety and bring a sense of calm into your daily life, even when you’re not meditating.
It’s portable, too: all you need to practice it is yourself and some free time. Its disadvantages are that it’s not always community-oriented, and it can be difficult for beginners. Having a like-minded community is a spiritual necessity for most people, and meditation doesn’t readily lend itself to that because of its nature as something you do alone.
There are meditation centers and schools, but they don’t put a lot of emphasis on community activities. Also, meditation is hard to begin doing because it goes against the typical way we go through the world. People are typically focused on the future, on their immediate plans, or just on diversion and fun, particularly in our culture of constant distraction.
Meditation actively tries to counter this impulse, which can be painful. But if you cultivate a strong meditation practice, you’ll always have something to fall back on in times of stress, confusion, or crisis, and you’ll gain a sense of serenity you can access whenever you want.
Music isn’t typically thought of as a spiritual practice, but it’s actually one of the most powerful spiritual tools out there. If you’ve ever sung hymns in a choir or heard a pipe organ in an echo-filled church, you’ll know what I mean. Music satisfies the desire for beauty in life that we all have to vary degrees, and it does so in a way that we can physically participate in, actually feeling the music resonate in us.
Many people have reported religious conversion experiences that happened only because of exposure to music like Bach or Mozart. Also, if you learn to play a musical instrument, you’ll have a habit to bolster you spiritually your whole life that will only increase its power if you cultivate it.
What counts as a spiritual practice?
There’s no clear line between spiritual and secular activities that makes sense for everyone. Soft-hearted, faithful types walk down the street on a beautiful summer day, smelling the flowers and taking in the sun, and wonder how anybody could go on not seeing the obvious fact that God exists and wants us to be happy.
As for hard-headed, realistic people, you could show them the Grand Canyon or take them to the top of Mount Everest and they’d still be waiting to see real, concrete evidence that they should care about going to church or that there’s anything more to the world than what they can see with their own two eyes.
One person’s spiritual experience isn’t the same as another’s. Things that we think of as secular activities are often just as meaningful and important as spiritual practices, and vice-versa. Spirituality is a broad term that can involve anything from abstract thinking about how the universe came to exist, to getting in touch with our deepest emotions about our lives, to connecting with other people on a deep level.