Before we get swept up in all the material aspects of the holidays, I thought I’d write a bit about the opportunities for inner growth and awakening presented by the autumn season. We can view the cycle of seasons as a metaphor for the cycles of life, and the autumn phase seems to be challenging for more people than any other.
While spring and summer were marked by lots of new leaves, flowers, and fruits, in autumn the outward growth ends and decay begins. It’s much like the shift that occurs in humans’ later years.
People vary, but generally speaking, we spend twenty years growing into adult bodies and a few more decades actively focused on outward building and growing – wealth, a family, reputation, etc. Then the outward growth diminishes and eventually a period of physical decline begins.
In Chinese Five Element philosophy, this phase presents a lesson in true value – it urges us to let go of what is already departing and to focus on what can’t be lost. It reminds us that physical forms are temporary; it points us to what’s eternal.
If we accept these prompts, when a form falls away, we can more readily see the essence behind it – the growth we experienced, the love that was ignited, the connection that developed. And as our own form ceases to be the main priority of our life, so can the formless light of our being more easily shine through us.
Besides the seasonal journey of a whole lifetime, this cycle occurs on a smaller scale many times through our lives – such as the end of a project, when our children leave home, or with the passing of a loved one. If we haven’t been conscious of our connection to the essence of these relationships, this autumn phase is likely to be painful because we perceive it only as a loss.
It’s possible, however, to witness the bare trees of life’s autumns not with grief but wonder and appreciation. The more in tune we are with the richness and consistency of the spiritual dimension of life, the easier it is to accept whatever life brings. Spiritual connection not only enriches our lives, it also makes us more resilient.
Like any relationship we value, our relationship with Spirit is strongest and most supportive when we tend to it regularly. Many people never learned how to do this, so I’d like to offer a few suggestions through an excerpt of our book, The Well Life.
What Are We Connecting To?
It’s important to have a term that feels comfortable to your mind. God is easy for most people, but too loaded for some. If you’re uncertain, here are some ideas.
- There are religion-specific equivalents of the word God, such as: Allah, Jah, Yahweh, Elohim, etc.
- In many traditions, the primary conception of God is in male form, such as: Divine or Heavenly Father, Lord, Shiva, Father Sky, etc.
- Other traditions focus on the female form: Goddess, Divine Mother, Shakti, Ma, Guanyin (Kwan Yin), Mother Earth, etc.
- Frequently, people relate best to the holy human or avatar form of God: Jesus, Mohammad, Krishna, Rama, Buddha, etc.
- If you shy away from anthropomorphic notions of God, there are more abstract terms, like: Spirit, Almighty, Dao (Tao), Guru, Holy Spirit, the Divine, the One, Divine Light, the Absolute, the Force, Infinite One, and Source.
- As an expression of the idea that God is our identity, there are names such as: Higher or Highest Self, Great Self, Universal Self, Divine Self, Buddha Self, I Am, Supreme Consciousness, and Awareness.
- There is the understanding of God as our World, with names such as: Nature, Universe, Cosmic Oneness, Ultimate Reality, and Totality.
- Finally, if all of these words feel too grand to you, you may wish to choose a simple term such as prana, qi (chi), love, light, truth, or life force.
Choose a way of relating to Spirit that feels the least threatening or complicated. Just as importantly, go with the way that feels most awe-inspiring, most all-encompassing, most benevolent, most peaceful, most intelligent, and most lovable.
How Do We Connect?
In truth, you are already connected. You’re sitting in the lap of Spirit. Spirit moves through you. Though, if you’re like the rest of us, you’re usually unaware of it. As many spiritual traditions explain, this is one of the trappings of being surrounded by the stuff of the material world. We can get so wrapped up in our bodies and possessions, in our relationships and drama, that we lose sight of the most fundamental quality that is always here and has always been here—a deep sense of belonging to the oneness that encompasses everything.
Here are thirteen approaches to connecting with your Highest Self. Hopefully, you’ll resonate with at least a few of them. Try several and then make a practice of the ones that feel the best.
Thirteen Ways to Connect with Your Highest Self
- Approach life with innocence and humility. Don’t assume that you know what a situation holds in store for you. Pretend you’re a baby or a traveler in a foreign land. Be willing to go deep. Dive in with something or someone you might otherwise skim over.
- Connect to what inspires you. Whatever it is—art, music, writing, healing, gardening—that stirs something in you, make it an integral part of your life. Make it your religion. And when you feel this stirring, ask it where it comes from, what it has to say, and how it wants to move you.
- Be in nature. Let yourself experience awe in the splendor and power of the elements. Put your feet on the earth. Get among trees. Venture high up a mountain. Feel the expansiveness of the desert. Experience the rush of a river, the glassy reflectiveness of a tranquil lake, and the push and pull of the ocean. Let the rain pour over you. Let the snow land in your hair. Hold your face up to the sun. Look at the stars and moon. Feel the wind. Light a fire. Examine grains of sand under a magnifying glass. Admire crystals, plants, and animals. This isn’t just scenery; it’s an extension of You. Awaken the connection.
- Meditate. Make space without anything else to occupy your attention. Space for the sake of space. Space for an unmanipulated experience.
- Pray. If you have a way of praying that works for you, keep it up. Some people feel drawn to the traditional supplication form of prayer—making a humble request to a higher power. Others prefer a more casual conversation with Spirit. Still others do it through dance, singing, chanting, or running. If you’re interested in prayer but don’t know how to begin, consider this basic format for meditative prayer, and feel free to change it however you like.
- Remove yourself from distractions if possible.
- Say hello. Open the connection.
- Welcome the intelligence, love, and guidance that are available to you.
- Express what you’re ready to let go of—blocks, limiting beliefs, damaging behaviors, emotional pollution—and ask that it be taken away.
- In the space that has been made, ask a question or make a request for something you wish to invite into your life. See it in your mind’s eye, feel it, intend that it shows up in a way that is healthy and supports the common good.
- Be open. Listen.
- Say thank you.
- Repeat mantras, names of the Divine, blessings, or prayers. This is something of a combination of meditation and prayer, and a bit different than either. In Catholicism it’s called praying the rosary, in Buddhism and Hinduism it’s called japa, and similar traditions exist in other religions. A string of beads (rosary, or mala in Sanskrit) is customarily used to count the repetitions, though it’s not required. The value of repetition of mantras or prayers isn’t just in the meaning and energetic influence of the sounds, but perhaps even more in the effect on your consciousness. It can put you in a deeply peaceful and connected meditative or trancelike state. It gives the busy mind something to focus on, and in the process you’re liberated from its monologue. Some common mantras from various traditions include: Om (Aum), Maranatha, Om Namah Shivaya, Om Mani Padme Hum, God, Nam Myoho Renge Kyo, Elohim, So Ham, Om Shanti Shanti Shanti, Sat Nam. [In material accompanying the book, we explain these mantras in greater detail and offer some additional suggestions.]
- Connect to what encompasses and guides you. Although it seems that between you and the nearest objects is just empty space, imagine that Spirit is meeting you at every point on your body, that you’re fully held and embraced from all sides. Feel the flow, the trajectory by which your life moves along. See if you can become aware of its contours, its gentle nudges.
- Expect magic. Ask Spirit to reveal itself to you in the form of coincidences, gifts, and serendipities. Your Higher Self wants to be seen. Tune in and open your awareness to the ways you’re taken care of, the lessons you’re shown, the answers you’re given, and the delight and humor that’s sprinkled throughout your days. If you believe in this magic, you start to see it everywhere, and ultimately it doesn’t matter if you’re making it up or not because it has a positive subjective impact either way.
- Go to holy places and sites dedicated to spiritual practice. Even if it makes you a little uncomfortable, check out beautiful, spacious old churches. Visit a Jewish synagogue, a mosque, an ashram, Hindu and Buddhist temples, a zendo. If you like travel, see some sacred shrines and natural places of power, such as Mount Kailash, Giza, Chichén Itzá, the Ganges River, Glastonbury Tor, Lake Titicaca, or Machu Picchu.
- Do something charitable, help someone, serve your world. These kinds of actions have the potential to align you with Spirit because you’re doing “God’s work” by making yourself an emissary of love and kindness. Plus, you’re serving the common good, which can only benefit you. Finally, there’s little opportunity for connection when you’re immersed in your small self’s worries and interests all the time. Broadening your awareness to include others is a valuable first step to opening to Spirit.
- Make an offering. Offer up a dance, offer your sweat, offer your exhale, offer your time, offer your labors, offer your tears, offer your love. It’s a symbolic thing we do out of reverence for Spirit, for our Highest Self. Your intention can be to offer yourself for Divine infusion. You can offer your pain, your karmic residue, or your sadness to be liberated from it. Connection through exercise can be powerful because you’re naturally breathing deeply, you’re focused, you’re sweating, and your body is open and in the flow. It’s easy to get out of your mind and to give yourself over to the activity. Connection through your work is also potent, as it inspires you to work hard, to do it with care, and to feel grateful in the process. Give everything to this moment in recognition of the tremendous gift that it is.
- Let yourself fall in love. Rather than confining your devotion to a particular image or idea of God, realize that God is in everything. Therefore, you can pick the sweetest thing, the easiest to love, and love it purely, deeply, and unconditionally. Then use this as a portal to loving and connecting with the greater Whole. As you effortlessly experience love in relation to this expression of Spirit, allow this love connection to open up into a broader connection with the Totality. Love the flowers. Love the children. Love the animals. Love your family members. Practice perfect love. Love the ugly parts as well as the pretty ones. Then recognize that this small part of the Divine is connected to all the other parts.
- Practice mind-body arts that cross over into the spiritual, such as Qi Gong, tai chi, yi quan, and yoga. These disciplines promote the perception of energy, expand your awareness, and help you integrate the nonphysical into everyday life. The East Asian arts specifically train in the cultivation and focus of power, while yoga is also especially good at promoting flexibility and openness and undoing resistance (the single greatest impediment to your power). Try both yoga and Qi Gong or a martial art, since they develop you in different ways. [In the material that accompanies the book, we offer some basic pranayama (yogic breathing) and Qi Gong exercises.]
Here’s hoping that as the leaves fall to the ground and more space is revealed, you’ll take the time to experience that spaciousness within yourself and see what arises. Feel free to comment below about your experience with these techniques or other ways of connecting.