Experiment With Spirituality
Some of the ideas floating through the spiritual and new age communities have started to gain some footing in popular culture, but there is often an inherent skepticism when it comes to trusting these ideologies enough to apply them. This is especially true for those of us who were taught to value academia and science as the primary authority for understanding and explaining reality.
Since these fields have had a history of looking down on many of the wisdom traditions that spirituality draws upon, it can be hard for those of us raised in a scientific/ academic culture to break from the dominant ideologies and open up to some of the incredibly beneficial practices and beliefs found in spirituality, alternative medicine, and other niche practices. If you are someone who can relate to this, then this post is for you.
My goal is not to persuade you that any spiritual practice or belief is right for you or to argue about the validity of science, but to propose a challenge. The challenge is this—experiment. Experimentation is one of the primary components of the scientific method and it is a source for learning about the nature of reality. In truth, when you experiment with things that pertain to your life it can be incredibly frightening at first. It takes courage to review previous beliefs and to step into a place where you do not have full control of the results but applying the scientific method to your personal life and to any practice or belief that you are curious about can lead to all kinds of unexpected insights no matter what the results. Having the courage to move beyond immediate skepticism and allowing yourself to explore and discover new ideas can lead to all kinds of amazing discoveries, which can have a huge impact on the quality of your life and the way you look at the world.
Need More Convincing?
This challenge doesn’t require a lot of explanation, but I think it might be helpful to make a better argument for why it is worth it to scientifically experiment with some spiritual practices. There are several reasons for taking up the challenge and experimenting with some spiritual or alternative practices. One of the most obvious is that you won’t know what will work for you and what won’t if you don’t try it. It is super easy to read about something, think about it, and discard it without trying it out. On the surface your brain can rationalize all the reasons it won’t or shouldn’t work for you, but your brain is biased and even though it might contain a lot of information based on past experiences and information it has been fed, it is not geared to know everything. What it is geared to do is learn. Experimenting with new ideas gives your brain permission to question what it thinks it knows and see if there is a place where it might expand its learning.
Often, we are not aware of how much we don’t know about something until we are right in the middle of it. Think of it as the difference between reading about a new culture and going to a different country to be immersed in it. You can read about a place and think you will or won’t like it, but you won’t know all the nuances-- the flavors, the scents, the feelings, the subtleties of that place if you don’t experience it. By experimenting you are giving yourself permission to move beyond what the brain thinks about something to experience it in a multi-sensory, fully immersive way without having to commit to believing in it completely or not. It is simply a way of experiencing the idea and gathering information from that experience before jumping to conclusions.
If you believe in science then you understand that the foundation of it is to test things before agreeing with them. This means that part of being scientific is testing different views and opinions with as little bias as possible before dismissing them. If you test something and find it useful or helpful you have a new tool, if you find that it doesn’t help nothing will change from where you were in the beginning and you can move on. You don’t have to take giant risks; this is just an invitation to try some different things and see if any of them work for you. You can notice your reactions, notice if anything external changes, and evaluate what is worth pursuing more deeply and what is not. You might end up finding something you like or something you don’t like, either way you will know more about yourself and how you operate, but you’ll only know by being daring enough to try.
How Do You Experiment with Spirituality?
There are some things that you will need a lab and bunch of money to test. I’m not suggesting starting there unless you have access to a lab, technology, and funding. For most of us, experimentation can be free of cost (or relatively inexpensive) and simple to implement. Start by choosing something that sounds interesting and that you are not completely skeptical about (this is important because many of these practices work on the premise of belief, so if you chose to start with something you already know won’t work you have biased the experiment to such an extent that the findings won’t be valid). Instead, of starting with something you strongly don’t believe in, start with something that you feel curious or neutral about. If you have a tendency to form strong opinions based on previously published scientific findings then I would suggest starting with something like meditation which has had enough studies done that show positive results for you to feel comfortable with it having some level of merit before you begin. You can test whatever topic you are exploring by applying it to your own life to see if it has any benefit for you personally. For example, if you wanted to experiment with meditation you could commit to meditating fifteen minutes a day for 30 days and noticing any changes that occurred for you, or you could create a test of different types of meditation to see how they affect you differently and what seems more or less impactful for you.
Here is a list of some other suggestions for finding ways to experiment with spiritual or alternative healing practices:
1. Choose something that has been researched in a limited way as a topic (similar to the suggestion about meditation). Maybe you recently saw an article about sound healing or aroma therapy. You can use that as a starting point if you are interested in either of those topics. Conduct some basic research from practitioners of those modalities so you have a base of knowledge and can locate tools and resources. Then apply that knowledge in your own life, try to use a certain aroma for a month and see if you notice any of the benefits that it touts or see if listening to different frequencies of sounds has any impact on your emotions or thoughts. Keep a record each day of your mood or anything related to what you are testing so that you can observe patterns of results.
2. Pick up a book on a topic you are interested in that includes activities and try the activities. I have read a bunch of self-help books, because I find them interesting. Many include activities to make the learning practical. This is because understanding knowledge without using it rarely works to create change. If you are working on personal healing or uncovering core beliefs then it generally isn’t enough to learn about a topic, you need to experience it in some way. The Lost Art of Heart Navigation by Jeff D Nixa is a book you can use in this way. It is about shamanism but includes activities that might seem silly to the critical brain but can actually unlock a lot of emotional and spiritual understanding when applied. There are many other books out there like this, but this is the one I started with when I was learning about but skeptical of spirituality and alternative healing practices.
3. Find an experiment that is used as an example in spiritual/ alternative health circles and replicate it. The hate/love/ignore rice experiment is a popular one. You can easily find instructions for it by googling it. While looking it up I found a critique of it which said that it works because the first jar is more likely to be sterile since the rice is sealed while it is warmer. However, the writer of the critique did not bother to actually try the experiment. If they are correct, you could still test their theory. All you would have to do is write the word hate on the first jar that is sealed instead of the last or replicate it many times with different variations in time and heat. Maybe the critical scientist is right and time and temperature are bigger factors in how the rice changes, but if you do what she does and assume it's too silly to bother with testing you won’t really know.
4. Participate in a workshop, event, or practice that you are curious about. This could mean having tarot cards read for you (or buying a deck and doing your own reading) or going to a breath-work session. It could also include taking some tai chi classes or getting acupuncture from a reputable practitioner. This might not sound all that scientific or experimental at first, but you can treat it like an immersive experiment. Record the details of that event. Notice what you thought, felt, experienced. See if anything changed for you before or after the experience. Pay attention to what you liked or didn’t like and if you think anything needs to be replicated. Allow yourself to experience something new and then observe the effect it has on you.
5. Look up Law of Attraction techniques, pick one or two and try them every day for a month. This is fun because this particular ideology is a cornerstone of many new spiritual practices but has not been validated by the scientific community. Since it is such a strong belief in the spiritual community, however, many techniques have been developed to improve a person’s ability to attract things they want into their lives and if you can let go of bias enough to try some of them for a period of time it has the potential to improve your life (and if it doesn’t work then nothing bad happens except you spend 10- 30 minutes a day focusing on things that feel good to you). Things might not work out the way you expect, but it would be interesting to see what does happen for you and if anything in your life or mood does change from incorporating some of these ideas.
7. Be creative. There are many ideas out there that you can test out and experience. Have fun with the process and notice what happens as you become more and more engaged. Maybe you will find that some practices aren’t effective for you, but maybe you will stumble across something new.
My goal in challenging you to this is not really to prove or disprove anything. I have a fairly flexible belief system but when working with others my goal is to find what works for them and use that. This challenge is simply about exploring the possibilities of things so that you can experience something new before concluding that something works or doesn’t work for you personally. It is about breaking that initial assumption that something is too silly or out there to investigate so that you don't end up missing out on something that could change your life because you thought it wasn't worth looking at.
What About Risks?
Risk is part of every decision we make because every choice has a consequence – including the choice to continue to stay in the safety zone of what is known. It is possible to take huge risks while experimenting with spiritualty like quitting your job to see if you can attract abundance without working or seeing if you can communicate with demons or ghosts when you have no idea how that dimension of reality works. I don’t recommend experimenting in this way. Start with safe experiments that push you just a little out of your comfort zone, chose things that will benefit you if they work out as intended and that will benefit you slightly less or not change anything for you if they don't. Most of the suggestions made in this post should fall into these categories. For example if you choose to use a gratitude journal for a month and it is successful then your mood and life will improve because you will start seeing more things you want come into being. If you us a gratitude journal for a month and nothing happens then nothing happens, but you had some time to think about things you like about your life. It isn’t a big risk.
To be honest, you have a lot more at risk if most of these experiments work than if they don’t because an implicit part of spiritualty and alternative healing is personal growth or change. This means that if some of these experiments turn out the way the spiritual field predicts that they will then your life could start to change and this could be uncomfortable. If you are experimenting with something that has the potential to unlock a lot of deep emotions then go at a pace you are comfortable with and if necessary, employ the help of a trusted friend, family member, or practitioner to help you work through any deep emotions that come to the surface. If you notice changes are happening at a pace that you are not ready for then stop the experiment and allow yourself to re-assess whether you want things to change and to what degree.
This is a bias that I am revealing to you, but it is my personal belief that part of the reason so many of these practices and procedures remain untried is because there is an unconscious realization that if they do work things will change rapidly and there is a part of us that fears change. Change is often illustrated symbolically with death because change represents a shift from one thing to another and that implies loss of the former. Though change, especially desired change does not need to be so dramatically painful there are implications to pursuing change in your own life and this can include loss. So even though having fun experimenting and opening to new perspectives and practices can be a great benefit to you, it is also important to have the courage to be honest with yourself about how much you are ready to experience change and in which parts of your life you want it. Be aware that change—while necessary, beneficial, and if desired is incredibly beautiful- is not always easy to navigate and part of experimenting is opening yourself to the possibility of change. If you find yourself in a place where you are wanting to make changes in your life but would like some help navigating those changes, please feel free to check out the about page for information about one-on-one coaching services or reach out to other people that you trust—friends, family, professionals. Making new discoveries about yourself and the world on this level can be exhilarating but it can also take some time to adjust to what you learn, so please do not be afraid to look for help if you need it and remember that you are not out here on your own.