Prayer, Meditation and Spirituality

Five takeaways from the March 2021 LoveLegacyDignity Death Café

by Mapi Mhlangu

For as long as I can remember, I always struggled with  my relationship with Christianity and was deeply intrigued when Jan suggested the theme of prayer, meditation and spirituality in building our resilience when facing mortality (our own or that of others) for our monthly Death Café. By spiritual practice we discussed specifically prayer, meditation, mindfulness as well as the ways in which religious beliefs are practised, or not practiced, and (in some cases) erased.

LLD’s Death Café isn’t a place for contentious debate. We are always in conversation. That distinction is vital. No one is crowned a winner after an audience vote decides that their position represents “the best opinion”. There will never be a single conclusive path forward emerging from any of these conversations. There will always be space for listening and for considering another point of view as well as a wide range of potential approaches for dealing with the issue of our mortality.

At the heart of the 90-minute conversation was a multiplicity of religion and spirituality as people with diverse religious beliefs, practices and traditions, met each other in a place of mutual respect to discuss how these beliefs, practices and traditions inform how we use our spirituality to build resilience. As we dug down, we arrived at some difficult and important questions.

 Here are my five important takeaways from the conversation:

1.The importance of practicing spirituality

A strong recurring theme in our conversation was the notion of spirituality as practice, as action and enacting that which you say you believe. There was consensus that there is power in practice – in the doing – and making a commitment to consistently make time for your spirituality. Maintaining regular spiritual practices is where one then begins to build resilience because it allows you to have structure even when it feels as though your entire world is falling apart or unravelling. Having regular routines, rituals and practices gives you a place to go to, that is familiar and comforting, when you face loss.

We also then discussed the different ways one can go about their spiritual practice and explored how each type of spiritual practice has its own benefits. We spoke about how communal spiritual practice such as group meditation and group prayer is beneficial because fellowship gives us a sense of belonging in the world. At the same time individual spiritual practice and retreat is also important.

2. Spirituality helps with self-awareness

Another key point that was made during the discussion is that spirituality and spiritual practice is important for self- awareness because it creates a space for stillness and it is within this stillness that one then has the ability to introspect and be aware of your own thoughts, feelings, impulses and behaviors. Spirituality requires us to go within ourselves to connect with a realm that is beyond our normal understanding

Self-awareness is crucial for resilience because it allows us to regulate our emotions and responses to difficult situations. Being self-aware also allows us to live well because it is fundamental to any kind of growth and as you grow, your quality of life improves, regardless of where you find yourself in the life journey.

3. Spirituality is an act of agency

Another profound take away from our conversation is that prayer, meditation and spirituality is an act of personal agency. In social science, agency is defined as the capacity of individuals to act independently and to make their own free choices. We reflected on how for many of us religion was not a choice or an act of agency, but rather a belief system that we were born or raised into and how this can affect the spiritual practice of religion. We then spoke about how empowering it has been to exercise our agency to choose spiritual practices for ourselves as opposed to just participating to fulfill someone else’s expectations of you. There was a shared experience of moving away from the religious doctrine which shaped us, towards a spirituality that allows space for us to be our full selves and to authentically connect with the world around us.

We agreed that the ability to exercise agency over your own spiritual life, and to choose which rituals and practices to engage in, makes the experience of spirituality more meaningful. And this in turn makes one more resilient because you are then able to lean into practices that you personally believe in to support yourself through a traumatic experience.

4. Spirituality reveals connections and commonality

The discussion poignantly revealed that a key difference between religion and spirituality is that spirituality highlights the ways in which we are the same and all of the things that we have in common. Participants shared how they were raised by parents who were Orthodox Jews, Greek Orthodox, or staunch Catholics but who have now developed diverse spiritual beliefs. Spirituality encourages us to not only connect with the supernatural realm, but also to connect with one another in deeper and more meaningful ways.

As we connect to the spiritual realm that exists beyond human understanding we begin to realise that the intention that fuels faith and different religious beliefs is often the same, we are all fundamentally reaching for the same thing.  And so we are, in fact, a community. We are inter connected. The experience of life suddenly becomes richer and less lonely with this realisation. When you face suffering and grief as a member of a community, as someone who is part of a greater network, then you are better equipped to get through it because you need not carry your pain or your fear alone. And you also know that you are not the first or the only person to have this experience and that others have survived it, so you draw strength and inspiration from that.

5. Spirituality gives life meaning

Overall the discussion showed the different ways in which prayer, meditation and spirituality gives our lives meaning. When you live a meaningful life, “nothing can take this away from you, not even loss or death. During our conversation one of the participants mentioned how some of what had been discussed had made him think of “The Book of Joy” by the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, I think the following quote from that book perfectly encapsulates how spiritual practice can give life meaning and build resilience. “Yet as we discover more joy, we can face suffering in a way that ennobles rather than embitters. We have hardship without becoming hard. We have heartbreak without being broken.” – Desmond Tutu

Surely there is no better way to describe having resilience to face loss and death whilst living life well.

The LoveLegacyDignity Online Death Café offers a welcoming place, every last Saturday of the month, to bring your thoughts, questions, curiosity for safe non-judgmental conversations on any topic associated with death.

To find out more click here