A frequently reported benefit of religious and spiritual engagement is community — being engaged with other like-minded people who share much of the same worldview and values. The benefits of meaningful community are many — mutual support, social activity, and often a ready and willing social safety net for challenging times in life. Many studies show that such supports are also linked to better physical and mental health overall.
Spirituality is a sense of connection to something bigger than ourselves — it helps a person reflect and understand themselves while also figuring out how they fit in to the rest of the world. In other words: It helps people understand their interpretation of the meaning of life — and as a result, helps people find purpose in living. Spiritual practice also tends to reinforce general healthy practices for the mind and body, which positively affects mental health and emotional wellbeing.
Spiritual practice benefits not only individuals, but also communities. Having groups that promote compassion and service to others helps the broader community in subtle and not subtle ways. Granted, most of us have heard horror stories, or perhaps experienced for ourselves, abusive, controlling, toxic religious and spiritual communities where members end up being harmed, rather than helped. Spiritual communities are still human communities, and all humans are imperfect, therefore our spiritual and religious communities will exhibit the same flaws from time to time. But the evidence seems clear, that participation is spiritual community is overall beneficial.
Finding Community as a Spiritual Naturalist
Many spiritual naturalists belong to traditional religious communities while holding onto a spiritual naturalist mindset and worldview. In these cases, those traditional communities are often a source of many benefits.
However, many, if not more, spiritual naturalists are what we might call solitary practitioners. They have some meditation or reflection practice, might engage in personal rituals, and likely read and study on spiritual naturalism. There is nothing wrong with solitary practice. Yet it still doesn’t hurt to explore possible ways to benefit from some form of engagement in spiritual community.
In such situations, the internet has often been instrumental in bringing like-minded people together. Online spiritual sites help provide information and connections that support individuals in their spirituality. Some of the sites, including our own Spiritual Naturalist Society, also include online conversation, social meetings, and even meditation groups.
All of the above provide solitary practitioners an opportunity to ask questions and obtain information and opinions, as well as share tips about other websites, articles, videos, books, and events. In addition, there are many blogs centered on spiritual naturalist themes and topics. Continued reading and even engagement through comments helps people feel part of something larger than just their own practices.
Some spiritual naturalists are active in groups that are not overtly religious, but provide venues for spiritual activities. There are offline events and groups that also present similar chances for gathering, meeting others, and engaging with people who share our interests and values.
Examples include groups that hold nature walks and other ways of enjoying spending time in natural settings, or working with others to foster social justice concerns or ecological and conservation initiatives. When you start to think about it, there are many volunteer opportunities — things like helping maintain community gardens, tutoring at a local school, helping out at the local senior center, or donating and serving at a local food bank or pantry. There is often more out there than we initially realize. And let’s not forget, there are often more structured events as well. Conferences, local meet-ups, occasional lectures, book groups — explore what’s available in your own area.
In each of the above opportunities there are often further possibilities such as volunteering, contributing, and even stepping forward for leadership roles.
Local Spiritual Naturalist Small-Groups?
I’m sure some of us have pondered starting our own, local spiritual naturalist group. Or maybe you have already? Whether that group would gather to exchange idea, celebrate rituals, read books together, or simply socialize will vary. Now, starting up a local spiritual naturalist is going to require some effort. And even if successful, such groups can be hard to sustain. But, of course, there’s harm in trying.
What is exactly needed to undertake such a venture? First, one has to find a core group of other spiritual naturalists. Then, they’d need to likely need to achieve the following:
- Find a place or home to meet in
- Establish a gathering format
- Decide on the specific nature of the group – conversational, social, reading, ritual?
- Find ways to invite others and grow the group
As someone who has been part of, and led, such groups, I can tell you, it isn’t always easy, but is definitely worth it. If you might be interested in starting such a group, or already have one up and running, let us know. Others in the Society would be happy to help with advice, resources, and promotion.
Ending With Some Questions
I’d welcome hearing from you, the reader.
- Are you part of any meaningful spiritual naturalist communities?
- If so, how do they work, what do you do when you gather?
- What resources would be needed to help launch and sustain such a group?
Other questions and comments are also more than welcomed. Reach out to us via the comments or email.
The Spiritual Naturalist Society works to spread awareness of spiritual naturalism as a way of life, develop its thought and practice, and help bring together like-minded practitioners in fellowship.
SNS strives to include diverse voices within the spectrum of naturalistic spirituality. Authors will vary in their opinions, terms, and outlook. The views of no single author therefore necessarily reflect those of all Spiritual Naturalists or of SNS.