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Eight Servings of Spiritual Hydration

By Rhonda Collins, I Start Wondering Columnist

Photo by Rhonda Collins
Photo by Rhonda Collins

A dehydration warning sign posted at a national park cautioned hikers of several serious – and surprising to me – physical hazards: fatigue, dizziness, blurred vision, confusion, irritability, and anxiety.

This warning led me to think about a different kind of dehydration. These symptoms are, indeed, the ones I feel when I am too dry, but, not in my mouth or my skin. Rather, at times, I am dry in my soul. I call this feeling spiritual dehydration.

At those times when our inner self aches, our spirit feels parched, or our heart is hard, maybe it’s because we are exhausted and dizzy from our worries, have a blurry vision of our future, or feel confusion and anxiety over the problems we face.

Are you lacking energy or motivation? Feeling irritable over small things? Coasting along without a sense of purpose or joy? Or, maybe you feel, as Ouiser Boudreaux did in the movie Steel Magnolias, when she said, “I’m not crazy, I’ve just been in a very bad mood for 40 years!”

If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, perhaps you are experiencing spiritual dehydration.

Causes of Spiritual Dehydration

Some reasons you might feel this way:

  • Traumatic incidents have made you sad, angry or confused.

  • Something you or a family member have done has resulted in feelings of shame or guilt (whether merited or not).

  • New pains, whether physical or emotional, have left you frustrated and irritable.

  • You wonder why bad things have happened to good family members or friends.

  • Isolation has brought on loneliness or depression.

If your emotional cup feels empty, maybe it’s time for spiritual refreshment. Marianne Williamson, in her book Illuminata, says “In reclaiming the mystical, we take back our whole selves. Formerly barren mental lands spring to new life through the planting of spiritual seeds.”

Experiencing the “mystical” – joy, divine reverence, peace, magic, wonder – is essential when we are feeling the symptoms of spiritual dryness. Taking steps to plant “spiritual seeds” is the best route to feeling whole again.

Just as we must drink plenty of water to ensure we are well physically, we must also nourish our mental and emotional selves. 

We often see the recommendation to drink eight glasses of water a day to keep our bodies hydrated. Here are eight “servings” of spiritual hydration you can consider to keep your soul healthy.

1. Do Go Chasing Waterfalls

Photo by Rhonda Collins
Photo by Rhonda Collins

We all need a sense of awe in our lives – that sight or situation that makes our jaws drop, our eyes open wide, and our lips say “Wow!” Research says when we experience this sense of wonder, our heart rate slows and our breath deepens, leading to a sense of calm.

For me, waterfalls do that. They are the blockbuster movie of the natural world. They have action, romance, drama, and, sometimes, comedy as humans and animals interact with the immense force and coolness of the falling water.

Don’t worry if you don’t have a nearby waterfall to gaze upon. That feeling of awe can come from many experiences close at hand. You can watch children laughing on a playground, admire a beautifully constructed building or a distant snow-capped mountain, watch an inspiring video of a selfless hero or helper, listen to talented musicians, or sample some amazing food. 

2. Take a Hike 

Time in nature is a great antidote for a dry soul. Studies show as little as 10-20 minutes in nature can improve mental health and a sense of well-being. And, you don’t have to take a strenuous hike or search for something as spectacular as a waterfall. Simply sitting and observing a natural (non-urban) environment has an equally positive impact. 

Benefits of time in nature include increased feelings of calmness, endorphin and dopamine levels, and cognitive abilities, along with decreased anxiety, depression, irritability, and feelings of isolation. Blood pressure and cortisol levels also are reduced following time in nature.

Whether it’s Japanese-style “forest bathing” or a prescription for “nature therapy” from your psychologist, going for a walk in your favorite park can be an easy way to refresh your spirit.

3. Do That Thing That Brings You Joy

Love to read? Escape into a novel and let your cares float away as you surround yourself with a different cast of characters than the one that exist in your real life. Go to an amusement park, swim in a river, or play with your grandchildren. 

Think about the activities you loved as a child or teenager and bring those back into your life again. Why? Because a recent study shows older adults who have hobbies reported better health, greater happiness, less depression and more satisfaction with life. 

What’s even better than the joy found in an activity you love? Being with others who share your passion and delight! Whether it’s chess, knitting, gardening or horseback riding, is a great place to find groups who share your interests.

When we participate in activities providing both personal satisfaction and a sense of connection, it doubles our joy and the opportunity to refill our spiritual cups.

4. Attend a Religious Service or a Spiritual Retreat

Occasionally, I have a chance to attend a service of the church that I grew up in, and I always leave with a sense of belonging from reconnecting with old friends, as well as a comfort that comes from hearing long-repeated words and hymns that confirm my beliefs. 

In addition to feeling the peace that comes from participating in a worship service, a religious center can also be a place where you can confess transgressions, and perhaps share secrets you can’t tell your friends. Divulging your hurts and sorrows can bring relief and lighten a heavy heart.

If you are feeling especially dry, you might consider a full-day or multi-day retreat to participate in or learn a new spiritual practice. 

If you don’t want to attend a religious service or retreat in person, watch one remotely. Many institutions have a YouTube channel where you can see both live streams and recordings. One of my favorites is Lakewood Church with the affable Joel Osteen. 

If spirituality from a Christian pastor doesn’t float your boat, you can aid your inner hydration through many other types of ceremonies and concerts online or in person, ranging from Hindu and Buddhist services to Gregorian chants and Whirling Dervish dancing. 

5. Meditate or Visualize Yourself into a Better Place

Photo by Rhonda Collins

In Cassandra Speaks, Elizabeth Lesser describes how meditation can help: “Imagine you are in an airplane, rising through dark clouds. There’s turbulence, rain, wind. Suddenly, you reach cruising altitude. The clouds part. The sky is luminous. Did the stormy weather disappear? No. You gained altitude.” 

Lesser explains that meditation is training your mind to have a higher-level perspective. It helps us to rise above the wind and rain, see our lives from a different point of view, and remember whatever storm we are facing will pass.

Marianne Williamson also says the transformative view is important for our souls. “There is nothing in this world that can truly give us peace; for peace lies in our transcendence of this world.”

If you are one who finds it challenging to sit cross-legged and remain focused for a long time, maybe a form of moving meditation will help. For several years, I attended a weekly Tai Chi class as part of my spiritual hydration. During a time when I had a very stressful job, it was the most anticipated part of my week. I would leave each session, feeling, somehow, both calmer and more energized. 

Explore and select a method to refresh your mind and body. It’s a great way to rejuvenate a dry spirit.  

6. Go Away

Travelling – whether a few miles down the road or across the planet – has the ability to nurture the soul. Getting away from your hometown will provide you with new memories and topics of conversation that can replace negative ones that have been weighing you down. 

In addition, seeing something you’ve never seen before, having a new experience or learning a new language, actually improves our brains. Researchers say travel gets us out of our comfort zone, which puts our brains in problem-solving mode, which gets the neurons firing and making new connections, which lessens cognitive decay. 

To get even more value from your trip, you can consider the increasingly popular “spiritual travel,” described by Akanksha Agnihotri of the Hindustan Times. Whether it’s a pilgrimage to an ancient shrine or an intense yoga retreat, expeditions that include opportunities for personal introspection can help provide a sense of purpose and well-being. 

“Embarking on a journey of spiritual travel can be a transformative experience, offering a profound connection to oneself and the world around us,” said Aginhotri.

Thus, this rewiring of our brains and our hearts – whether from the travel challenges or the spiritual enlightenment – is another good way to gain a clearer vision for our future and less anxiety in our hearts.

7. Immerse Yourself in Art that Moves You 

Tears welled in my eyes the first time I saw an exhibit of Chihuly Glass. Several times since, I have become emotional viewing glass art. I’m not sure why this particular medium touches me in the way it does, but I find myself wanting to stare at the glass for a long time, and often will leave the exhibit feeling as if I have had a profound spiritual experience.

As with nature and travel, scientists say engaging with art increases our mental well-being and cognitive functions. We can have a strong emotional response to art, depending on our individual and cultural inclinations. Additional research suggests that whatever our response, art helps us become more empathetic

As a way to refresh your spirit, immerse yourself in art that appeals to you by visiting art galleries, going to concerts and films, or creating your own art. Viewing or making art can stimulate an emotional response that helps release inner negativity and refill ourselves with more positive emotions. 

8. Spend Time with a Friend (or a Counselor)

Few things are more soul-cleansing than talking out problems with someone who gets you and who will provide comforting hugs and words of encouragement. Sharing your burdens will help take the weight off your shoulders, and your loved one’s empathy and understanding will bring relief.

In Proverbs 27:9 of The Bible (Passion Translation), friends are said to revive us: “Sweet friendships refresh the soul and awaken our hearts with joy, for good friends are like the anointing oil that yields the fragrant incense of God’s presence.”

If you worry that your friends will be too judgmental or the problem seems too complex or has legal ramifications that you don’t want to inflict on them, see a psychologist or other trained counselor to help you find ways to nurture yourself and to identify options that will move you away from this dry spell. 

Going Forward

These eight servings of spiritual refreshment are not just for times when your inner self feels parched. As with consuming water for our bodily nourishment, we need to daily hydrate our souls. 

Find ways to keep yourself refreshed, such that on most days, you are able to maintain a sense of peace and joy no matter what comes your way. If you can become proficient at spiritual hydration, you soon will find others coming to you to tap into your overflowing fountain of restorative cheer. 

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1 Comment

Thank you, Rhonda, for offering this list! These serve as a good reminder--and are reminding me to look for other ways to become hydrated. Your column reminded me that I wanted to go see an art exhibit at our local arts council-- so I've added that on my to-do list in the next few days.

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