Why Students Need to Get Spiritual

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Top of mind for many high school and college students is choosing a major or acing exams. But if you make room for spirituality as well, your to-do list — and life — could become more manageable and focused.

“It’s important for young adults to have a place to develop their own identity,” says Rev. Robin Olson, director of spiritual life at Bentley University. “It’s a very personal journey; not so much about finding a label of a particular faith or perspective, but finding out what’s meaningful for you and then finding a peer-based community.”

She believes that practicing religion with people your own age in a relatable context is particularly important for teenagers and young adults — who are dealing with a huge emotional turning point. And uncovering a faith that works for you isn’t as hard as it sounds. (It just takes a little soul searching.)

“You have to find ways to understand and make meaning of your life,” Olson says. “What’s your calling? How do you want to dedicate your life?

She offers eight ways you can start on the path to spirituality:

1. Discover Your Strengths
Do some self-reflecting to help determine what makes you tick. Tools like StrengthsFinder — which Bentley students take freshman year and is incorporated into the curriculum — help identify your prominent personality traits and identify religious practices you will (or won’t) enjoy.

Good reading resources: Soul Types and Living Your Strengths.

2. Find Your Center
Where are you happiest? Where do you feel the most grounded and calm? Enlarge that conversation beyond your major or career. “It’s OK to be present in the unknowing, which is a classic spiritual wisdom, but know also what makes you feel happy and balanced.”

3. Get Back to Your Roots
For some people, a good starting point is family origin or inherited religion. It’s important to determine if you still connect to that in a meaningful way — and you very well might. But you can also explore other options and religious traditions that speak to your belief and practice.

4. Work With Mentors
If you need help on your journey, local clergy or a school’s spiritual life group can help. Their role is often as mentor, listener and guide as you find a spirituality that fits your needs. Simply meeting with someone in person, in your setting, makes a huge difference.

5. Practice Mindfulness
The American Psychological Association touts the benefits of mindfulness — being fully present in the moment — that could spill over into your job, your health and your overall happiness.

“A greater focus yields an ability to be present without the weight of the past or worry for the future,” says Olson.

Check out simple ways to incorporate mindfulness into your day (think breathing, meditation, silence, etc.).

6. Avoid Fads
Spirituality can be a mile wide and an inch deep. Meet with a college chaplain or pastoral staff to learn about spiritual options — instead of jumping onto the latest trend on social media. Consult a trusted guide who will listen to what’s going on in your life and get a feel for your personality. We’re talking about your life — not an edited clip you show to the world on Instagram or a version of someone else’s spiritual experience.

7. Connect With Others
Finding your faith is a very personal journey. As humans, we have an instinct to connect with others and form a sense of community. The benefits: wisdom, insight, encouragement and support — that you give and you get.

“It helps develop empathy and a wider perspective that could lead into service, which is a very important component of all of spirituality,” shares Olson.

Read about why service-learning is an important part of education.

8. Dive Deeper into a Specific Tradition
Many high schools and colleges offer weekly (and sometimes daily) religious services. If something interests you, attend a service and reach out to the chaplain with questions. Access wisdom in a way that is contemporary and find out whether it feels right. What does it mean to you?

“A crisis or harsh challenge can be a turning point where you’re going to either close down or open up and come alive,” says Olson. “Spirituality is one way to help you stay centered and connected. It can serve as a core motivator for students.”

“A crisis or harsh challenge can be a turning point, where you’re going to either close down or open up and come alive.” Robin Olson

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Kristen Walsh is a freelance writer and editor in the Boston area with a niche in higher education, healthcare and small business. She enjoys the behind-the-scenes information gathering and personal interviews that bring stories to life and strike a chord with readers. Online content and magazine writing includes blogs, opinion pieces, features and healthcare reporting. Her work has been published byThe Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, The Hechinger Report and The MetroWest Daily News.