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Spiritual environment

January 12, 2018


ONE of my fondest childhood memories has been of listening to the beautiful sound of the azan. It used to feel like a divine melody filling up the warm, humid Karachi air. More so, it felt as if someone was with me, near me and watching over me. Sadly, it didn’t take long for this ritual to turn into a routine, a norm, something usual after hearing it, day in and day out.

After moving to the US, subtly, but very clearly, I felt that void. The winter air felt blistery and froze anything that came in its path. As my family settled into our new home, we tried to listen hard for that voice in the air in case that melody was lost somewhere in the rustling sounds of our winter coats or the crushing noise of our boots.

While looking outside the windows of our home at snow-covered roofs, we talked about our childhood years. The impact of environment in our development seemed substantial and permanent. Recitation from the Holy Book, singing Allama Iqbal’s poetry in our daily school assembly, began to appear not just vague, distant memories of daily rituals but practices with strong imprints.

We realised at a later age though, that those practices subconsciously made us think about the larger meaning of existence — maybe at a very basic level, but they instilled in us a seed. Spirituality, kindled and enhanced through the formative years of life, became part of our fabric, the DNA, the psyche of our being. We feel very strongly that those rituals of daily life strengthened our spiritual core, contributing to our personal development in the process. Of course, the ‘rituals of spirituality’ can vary based on an individual’s or family’s cultural or faith denomination.

A deeper meaning must be given to tasks and goals.

After we had children, this constant need for spirituality and spiritual rituals was felt even more sharply as we embarked on our tough journey of child-rearing.

The role of the environment seemed more and more important in children’s development. “If it’s not outside, we’ve got to provide it inside (at home),” my wife said with firm conviction. We felt that developing spirituality requires an environment that’s infused with it.

Children’s development, scholars argue, must go hand in hand with their spiritual development. For followers of a faith, religious practices must be observed on a daily basis, just like the physical and intellectual needs of a child.

Not responding to spiritual needs during the early as well as adolescent years of development leaves a huge vacuum. Research has shown that a child without a spiritual core develops into a fragile human being. Sometime they are referred to as ‘teacups — beautiful, but ready to break with the slightest drop’.

From the outset of this arduous journey of child development, we knew we needed spirituality to be an everyday affair. Our response was, and still is, to bring that macro environment into our micro environment, that is our home. Only then, we thought, could we imbibe the spirituality of everyday experience. Daily prayers, reflections on nature and relations around us, playing recitation from the Holy Book, hymns and poetry as a regular ritual provided the needed macro environment infusing spirituality in the air.

Recent psycho-spiritual research into child psychology and development has objectively concluded that having a spiritual connection as part of child development helps children tremendously as grown-up individuals.

In this regard, a recently published work by Dr Lisa Miller, professor of psychology and education at Columbia University, titled The Spiritual Child, is worth mentioning. She writes that “ now offers strong evidence that biologically, neurologically, and psychologically, spirituality is part of our nature and is foundational to thriving”.

Spirituality can be fostered through daily religious practices as well as reflections on nature, daily events and human relations, giving a deeper meaning to life tasks and goals. As Dr Leonard Sax mentions in his book The Collapse of Parenting, “…to instil a sense of meaning, a longing for something higher and deeper” and once they have it, he claims “they can pursue achievement with confidence because they know why that achievement is worth pursuing”.

While gazing outside the window of our home at the grass-covered backyard 16 years later, we look back and cannot overemphasise the importance of creating an environment of spirituality. Spirituality, lived and breathed on a daily basis, is not just an old tradition in the Eastern world, but also proven scientifically as a human necessity, from cradle to grave. What makes us spiritual? In the words of Dr Miller: “It is our awareness of transcendence, in us, around us, through us, and beyond us, that is spiritual.”

The writer is a doctor and is interested in spirituality, culture and science.

Published in Dawn, January 12th, 2018