Growing up, religion was a relatively big part of my life. As a Christian Arab living in London, my mother made it a point to take us to church every Sunday. Still, as much faith as I had, I started becoming acquainted with spirituality a few years ago. The well-being and peace I felt from this has been unparalleled.
I still believe in one God, and I’m still religious, yet my shift to exploring spirituality led to a number of interesting reactions from some friends and family. Mostly people wondered what had gone wrong – and why religion was no longer enough.
This is the unfortunate reality among religious Arab families – whether Christian or Muslim – whenever someone embarks on a spiritual path. People think that it must have been triggered by something having gone wrong – instead of simply being a search for what is right, or a bit different.
What I truly value in spirituality is the belief in a higher power that only generates good, no longer feeling sorry for myself, the ability to let go of what no longer serves me and being grateful. And whether I walk into a church, a mosque or a Buddhist temple, I still feel that goodness and the presence of that higher power.
Jowel Bejjani, a French-Lebanese psycho-energy therapist, Ayurveda nutritionist and healer, who was a fundamental part of my transition, says similar shifts – adding spirituality to religious practice – are happening across the Middle East.
“Some people are starting to elevate their consciousness,” she says.
She explains that spirituality is a mix of science and art, and people have found a certain freedom in it.
“It is a freedom of being and a freedom of will, and they have understood that, in spirituality, they have the choice to master their own destiny,” she added.
One of the most significant aspects to this shift is detachment.
“It is the foundation of spiritual discernment,” she explains. “Being detached from the emotion and being able to distinguish what is good for us or not, and no longer being impacted by our parents’ rules and finding our own destiny, are all benefits. Spirituality allows us to see our being differently, and from another perspective.”
A number of holistic centers are gaining ground across the region, places that offer yoga, meditation, therapeutic techniques and a series of one-off workshops with visiting therapists, which can heal people’s emotional traumas and help boost their vibration.
Bejjani is opening White Shala Resort, an Ayurvedic center that will be a first for Lebanon, where she will work using traditional Indian medicine and therapies.
“These centers have a great impact because they give the opportunity for people to participate and evolve even more,” she says. “There has been an awakening among many people in the region.”
For Andrea Anstiss, a psychotherapist at Andrea Anstiss Consultancy in Abu Dhabi, the search for a spiritual connection and self-awareness is reaching a tipping point, becoming a part of mainstream popular culture, commerce and politics.
“Because we need to evolve — fast — people are drawn to looking for alternative ways to find peace and create health,” she says. “Human beings have a force inside them, that when they listen, moves them toward wholeness.”
While a spiritual life means different things to different people, at the core it’s about listening to that wise and still voice of our true inner self, which is loving and caring.
“It’s about opening our hearts and minds, and connecting to our family, community and wider world. Having empathy for ourselves and others,” she added. “It’s about living with a sense of joy and purpose.”
Eda Gungor is a spiritual entrepreneur who runs Life’n One Center in Dubai, and who believes we all just want to belong.
“By fulfilling this desire for belonging, fulfillment and identity, these spiritual practices offer anyone who feels they don’t fit with organized religion some of the benefits that traditional religion provides,” she says. “Whatever their main motive, more and more millennials are seeking comfort in stars, movement or mantras.”
The truth of religion has a permanent place in the world, but what is certain is that more young Arabs are starting to notice the difference between it and spirituality, and to focus on the similarities.
“The reason people are shifting is the freedom from the rules of religion, which ask you to stay in a box,” explains Bahar Wilson, founder of Mindfulness UAE and a mindfulness teacher. “However, in spirituality, you have the freedom to try different practices. There is no set of rules that you have to follow or something will happen. Spirituality allows people to choose what they want to believe, to explore and to see what resonates with them.”
And in mixed-religion relationships, like my own, spirituality is common ground. “We are all one and this is the foundation of everything,” Bejjani explains.
The shift to exploring and accepting spirituality complements the belief in one God for all, she says.
“I hope it will help people in the region to discover their inner skills and confidence, and to experience peace and unconditional love,” she concluded.
Featured photo: Dan Farrell/Unsplash