From a functional perspective there are many benefits of a spiritual life. Those that follow a religious or spiritual tradition are provided with comfort, moral guidelines, a sense of purpose and a sense of belonging in the world. With advances in science, we have also been able to discover mental and physical benefits from aspects like prayer and meditation. These are the topics that are usually employed to defend religion in the face of extremism, bigotry, and terrorism. But one element I don’t often hear about is the ability to ‘think big’.
Those active in their spirituality get a lot of experience thinking about big ideas like justice, honor, love and sacrifice. Trying to comprehend the expanse and depth of the divine, or just glimpsing the divine mingle with the mundane, takes thought to a new level. People start to think beyond themselves and beyond the life they know. Without participation in religious or spiritual activities, people are less likely to think ‘think big’. Perhaps because they are unable, or at least because they are not conditioned to due to a lack of practice. Practice that a spiritual life can provide. In our individual-centered culture, we can unknowingly be sucked into self-centeredness, selfishness, and ignorance. People experience major anxiety and lash out at others over the most trivial issues. A bit of perspective from religious or spiritual activity would help us focus on and solve big issues, while helping us recognize the things that matter most and let the trivial things go.
None of the elements discussed here are exclusively reached through religious or spiritual means. But to achieve these things through purely secular channels would involve intentionality and effort, whereas they are natural part of spirituality. However, I think the interconnectedness of our world and the concept of a global village is changing this. Issues have new opportunity to be visible near and far. (It should be noted however, that popular media leaves much to be wanted here). People make new connections and consider the effects of their actions (both good and bad) in a global and holistic way that was not possible previously. If the world continues on this trend, we may find ‘big thinking’ more common through secular means, perhaps making spiritual and religious traditions obsolete in a new way in the future. But in the present, I maintain that spiritual activity fosters ‘big thinking’ in a way secular activity does not.