Think about the last time you experienced something sublime, maybe you're gazing at a massive mountain range, marveling at some masterful work of art or witnessing the first movements of a newborn child. Did you feel humbled or overwhelmed with gratitude, maybe you are struck by the vastness of the universe and by your own tiny part in it. Whether you are amazed or inspired, transformed or just momentarily altered, I'd argue that you had something of a spiritual experience. Now if you typically associate spirituality with religion, you might not agree with that statement and you're probably not the only person in the course who's thinking that. In fact for many individuals, religion and religious dogma often seem part and parcel to spirituality, but these two things they're not the same. Well certain aspects of spiritual belief like, reverence for a higher power can sometimes be expressed through organized religion. Spirituality itself largely transcends the type of institutionalized boundaries that religion often creates. Dr. Christina Puchalski, an international leader in the movement to integrate spirituality into healthcare defines it in this way; spirituality is the aspect of humanity that refers to the way individuals seek and express meaning and purpose, and the way they experienced connectedness to the moment, to self, to others, to nature, and to the significant or sacred. When looked at this way all kinds of activities and experiences can be regarded as spiritual in nature, and the truth is spirituality and the need for spiritual wellness is a universal human experience, it's unnecessary facet of our well-being, one that you might think of as a kind of personal center point. It's the place in our lives where our values come from, where we find our resiliency when life gets hard and what motivates us to love, laugh, dance, and play. Interestingly, there's a growing body of evidence indicating that spirituality and spiritual practices are associated with many of the key components that help us thrive in life. Because of this, nurturing and developing your spirituality maybe just as important as eating healthy diet or exercising and building strong relationships. But why am I talking about this and what's it's place in a specialization focused on secular mindfulness? Those of you who've taken my previous courses know that I'm not a religious scholar or a philosopher, I haven't spent time in an ashram studying with great spiritual teachers or been on a religious pilgrimage of any kind, in fact I have no specific training that qualifies me to talk about spirituality at all, save for the fact that I'm human and naturally curious about things like our existence or what happens when we die, and how to best live a life full of meaning and purpose. In other words, I'm probably a lot like most of you, just a regular person who struggles with existential questions, who's had her share of up and down experiences with religious institutions and who's interested in finding pathways for living in harmony with the universe. The curious truth is I've accidentally found the answers to many of these questions in and through the practice of mindfulness. I didn't begin my journey with mindfulness to fill some kind of spiritual void, I sought it out because I wanted to feel calmer and manage the stress in my life a little better. I thought it might enhance the work that I was doing as a sport psychologist and that I'd learn new skills that I could share with the various athletes and performers that I was working with, but it wasn't long before I understood that there's something special about this practice, I could see that there's a different depth to it, a different kind of thoughtfulness. It pushed my boundaries and it provided relief, something about it felt complex and mysterious, endlessly fascinating in a way that peaked more than just my intellectual curiosity. Ultimately what I and many, many others have come to understand about mindfulness is this, well mindfulness with all of its life enhancing properties is a truly fantastic tool that we should all have in our toolkit, when we look at it as simply a practice that helps us be more self-aware, or better able to regulate our emotions, or even as something that helps us be more awake and present for life, we miss the essence of what makes mindfulness truly transformative, we undervalue its real potential. What actually makes mindfulness so special is its ability to help us understand some of the durable truths about the nature of human consciousness and some broader realities about life. It can provide us with a new map for exploring and evolving our inner life and it offers us a path for spiritual awakening that's compatible, perhaps even complimentary to whatever beliefs that you already have. For thousands of years, it's been one of the most reliable tools to access spirit and one of the best parts is, it's not owned by any form of spirituality or religious dogma, you don't have to believe anything about the deep mysteries of the universe, quantum physics or any religion to become interested in your own consciousness and to experience the spiritual benefits of mindfulness practice. In fact I can almost guarantee that if you stay with this practice long enough and you're willing to go deep inside yourself in and through it, you'll have all kinds of spiritual experiences without even meaning to, it's just where this work leads. In the next few sessions, we'll be exploring some of the traditional roots of mindfulness, with a particular emphasis placed on the foundational Buddhist teachings that underscore this practice. You might think of these concepts like roots of a tree, they can help ground our practice and give us a strong base of support we need in order to grow up and out. It's a bit of a deep dive into theory but it's a necessary step if we truly want to continue to make progress on this journey. For me, understanding the theory beneath mindfulness adds continued depth and dimension to this work and I feel confident the same will be true for you.