As introverts, it can be difficult to create a meaningful spiritual practice because many spiritual traditions promote an extrovert ideal. They urge their followers to be outspoken about their beliefs and participate in social activities as part of the community. You can see this in action across many belief systems, from Christian churches where singing hymns together is paramount, to traditions that ask members to preach in public, to public atheist assemblies like the Reason Rally in Washington, D.C. After all, how can you claim to believe in an ideal if you stay quiet about it?
But that isn’t how introverts approach spirituality. We often prefer a quiet life of the spirit, one that’s about reflection and an inner search. Here are four ways that introverts can find that and create a more fulfilling spiritual practice in their lives.
1. Embrace the quiet interior.
Why are introverts naturals at being spiritual? It’s because we’re quiet enough to hear the spirit, whether it’s in the form of one god, many gods, the universe, or life itself. What we consider the “spirit” can even be as simple as our own creative energy as human beings—and understanding that energy takes inner reflection. Just like a scientist needs a quiet laboratory to study and experiment, a spiritual person needs a quiet place to meditate on what lies within.
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Take a look at any of the world’s most famous prophets and teachers, and you’ll find that their breakthrough experiences came during moments of solitude. It’s why Jesus went into the wilderness for 40 days and nights, why Muhammad received the word of Allah in a cave, and why Buddha sat underneath a tree seeking enlightenment.
Only by embracing the quiet moments in our lives can we open our eyes and ears to a larger truth.
2. Develop your critical thinking skills.
What you believe does not determine how good a person you are. As many agnostics and atheists will tell you, it’s possible to live a good life without a belief in a higher power. Believers can learn from this as well. No matter what spiritual path you follow, you can do justice to that path by balancing it with a critical eye toward your own beliefs. Introverts tend to think deeply about their beliefs, and it’s easy for us to struggle with doubt, especially if we feel alone in an extroverted spiritual community. But doubt isn’t a bad thing—it’s natural. And often, it’s a great teacher for a person of faith.
While an extrovert might find it easy to get swept along with the crowd, an introvert has the chance to sit back and observe in silence. From this spot in a community of believers, it’s possible to recognize when something needs to be called out, like an act of hypocrisy or a community leader that goes a step too far. Sometimes, no one else is willing to acknowledge these incidents, and an introvert’s inner compass can benefit the entire community. In this way, we can develop our conscience and be useful to others without necessarily participating in every event or ritual.
3. Live out your beliefs with good works.
In her book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, Susan Cain interviews author and pastor Adam McHugh, who talks about the struggle of introverts to make themselves heard in Christian groups. Here is how she describes the modern trend of Evangelical Christianity:
“It’s not enough to forge your own spiritual connection to the divine; it must be displayed publicly.”
Such a demand can be tiring to any introvert who wants to worship or contemplate in their own private space. But we can make our beliefs heard in another way: through our actions. In many cases this can be as simple but profound as taking care of our brothers and sisters. Nearly every religion has a tradition of almsgiving, service, or mutual support. Similarly, those who are humanists, atheists or non-religious spiritual people can give aid through secular charities like Foundation Beyond Belief.
4. Be spiritual on your terms, not someone else’s.
As someone who’s a practicing Catholic, I’ll admit that I believe some of the doctrine taught by the Church—but not all of it. My spiritual practice has less to do with sermons and devotion, and more to do with taking Communion every Sunday, praying quietly, and being charitable whenever I can. It’s how I choose to make my faith my own, and not simply the faith of my parents.
You can do this with any tradition, or in your own private spirituality. Even something as simple as making a few positive affirmations about yourself and your life every day can be a good foundation for your spiritual practice. What’s important is that you’re committing yourself to an ideal that you want to live out every day.
What has your spiritual path looked like as an introvert? Do you find that you fit in easily with your community or tradition, or do you often “go your own way”? Leave a comment and share your story. What is most spiritually fulfilling to you?