Young people today are turning to spirituality for personal growth and exploration
Back in winter of 2016, then 20-year-old Kidnaary Branco had just come back to Toronto after living in Boston with her former partner. On the hunt for apartments, she went to see a landlord about a particularly special one — surrounded by colourful shops and quaint art spaces — in Kensington Market. Unsure of how the interview went, she wandered around the neighbourhood afterwards, just to get a feel for it.
Branco happened upon an enticing crystal shop called House of Energy. Its bright white exterior and colourful decorations of crystals and salt lamps in the window caught her eye. She walked in and an employee began giving her a rundown of what healing crystals are, and how they work.
She picked up a sparkling, iridescent opal crystal and closed her palm, trying to channel her energy into positive thoughts about the apartment. After getting a call from the landlord the next day, offering her the place, she was intrigued. “Oh snap! These crystals are actually working!” she thought to herself.
Ever since then, she started to appreciate and learn more about crystals, energy work and chakras, getting in tune with her personal spirituality.
But what is spirituality anyway? You have likely heard about chakras, crystals, manifestation, meditation or similar terminology, but what exactly does it mean? It is quite a vast concept that can vary from person to person. In an article published by the University of Minnesota, Christina Puchalski, MD and director of the George Washington Institute for Spirituality and Health, says that “spirituality is the aspect of humanity that refers to the way individuals seek and express meaning and purpose and the way they experience their connectedness to the moment, to self, to others, to nature, and to the significant or sacred.”
While certain aspects are similar to religious practices like ethics, reflection and belief in a higher power, spirituality is more about finding personal connection and value, whereas traditional religion tends to be more about what is true and just.
In a case study published by Sage Journals in 2018, 39 per cent of Canadians identified as “spiritual but not religious.” This past September, a student at the University of Rhode Island reached 150,000 followers and 2.4 million likes on TikTok by making videos to guide people through their spiritual journeys. Many of her videos include spiritual tools like manifestation, motivating advice and tips on how to become more spiritually connected to oneself.
Psychology Today also says that spirituality can potentially ease anxiety and depression by allowing people to feel more hopeful in changing their attitudes and behaviours, and, as we all know, Gen Z and Millennials are far more anxious than other generations.
Audwin Trapman, Toronto-based spiritual and energy healer, says that “happiness doesn’t just come out of nowhere, it comes from healing our bag of troubles until it gets lighter and lighter.” Trapman specializes in energy healing, a holistic practice that targets the body’s energy systems to remove blocks.
In his 19 years of energy work, he has helped bring people positive energy, deal with personal trauma, and generally bring them a feeling of hope. “I find the best way to cope (with the stresses of life) is to know that our lives really are not random,” he said. “We have that control over ourselves.”
As a child, third-year business management student Naveena Kiruparaj always found herself drawn to the Zodiac section in magazines. Then, in high school, she began to look for answers in the sky and the planets through astrology — another pocket of spirituality.
“Everybody is the way they are for a reason, there’s a deeper meaning to it and I think astrology is that deeper meaning,” Kiruparaj said. “It’s almost self-centred to believe that we’re just these independent beings in this world. Who’s to say that the stars and the planets and the universe aren’t here to guide us?”
Kiruparaj became particularly interested in birth charts, which is essentially a snapshot of the sky at the moment you were born, the position of the planets and their constellations. Depending on this information, each entity gives a deeper insight into who you are. For instance, the position of the sun tells you about your ego, sense of self and basic personality, whereas your moon represents your inner emotions and everything beneath the surface.
“Now that it’s a lot more mainstream and posted on social media it’s kind of misrepresented,” she said. “Some people think lighting an incense stick or Googling their horoscope is being spiritual, but it’s a lot more about inner work.”
Kiruparaj says that the best thing about her spiritual journey has been learning that there is a lot more information out there, and that religion doesn’t have to be a big, daunting part of her life.
Being born into Hinduism, she ties spiritual teachings to her religious knowledge and makes her own understanding out of it with the information she needs to learn about herself and others, rather than focusing on the rules or keeping herself on a strict agenda.
One of her most eye-opening experiences throughout her spiritual journey was when she did magic mushrooms in 2017. “It was just revelation after revelation, for eight hours,” Kiruparaj said. She did it with a group of friends and, at the time, she was going through a bit of a rough patch with one of her friendships. But as she slipped further into the high, her feelings toward that friend changed into a far more loving and peaceful state of mind.
The group of them were just sitting in a friend’s backyard, and Kiruparaj noticed how vivid the blue sky looked and how bright the green grass was. The music even resonated with her spiritual subconscious — she listened to the lyrics talking about the moon and the sun and thought to herself, “I have someone in my life who’s like my moon, and someone who’s like my sun.”
Psychedelics like psilocybe mushrooms have been said to provide mystical and spiritual experiences for many years, with experiences consisting of unity, transcendence of time and space, and profound emotions like joy and total peace.
In a study conducted by the National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health, 64 per cent of participants said their experience taking psilocybin for the first time had increased their personal well-being and life satisfaction.
The only challenging part of Kiruparaj’s journey is the fact that with religion, you’re able to have a readily accessible community, a public bond and a place of worship. However, with spirituality, you have to personally seek that out yourself — it’s not as easy to find like-minded people who believe in the same things as you. It’s more of a private journey.
In early November, 21-year-old Toronto-based tattoo artist Vonne Maloney took a walk down her street and stumbled into a crystal shop. She looked at the vast collection of candles around the store and, being the candle fanatic she is, she couldn’t resist exploring their supply.
One particular one caught her eye and she took a closer look at the writing on it: “full moon spell candle.” Remembering that it was the start of the new moon cycle, she decided she was going to cast a spell that night for a new beginning.
Later that night she opened her bedroom window, turned her light off, lit some incense and waved it around her room to cleanse the space. Her healing crystals were in a circle surrounding her and where her candle was lit, she then set an intention for the new moon period to cleanse herself of any previous negativity and welcome positive energies into her space.
“Doing a spell isn’t really a big show for me. I know some people who will draw freaking salt circles on the ground, but I just like to cleanse the space and set an intention,” she said.
Maloney became interested in witchcraft and different types of magic, which she says is really just manifestation. The difference is that it involves using physical tools to help you focus your mind on a certain goal, and using a certain colour candle or incense symbolizes something you want to manifest.
“Sometimes I don’t actually even believe that any of this shit is real,” she said. “But to me at least, it doesn’t matter. What matters is the intention behind it. If you feel like it’s real, it’ll be real for you.”
Maloney found spirituality for a number of reasons, including her love of Harry Potter and witchcraft, a past obsession with geology, an extremely liberal elementary school teacher who would sometimes refer to God as “she,” and her natural curiosity.
Her spiritual journey allowed her to become more at peace with herself, and in her words, “a lot nicer.”
“I used to be really pretentious, super religious, prudish — I was an asshole,” she said. “‘You can’t do this and you can’t do that. You have to pray every Sunday’, all that stuff.”
Fast forward to now, the best part about her growth is her emotional well-being — not only does it bring a sense of comfort to her life but, especially during COVID-19, it helped her learn things about herself and deepen her practice. “This year kind of forced us all to go inwards,” Maloney said.
For those who don’t resonate with spirituality or even scoff at it, Trapman says that everyone is going through different levels of consciousness and evolution. “We each have our own unique path to accomplish the tasks that we set for ourselves in this lifetime,” he said. “If their path and consciousness level are meant to include spirituality, then they will. If they’re not meant to include spirituality, then they won’t.”
This past October, Branco was taking a stroll through her new neighbourhood and remembered that she’d been meaning to get a new crystal. She found another alluring shop, one that was a bit hidden in the corner, tucked away. She walked in and realized that it was actually the owner’s office space, her practice. The owner greeted her, introducing herself as a psychic, and the two slowly slipped into a conversation about energy work and the type of healing she does.
The owner told Branco things about herself that made a lot of sense. It was a pleasant chat and, at the end, Branco ended up getting some advice to work on her throat chakra. Prior to their meeting, she’d already been concerned about a blockage there, and thought that she needed to work on her ability to communicate and speak her inner truth.
What shocked her even more was when the woman told her, “You’re going to need it, it’s part of your life path.” This was only a few short months after Branco had begun her program at Ryerson, one that heavily involves working with kids and is reliant on having excellent communication skills. “It was crazy, she didn’t even ask me for money at all,” Branco said. “It was authentic, it was genuine.”
Branco says that no matter how much she learns about spirituality, there’s always something else she doesn’t know. Every so often she thinks she has it down to a T, but then she picks up another book and learns a completely new spiritual concept she’s never heard of before.
She hopes to continue teaching herself and growing in her spirituality, bettering herself and doing good for her community at the same time. “Finding spiritual clarity really, really, really matters, and while having a scientific point of view is important, why not indulge in your spiritual point of view?” Branco said. “Trauma is passed down to us throughout generations, and we can’t heal our minds without healing our souls first.”