Recently, I told a frazzled client that she needs to take time each day to nourish her spirit. "I’m not even sure how to do that," she said. "Can you give me a balanced spiritual diet? Like the old food pyramid?" Well, sure, I thought—except the food pyramid never worked for me. I’m gluten intolerant and have trouble absorbing fats: Once, my doctor wrote me a prescription for "less quinoa, more peanut butter."

No one diet plan is right for everybody, and that goes for our metaphysical needs as well. But some spiritual practices are so nourishing that they’ve been recommended throughout history all over the world. I’ve outlined a menu of these "food groups" here. Add one of them at a time, the way your doctor might introduce a food to see how your body reacts. If a practice nourishes you, adjust the amount to find your own minimum daily requirement. Then add another practice. Eventually, you’ll create the perfect spiritual diet for you.

Hold Still

The most powerful nourishment is also the simplest: shhhh! Practicing stillness is a venerable art in many spiritual traditions, usually in the form of meditation. You may want to try formally meditating by focusing on your breathing, a mantra, or a question. If you want a more Western approach, follow the biblical instruction "Be still, and know that I am God." Eckhart Tolle believes this is actually one concept, our ultimate spiritual truth, expressed five ways: Be. Still. Know. I Am. God. Contemplating any one of them provides nutrient-rich sustenance.

I used to hate meditation. Dropping my mind into stillness was like dropping a cat into a washing machine. Nevertheless, I could feel the practice feeding me, and between sittings I grew noticeably healthier and more peaceful.

Talk It Out

You may have been raised to recite prayers before eating, sleeping, entering battle, or whatever. Myself, I’m not a formal-prayer girl. My favorite invocation is silently shrieking Help help help help help! (I also like to write whiny letters; I figure if there’s really an omnipotent force reading them, I can just let it all hang out.)

Prayer means talking to your higher power, in whatever way feeds your soul. Pray the rosary, or kneel by your bed, or just riff. Two friends of mine spend every morning chatting with God out loud, as if the Almighty were sitting happily at their coffee klatch. The only thing that matters is that you speak from your heart.

Wise Up

Generally when we pray, our higher power doesn’t get right back to us—but that doesn’t mean we can’t find answers. Some earthlings can listen so deeply that they actually hear the divine. They receive guidance and comfort to share with the rest of us, like spiritual receptionists passing along messages. Of course, there are plenty of frauds who only claim to hear higher wisdom—but I’ve found that when someone’s got a direct line to the universe, their words have such a profound resonance, you immediately recognize them as truth.

I recommend consuming a wide variety of foods in this group; you’ll discover amazing similarities between the words of different masters, whether they’re from Tibet or the Middle East or Mexico. The lessons are simple: Indescribable peace is possible. Love is our highest purpose. We’re all one. Once you taste the sweetness of true wisdom, you’ll crave it every day.

Feel the Beat

Music is another form of divine communication, one that transcends language. According to some scientists, the rhythm and resonance of music activate areas of the brain that help us feel we belong to something larger and are connected to each other. The effects are even stronger if we sing or hum and let our bodies follow along. What music do you feel deep down in your soul? Gregorian chants? A lone flute? The soft sounds of the ’70s? Whatever form you choose, sing, dance and sway. Let the music move you, literally. It’s a joyful way to absorb spiritual nutrients.

Come Together

We all need solitude, but we also need times of connection, when we can talk to one another, help one another and love one another. This doesn’t require moving to an ashram or even going to church. You simply need to connect with another human being who shares your spiritual point of view. It could be a friend or a family member, or you might find someone in your book club, a 12-step meeting, or your African drumming class. The important thing is having a chance to feed someone else’s spirit and be fed in return. Miraculously, giving and receiving are equally nutritious.

Go Natural

If there is a Creator, then we can see that being’s self-portrait anytime, right outside our window: It’s called nature, and you can start to appreciate it right now just by looking up at the sky. Or take a drive through the countryside or a walk in the park. Contact with the natural world calms our nervous system and quiets us enough to hear our inner voice of wisdom and intuition. Trust me, it’s there. To coax it out, just breathe the fresh air, open yourself to nature and wait.

When you give your body healthy food, you feel more vibrant and alive; the same is true for your spirit. Sample a few portions of everything on this buffet and you’ll instinctively find the diet that will help you thrive. What could be more delicious?

Martha Beck is the author of, most recently, Using the Greek Goddesses to Create a Well-Lived Life for Women.


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