Religion is a big topic to even think about, let alone discuss. And with so many religions containing specific guidelines, some people feel as though an non-organized, more interconnected view of spirituality is a good way to feel this side of oneself.
It’s Raining Zen is a shop in Alton, Illinois, that sells everything from incense, crystals and stones to books on spirituality and small religious statues. Co-owners Dave and Donna Nunally opened the shop together, and were shocked by its success. Donna said her desire to open the shop came from her own spirituality, which came to her naturally.
“My spirituality is all about a connection to the unconscious through this kind of intuition I’ve always had. I’ve had a lot of experience with knowing what I know with my intuition and being at the right place and knowing things unconditionally,” Donna said. “People gravitate toward me who know they need guidance. At grocery stores, I can just know what to say to someone when we’re in line there, kind of like a beacon for others, just wanting to help.”
Donna’s husband, Dave, said his connection was something he fostered over time through his own interests. He also said his experience as a Navy officer exposed him to many different cultures.
“We traveled around a lot. When we got to port, a lot of guys would go to bars and get a drink, but I visited churches and temples. I climbed Masada in Israel. And I realized early on that these different systems of belief were the same,” Dave said. “It [fits] nicely in with the fact that we may all be different people, with different gods and different skins, but we are all the same.”
Founder and Owner of Studio Gaia in Edwardsville Sally Burgess said this interconnectivity between all the world’s religions was what brought her into non-organized spirituality as well. Studio Gaia is a yoga studio, and Burgess said a big focus of the studio is to teach both the spiritual aspects of yoga as well as the yoga itself. According to Burgess, Studio Gaia does this by using teachings from the Vedas, which are ancient hymns that Hinduism and yoga were derived from.
“I realized a long time ago for myself that there are thousands of religions in the world and that allowed me to understand that what works for some is to the same of others. Whenever possible, we use the Vedic pronunciation and terms. We wanted our classes to be very authentic,” Burgess said. “In these texts, the movement of the body was meant to increase one’s connection to spiritual power.”
According to Dave, it is important to be wary of appropriating the cultures from which you borrow. Non-organized spirituality is about finding connections between cultures and linking them, rather than stealing them and taking credit for them.
“It’s all about truly having a connection with the beliefs. I can’t judge other people and say what’s in their hearts, but I know what’s in my heart, and I’m pretty sure I know what’s in Donna’s,” Dave said. “This system isn’t about stealing from different beliefs around the world. It’s about seeing those commonalities between them, and respecting them.”
This combination of cultures is something Donna said she resonates with as well. Dave said he studied many Indigenous cultures in college, and had a lot of insight. Donna said she mostly follows the religious practices of Indigenous people, but she also mixes in some Buddhist principles, like counting mala beads.
“I don’t follow just one protocol with religion. I would say I follow about 80 percent native religious and cultural rituals, but it’s hard to shut my mind off sometimes. There’s something really beautiful about mala beads, and they can sometimes quiet my mind. I pretend there are Post-Its stuck all over my brain, and they all slowly flutter away and fall off,” Donna said. “Not just any one thing works. It’s all about what works in the moment.”
Burgess said she follows this system of many beliefs by having many different speakers and teachers offer workshops at Studio Gaia.
“Debra Adele, she has a book on the spiritual and ethical guidelines of yoga, and she came by the studio. Max Strom, who is internationally known for his studies on breathwork, has taught as well, so that was definitely an interesting part of our journey,” Burgess said. “We’re always looking for new speakers and teachers to help light the way.”
Regardless of whether someone follows an organized religion, Donna said the most important lesson to remember is to not force your beliefs onto others, and be accepting and helpful to any one who needs it.
“A woman came into the shop, and she said she had lost her father, and she asked if she could just wander around, and she felt peace, and I told her, ‘Of course.” And I told her and the staff to come get me if she wanted to see me,” Donna said. “It is about that connection to others … My usual closing statement is always, ’Take some, take none, take all.”