What does it mean to have a spiritual practice? The answer to this question will be different for everyone. You get to figure out what it means for you, and it can be different on a given day or period of your life. Connection to spirit, or tapping into something beyond the mental chatter of our minds is profoundly healing. Feeling into the space of non-judgement, detachment, pure consciousness, love, or compassion, even for one brief moment, is a gift. There are infinite ways to do this, and at the same time, there is nothing to do. It is more about being.
We call it spiritual practice, because it is just that; a practice. We use the doing of practice to guide us into being with what is, in each moment. Not an easy invitation for the human mind to accept. We can set aside time “to practice”, and we can also embody the practice in every moment throughout the day. As we continue to practice, we are better able to observe reality without being attached to outcomes. Like slowly building a muscle, changing our way of being takes time to develop. And there is no one right way to be. The saying, “practice makes perfect”, is not something I subscribe to. I think better to say, “practice makes patience” or “practice makes practice”.
It’s easy to say the words be rather than do, but as humans living in this society today, we are a species of doers. We are often judged based on how much we do or accomplish, and the rate in which we make that happen. For some of us, it seems that we barely have time to take care of basic life necessities. How could we possibly make time for a spiritual practice? And what if we don’t believe in god, religion, or the unseen energies of the universe? Can we still have a spiritual practice? The answer to that, is most certainly yes.
Some of us find connection with something greater in religious gatherings, or in designated houses of prayer. Others of us do not feel at home within formalized religious systems. Connection to spirit or something outside yourself can be found anywhere; within organized religion, out in nature, in a yoga or meditation group, at a community gathering, in the kitchen, or while waiting for a bus.
When I observe the natural world around me; birds, trees, flowers, road runners, jack rabbits, sunset and sunrise, the moon; I know there is something greater than me. I don’t always have a way to explain it, but I know that myself or my fellow humans could not have created anything so glorious. Perhaps we see something in our beloved pets that helps us to believe in something outside of ourselves. The way we learn from our children, parents, friends; things we could not have conceived of alone with our own minds. Community groups or other support networks can help us tap into a power that is greater than ourselves; the power of the group. What about the peace of silence, looking at artwork, or the pure joy of song?
Your spiritual practice could be some amount of time set aside to cultivate gratitude, honor loved ones and those whom you find challenging, or offering prayer to the god of your understanding or the universal energies that surround us all. You can pray even if you don’t know what or whom receives the prayers, and you can offer compassionate thoughts through gritted teeth in times of anger. Sometimes we need to act as if in order to offer opposite qualities towards ourselves or others whom we find challenging.
I started a practice many years ago during a time when I felt lost and alone. Through the darkness and desperation of emotional pain, I created the following mantra: “I am safe and protected, I am held and guided, I am not alone.” When I began to use this mantra, I would cry, sometimes sobbing. I did not believe the words, and I did not feel as if they were true. But I kept saying it, day after day, week after week, month after month. I cannot tell you how long it took to actually feel that I am safe and protected, held and guided, and not alone. But I can tell you that it is true for me today. And that when the veil of delusion tries to tempt me back into a place where I feel the opposite, I have this tool in my pocket ready and willing to embrace me. Even in the moments when the lost feelings come into my being, I am able to access the mantra because it is a part of my being. It is literally burned into the neural pathways of my physiology.
In this fast paced, modern world of doing rather than being, how do we make time for all of this practice? Setting aside time in the early morning for prayer, meditation, or reflection is helpful in setting the tone for your day. However, anything in your daily life can be a spiritual practice.
- Create a mantra or saying to repeat throughout the day. This can be done while driving to work, cooking dinner, taking a shower, folding laundry, washing dishes, etc.
- Smell and look at your food before eating. Honor all of the beings that were involved with getting it to your plate.
- One word of gratitude upon waking, and again before bed, takes only a few seconds.
- Walking the dog or snuggling the cat can be a spiritual practice.
- Pause for five breaths before entering the house after work to look at the sky.
- Spend 5-15 minutes each day writing about current challenges and what you are grateful for. Tear up the page or burn it to help release the emotions and encourage detachment.