Spiritual Practice. It's not just having a spiritual philosophy, or praying and meditating as needed, or worship. There is something deliberate, disciplined, and muscular in a spiritual practice. I can deliberately set aside a time each day to maintain my spirituality just as I deliberately set out for a 20-minute walk each day to maintain my body or sit down regularly at the piano to maintain my skill at playing. Practice is also a way of learning, developing and perfecting skills.
Practice makes perfect. Spiritual practice develops spiritual prowess, we assume, just as physical exercise develops physical prowess. Starting simply, practicing what we know, moving up at the right time to levels of greater skill, and repeating our actions until they become automatic are elements of practice we recognize from our student years. Given the right goals, the right feedback and the right genes, they can lead to expert status.
But just how do goals, feedback and genes apply to spiritual practice? What, exactly, is my goal? And where do I get feedback? In the west we do not typically seek spiritual gurus or spiritual trainers to tell us whether our spiritual practice is right or left of the mark. How do we judge whether we have veered wildly off the path? The spiritual journey, by its nature, is inner and individual. As some clever westerner has said, "If there is anyone else on your path, it is not your path." But where does this leave us?
I once had a spiritual practice of "listening" and writing every morning, because I was in a spiritual retreat that required it. I got better at writing, but I'm not sure how I did at listening. At another time I practiced yogic breathing to become more aware of "that which cannot be thought." I got better at breathing, but I can't judge the quality of my venture beyond thought. Hours spent on my knees talking to God got me calloused knees, but it's hard to say what else.
One reason for the immeasurable nature of spiritual experience is that the experiencer tends to disappear. The ego that thinks it needs to practice and get better becomes more porous, less defined and defended, liberated somewhat from the illusion of itself. In the middle of spiritual experience is the vastness and "isness" of being, an awareness of the miracle being enacted throughout creation at this moment, and of being at once at the center and the circumference of that miracle. I see that writing is itself a spiritual exercise, as is breathing, driving a car, shopping for groceries, washing dishes, and spending time on my knees. In the middle of a miracle, there is no way to avoid right action and no need for spiritual practice, is there?
Am I less and less concerned with myself and more and more willing to let go of opinions and desires? Is my sense of self expanding to include others? Is the Miracle permeating everything I do? Then I think my spiritual practice is bearing fruit.
Nearly Wordless Wednesday
7 months ago