The Real Challenge to a Spiritual Practice
I am going to write something today, about which I yet apparently have very little mastery. But that’s ok. I have often tried to stress that, despite my position in the Spiritual Naturalist Society, I am no guru. In helping to spread awareness of various philosophies, practices, and wisdom teachings I learn as much as I teach. So, let’s try to take on this one together. I will think this through as I write (your comments welcome below)…
In recent months my schedule has become much more demanding than it has been since I first really ‘got into’ my spiritual practices. As such, it has become much more challenging to keep a good habit with them (meditation, journaling, reading, and even small simple rituals).
Since my wife and I have no children, I can only imagine the hectic lives most families must live. The industrial revolution and the later postwar tech booms since the 1950s promised that rises in productivity would lead to more leisure time in a silver spandex future utopia. We thought that if we could produce 5 widgets in ½ a day instead of a full day, we could go home earlier. Instead, we were simply expected to make 10 widgets for the same pay (if our jobs weren’t replaced by a machine, that is). So, the productivity gains went to the corporations and shareholders, and we are working more now than ever. By the way, this produced 5 more widgets than are needed. So, a conscious and intentional campaign of consumerism propaganda convinced us that we need more and more. This is another social problem that is fed by individual spiritual crisis; but I digress.
While we can hope for (and work toward) societal progress, we have lives to lead in the meanwhile. My aim here, is to address how we deal with reality today, in our individual lives. For so many, daily life consists of waking up, getting ready for work while making sure the kids aren’t killing themselves, trying to go to school naked, and making sure they’re fed, etc. Then it’s work all day until picking the kids up, getting them washed and fed, and put to bed, along with a good number of various chores and errands. Maybe at best there is just a brief respite before going back at it again the next day. Where and how, in all this, is one to engage in a spiritual practice?
I used to respond to these kinds of questions, perhaps too flippantly, with Gandhi’s suggestion that we should meditate once per day, unless we are really busy – in which case we should meditate twice per day. I still think there is something profound to be appreciated in Gandhi’s pithy retort, but my recent schedule change has made me realize that there must be a huge number of our readers and members who need a deeper approach to this issue, myself included. I’ll try to begin by laying out some initial thoughts I had on this.
The Zen of Everyday
I’ve written before that spirituality isn’t just about what we are doing in some specialized setting. The real fruits of a spiritual practice should show themselves in the everyday things we do – how we live. Further, our life itself can be the practice that molds us, giving us opportunity to build habits and develop our character with every act. Are we appreciating the beauty of that which is constantly around us? Are we being mindful of interconnectedness and what that means as things happen to us? Are we practicing compassion in our actions toward others and ourselves? Are we being aware of what is arising within us minute by minute in the real testing ground of life? All of this can happen concurrently with our busy lives. We needn’t go off to some hilltop – our temple is here and now.
Sacrifice and Time
While all of the above is true, it isn’t quite enough. Yes, our real lives are our testing ground and the field in which we put our practice to the test. But we still need time to prepare ourselves. If we don’t have special time for our practice, then there will be many things we will be missing. How can we know what it is we are supposed to be practicing in everyday life, or the techniques for doing so, unless we make time to read sources of wisdom, or discuss them with others, or contemplate them for ourselves? And how can we be mindful in the moment of everyday challenges if we have not developed our power of attention through a dedicated meditation practice? Lastly, how can we not drift or be distracted by the goal-seeking nature of everyday demands without occasional ritual and experiences that inspire us and direct our attention back to the sacred in moving ways? We cannot.
The bottom line is that if we understand the power, the possibility, and the necessity of an effective spiritual practice, then we must begin by taking a hard look at how we are spending our time.
Perhaps the needs of others in our lives fill every moment and it feels selfish to take time for practice? Then remember that we can be most effective for others when we are at our best. Just as it is necessary to take time to eat, so too do we need to take time to strengthen our spirit – that will make us more be there for others in the best way possible.
Perhaps the needs of our careers or finances demand all our time and we feel irresponsible for putting it off? If so, then remember that a spiritually sound person is even more able to handle the stresses of these tasks effectively.
Perhaps, in the little time we have, we want to have time for leisurely pursuits and entertainment? Remember that these things are like sweets – they can be a wonderful part of life, but not a replacement for all nourishment.
True, there are only 24 hours in the day, but if we really understand the importance of this, we should be able to find a way to make some sacrifices and make the space. And as pointed out above, these are only apparent or short-term sacrifices, since our spirituality positively affects all other parts of our life. Maybe this is what Gandhi meant in his comment.
Although spirituality can be a very personal thing, we may need to include loved ones or family into the process to help us make the time. None of these things are easy, but then nothing worthy is.
So, that is it. That’s what I’ve been telling myself. Thanks for reading along as I work this out for myself. I would very much appreciate hearing your thoughts on this as well, so that I can consider them and we can all share!
The Spiritual Naturalist Society works to spread awareness of spiritual naturalism as a way of life, develop its thought and practice, and help bring together like-minded practitioners in fellowship.