Have you ever wondered why we those of us on a spiritual path are told to have a “practice”? Imagine if we all joined a spiritual team and got together every day for practice. What would we do? Would we run prayer sprints? Would we stretch our beliefs? Would we scrimmage different religions? Truth be told, practice is just as important to becoming a spiritual person as it is to becoming a great soccer player, swimmer or baseball player.
A spiritual practice is much like an athletic practice except the focus lies on becoming more spiritual more open to spiritual experiences, to connecting with our Higher Self or God, to tapping into the flow of Divine Energy rather than on becoming a better athlete. Just as the physical athlete must stretch and strengthen his muscles, spiritual athletes must stretch and strengthen their ability to quiet their minds, open to their spiritual nature, sense the part of themselves that is connected to the Divine, and experience a unity with All That Is. While some people have a spiritual or mystical experience without trying, the vast majority of people must exert effort daily to get just a little bit closer to feeling even a vague sense of something that might be called “spiritual.”
What Does Spiritual Practice Look Like?
So, just like our friends who are in search of the ultimate peak physical experience, we spiritual seekers are forced to practice, practice, practice so we might actually have a peak spiritual experience. What does that practice really look like? For some, it involves daily prayer sessions. For others, it means meditating every day. For others, it might mean doing good deeds for others. And for yet others, it means performing God’s commandments, walking in nature, having a conversation with the Divine, journaling, using Tarot cards or a pendulum, or gazing at the ocean. No matter what practice they choose, it almost always involves doing whatever it is they do at least once a day.
Why Is The Repetition So Important?
Why does spiritual practice have to happen so often? The answer comes down to habit formation. When our spiritual practice becomes a habit, we can relax and allow it to be part of who we are and what we do. It becomes part of our life. In addition, when we can do what we do without thinking because it is a habit we allow in something other than our thoughts about what we are doing. What we are doing takes no thought. And when we don’t have to think about what we are doing, we open our minds to focus upon something else. We open our experience to something else. We stop doing and start being. And since our being stems from the Divine Being, we begin moving closer to unity with the Divine. We move closer to having a spiritual experience.
Additionally, when we form a habit an action that requires little or no thought to accomplish we can then take what might seem empty, rote action and instill it with meaning. We can think about why we are doing that action what symbolism it has or what significance it holds for us personally and the empty action becomes full of meaning or meaning-full. If we also infuse that action with faith and belief, we fill that action with spirit, and it becomes spirit-full.
What To Do When Practice Feels Like A Struggle
I’ve struggled with having a spiritual practice. Often I’m too tired to get up early enough or to stay up late enough to spend time meditating and praying. Or I simply don’t have the time for journaling, going inward, or going to a religious service.
For those of us too busy for a lengthy spiritual practice, I recommend small spiritual practices. Try 10 minute of prayer or meditation in the morning. Or light a candle and burn some incense when you get up and offer a prayer of gratitude. Just before you begin your work day, light a candle on your desk, quiet your mind, and ask that your work be karma yoga holy work. Or set your wrist watch to sound an alarm once an hour; when it rings, stop for even 30 seconds and clear your mind and allow yourself to be in the moment since God is in the moment.
Make these, or other short simple actions, your spiritual practices. You’ll find your day and your life significantly enriched, and the experience will motivate you to find time for longer spiritual practices. Or you, if you like these short practice periods, you can add in more of them: a five minute meditation during your lunch break, a 10 minute journaling time before bed or a blessing before and after meals. In this way, your day will become one spiritual practice after another.
Making Your Whole Day a Spiritual Practice
The ultimate goal of a spiritual practice revolves around having your whole day (week, month, year, life) feel like a spiritual practice or, at least, like an extension of your spiritual practice. I believe that is the idea behind the enormous number of mitzvot, or commandments, Jews are asked to remember and to act upon each day. If you try to observe even five or 10 of them each day, you find that your actions are tied into a spiritual practice on an almost constant basis. You praise God for your body working correctly when you awake. You offer gratitude for a multitude of events each morning. You bless the food you eat, acknowledging that it comes form a Higher Source. You raise your hands after washing them and ask that they be used in God’s service. As you go to sleep at night, you ask that your transgressions and those of others be forgiven. Mitzvot are actually connectors; each time one commandment is performed, it connects the person to a Higher Source. The action reminds them of God.
If you can’t find time every day for spiritual practice, commit to having a practice every week. For Jews and even for non-Jews I recommend taking on the Friday night Sabbath candle lighting as a spiritual practice. Along with this, try giving yourself a sanctuary in time 24 hours that are sacred, a real Sabbath. You can then build on this by developing a daily hour of spiritual practice when you do something you feel represents a spiritual practice.
To a great extent, spiritual practice involves remembering God on a minute-by-minute basis. When we remember our Divine Source we allow ourselves to be aware of that Source. And when we are aware of Divinity, we can experience it. Without a spiritual practice, we go through each day or each week without awareness of God, and the lack of awareness makes it almost impossibly for us to experience anything other than our own physical reality let alone our own spirit or the Spirit of the Universe.