Tag Archives: Spiritual “Practice”

PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE!

I am reminded again that relationships with God and others take practice.

 

When I was a child and took music lessons my parents would constantly prod me to practice. Any musician or athlete knows that it takes lots of practice, sometimes tedious practice to develop any sense of ease and freedom in playing. Being a musician I know this and only wish that I had spent more time in practice! We may initially resent our parents or others who lovingly prod and push us to be the best that we can be. In retrospect we may find that they have given us a great gift!

 

I know it takes lots of practice to develop a talent, but why is it that I think my relationship with God and others should just come automatically? Those skilled at relationships take time working at them. How often do I take the time to resolve an issue in a relationship? Sometimes we just go on, never really talking through or resolving the issue. In terms of our relationship with God, it also takes practice. They don’t call it “spiritual practice,” or “practicing faith” for nothing! But sometimes I get so tired of practicing – taking the time to meditate and pray whether alone or with others. It seems like such a waste of time. There’s so much else to be done!

 

It is only in daily practice that I gain any skill, depth and freedom  as a musician or an athlete and it takes daily practice to gain that same skill, depth and freedom in loving relationships, whether with people or with God. What practices do I have in place that develop my relationship with God and others?

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I DON’T WANNA!

I have so NOT been into my zazen sitting/meditation practice lately! The sweetness has disappeared and sometimes it takes everything for me to stay with the meditation and not bolt! I simply don’t want to do it! I’m not feeling anything. It doesn’t seem like I’m getting anything out of it.

It’s precisely during times like these when I should stay with it.

Developing any kind of disciplined practice is countercultural. We live in a culture which basically says: when ya stop feeling it – move on to something else. That’s why we live in a “throw away” society, where we see much brokenness in relationships.

Whether it is in my job, my writing, my meditation practice, my relationship/s, my music practice – it’s precisely when the going gets tough, boring or unfulfilling that I should stick with it. Just because I’m not “feeling” it doesn’t mean that nothing’s happening. Just become I’m not “feeling” it doesn’t mean I should stop my practice or acts of love toward another. Something magical actually happens when we stick with it.

In the book Benedict’s Dharma: Buddhists Reflect on the Rule of St. Benedict Norman Fisher, a Zen priest, married man and co-abbot of the San Francisco Zen Center for five years says this: “After going through a time when you don’t enjoy your practice (add here job, relationship, exercise etc), you learn that the tough time is always where the reward comes in.” Somehow in the process of sticking with something or someone a greater depth, fulfillment and freedom is developed within us.

So, even though I don’t wanna, . . .can I keep trudging along and discover the reward that exists on the other side of boredom?


Learning to Fly

Last night I was reading the #1 New York Times Bestseller The Shack:  Where Tragedy Confronts Eternity by Wm. Paul Young.  The jury is still out on what I think of the novel, but I find parts of it intriguing so far.  If you read it, I recommend getting through the first third of the book.  After that it begins to get intriguing and plays with questions of images of God, religious assumptions, suffering, relationships and new life.

One line from the book struck me.  As the main character and God are conversing about various things, God says:  “This isn’t Sunday School.  This is a flying lesson” (p.98).  What an image!  What if we could view all religion, all spirituality, all relationships from the point of view of this metaphor?  They’re all about flying!  They’re all about being lifted up beyond the pain that sometimes befalls us in life and learning to fly again.  Our relationship with God is NOT about following this or that rule it’s about learning to fly!  It’s about learning to live well!  Of course, any pilot will tell you that there are things you have to learn and do if you are to fly.  But that is not about rigid adherence to rules.  It’s about learning to live well, making good choices so that I feel as if I take flight.  It is about calling on the power of God within and trusting it, trusting that it is with us and will carry us through anything.  Now, we’re not going to “feel” it all the time, but that doesn’t mean God isn’t there.

Some of my friends know that I have gone through a bit of a difficult time the past couple of years.  I have struggled much.  A few weeks ago, I sat down and tried to meditate, having “felt” no connection with God, or others for that matter, in quite a while.  I felt that this was such a waste of time.  I didn’t feel any better.  But I kept going back to meditation anyway, if even sporadically.  One day, wondering about the pain and difficulty of the past couple of years, wondering why I was even doing this and if there was any Power out there to help, I softly heard these words:  “It was then that I carried you.”  I look back now . . . and indeed I see only one set of footprints in the sand.  Indeed, I was still flying, still being lifted up, even though I didn’t feel it.

What strikes me is this:  if I had not meditated, if even sporadically, I never would have heard those gentle words, which were the catalyst which is giving me some thrust, some wind, as it were, as I slowly stretch out my wings again and learn to fly.

In the book, God says to the main character who has been deeply wounded:  “Mack, pain has a way of clipping our wings and keeping us from being able to fly. . . .And if left unresolved for very long, you can almost forget that you were ever created to fly in the first place” (p.97).

I pray that we all know that we were created to fly; that we have the courage to slowly spread our wings again.  And even when life is difficult may we know that “it was then that I carried you.”


Wild Child!

“My friend had a vineyard on a fertile hillside; . . . but what it yielded was wild grapes.”      See Isaiah 5: 1-7

Ever feel like you’ve got some wild grapes growing within you? Ever feel like there are some weeds among the wheat that are spouting up?

Lately, I have felt some wild grapes sprouting up, some weeds among the wheat. I have good intentions and then it seems my actions take me in a different direction. I know full well why the wild grapes are growing within. I have not been caring for the inner vineyard lately. I have been a bit lax in my spiritual practice, body care and my loving. I have been letting these things slip ever so slowly to the wayside. And then I wonder why I begin to feel off center, if not WAY off center!?

It is my spiritual practice, my body care and my loving that keep the inner vineyard that is my life healthy, strong and growing. Like a garden, if I don’t continually work at it, the weeds quickly begin to overtake it and the strength and beauty of the good plants begins to fade. I feel that my strength and beauty has faded of late. Sometimes I just need to force myself to do that which keeps me healthy. And when I do, I know that life will again begin to blossom, beauty will return.


My Spiritual Practice – What Works For Me? – Part VI

 Service and a Grateful Heart

 

Two other aspects of spiritual practice that I find helpful are being of service to others and having a grateful heart.

This morning I was listening to Wayne Dyer’s Inspiration: Your Ultimate Calling. I have this on CD and when I’m in the car I like to listen to it. It’s just another way to absorb some good information in the midst of all the garbage! As I drove this morning Wayne spoke of the ego and how the ego tries to distract us, keeping us agitated and grasping after more and more. It feeds on the illusion that we need more, and need to protect what we have or else someone is going to take it from us. Spirit, on the other hand, is infinite and ever giving. Having no sense of lack, but a firm belief that there is infinite abundance, Spirit has no need to protect or hoard. To be like Spirit, our Source, believe that there is abundance and that we will always be taken are of. When we do so we will naturally become more preoccupied with being of service than protecting and hoarding our time or what we have. When we let go and give, we will find that it comes back to us; and then some! So part of good spiritual practice is to be of some service to others. Conversely, I find when I am in a mode where I am totally self absorbed, I lack energy and vibrance.

Finally, maintaining a grateful heart is a part of my spiritual practice that I find helpful. I do this in a simple way that takes about 60 seconds. At the end of each day, right as I get into bed, I take around 60 seconds to become conscious of at least five things that day that I have to be grateful for. I find this, not only a good review of the day, but something which lifts my spirits. Those who have grateful hearts walk through life with a much more positive, happy attitude. Simply by knowing how blessed we are, we become a blessing for others in the positive energy that we radiate.

All of this being said, I am NO saint. I have my ups and downs; my good days and bad. Ask any of my friends who know me well! Yet in the midst of it all, when I maintain some spiritual practice, there is a pervading sense that life has meaning and that I’m going somewhere and somehow contributing to this world.

Whatever your spiritual practice may be, I pray that it is something which gives meaning and energizes your life and relationships.


My Spiritual Practice – What Works For Me? – Part V

Carrying It Through the Day

I once had a spiritual advisor who said to me that I was like a horse at the gates on the Kentucky Derby. Once my meditation was done in the morning, the bell rang and I shot out the gate and God consciousness was left in the dust! I laughed when he said this, but man, was it, and is it ever true! Do you ever experience that? You take time to focus, to meditate, to pray to become more aware of Spirit in your life and the life of the world; then you get up and begin to go about your day and forget about it until the next time you intentionally sit down to meditate again?!

One of the challenges of my spiritual practice is to carry a sense of this Spirit consciousness through my day. I am beginning to get better at it. Sometimes just taking a book that I’ve been reading to work is helpful. I may not pick it up, but when I see it, it’s a reminder. Or perhaps carrying a symbol of some sort in my pocket or around my neck would be a helpful reminder. These are things which might call me to consciousness again, reminding me to watch my thoughts, think positively, to watch the grasping of the ego, to live in the moment, be aware that I’m connected to Something which is infinitely abundant, and not to resist difficulty, but see it as a possibility for growth.

What do you do to stay “conscious” through your day?


My Spiritual Practice. What Works For Me? Part IV

Chant-Reading-Prayer

After I meditate and lift up needs that I see, I usually chant a hymn and a psalm from the simple and beautiful chant of the Camaldolese Monks in Big Sur CA. I then spend a bit of time in some spiritual reading. I currently read one of the readings from Vigils in the Benedictine Daily Prayer published by Liturgical Press, Collegeville MN. I also like to do a reading from the Carmelites of Indianapolis’ Companion to the Breviary. I find this book of Morning and Evening Prayer filled with thought provoking readings and prayers and I like their use of inclusive language. Just do a Google search and you’ll be able to find it. There is a one volume version and a two volume version.

Recently I also end my reading with a short passage from Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now. I find his insights very, very helpful. I use his book more like a meditation book that daily reminds me of good practice, rather than something that I read at a sitting and then put down. I find myself going back to his book again and again. He also has a nice shorter version out for this pupose called: Practicing the Power of Now: Essential Teachings, Meditations and Exercises from The Power of Now.

Currently, the reason why I read both ancient and modern texts is that I like to compare the wisdom that comes from both.  I find that there are many similarities.  Good modern sources, like Tolle’s works simply put many much of the wisdom of ancients texts in fresh language and make it accessible to the masses.  Of course, as far as ancient texts go I am most familiar with Judeo-Christian texts.  However I would like to begin reading other texts such as the Bhagavad Gita, a sacred Hindu text or the Koran.
A brief comment on reading and praying. I know this may sound like a LOT, but it’s not so much about how much is read. The passages are pretty brief. It’s more about reading slowly and with awareness. Christian monks speak of “Lectio Divina,” or Divine Reading – Sacred Reading. It’s simply a practice of reading slowly and with awareness, conscious that these words have Power and are able to change and form us. If a particular line hits me, I STOP and stay with it for a while and let it sink in.

Another word about reading and prayer in general. Don’t overwhelm yourself with a lot of different “things.” Keep it simple, especially at first. Just use some reading that is a thought provoking and life changing and just do a LITTLE each day. Again, a little bit done consistently is better than a lot done sporadically.

I end this time of meditation, prayer and reading with some concluding prayer, usually taken from the intercessions and closing prayer of the day from the Companion to the Breviary.