Monday, February 11, 2008

Practical Spirituality

Spirituality is about how we live our life, not some esoteric addition to "real" life that we can easily compartmentalize: "I went to church on Sunday, so I can check 'spirituality' off the list for this week!" Our spiritual practices or disciplines are what give shape and content - structure and meaning - to our lives. Spirituality is life lived with awareness and freedom.

So, a few practical tips:

Wake up an hour earlier each morning
(and, if necessary, go to bed an hour earlier). So much of the resentment and anxiety that we acquire in the course of the day stems from the hurried pace of our life. The way we begin our day sets the foundation for much that follows. Too often, I sleep in until the very last possible minute, and then am frustrated (and frustrating) due to my mad rush to get out the door. In my haste, I am short with loved ones, forgetful, and defensive in my posture toward the world.

What a difference it makes to begin the day leisurely, to make sure I have enough time to meditate, exercise, have breakfast with my family, and then begin the work of the day feeling focused and energized. We have all the time we need. With some simple planning and forethought, a tweak here and a tweak there, we can alter the quality of our day.

Do one thing at a time. Multi-tasking is a sin. It divides us against ourselves and scatters our attention. The result is that we do several things poorly, without joy, and without real engagement with life. We coast on automatic pilot at best, and, at worst, injure our spiritual, mental, and physical health. It is an act of disrespect not to give people and tasks our full attention. So, when you are praying, then pray. When you are eating, then eat. When you are playing with your children, play with your children. When you are serving a customer, then serve your customer. People will appreciate and respond to your attention, the quality of your work and play will improve, and you will feel more serenity and joy. You will discover your capacity to really be of service in ways that improve the quality of life for everyone you encounter.

Meditate for 30 minutes each day. I know, I know, you don't have time to do this. But now that you are getting up an hour earlier, you do! Here is how you do it:

1. Choose a sacred text as the focus of your meditation and commit it to memory; a passage grown venerable with time and usage that speaks to the highest human aspirations. The Lord's Prayer, the hymn to love in I Corinthians chapter 13, or a psalm of praise works well. Choose carefully, as we internalize the texts upon which we meditate and incorporate them into our identity and practice. We become what we pray. Now and again, choose a different text as your focus.

2. Select a time and place to meditate each day. If possible, make it a space in your home devoted to this practice - even a corner will do. Choose a time that is quiet and uninterrupted. First thing in the morning is best. In addition to the quiet, you will carry the benefit of the practice throughout the day.

3. Sit in a comfortable but alert position, with your back, neck and head in vertical alignment. Close your eyes to facilitate concentration. This is a time for quieting the senses. It is great if you can manage the full lotus position (I can't). If not, it is fine to sit in a chair with your feet firmly planted on the ground and your legs providing a secure base. Gently rest your hands in your lap.

4. Silently repeat the sacred text to yourself. Focus on each word, with a pause in between them. Allow each to drop into the depth of your consciousness. This is not a time for discursive thought or reflection. Simply keep focused on the text. When you become distracted (and you will), simply return to the beginning of the text and start over.

5. Set a timer so that you aren't distracted with worry over what time it is. In time, you may intuitively know when the meditation time is over. The time will pass more quickly than you think!

This is how we learn to practice the presence of God, by honing our power of concentration and increasingly gaining control over our mind. Too often our "thoughts think us" rather than the other way around. We became prisoners of our patterns of thinking and feeling, often not even aware of them. Meditation is the door to freedom through which we regain the capacity to choose what we will think and feel, the capacity to see reality as it is and respond appropriately, often intuitively. Self-consciousness slips away to be replaced by God-consciousness.

The fruits of meditation are not theoretical. They are practical and empirically verifiable through disciplined practice over time. I don't think it is possible to enumerate the ways in which this practice will change your life. It is the difference between slavery and freedom. Find out for yourself.

2 comments:

Rev. Tracy said...

John,

Great instructions. And I couldn't agree with you more about the benefits of meditation. I have always thought that I was not cut out to meditate, but after the structure of a month in an ashram where we meditated twice a day, I now find it effortless to put my butt on the cushion, as they say. Once I'm there, well stuff happens. And I feel so much more centered in myself. Now I wouldn't give it up for the world.

Bryan said...

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