Thursday, April 8, 2010

Practice Makes Perfect?

Somebody asked me today if I had a spiritual practice. I immediately answered no. I do not have a set place, a set time, a particular ritual or routine. At various times in my life, I have tried. I've bought devotional books and books on prayer, I've set the alarm 30 minutes earlier to find solitude, I've been on retreats, I've listened to the admonishment of experts in the field. I've tried reading scripture. I've committed to journaling every day. I've co-opted tips and tricks to remind me and motivate me. Discipline comes easy for me in some areas of my life, but not so easy in others. The area of spiritual discipline seems to continually elude me. I lose focus and attention, I get bored easily, I feel silly and unconnected to anything remotely spiritual, just going through the motions. And I give up.

But as I thought more deeply about the question and about the statements of somebody else that we find our practice in our laundry basket and our kitchen sink, I began to reframe my answer. I do have a spiritual practice of sorts - although you wouldn't find it described in any book on spiritual practices, Christian or otherwise.

I practice:
--by reading half a dozen blogs about life, living and spirituality each morning (you can find most of them on my blogroll)
--by staying in almost daily communication with a unique and deep support system that has miraculously materialized over the past couple of years
--when I slow down as I round the corner of my alley after delivering my children to school and notice the twigs turning into green sprouts, the trees budding and blooming and unfurling fresh green leaves, the azaleas beginning to blush pink
--when I stop to watch and listen as the mockingbirds and bluejays chatter to welcome the day
--each time I look deeply into one of my daughter's eyes and see the singular grace that lights her from the inside
--when I snuggle with my husband before drifting to sleep each evening
--by spending an hour almost every week laying out, looking at, and trying to re-arrange the deepest parts of myself in the presence of someone who holds out unfailing faith, hope and love
--by reading books from varied and deep thinkers who write about faith and practice, psyche and soul
--every time I tap into my creativity by writing, on this blog and elsewhere
--when I decide to listen to my body and rejuvenate myself with a short afternoon nap
--every night when I immerse myself in a hot bath and soak while I let my mind drift into a deep level of thought and relaxation
--by joining with my imperfect and flawed community in songs of joy and recognition of the divine
--by making time to linger over a meal with good friends, sharing our ideas and our hearts
--and most of all, by simply paying attention

I do all of these things on a regular if not routine basis. I do not always do them with the focus and attention needed to make them a spiritual practice, but much of the time I do. I've worked to discipline my mind and my heart to really focus on the moment I am in when I am in that moment, to observe my internal reactions and notice the reactions of others. To simply acknowledge my feelings as they come and not immediately judge and censor them. And I think I've made progress, although there is always farther to go.

I also am almost constantly aware of myself and the world on a spiritual level. I acknowledge the presence of the divine in and around me in almost everything I do. I think part of my problem with tradition Christian spiritual practice is the outward focus of much of it. God is out there somewhere, I have to go find Him. And then I have to appease Him with my worshipful presence. My concept of God has shifted a lot over the past 20 years - from a "HE" up there somewhere that I have to figure out how to make happy and then push off on someone else to a more universal presence manifest in creativity, individuality, beauty and synchronicity - a life force within me and within every person I encounter, a directional flow that I can participate with to make a difference in people's lives if I will pay attention. That sounds sort of "new-age" even to me. But it isn't. It's old and deep and real - it just doesn't fit well into the words I grew up using, so I have to choose others, because those old words hold tainted images for me. My faith today is stronger than it has ever been. I see God everywhere - including inside my own soul.

So, I find myself considering how to articulate and define my spiritual practice. And I wonder if I need to add something more concrete and recognizable, or if what I have is enough. I'm not sure I have the answers to those things right now. But all I know to do to find them is to keep practicing, because I know I'm far from perfect.


  1. I know "namaste" has many meanings, but isn't one of them, "I greet the God within you"? I've always liked that. xo

  2. I like that too - and that idea has become ever more important to me lately. Namaste to you!

  3. I love this. I believe, so firmly, that our lives can be infused with so much more beauty when we make a few small shifts of the kind you list here.
    Lovely. Lovely.

  4. I wonder... do you need to define and articulate it? What if you can't, what if your version of spirituality is indefinable, and there are no words for it? Doesn't it still hold just as much (possibly even more!) merit, credence, meaning ~ ? Do others need to understand it, does it need to pass a test of any sort or be able to be explained, in order to have value, just as it is?
    ...if the need you feel to 'add something more concrete and recognizable' is for the sake of it to be recognized by someone *else* ~ then, I'd say ~~ no, of *course* not~! Of course it is just fine and beautiful and perfect, just as it is~!
    ...and if you feel that need to add something more concrete and recognizable, for your *own* sake, then ...well, your spirituality is *still* just fine and beautiful and perfect, as it is~~ and, I'd say, search away, for that 'missing piece'.
    ~ ~ and I hope that you find my two cents lovingly helpful. :)

  5. I've been thinking...have you read Devotion by Dani Shapiro yet? I think you'd like it...

  6. I'm 100% with you...especially that last paragraph. xoxo