We had a conversation in Wellspring today that focused on our occasional resistance to consistent spiritual practice. We talked about feeling as if we “should” engage in our practice regularly. We said we actually felt better when we did, but we all admitted that there were long stretches when we chose not to do it. We considered it might be the winter’s malaise that seems to settle inside us during the long stretch from February to May. We thought perhaps we were lazy or not dedicated. But then a simple question seemed to pop the conversation onto a new level.
“What do you hope your spiritual practice will bring to you?”
And that’s when I thought about my birdseed. You see I recently splurged on seed that was advertised to attract cardinals. And frankly
it was a bit like magic. Within a day, there were literally dozens of cardinals in my yard, at the feeders, waiting in the nearby trees as if in line, chattering at each other as if delighted with this treat. It was all about buying the right seed.
Could choosing a spiritual practice be the same as buying the right seed? I think it’s hard for UUs to come to a spiritual practice with no previous experience or expectations. We arrive at the cafeteria not even sure we are hungry. Yet before us are numerous selections of tried and true practices steeped in traditions other than our own. How and where do we start?
Many of us decide that meditation is not only our choice, but also the apex of practice. With little or no direction we try to sit and quiet the endless chatter in our minds. With frustration and a few failed attempts we walk away.
There are hundreds of practices and teachers for centuries have offered tips and support on the process, the practices and the mindset.
But I still think the first question is, “what do you want from your practice?”
If you want to quiet your mind, then meditation may be a good choice but it can be a long road. Chanting or singing sacred songs may be a better direction, as it gives your mind a focus. If you are an active person than a walking meditation may be a good path for you. Combine walking and chanting and it will be hard for your mind to wander at all.
If you want to get close to the divine, pray five times a day. It almost doesn’t matter what you pray. Choose your childhood prayers or
make up your own. The key is to say and mean each word and commit to
interrupting your day to say your prayers. Before long you will feel as if you are really interrupting your prayers to live your day.
If you want to explore a concept deeply such as forgiveness or mercy, or love or even sorrow, consider the Open Heart Meditation, taught by the Dalai Lama where you explore and study before you meditate.
If you want to read holy texts or poems, consider Lectio Divina, a process of allowing the words to seep deeply into your life and into your being.
If you want to appreciate your life consider thirty days of writing in a gratitude journal. I have a friend who posts her daily gratefulness on Facebook. Now that’s something the sages didn’t know about. Each day she posts, I am drawn to consider my own.
Talking to your spiritual advisor about your desires for your practice is a good place to start. They will be able to offer suggestions and support. I think an important reminder about our practice is that it’s not a competition or an obligation. It’s a tool and a commitment to explore our own spirituality on a deeper level. It
is a gift we give ourselves.
It is a flock of cardinals in your back yard on a snowy day because you bought the right seed.