2012-02-13

Stone Soup for the Soul

Yesterday's post was about identifying your "primary" spiritual practice: some activity that you do without judgment, without thought of whether you're doing it "right," without any attachment to any particular outcome -- some activity that allows you just be. It may not have occurred to you that your favorite pastime qualified as a spiritual practice, but if it helps you nonjudgmentally affirm and appreciate reality just as it is, then I'd call it a spiritual practice.

Today's post is about some secondary practices that will help infuse more of your life with more of the nonjudgmental feeling you have when you're engaged in that primary spiritual practice. As I say, we can't make it happen. All we can do is invite it to happen. These secondary practices are ways to issue that invitation. Whatever your main spiritual practice is, these five supplemental practices will provide a foundation for it. Our primary spiritual practices are highly varied: gather a room of 1,000 people and they might have 1,000 different primary spiritual practices. These five supporting practices, I recommend for every single one of us. They will strengthen and extend your spiritual practice and increase "spiritual fitness."
  1. Journal
  2. Read
  3. Be Silent
  4. Go to Group
  5. Be Mindful
1. Journaling. 15 minutes a day.

There are many different approaches to journaling. Here's a simple starter plan. Six days a week, “just keep the pen moving.” Write whatever comes to mind for 15 minutes. Then, on the seventh day, list in your journal five things that week that you are grateful for.

Noticing is the key to spiritual acceptance, and writing down whatever comes to your mind is helpful for noticing what is alive in you. (My further reflections on journaling: click here.)

2. Studying "Scripture" -- with a very wide understanding of "scripture." Again, 15 minutes a day.

Select a text of “wisdom literature.” The scriptures of any of the world’s religions are worthy texts for spiritual study. The Dao De Jing, the Bhagavad Gita, and the Hebrew Bible's book of Psalms are wonderful places to start. Also worthy would be books like Thomas Moore’s Care of the Soul, or reflections like Thomas Merton's, or poems of Rumi, Hafiz, or Kabir, or writings by St. Francis, Teresa of Avila, Julian of Norwich, Rabindranath Tagore, Gandhi, Pema Chodron, Thich Nhat Hanh. Any of these will do nicely. Choose works that resonate with you, and commit to study them a few minutes every day.

Such study gives us concepts to knock out our concepts. Study of a spiritual text enlists your cognitive capacity to assist your spiritual. We live through our days full of ideas and concepts -- and most of them are connected to some form of judgment, some form of not wanting things to be as they are. Wisdom literature helps give us some concepts that can nudge some of those other concepts a little bit into the background more often.

3. Silence. Another 15 minutes a day.

I know this is adding up -- and, gosh, aren't we all too busy anyway? Who has time for stuff that has no purpose? If your quest for peace is urgent, you do. If it isn't, you don't.

Find a posture that will allow you to remain still. Bring attention to your breath. When (not if) your thoughts wander, simply notice where they wandered to and return to your breath. This simple practice begins to cultivate awareness of your own thoughts – and helps you get to know the true person you are that is so much more than just your thoughts.

4. Group practice. Monthly is good. Bi-weekly is better. Go weekly, if you can manage it.

A group that shares in your primary spiritual practice, whatever it may be, is a great boon for deepening in that practice. If walking on the beach is where you have had the best luck experiencing serenity, get together a beach-walking group -- in addition to having some time to walk alone. If it's cooking, get in a cooking club -- only, be sure it's a cooking club that intentionally approaches cooking in a spiritual way.

Just as study helped enlist your cognitive to assist your spiritual, the group experience enlists your social brain on behalf of the spiritual. And that helps invite the spiritual to infuse more of your life. It's so important to know that you're not going it alone!

5. Minduflness. Continuously.

You won't be able to be continuously mindful. Still, try. Resolve to be continuously mindful, and remind yourself of your resolve every time you notice it has waned. Develop the habit of bringing yourself back to the present moment whenever you find that you’re somewhere else.

The mind loves to spend its time going back and forth between two places: the past and future. If you let it, your mind will spend all day alternating between dwelling in the past and projecting into the future. Your life, however, is RIGHT NOW. If you're somewhere else -- the past or the future -- you'll miss it. And most of us, most of the time, are somewhere else.
"Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans." (John Lennon)
In the children's story, "Stone Soup," a traveler comes to town. He claims to have a magical stone that, when cooked in water, will produce nutritious soup. "But it will be even better if we add a little potato," he says. The traveler proceeds to coax the villagers to add cabbage, onions, carrots, etc. In the end, the stone didn't really add anything. Or did it? The stone was the starter without which the other ingredients would not have been brought to the pot. That's pretty potent magic.

Like that traveler. I suggested adding five "secondary, supporting" ingredients -- nice additional enhancements. Yet if you'll keep the pot cooking, over time, these "secondary" practices will make the soup. Your primary practice -- the first ingredient -- may turn out to be the stone. Its magic was that it got you started.

These are not the practices that will make you and me perfect. We're already perfect. They might not change anything at all -- and that's going to be discouraging for that judging mind that wants results.

My intention is for my Judging Mind to just do its job and stop being such a totalitarian tyrant. I can't make that happen, I can only keep inviting it, over and over, day after day, year after year. My faith is that an awakened life is possible. I am called toward that possibility -- not because it's better -- that would be a judgment -- but just because it is who I am. You?

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This is part 7 of 7 of "Spiritual Practice."
Previous: Part 6: "Finding a Spiritual Practice"
Beginning: Part 1: "Primary and Secondary Spiritual Practice"