Having a Spiritual Practice

Over and over in the "life talks" I offer I stress the importance of having a daily spiritual practice.

The only way, especially in our culture, that one can gain the tools for growth psychologically and spiritually is to take the time to do so.

Questions and conversations with several people have convinced me that my assumption that everyone knows what is involved in having such a practice is not correct.

So here, in brief, are some guidelines for having such a practice. At the present time, I see four things to be involved.

The first thing required is the belief that the primary purpose of life is emotional and spiritual growth. After our survival needs are met and we have the luxury of wondering about meaning, we have to decide who we are and why we are here. One of my favorite lines from Carl Jung is, "If you don't decide who you are, the world will tell you." Our culture is more and more focused on entertainment, superficiality and an avoidance of personal responsibility. How can we avoid not being caught up in such?

My assumption is that our spiritual and psychological work is to keep us involved in the process of becoming centers of freedom and love. One key to such growth is to have a daily spiritual practice.

What makes up such a practice? Four things are involved.

First, set aside some time every day to have this practice. Most people find it helpful to do this the first thing in the morning. If you think you don't have time to have a spiritual practice, I promise you that if you make time for it, you will have more time. That is, you will be less stressed and live lighter.

The second thing involved in having a daily practice is learning. This involves growth in knowledge and information about matters of Self and Spirit and can take many forms: reading, listening to talks, being part of a group that is devoted to such growth and so forth.

The third  component in a daily practice is contemplation. This involves asking oneself questions such as: How does what I am learning challenge me? How can I use what I am learning in my relationships? What about this teaching am I most resistant to? Most excited by?

I encourage you, as part of this, to keep a journal. Write what you are learning. Write the questions you are pondering. As you reflect on the day you just lived, what about that day are you most grateful for? Where did you learn something? What challenged you the most? Keeping such a journal is a way to live reflectively.

The fourth component of a daily practice is meditation. There are many different ways to meditate. Meditation is NOT about clearing the mind. Rather, it is about being quiet and calm enough to notice the mind's behavior.

Most people find it helpful to have a regular place to sit to meditate. The regularity of place makes settling down easier after a while. You can begin by assuming a posture where, either sitting on the floor or in a straight back chair, you close your eyes and simply count or notice your breath. Soon you will notice that your mind has strayed from the object of your intention - your breathing in this case. When you notice this, simply bring the focus of your mind gently back to your breathing.

One of my early spiritual teachers said that the key to meditating is patience and persistence. Patience, by the way, is not a personality trait but, rather, a skill. That is another topic for another time.

The object of meditation is the meditation itself. It is not "to get something out of it." It is called a "practice" because we take this practice into the rest of our day's activities as we allow it to aid us in paying attention to everything and everyone as we grow in the capacity to be non-judgmental.

The central truth of and for spiritual practice is "paying attention" and developing the resources to be present to "what is." Central to this spiritual practice is growing in the capacity to be non-judgmental.

One excellent resource to undergird your daily practice would be to go to Richard Rohr's website - www.cac.org - and explore some of the books and CDs that are available there. Rohr's book, "Everything Belongs" is excellent. The CDs with James Finley on "Jesus and Buddha" are also outstanding. You will find several books for daily meditation.

If you have questions about or suggestions for improving the content of this article, please let me know.