Practice: Do I go with one and stick with it, or switch it up? Part I

I am occasionally asked, "how do I figure out which spiritual practices to undertake?" In fact, I had just such a conversation this week with a friend I made at a recent retreat at Shalom Mountain.

The world of practice is pretty divided on this. Some will say, "pick a single realm of spiritual practice that seems to suit you, e.g., Zen, ecstatic dance, contemplative prayer, and stick with it -- forever." Others might say, "try them all! Stay with whichever ones you like most!"

Both perspectives have great value. However, on the one hand, most deep spiritual practices don't yield their rewards on the first date. On the other hand, merely liking a practice doesn't necessarily mean it should be included in your regular practice. 

After a few decades of living in a stew of spiritual practice from across spiritual traditions, my perspective is a bit complicated. First, I believe that we are always practicing -- the primary question being "what am I practicing now?" If I'm mindlessly driving down the road, then I'm practicing mindless driving. If I'm lost in addictive drinking, then I'm practicing addictive drinking. If I'm sitting on a zafu practicing zazen, then I'm practicing zazen. 

The next question is, "am I conscious of my practice in this moment?" This is a subtle question. It is one thing to know that I'm driving mindlessly down the road. It is another thing to be aware of it as practice, and to notice the nature of the practice. This is, in my view, key. In seeing all that we do as practice and then noticing the nature of each practice, we move into the realm of a practitioner who can make conscious choices about practice. 

What do I mean by "noticing the nature of each practice"? I mean having an awareness of the texture, or flavor, or impact that the practice has on the varied aspects of my Being. What is the impact on my body? My mind? My heart? My subtle body? Is there pleasure arising from the practice and, if so, what is the quality of this pleasure? What is the aftertaste of the practice? Does the practice instill me with a closer connection to God, or do I come away from the experience with a sense of loneliness and separation?

You could ask these and many other questions of any activity in which you are engaged (which, as I've noted, can be seen as practice). And as they are asked, and as answers arise in your awareness, your consciousness around your practice will grow and deepen. 

Once this sort of expansion of consciousness around practice comes into your life, you'll be in a much better position to start discerning which practices will suit you best.

My next blog post will get a bit more specific about how to exercise this discernment.

Tagged with .