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

Take-aways from the previous two blog posts:

  • I am always practicing, no matter what I am doing. 
  • The trick, then, is to be conscious that what I am doing is practice, and to inquire into the nature and impact of this practice.
  • Practice is a journey to the truth of who I am. 
  • So, my conscious inquiry about practice, informed by my statement of identity, becomes an inquiry into whether a practice serves to help me to understand and identify with the truth of who I am. 

What kind of practices are most likely to help me understand and identify with the truth of who I am?

Learn how to make the subject into an object

One category of practice increases our capacity to make the subject into an object. Essentially, this category of practice enhances our ability to step ourside our current perspective or experience, in which we are the subject, and look back at that perspective or experience from the outside, making it the object of our perception. 

The list of practices in this category is too long for a blog post. It would include many types of meditation (like zazen, of the Zen tradition), chanting, journaling, and ecstatic dance. All these practices and others can help us to become witnesses to our own consciousness. Even educational strategies seemingly unrelated to spiritual practice fall in this category, such as metacognitive strategies, can be seen as being in this general category of practice.

Consciously "grow up" your world view

As researchers and philosophers from Claire Graves to Beck & Cowan to Ken Wilber to Marc Gafni have pointed out, a major aspect of the maturation of a human's consciousness is the breadth of inclusion in a person's notion of "I" or "we". In other words, the broader the circle of inclusion, the more adult the person (or group of people, for that matter).

In this framing of adulthood, a young person or group identifies with and is concerned about a small group of people -- perhaps as small as family or family-plus-close-friends. A more mature person or group identifies with and is concerned about a larger group of people -- perhaps fellow members of one's race, or fellow citizens of one's state or nation, or fellow members of a particular faith. An even more mature person or group identifies with and is concerned about all of humanity, or perhaps all living creatures. And the circles of inclusion keep going outward from there.

So, a practice in this category will help me to broaden my circle of inclusion and compassion. Again, the number of practices in this category is quite large, but would include the Buddhist practices of tonglen and metta. Both of these practices, and many others, call the practitioner to step out of his/her current notion of who is "in" and who is "out" into a broader reach of identification and compassion. 

Develop your capacity to shift perspectives

In a sense, the ability to shift perspective overlaps a great deal with the first two categories of practice I've discussed here. Both making the subject into object and expanding your circle of identity and care often involve the capacity to shift perspectives. It is, however, such an important skill that I separate it out here. We simply must be able see multiple perspectives, both in the world in which we live and our inner worlds.

Among the most powerful categories of such practices is that suggested parts theories, a group of theories that include Assagioli's subpersonalities, Hal and Sidra Stone's voice dialogue, and Genpo Roshi's Big Mind. All of these approaches point to the possibility that I can be increasingly conscious of myriad "voices" within myself and within others, voices which, when unrecognized, can take the steering wheel of my life and control my choices outside of my conscious awareness. Not surprisingly, a greater awareness of and compassion for my own subpersonalities or voices leads to a greater awareness of and compassion for others, who, we increasingly realize, also often are controlled by a clamor of voices operating below the radar.

Cast light on your shadow

Another category of practices to consider involve bringing to light aspects of your shadow. There are multiple approaches to shadow, from Carl Jung to Marc Gafni, and all point to the fact that that there is much about ourselves with which we do not identify, aspects of self that seem alien to us. 

Bringing these dimensions to light is particularly tricky because, by definition, shadow is outside of my conscious awareness. Shadow practices, like the 3-2-1-0 practice developed and refined by Ken Wilber, Diane Hamilton, and Marc Gafni, are profoundly helpful in casting light on these previously unseen parts of ourselves. In Gafni's Unique Self model, in which shadow is defined as "your unlived life, your unlived unique self which being unlived acts out and demands attention through acting out," casting light on my shadow not only will help me to understand the psychological and spiritual forces that have been moving me to action, but also will help me to see what aspects of my life that are uniquely mine to live are being unlived.

 

This certainly is not a comprehensive list of considerations that are useful in selecting spiritual practices to address your unique spiritual needs. However, it seems to me, this Sunday morning, to be a good start.