Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Spiritual Practices

Today was a beautiful, sunny day with temperatures in the 50's. Unfortunately I was not able to enjoy it until the end of my work day when I walked from my office through the park to the parking garage. Now I am sitting here at my little desk. I just brewed some decaf coffee. I live in the illusion that it will keep me awake until bedtime without actually keeping me up. It's a Zen thing. Don't try to understand it.

Today I had some email exchanges with a friend about the value of spiritual practices. What are spiritual practices? Basically, the common understanding is that they are anything you do to keep your spiritual awareness sharpened the way working out at the gym or jogging keeps your body in shape.

Let me come out of the closet. No, I am not gay. What I am is lazy and undisciplined. I sometimes justify my lack of discipline in regard to spiritual practices by pretending that I don't need them. Today I told my friend that I considered these practices to be like training wheels on a bicycle. You use them when you are learning to ride a bike so that you don't lose your balance and crash. Once you learn how to keep your balance and ride somewhat effortlessly, you no longer need the training wheels. Perhaps arrogantly, I suggested that being spiritual and having a contemplative awareness is something I can do without the training wheels of many spiritual practices. To be more specific, after a lifetime of exposure to many Catholic devotional practices, most of these practices no longer help me to maintain my contemplative balance. What works for me comes so easily that it doesn't seem like a practice at all. For me to get in touch with what Thomas Merton calls "the ground of our being", I simply need to be quiet and be still with nothing to say or do. My prayer is a prayer of being not of doing. Most spiritual practices involve some kind of activity. In a world and a life full of doing, I choose the spiritual practice of not doing anything. Occasionally I will sit on a rock and think. Mostly, though, I just sit.

1 comment:

Littlefair said...

The story of Bodhidharma introducing martial arts to feeble Chinese monks as self-defence and as part of their Chan (Zen) practice is often spoon-fed to martial artists. The story says that the monks became so adept that Shoalin kung fu became widespread throughout China

Sadly, the story is most probably apocryphal but the implication is that through physical exertion and the technical application of our bodies we can train and sharpen our awareness and mind.

Striving for this physical excellence is a process and, as you infer, a spiritual (and to a certain degree an intellectual) tool to stilling the mind and freeing it from the shackles of our chattels and this is why I practice. It's my attempts to find time for inner stillness and calm.

Check out: for an interesting post on mastery through dedication to a chosen art.

The extension of the Bodhidharma story is that he sat still and gazed at a wall for (wait for it) NINE years in meditation! No wonder he needed a little exercise when he finally stood up...