If I had to point to one practice that’s most fundamental to my own spiritual well being, I would have to say: Sleep. For decades I treated sleep as the uninvited guest crashing my party of life, readily ignored, rarely appreciated. Embracing sleep as a spiritual practice was probably the second most transformative experience of my life. More about that in a moment.
During a Second Hour class in January, a number of you accepted the invitation to write, share in small groups, re-write, and present to the whole group your personal spiritual aspirations. In less than an hour, each participant walked away with a set of written priorities intended to guide daily life and help inform what to practice. To make the practice manageable, the “homework” was to focus on one or two aspirations, select an appropriate daily practice, and observe what would happen during the following two weeks. If you participated in the class, I’d love to hear from you about your experiment.
To everyone else: How is it with your daily practice? What would it take to focus on a few basic aspirations each day? Where would you want to start?
There is no one size fits all. What matters is that it works for you – in terms of impact and daily routine. Perhaps it is as simple as focusing on your sleep. My experience has been that as long as I get sufficient sleep, most of what ends up on my daily plate seems manageable. It takes the edge off the challenges. Helps fear slide to curiosity. Welcomes creativity. And nudges me from irritation and indifference to patience and compassion.
Here are a few other practices that have made a difference: 1) Before crawling out of bed to notice my body for a few moments and to allow my heart and mind to say “yes” to this new day. And to try on a smile and trust that this day will be good if I do what I can and let others do what they can.
2) As I prepare and eat breakfast, pause and pay attention to the way the food and drink look and feel, noticing the room I am in, noticing the world outside and how that keeps changing. Being grateful for what is.
3) Listen to podcasts by meditation teachers and others who tell stories about the daily questions of life and put them in a larger context of meaning. Now washing dishes, folding laundry, commuting to work, running on the treadmill have a new way to help ground me and open my heart.
4) Allow my mind to roam and name what I am thankful for. It rarely fails to put the rest of life in perspective. Sure seems true that we are happy when we are grateful and don’t have to wait to be grateful until we are happy. So accessible, whenever, wherever. So worth it. Not sure why I sometimes let the practice drift.
5) And then there is sitting quietly, breathing, doing a body scan, creating space for a “warm-up” of the physical sensations that offer cues about what’s going on within. I keep being surprised by how much compassion can manifest as a sensation in the body. And it seems to go both ways: noticing the sensation deepens the compassion just like opening to deeper compassion makes the sensation more noticeable.
There are other practices that I found valuable, but the “canary” of my spiritual life appears to be whether I make time to read a book. The days I sit and read tend to feel as grounded as any. Less because of what I read. Reading is just the indicator for some larger balance in my life. So what’s the canary of your spiritual life? A walk in the woods? Making music? A prayer of gratitude? A good night’s sleep?
May we each find our path on this spiritual journey we share.
PS: Thank you, by the way, for making possible what I consider to be my most transformative experience so far – the 10-day Vipassana course I got to take during my sabbatical and the sitting practice that has shaped my life since. It has connected my inner life to my outer life in exciting new ways. And in the words of Pico Iyer: “We all know our outer lives are only as good as our inner lives.”