3 Practices That Can Enhance Any Spiritual Journey
There is certainly value in doing a spiritual practice regularly, every day, even when you really don't want to.
This is especially true for meditation. You see, in meditation practice the not wanting to do it is as much grist for the mill of meditation as wanting to do it. All of these thoughts are something you can play with, in your mind, that’s very exquisite. But it's a delicate balance that needs to transpire inside oneself. You need to recognize that if you use too much of a negative tone around your practice—too much resistance—that you may have to take a break from it for a while, before you can come back later on with a fresh perspective.
My suggestion is that you set aside a regular time each day for your practice. You say, in effect, "I’m spending so much time brushing my teeth. I’m spending so much time going to the toilet. I’m spending so much time feeding my body. I am spending so much time feeding my spirit, awakening into my soul. This is what I’m doing." This is a time that is sacred. It’s not a time when the telephone can ring; it’s not a time when people can take your attention away. It’s a time when you respect your practice enough to simply say to the people around you, "This is my practice time."
Study, in this sense, is vibrating with information until you become one with it.
So, you need to be disciplined, but not too violent. Don’t get ahead of yourself. And if you feel it’s too rigid, stop for a while and try other approaches. Keep allowing the eclecticism to go until you feel pulled genuinely into a deeper process. Keeping that in mind, here are three of my favorite fundamental spiritual practices to throw into your mix:
1. Do satipatthana vipassana meditation.
Satipatthana vipassana is very simple: You just follow the rising and falling of your stomach as you breathe. Breathe in: rising. Breathe out: falling. Take 15 minutes every morning and evening, sit down, and just watch your stomach go up and down. Those are your only instructions. For those 15 minutes, do nothing else. Any other thought that comes into your head, let it go by. All you have to do is watch, and repeat this rotating set of words in your head: rising, falling. Rising, falling.
If you hear a noise around you, you can note it if you want—and then return to your rising, falling. The window rattles. Take a note: window, rattles. Rising, falling. Rising, falling. You just keep coming back to that place. In doing so, you’re slowly foiling the mind’s ability to take you on trips all the time. And the calmer and more centered you can then become.
2. Try hatha yoga.
Hatha yoga stretches the body, and when it's done correctly, it also sensitizes you to a whole lot of nerves that you can hear deeply within. You start to hear them and work with them; they’re like radio receivers.
In hatha, each of the asanas is like a mudra—they are statements. For example, when you go into a twist, you sit up straight and turn your body. You get into it as well as you can, and then you make the statement, you center perfectly. You are in this position as if you were born this way. You are a piece of sculpture; you’ve never been any other way but this. The minute you’ve centered in that place, you’re finished with that particular statement. As you get more conscious, you will begin to feel how each of the 84 asanas is a different kind of a statement.
3. Study the classics.
It’s always beneficial to our own spiritual journey to read one of the writings of somebody else who's been there: Ramakrishna, or Buddha, for example. I recommend reading straight from the source. Read the New Testament; read the words of Jesus. Read the Vedas, the Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita.
Don’t read a lot, though. In the Hindu system, study is done one little line at a time. I’ve got a few holy books around me, sitting on my table. I pick any one, like the I Ching or the Tao or whatever it happens to be, open it, look at the first line that hits my eye, read the line, close the book, put it away, and that’s my study for the day. I go in that line, and around it, and over it, and through it, and I associate it to everything in my life. I just do it until I’ve done that line. Until I have become one with that line. That’s study. Study is not collecting information. Study, in this sense, is vibrating with information until you become one with it.
So, I hope you can find a regular time for your practice, whatever it may be. Not so much time that you end up feeling put upon by it. It should be a time when you’re reasonably fresh and clear. Have one time each day when you can slow down and allow yourself to process what’s been going on in your life from a spiritual perspective.
Ram Dass has more wisdom to share. Check out his perspective on a spiritual relationship here. And learn more about starting a meditation practice with mbg's class with renowned teacher Light Watkins.