"Under an Olive Tree"
- my meditation garden -
Over the past few weeks I have been watching the NBA final playoff games on TV. I am always amazed at the amount of dexterity, speed and agility demonstrated by some very tall and rather large men in the fast-moving game of basketball. I also realize that one doesn't become an astounding athlete without constant hours of intense practice.
The other day they showed one of the players during one of his daily practices - he was practicing handling the ball, practicing shooting baskets, apparently it went on for hours, and he does this every single day. It all looked pretty boring and was certainly extremely demanding; yet without this kind of regular discipline, that player could never possibly be the world-renowned athlete he is today.
A I watched that "basketball practice" on TV the other day, I thought how very interesting it is that the various spiritual disciplines are also called "practices" - religious practices, spiritual practices like a period of daily meditation, intentional silence, regular prayer, perhaps a period of "fasting," maybe going to a church or temple and attending services.
Many people think of a spiritual practice as an "end in itself." The goal of meditating is to meditate well, to limit distractions, be mindfully aware of the moment, bring yourself to the point of deep awareness of interconnectedness. Some people meditate for a period of time when they get up in the morning, or they set aside a designated hour to pray, or to go to church; but then, when it's over, it's over. The spiritual quota has been met for the day and it's on to real life.
In fact, I know plenty of people (I happen to be one of them) who from time to time walk away from a meditation mat or leave the doors of a church and live lives that are quite inconsistent with what they have just "practiced." It's rather easy (if not inconsistent) to sit quietly in silence mindfully aware of our interconnectedness and yet on the way to work, to think nothing of cutting off another driver with an angry shake of the fist.
But as the name implies, spiritual "practices" are indeed "practice." They are times in which we work at honing our spiritual skills, heighten awareness of the Holy, develop our ability to be mindfully aware, so that when we go out into the everyday routine of our life we can put it all into practice.
A Spiritual discipline is never an "end in itself"- it is always a designated time to "practice" for living every hour of every day.
I am reminded of a Hindu wisdom saying:
Meditation is not what you do in the morning, that's the practice.
Meditation is the daily result of the practice.
I think I will go out and sit in my garden in silence before it gets too hot outside, spending some time "practicing meditation." The proof of whether or not I am doing this correctly is not in how clear and uncluttered my mind will be, or how well I can control my breath and avoid distraction. The real proof of whether or not I am meditating properly will be demonstrated by the way in which I treat the cashier when I go to the market later on today.