Monday, June 20, 2016

Spiritual Practice

- At the Desert Retreat House -

Last night as I watched Cleveland win the NBA championship, I was especially struck by the amazing dexterity, agility and grace displayed by all those tall and rather large men on the basketball court.  At one point I muted the sound on my TV and it was like watching a basketball ballet, a carefully orchestrated dance in which everyone needed to know exactly where to be and how to move with one another every step of the way.  I also realized that people like the guys I watched yesterday didn’t just happen to become such astounding athletes because they sort of stumbled into it, they were able to perform as they did yesterday because of constant hours of intense practice.

Before last evening’s game I watched a story about the careers of some of the athletes who would be competing for the championship. Most of them first began playing the game of basketball from the time they were little children. Every day of every week over many many, years these guys showed up on a basketball court and practiced their moves, how to handle a ball, how to shoot baskets with pinpoint accuracy, how to play together as a team.  The practice was grueling and demanding but it was precisely because of all that of that disciplined practice that these guys developed the skills they needed to be such accomplished, world-class athletes.

As I watched the game last night I thought about how interesting it is that that almost all the various “religious” traditions throughout the world also talk about spiritual practices that are essential for walking a spiritual path – a period of daily meditation, intentional silence, regular prayer, a disciplined time of study, fasting, maybe attending church regularly or going to a temple.

As I think about it, the problem with engaging in any sort of “spiritual practice” is that this discipline can easily and perhaps unknowingly devolve into being an “end-in-itself.”

People may get up in the morning and quietly meditate with the primary goal of becoming “good meditators,” or they may go to great lengths to say prayers properly or follow the ritual carefully with the goal of “saying prayers the right way.” But then, when the period of prayer or time of mediation is over, it’s out into the real world of everyday life, the spiritual “practice” has been accomplished and the living of everyday real life then begins.

It seems to me that you can have a sense of the harmony of all beings when you meditate, you can pray for peace, read a theology book or go to church and sing about love, and then think nothing of cutting off a driver on the way to school or curse someone who does you wrong at work. It’s often quite easy to disconnect actual “living” from engaging in spiritual practices.

But, as the name implies, a spiritual practice is indeed a practice.

Well-skilled basketball players engage in long, disciplined hours of practice so that they can be ready to go out and play the game, they don’t practice for the sake of practicing.  So it is on a spiritual journey, when any one of us engages in a spiritual practice we are honing skills we need to walk the “way” as we live our ordinary every day lives in our regular routine.

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 certainly have no intention of giving up my daily spiritual practices, but I want to be extra careful that I become aware of what I am practicing for - I am practicing for living my life. The real test of whether or not I am meditating well will show up in how I treat the cashier when I go to the market later on today.

1 comment:

  1. Amen! Awareness, watchfulness, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control are some of the fruits a meditation practice can bear in our daily lives. I have no expectations that anything unusual will occur when I sit for 25 minutes each day. Nonetheless, tasty fruit has been borne in my life by the practice. And I like it! (And I know my family and friends do, too.) Thanks, Paul, for the sharing the wisdom.