Wise Words – Enjoy the Practice

“Still, if you don’t enjoy fishing when you don’t catch a fish, you shouldn’t be a fisherman.”

Andrew Greig

The quote above comes from Andrew Greig’s lovely book about fishing, friendship and poetry, At the Loch of the Green Corrie. Its sentiment applies equally to spiritual practice.

Why do we practice, anyway? What is it we want, what do we hope to gain? I think there are always two aims, and that is what Grieg is pointing to.

As an example, let’s look at one common practice, meditation. When I meditate, I have a primary aim, which is to have an experience. I want to feel something different, or enter a different state of being, or occupy a different sense of self than my normal day-to-day experience. Sometimes I have these experiences and sometimes I don’t.

But I have another aim as well, which is to train my mind. I want to become ever more conscious of the things that arise in awareness and hold them with tenderness. This mind training can happen every time, whether I have the experience I want or not. 

Oddly, it is sometimes hard to pursue both aims because my aim of training my mind can cut against my aim of having a particular experience. As I widen my span of awareness, the things that arise during meditation are often repeating thought loops, old conditioning, fixations, fantasies, regrets, and other unpleasant visitors. These hidden gremlins reveal themselves as I relax the armor that has kept them locked in place. I may resent their intrusion on my expectations, but they have come to teach me something about my mind.

These two aims are present in any practice. I may chant with the hope of altering my state of consciousness. I may walk in the woods to feel serenity. I may create affirmations to shift my thought patterns. I hope for these things, but if they don’t happen, I have to realize there is merit in the practice nonetheless. The second aim is always at work, building long-term capacities that may not register in the moment.

A spiritual practice is a regular, repeated activity performed with the intention of connecting with the Sacred. There is power in the regularity because the routine performs a function. By doing your practice daily, or regularly, you create a vessel that holds and allows a whole range of experiences to pass through it. The more you attend to the routine, the stronger this vessel becomes, and the more likely it is that you will have deeper and more frequent experiences of the Sacred.

To help build a routine that supports your spiritual life, I invite you to consider adopting a mindset with these three intentions each time you enter your practice:

1 – Imbue yourself and your immediate surroundings with a sense of the Sacred. What you are doing matters. Your practice is connected to life, to Spirit and to generations of practitioners who have gone before you. Spend a moment centering yourself in this intention.

2 – Be kind to yourself. Spirituality is as difficult as it is fulfilling. Those of us who embark on this path are gentle warriors doing work for the good of all. We will get it wrong as often as we get it right. The fact that you are here, now, doing this practice is worthy of your highest self-regard.

3 – Enter your practice without expectations of how the session will go. This is a hard one for me. I get quite attached to my attachments! But losing our expectations of specific outcomes can actually open us to subtle experiences we did not know were there.

You could boil these suggestions down to three short statements you can use at the beginning of your practice:

This place is Sacred
I am Sacred
Let me open to the Mystery as she comes and goes

With these intentions, any practice can feel fruitful and enjoyable. As spiritual seekers, we have to treat our practice like fishing: enjoying it for its own sake, even when we don’t catch a big one.

Photo by James Ahlberg on Unsplash

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