“We learn and grow and are transformed
not so much by what we do
but by why and how we do it.”
Developing a Daily Practice
Many people I have worked with express a yearning to engage in a spiritual practice of some sort, a regular activity that will help them grow into their deepest purpose. At the same time, many express a belief that they do not have the time, the discipline, or the worthiness to begin. What they often overlook is that they have already begun! The yearning itself is an awakening, the beginning of their journey. Acknowledging the yearning to themselves and others is another important step. A daily practice that honors this yearning each day can provide a steady and nourishing anchor that allows the awakening to grow and deepen over time. When beginning a new spiritual practice, allow yourself to take small steps so you can savor the process.
What do I mean by a practice? A spiritual or growth-fostering practice includes three elements: intention, regular repetition, and presence. It is the intentional development of a habit through regular repetition, while bringing ourselves to each repetition with freshness and an open-heart. There are many intentional habits or rituals we have already developed, such as brushing our teeth, making lunch, or driving a car. However, in these examples, we tend to be present only as we learn how to do these activities. As the activity becomes habitual, we are able to do them without much attention at all. It is the element of presence, the fresh attention of mindfulness, which makes an intentional practice into a growth-fostering or spiritual practice.
Some common forms of practice include prayer, meditation, dietary practices, chanting, yoga, tai chi, dance, social action, artistic endeavors, and communing with nature. Communities of worship provide opportunities to practice with others regularly. The variety of practices suggests that there are many roads to growth and the deeper expression of purpose. In developing your daily practice, pay attention to what you feel drawn to do. You may want to revisit a practice learned in childhood – bringing a fresh meaning and intention to the practice. You may also be drawn to try new practices you have had little exposure to.
The intention we set as we enter our practice each time is a powerful guiding light. What is important for you to develop in yourself, and in your life? What are you seeking? Our intention can be held in our hearts, envisioned in our minds, or spoken as an affirmation (see the article on Affirmations). Intention is also something we become more aware of as we look within…we discover the intentions that are already motivating us that we were perhaps unaware of. So in our practice, we both attend to our intentions through observation, and intentionally hold certain intentions in order to strengthen them.
One of my early meditation teachers often spoke of the significance of intention. Through committed meditation over many years, he suggested, there is the potential of becoming an enlightened being, or a monster, depending on the intention or ideal that we hold in our hearts.
How often? Regularly! I suggest a daily repetition because so much of our lives are structured around a 24-hour cycle. Of course, there are many practices that would be difficult to make daily ones. If one attends a community of worship as a practice, this is more likely to be once or twice a week than every day. Still, finding a way to honor our deepest intentions each day can have a life-altering impact! Linking your practice to another ritual that is already well established can help, such as meals, waking up, driving to work, going to bed, etc. Here are a couple suggestions for simple and powerful practices that can be done at least daily:
- Pause before eating to get in touch with your gratitude…for life, nourishment, family…for whatever you feel grateful.
- Write down one affirmation that expresses your deepest intentions, and read it aloud every morning upon waking. Quietly contemplate your affirmation/intention for a few minutes after reciting it.
Being wholly present and fresh for each repetition is perhaps the most important, and most challenging, aspect of an ongoing growth or spiritual practice. Mindfulness practices, like mindfulness meditation, are designed to uncover the ways we move away from the present, and to strengthen the capacity to be in the moment without judgment or attachment. Once we can recognize and return to moments of mindfulness, we can bring them to any repeated activity and turn it into a spiritual practice: mindfully brushing our teeth; mindful driving; mindful eating.
Finally, as you contemplate your spiritual practice, remember to start small. The desire or yearning to develop, or renew, a spiritual practice is the seed within you that has already awakened. Now you can find a way to gently water it each day, a little at a time. We do not need to sit in meditation, or kneel in prayer, or do yoga for an hour every day to have a spiritual practice. Many do, but you will find that they began with a yearning too, and then a few moments of practice here and there, and eventually developed a more regular and sustained pattern of practice over time. Taking a class or going on a retreat is very helpful in deepening and supporting your practice, but cannot replace the process of remembering and honoring your deepest aspirations, in whatever form, in your everyday life. Better to spend one moment in mindful presence while doing a mundane task, than to spend hours in repetition of practices without being awake to the present.
“We need to remember that where we are going is here,
that any practice is simply a means to open our heart to what is in front of us.
Where we already are is the path and the goal.”
~ Action On Purpose Challenge ~
1 –Create a daily practice that you feel honors a valued intention or spiritual ideal. Start small; you can always expand it if you want to later. Describe your practice in writing on an index card or in your journal.
2 – Make a commitment to repeat this practice daily for a predetermined period of time. I suggest 1-3 months at minimum.
3 – Link the practice to a time of day or activity that you do every day, to help ensure your regularity.
4 – Share your commitment with a trusted friend or loved one, and ask for their support. You are welcome to email your practice description to me…I would be honored!