Rumi said, “The breeze at dawn has no secrets to tell you. Don’t go back to sleep.” Spiritual growth occurs through intentional spiritual practices. These practices enable a process greater than you to transform you. You do not necessarily grow because of your practice, but neither do you grow unless you practice. This can be difficult to grasp, for we live in a culture of doing rather than a culture of allowing. Through your growth, fear gradually fades as you experience being a channel of love. The benefits of a spiritual practice are several:
- Cultivating a vital experience of Reality through the practice of presence
- Cultivating awe and wonder
- Fostering hope and faith
- Transforming anger into compassion and forgiveness
- Promoting serenity
- Promoting connectedness/interconnectedness
- Disidentifying with the ego; retrieving Awareness from its immersion in thought
- Cultivating rational intuition
- Promoting positivity and gratitude
- Developing virtue
- Reducing vulnerability to stress
- Enhancing overall well-being
- Reducing the risk of readdicting
Spiritual practices vary greatly. They include:
- The practice of stillness and presence through prayer, meditation, yoga, tai chi, and qigong
- Contemplation on topics such as the sacredness of Life and on your blessings
- Spiritual reading
- Rituals; examples include daily affirmations and commitments to a virtuous life
- Loving service
- Practicing mindfulness to awaken spiritual vision
Together, these practices transform motivation from fear to love. They cultivate emotional wisdom so you can respond lovingly and intelligently rather than react impulsively. They cultivate virtue, which enhances well-being. They foster presence, rescuing Awareness from thought. This enhances the freshness, wonder, and awe of existence, enhancing vitality. These practices also cultivate wisdom. Finally, they promote self-realization through loving service to others.
Many practices share the common theme of taking you out of your mind and putting you into oneness. There is one destination with many paths. As Symmachus once said, “Everyone has his custom, his religion. One cannot reach so great a secret by one way alone.”
Spiritual awakening starts with a change in experience, or perception. The transformation involves a shift of awareness from the incessant flow of thoughts to an awareness of Reality before thought. You move from a self-absorbed relationship with your mind to a direct, open relationship with the Now.
Spiritual growth and vitality start with the practice of stillness. In stillness, the busy mind quiets. The thought clouds clear away, revealing the stars of Awareness. Practices that still the mind include meditation, yoga, tai chi, and contemplation, including contemplative prayer.
Meditation, while it may sound complex, is really a very simple practice, although it’s as difficult as it’s simple. When you meditate, you sit still and alert. You pay attention to what is going on right now. You consciously, gently, and persistently pull Awareness out of its immersion in thought so that Awareness can experience the Now.
Non-religious contemplation is very similar to contemplative prayer, with the difference being that you are not imagining an answer from a higher being. As in all contemplation, you focus your attention on an important concern, such as, “What would make my life more meaningful?” You ask, and then listen, in stillness and silence, for the answer to come.
In all contemplative prayer, you return your awareness over and over again back to the one thought that is your question. You are like the person before dawn, sitting in the darkness, waiting for the sun to rise. The answers may come gradually, a piece at a time, in many forms, over a lifetime. Often, the answers start out as general principles that become more detailed and specific over time. For many, the answers change over time with the accumulation of knowledge, experience, awareness, and wisdom.
This process is mysterious. Truth does not necessarily come by asking, yet does not come unless you ask. Similarly, the transformation of recovery may not come from your recovery work, yet only comes to those who do the work of recovery. Your intentional efforts combined with allowance create the conditions for insight and transformation to occur. This is the essence of spiritual practice.
Benefits from meditation, prayer, and contemplation come from regular, consistent practice over a lifetime. Start with 5-10 minutes twice a day, when you first get up and before you go to sleep. Some say that if you are too busy, up your meditation time. There is wisdom in this. Busyness is a sign you must slow down, as it is harmful to your well-being. If you are too busy to be still, you are too busy. While it’s good to be active, maintain a balance between doing and being. Making time for a daily spiritual practice is essential, like eating, sleeping, and bathing. Your efforts need to be intentional, gentle, persistent, and disciplined to experience positive results. In this way, make silence and stillness a regular part of your daily routine.
When you still your mind, you contact Reality, part of which includes the reality of the heart. You see both outside and inside. Looking inside, you awaken to the truth of the heart and experience the important essence of life—love. It is in the “silent chambers of the soul” that you resolve life’s dilemmas. In stillness, as part of your recovery, you recover from a broken sense of self. In stillness, you recover wholeness, your true nature. You realize you already are what you were looking for all along by addicting.
Dedicating yourself to a spiritual practice is a profound act of self-love. Give yourself the gifts of clarity, wholeness, and freedom. Break free of your thinking mind. You can then reflect on the negative, self-defeating thoughts that arise, let them go, and create a space within yourself for more positive, realistic thoughts to arise. In stillness, positivity replaces negativity as you experience the abundance of the Present.
Each of us moves in and out of spiritual awareness. If the sacred suddenly seems far from you, notice who moved and return to the Present. It is in your continuous returning to the Now that you develop and maintain your spirituality.
Maintenance of your spiritual fitness through spiritual practice is a key to recovery, as your spirituality is your first defense against relapsing. For many, their abstinence is contingent upon their spiritual condition. A rich inner life means you need less from the outside, including the objects of addiction, to feel complete.
- Spiritual growth requires a spiritual practice. Spiritual practices create the conditions for insight and transformation to occur.
- One component of a spiritual practice is silence and stillness in order to cultivate the direct experience of Reality.
- Select and schedule two to three spiritual practices. Practice them daily with gentle, firm, disciplined effort. Be patient. Combine intention with allowance and surrender to the process of transformation.
Implementing a spiritual act is an intentional act. It is putting your willingness to be transformed into daily action. To implement a spiritual practice:
- Select two to three practices from the list above.
- Make time for silence, solitude, and stillness; 5-10 minutes twice a day is a good start.
- Develop a routine. Schedule your spiritual practices.
- Make your practice a priority. Don’t let life get in the way.
Make your spiritual practice a daily life discipline. Practice with patience and gentle persistence. Don’t force the results. Allow the transformative process to happen. Let yourself become a channel of love.
More on Spiritual Practices
A common meditative technique is to concentrate on just one aspect of this moment. This can be the sensation of your breath going in and out of your nostrils. People call concentrating on just one aspect of the Now, such as your breath, “concentrative meditation.” As your busy mind repeatedly immerses Awareness back into thought, you gently and persistently return Awareness back to the breath, or some other aspect of the Now. This might be sights, sounds, smells, tastes, or physical sensations. Some meditators practice rotating their attention from seeing, to hearing, to smelling, to tasting, and to feeling.
In more advanced states, you develop the ability to experience your thoughts without becoming lost in them. When you open the focus of Awareness to all your experiences, you move from concentrative meditation to “mindfulness meditation.” You are “mindful” of all aspects of your experience, including your thoughts.
In prayer, you can either pray with words, or engage in silent, contemplative prayer. The intent of prayer is to connect with a transcendent life force, which some call God. There are three types of prayer: “Help,” “Thanks,” and “Wow.”
When asking for help, don’t ask for a particular outcome. Ask for strength, faith, hope, guidance, peace, insight, wisdom, and acceptance.
When you say, “Thanks,” you express gratitude for the gift of your life and for your many blessings.
When you say, “Wow,” you experience the wonder, the sacredness, and the awe of existence.
With word prayers, focus on the meaning of the words. Go beyond the words to experience the truth to which they point. In contemplative prayer, you ask a question or silently repeat a word or phrase. A question might be, “What does Life need from me?” Then listen carefully for the silent answer. As Father Thomas Keating says, “God speaks to us in silence. Everything else is a bad translation.” In contemplation, you ask. When you go into the stillness of contemplative prayer, you listen for the answers. In repeating a mantra, such as “one” or “surrender,” you focus on the meaning of the word and then listen for the wordless response.
Whether your spiritual practice involves meditation, prayer, a combination of both, or some other practice of silence and stillness that connects you to the wordless Now, be sure to practice daily. Spiritual growth requires a regular spiritual practice. Make it a priority and schedule it into your daily routine. As with your recovery practices, do not let life get in the way of your spiritual practice.
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