This is Part 2! Click here for Part 1!
What spiritual practices am I drawn to?
For inspiration on how to give our spiritual life more structure, it can actually be helpful to adapt some of what religion has learned, as discussed in Part 1. As spirituality can too, religion provides a framework for people to partake in various sacred practices. For example, in Islam this means upholding the practices outlined under the latter Four Pillars of Islam – Salah (prayer), Zakat (almsgiving), Sawm (fasting), and Hajj (pilgrimage); in Buddhism this means maintaining nonviolence and respect for life via Right Speech, Right Action, and Right Livelihood; and in Christianity this means living out the latter Eight of the Ten Commandments and participating in sacraments. In all these cases, it also means observing various holydays/holidays and engaging with religious texts.
Here we face the same dynamics as with profession of faith, where practices of a given religion need not be prescribed to the exclusion of others in theory, but sadly often are in reality. This is especially disappointing because of the rich variety of spiritual practices open to all people, and as a result, many religions and many of us miss out on a more all-encompassing approach to Sacredness.
ENJOYMENT and ABUNDANCE
For instance, prayer and sacraments can be absolutely wonderful methods of worship, opening us in special ways to contact with the Divine. But countless other practices can be too: wanderings/wonderings in Nature, meditation, journaling, movement, play, and more. Additionally, while religious holydays are among the most beautiful we have, we can also infuse that spirit of sacred observance into any occasion. And while scripture makes an art of revealing the Divine, so too do many other forms and works of art – story, music, poetry, essay, and endless other creative crafts. We can and should engage every means for spiritual growth – at least the ones that personally call to us.
For spiritual practices to help us truly transform, it is indeed important that we as individuals feel called to them – and to be called is a Soulful experience of the heart and body with which the Divine has gifted us. Often at the expense of holistic health, most religions have traditionally idealized and overemphasized spiritual practices of discipline and deprivation, claiming that these are the only ways to liberate our Divine natures from the “profane prison” of the Earthy world. In the process – while most cultures have become more affirming of emotionality, sensuality, and Earthly Nature – religions have sometimes alienated people who see the value in nurturing the Divinity in the heart, the body, and the wild world. But all of us, even religions, can reclaim sensuous spirituality.
We can fall in Divine love with people and the world. We can see the face of the Divine in our and others’ laughter and tears, passion and pleasure. We can see Divine handiwork in creativity and beauty, rest and romance and sexuality, food and fun, leisure and little luxuries. This world was made delightful and delicious, we are meant to enjoy it!
ETHICS and ASCETICISM
And we are also meant to care for this world. While we need to enjoy the goodness all around us, we also need to protect it for current and future generations to enjoy too. This is actually where the wisdom in traditional religious ascetic practices can serve us now more than ever.
While not everyone needs to consider regularly fasting from all food, we each need to consider fasting from resource-depleting activities. These may indeed include fasting from consumption of energy-intensive food, as well as overexposure to screens and media, and unnecessary fuel, electricity, chemical, drug, disposables, and packaging use. We need to ensure our speech, actions, and livelihoods are sustainable and just, supporting those most in need and minimizing even inadvertent violence against other people, beings, and the Earth. We need to go on pilgrimages into wild places in Nature and hurting places in our society, and to hold prayerfulness and reverence toward all Creation, learning, loving, and sharing what we have.
The more we practice living this way – while also remembering to savor our world – the more we feel a profound, irreplaceable spiritual fulfillment.
CALENDARING and SACRED SPACE
With all these practices above, whether traditional or not, the more of a rhythm we can hold over time, the more we’ll feel the transformation. Though we all need to allow for spontaneity in our lives – especially when it comes to sensuous spirituality – it’s helpful in most cases to plan practices regularly and in advance. We’re so much more likely to show up to our spirituality when we commit it to our schedule: a daily time for journaling, a weekly time for a prayer-walk, a monthly prayer-hike, an annual celebration.
This is how we develop the true consistency we need to flourish. And if something doesn't seem to stick, don't get discouraged – try different things until you find your most natural rhythm.
In addition, it's helpful to consider ahead of time what kind of Sacred space will be most conducive to being present in your practices. Most practices can be done in a wide variety of physical environments – home, outdoors, a studio or office, or any other place of worship; consider which might be best for you and, again, feel free to try things out.
Don't put too much pressure on yourself to try to "maximize" Sacredness – Sacredness is already an abundant resource, and we mostly attune to it rather than create it. Focus instead on minimizing distraction. It can also be helpful to keep at least one object in your field of awareness that acts as a touchstone, bringing your wandering mind back to presence: a candle, a set of beads, a poem or scripture passage, anything!
So in summary, how can we develop more consistency in our spirituality?
First off, there’s no rush or rigidity with any of this! If you’re overwhelmed, I recommend taking it piece by piece or doing it in any order that works for you.
If you do want to do more of this in one fell swoop, I highly recommend setting aside a half-day or day for your own personal spiritual consistency retreat.
If you want more support, this is exactly the kind of thing I accompany people through as a spiritual guide.
You can start by reflecting:
In my experience already, in what situations and activities have I felt most connected to life and to the Divine?
What about special life events, holydays/holidays, and forms or individual works of art?
What kinds of experiences bring me the most enjoyment?
What kinds of personal ethics am I passionate about?
What other practices am I curious about?
Then you can simply do an internet search for articles and books about those things. You could try searching “books about spirituality of ________.”
Even better, talk to a librarian at your local library – they’re information search experts who can actually make this process faster and more fun!
Best of all, think about who you might know already that has some experience in what you’ve reflected on. If you reach out they’ll probably be excited to share resources they know of. That conversation may even be a doorway to more conversations, and then to new clarity and community!
GET A RHYTHM GOING
Once you’re ready to try something, well, go ahead and try it! Hopefully you’re excited enough where you don’t need to calendar it at first, but it’s a good idea to do so anyway to get in the habit. And don't forget to curate your Sacred space a bit, minimize distraction, find a touchstone, and be ready to try a few configurations out until the right one fits.
Now, as we develop these spiritual practices, how do we find others to share in them with us?
Read on to Part 3 on Community!
In the meantime I offer you some final reflection questions:
How have you been working toward spiritual consistency?