Spiritual Practice for the Spiritual-But-Not-Religious Seeker

Spiritual Practice for the Spiritual-But-Not-Religious Seeker

Cat pursues spiritual practice by sleeping in the lap of a statue of the BuddhaSpiritual practice is the art of getting to know your spirit. Spirit can include your emotions, character, moods and attitudes. Your motivations, ideals, beliefs, and (or) sense of God.

Read more about basic spiritual practice here.

Spiritual practice expands your consciousness. Consciousness has many dimensions, so many. But we turn our attention towards so few of them! Spiritual practice retrains our attention.

A Spiritual Practice of Attentive Breathing

In The Tree of Yoga, B.K.S. Iyengar says: Don’t confuse Hatha yoga with a passive healing modality like massage. Hatha yoga is active. He means: paying attention is the essence of yoga.

The yoga sutras of Patanjali define yoga as “stilling fluctuations of the mind.” Yet Hatha Yoga Pradipika says it’s all about “stilling the fluctuations of the breath.” Both are accurate, says Iyengar. When you still the breath, you still the mind. You pay attention differently.

Try paying attention to the flow of your breath. To how your lungs feel as they expand. How your torso feels as the expanding lungs touch other tissues. And — how did you never notice this before — the way your legs seem to lengthen too. The breath actually fills your whole body.

Sure, you could get analytical and anatomical about the oxygenated blood filling your arteries. Or the diaphragm moving down and pushing other muscles with it. You might be suddenly curious about these processes.

But you file them away and keep attending to the breath. Because with every breath you feel more, you see more, you know more. You feel wonderful. Filled with quiet wonder.

Limitations of Spiritual Practice Within a Religious Tradition

Some religious traditions will call this wonderful more by the name “God.” The more you pay attention, the more you feel, see, and know God. Some teachers will add: you must refer this “more” to God, must pursue these experiences in service of God. Otherwise, your spiritual practice is selfish. You’re only seeking to know more “you.”

I disagree.

Please, don’t rush to refer these experiences to an object called “God.” The word “God” has meaning in a context. In relation to a theology, social order, philosophy of life, set of ritual practices. If you contextualize your experiences too quickly, you are only getting to know the context.

You may, of course, be trying to learn a context. Through first-hand experience, you better understand a spiritual vocabulary. You cultivate a particular kind of awareness. Bring to life a specific theology and philosophy. Learn new behaviours through ritual repetition. Find your place in a community’s social order. Discover the “you” best suited to the context. It may be an excellent “you.”

In Defence of an Open-Ended Spiritual Practice

But if you are a seeker in search of the “more,” you won’t be satisfied. At some point, you’ll need to be subversive. You’ll look for a spiritual practice, ritual, or philosophy that redirects your attention. So that you can perceive “more.”

This does not mean you are selfish. It may mean you are humble, not ready to claim you know God through personal experience. Or that you don’t define God experientially. Maybe you don’t define God at all, or are skeptical of traditions that claim to.

Maybe your best path to “more” is open-ended…

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