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Archive for December, 2009

Related to the topic of guilt for not engaging fully in spiritual practice is the sense of struggle we sometimes have with practice itself. Especially if our goal is daily practice, it can be hard to live up to our own commitments and expectations. And in fact, it can be disappointing when we do live up to them and see little or no results.

My experience with this sort of difficultly, and my conversations with others who have been struggling, has shown me that it often arises from a fundamental flaw in the way we approach the practice. I call it “Checklist Spirituality.”

Let’s say you make a commitment to yourself (or your teacher, if you have one) to engage in a specific set of practices every day. So you make yourself a list. I’m going to say these prayers, sit in meditation for this long, and do visualization X and energy work Y. Sounds doable, right? And for a while, it is. For a while, it’s more than doable – it’s refreshing! It’s delicious! It’s rewarding! “Oh,” you think to yourself, “it feels so GOOD to do this work. I can really tell how much more centered I am. I can really feel myself engaging with life in a different way!”

After a while, though, this feeling of newness wanes. It becomes harder to live up to our commitment. We start to grow complacent. If we’re able to be disciplined, we might still work through our checklist, but it’s become a chore. It’s become a bore!

The problem here is that we’ve disengaged. Instead of really working our practice, we’ve turned it into another to-do list. Did I sit? Check. Say my prayers? Check. Perform a cleansing? Check. Well, guess what. Check marks do not a spiritual practice make.

What are the fundamental practices in your spiritual tradition? What are the basic principles that you are called to return to? If you can identify what those fundamental practices are, I can give you a clue about making them more effective: Even if you’ve done these things a million times, there is still more to be learned from them! The basic practices ARE the advanced practices. They each have layers of influence and meaning. They can each touch you on deeper and deeper levels, if you’ll allow them to.

And that is the key word: Allow.

Magic is not something we do. It is something we allow to move through us. It is something we are.

Yes: there are things we must do to make way for that to happen.
Yes: there are things we must study, exercises we must do, training we must engage in.
Yes: we must learn to hone our will, become present, move from stillness.

But mostly we need to get out of our own way. Our most basic practices, which we return to again and again, are designed to bring all of our parts together towards the same purpose (our True Will, the Work of this God), remove internal and external obstacles, remind us that we are connected to everything, and get us to a place – in body, heart, mind, and spirit – from which we can do what we need to do. The main thing to remember is to show up. If you can’t do your work, just take one step. Sit down, be quiet, start breathing. See what happens.

What’s likely to happen? Magic will move through you. Give it time – you will feel a shift. You will know what needs to be done.

And if you don’t, look to your tradition and I’ll bet you find some answers. Are you feeling flighty, unfocused, frazzled, or drained? That’s what grounding is for. Are you feeling lost or confused? That’s what divination is for. There are reasons for each little rite, every cleansing, every Tarot spread, every exercise, every protection charm, every enchantment, every healing, every spell. Which one will help you now? Engage with it. Allow it to change you.

This is one of the reasons we go through all of our study, do all of our exercises, and do things like set altars and make offerings. Each of these things gives us a chance to open up and shift our consciousness towards something closer to our ideal. Seeing your altar as you walk by it is an opportunity to remember your practice and your relationship with your Gods. Going through the grounding meditation over and over again sets up a mental pathway so that you can access that power when you need it to feel more calm, focused, or strong. We form these connections which lie dormant, waiting for us to remember that we have them at our disposal.

In this moment, we can open up. In this moment, we can shift. In this moment, we can show up to our practice and let the practice do us.

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