I like things to be just so. Perfect mood, perfect atmosphere, perfect time and perfect focus. Life, however, has other ideas.
Often I will end up sabotaging a diet or a meditation program because of an off day. We’ve all been there. You succumb to the candy bar and then think What the hell? and grab a slice of pie while you’re at it. Happens in our spiritual practice as well. You miss meditation one morning or a single devotional act and then you feel like since you’ve dropped the ball you have to start all over.
I think I have have a solution to this phenomena. For the purpose of this post, I’m going to call it Slacker Paganism. I have given myself permission to half-ass it. It is profoundly helpful and liberating.
What I have done is create an ideal practice consisting of five components: a prayer, meditation, diary, ritual, and another prayer. On an awesome day I will do all five. Maybe even some of them more than once. I will perform these actions mindfully and deeply, gleaning every bit of spiritual mojo from them. I will suck the marrow from the spiritual bone. But let’s face it, life happens. Some days I’ll be lucky to squeeze one or two in, hurriedly and mindlessly. That is ok.
See, what I have discovered is that having a daily practice is incredibly important to my mental and physical health. I am more positive and have more energy when I have a daily practice. Those days when I float peacefully and calmly from one spiritual task to the next leave me feeling like a million bucks. But the kicker is that when I grab up the printed out prayer, do some vague gesturing as I race through the words and rush out the door, I still feel better. Not quite like Kwan Yin sitting on a cloud eating cream puffs, but still pretty good.
The point isn’t to be perfect and immaculate, but to do the work. The work is what is important. Repetition and consistency will bring style and finesse. Even if I rush through the prayer routine every day, it’s still helping me memorize the prayer that I find meaningful. If I only meditate for two minutes, that’s two minutes more than if I skipped it. If I only manage to squeeze in my ritual every other day, that’s still more than if I give up for skipping it once. Even if my diary only says Barely got prayer in today, I’m still recording my progress.
So yeah, some days my practice is pretty hairy. It’d make any elder in any of our communities shake their head in sorrow and disbelief. But it’s having positive results.
After two weeks of Slacker Paganism I can now perform my daily ritual from memory without referring to my notes. I’ve almost got the prayers down pat. I feel I have more of an incentive to meditate. A few short diary entries don’t make me feel like recording less, but spur me into making time to write more. Maybe I have half-assed it a lot, but I’ve also had a far more active, productive and positive personal practice than I’ve had in years. I’m very pleased.
So if you want a daily practice and have trouble maintaining it, I suggest giving Slacker Paganism a shot:
- Pick five simple spiritual things you can perform that don’t require tools, a lot of room, or anything consumable (incense, candles, etc…). Pouring a libation of water or writing in a spiritual journal/diary are as far as you want to require something outside of your own body.
- On the first day do all five. Notice which are easiest and which require a little more time and effort.
- On good days push yourself to do all five.
- On busy days push yourself to do the easiest for the time and circumstances you find yourself in.
- Half-ass it if you need to. Mumble a prayer/spell/affirmation/etc… as you slurp down coffee and search for your car keys.
- DO NOT FEEL BAD FOR HALF-ASSING IT. (This is the most important thing.)
- If you find extra time during your day, perform one of your daily practices. You can repeat an easy one if that suits the moment.
- Pay attention to how you feel. Notice what has a positive effect on your well-being.
- At the end of the day, don’t feel bad about skipping something. Plan to do it in the morning.
- After a week notice the changes in your practice, mood and energy level.
If you keep this up, aren’t too hard on yourself, and do your best, then you’ll be surprised to find these practices you’ve been rushing through, slacking on and half-assing are beginning to come more naturally to you. Prayers will be ready at your lips. Your body will move through ritual movements without coaxing. Spending a few moments in meditation will come as naturally as reaching for that first cup of coffee.
I wish I had thought of Slacker Paganism years ago. We all want to perform dramatic ritual, and we all want to practice heartfelt devotions, but sometimes we need baby steps. Sometimes you have to half-ass it for awhile before you can fully engage on a regular basis. Rote repetition isn’t a bad thing. It’s a tool that allows us to over time fully absorb our practice without worrying about the technical aspects of it.
The important thing is that you do the work. After that comes how you do it. By doing the work, even if it’s rushed, awkward and flawed, you begin to embody and integrate the practice until it flows naturally from you. Because that’s the goal, to cultivate natural spiritual impulses that sustain and inspire you.
And now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to write in my diary. I let that slip yesterday. I let one of the prayers slip today. But I worked through my small daily ritual without even glancing at a note. This is Slacker Paganism. It’s all good.