Why Are We Still Practicing?
Until I finished high school, I was a percussionist. I usually played bass drum in the marching band and tympani in the concert band. At the completion of my musical career I was the percussion section captain.
I enjoyed almost everything about being a percussionist except practicing. The percussion was rarely the focus when the whole band practiced. I avoided practicing on my own as much as possible.
We would figure out who would play what and how things fit together. I was not a stickler for technique.
Practicing was kind of boring.
After law school I practiced law, but that was a different kind of practicing. I found it more interesting to apply the ideas I had learned to everyday legal situations. There was an immediacy to practicing law I did not experience practicing the drums.
Practicing law shaped my understanding of spiritual practices.
When I practiced music, I was learning the parts so we could perform them at a concert. Practicing law was harder to distinguish between practicing and performing.
Our spiritual practices are not preparing us to perform at a concert. Spiritual life is not something to entertain other people, or ourselves. We do not put the disciplines we practice on display in a big show of our deep spirituality.
I stopped practicing my percussion skills as soon as I finished high school. The last time I remember performing was at my own graduation.
Why are we still practicing spiritual disciplines?
If there is no concert, no solos, no applause, why would we continue to practice?
Spiritual practices are more like how I practiced law than the way I practiced percussion.
What Are Spiritual Practices?
Spiritual practices are actions and behaviors, things we do, to help open us to spiritual life.
Some of us believe what we think is essential to spiritual life while others focus on what we do. Spiritual practices are ways we develop habits and patterns of behavior which fit with spiritual life.
Some people have lists of classic spiritual practices like praying or demonstrating mercy. Other people pay more attention to ways we intentionally open ourselves to spiritual life.
It is important to remember we are not practicing the way I practiced playing percussion. We are not working hard so we can perform better for other people.
Our spiritual practices grow from our own reflection and help us open up to spiritual life.
We are not trying to become the best practitioners we can be or to compete with others. Spiritual practices help us grow deeper. We pay more attention to spiritual life and become aware of its depths and truths.
Spiritual practices are not ways we earn more spiritual credibility or a better reputation. Our practices help us develop from the inside out.
We do not choose a practice because we would like to build our strength in that area.
Rather than checking a list and selecting which practices we might want to try, we reflect. Are there practices which draw you into them? What attracts you?
Our spiritual practices are not lifetime commitments. We may be drawn to one practice for a time and then drawn into something else.
It is almost as if spiritual practices choose us as much as we choose them.
Where Do We Begin? When Do We Stop?
When we decide to start a spiritual practice it is helpful to begin right away.
When we are drawn into a practice we are probably already ready to begin. We do not need to allow excuses or resistance in us to slow us down.
I can be creative in coming up with ways and reasons to put off getting started. We may have plenty of reasons to delay, but we do not need to give in to them.
It is not necessary for us to jump in with both feet. Working our way forward and becoming comfortable can support our continued practice.
We want to remember our practices are not goals or ways to evaluate ourselves. They are ways of being and acting we hope will become natural parts of who we are.
We do not need to struggle and we want our practices to feel good.
I encourage people to continue seeing something as a practice until it is part of them. We remember spiritual practices are not methods to modify our behavior. They are designed to change us from within.
There may be times when we one spiritual practice opens us to another. That is not a distraction, but a way to enhance the practice we are already developing.
Spiritual practices are not contests to determine how focused or effective we can be.
We are not concerned with managing our time. Our attention is deeper than our schedule. We are still practicing.
Where Will Practicing Take Us?
It can take a long time to change our attitudes and habits. We may think we are still practicing because we hope to achieve particular results.
We may wonder where our spiritual practices are taking us.
Spiritual practices are designed to take us deeper, within ourselves and into spiritual life.
For some of us, it is a spiritual practice to listen well. Our listening practice helps us pay attention to the Sacred, to ourselves, to each other.
Others are following a spiritual practice of prayer. We are still practicing and our prayer draws us into deeper spiritual life. As we open ourselves in prayer the Sacred opens to us in new ways.
Some of us practice showing mercy and caring for other people. Others practice contemplation, or learning, or sharing wisdom with people.
Each of us is drawn into deeper spiritual life in ways unique to us. We are each still practicing, diving into the pools of Sacred truth.
We are still practicing because there is more spiritual life to explore and discover.
Which spiritual practices are drawing you in today?
Why are you still practicing?
[Image by Palomalciller]
Greg Richardson is a spiritual life mentor and leadership coach in Southern California. He is a recovering attorney and university professor, and a lay Oblate with New Camaldoli Hermitage near Big Sur, California. Greg’s website is StrategicMonk.com, and his email address is StrategicMonk@gmail.com.