The waxing and waning of spiritual practice

The waxing and waning of spiritual practice April 3, 2013

I’ve written before about my struggle to maintain regular spiritual practice here and here and here.  Today, I came across some great advice in a comment to “Dver”‘s post at A Forest Door, “Do Not Stop You Devotions”, in which “Dver” advises not to stop devotions in times of personal crisis.  The comment was on a reblog on “Tales of Biro”:

I’d like to add my own thoughts on the subject. There are times the passion for one’s path and spirituality wanes. And that’s okay. Spirituality can sometimes go on the back burner as mundane life takes over. Dver is right that one shouldn’t stop devotional work completely, but if one is not as involved as they once were it’s not the end of the world. Eventually the tables will turn and mundane life can end up on the back burner as the focus turns to one’s spirituality. Cycles like this are completely normal. After all are you always 100% involved in every single interest you have? Most likely not.

I’m going to use an example one of my sculpture professors used when working on a project. During class he would always demand that we step away from what we were working on. Giving us a break would help give us a new perspective on the piece when we returned to it. We could see it with new eyes so to say. The same could be said for one’s spiritual path. If one is so involved in what they are doing for an extensive amount of time the reasoning why may become lost or things may become stagnant, one may end up just going through the motions. Taking a step back and a moment to breath can help generate new ideas and renew passion. Continuing one’s devotions even if they’re small gestures can keep one from feeling completely disconnected during these waning phases. However these “calmer” periods can be used to further one’s spiritual path if one takes the opportunity to use it beneficially.

What I like most about this advice is its Paganness, the appreciation of the natural cycles of human life.  To everything there is a season: as with the seasons, so with the psyche.  I’ve always known that my enthusiasm for spiritual practice waxes and wanes, but for some reason it never occurred to me to take advantage of this, to use the waning times as an opportunity to reflect on my practice, to evaluate it, to ask myself, “How is it working?  How not?  How might I change it to better reflect where I am at this point in my life?”  I’m not saying the “Dver” is wrong, that there aren’t times that I should just plow through and make myself do it.  But I appreciate the advice from “Tales of Biro”.  If I’m going to take some downtime from my practice, rather than using it to berate myself or wallow, I should take advantage of the time and use it constructively.

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  • I think a lot depends on context. For one thing, I am mostly writing to other spirit-workers and basically “vocational” polytheists. Advice for a monk is different than advice for a layperson. For us, spirituality isn’t just one among many “interests,” it is the guiding focus of our lives. But even for those on an extremely dedicated path, it is true that sometimes a small break can help you get a fresh perspective. The trick is using it positively like that, and not just making excuses for dropping things, and then feeling bad when you can’t connect again. It’s a challenge. I myself tend to go much quieter, relatively, in the summer, so I totally understand about seasonal shifts.

  • I think most people of some spiritual path go through this, John. I think the question is what is spiritual and what isn’t…and that changes for everyone….when I’m in the garden is that a spiritual activity or not; what about when I’m reading or writing, or playing with the pets or with my family members?
    Our culture has an obsession with *either – *or. I’m *either doing something *or I’m not, in other words and it’s a modus operandi whcih I think can be very detrimental. Also the idea that we have to be filled with passion about our endeavors, including our religion, is to me a very telling symptom of our instant gratification society that many of us struggle with and many don’t even recognize.
    I’ve gone through similar times when my practice faded in importance, but when I regained my practice I realized that it really wasn’t a sabbatical. My pause in practice was more about understanding what was important and what wasn’t, what I held dear was clarified, and fat that could be easily trimmed away was easy to perceive.
    I wouldn’t be too concerned about removing yourself from what is specifically a spiritual practice. As you point out things change and Pagans understand this; it takes more strength to honestly address the changes in life than to continue on without challenging what has become common place in our lives.


  • dhiosdh

    I’m very familiar with these cycles in my spiritual life and over many years have found a middle way between, on the one hand, beating myself up about low passion phases and on the other maintaining an anchor of fidelity to my focus of devotion. Basically I have a full daily ritual and a very short couple of minutes one. I always aim for the former but sometimes go through long phases of only doing the latter which can be very very simple. One advantage of keeping something going, however minimal, is that is it acts like a kind of residual ‘wick’ that passion can set alight when it returns. Without that point of contact when passion rekindles it tends not to find a ready focus which can lead to restlessness and a loss of continuity in ones ongoing path.

    • That’s great advice. I do have “one liners” that I use to “cheat” when I am really not feeling it. That at least gives me something.