Theory vs Practice

Theory vs Practice June 24, 2011

When it comes to religion and/or spirituality (take your pick) I’ve been struggling between theory and practice. These two poles seem to exist as twinned but opposite towers. One is removed and cerebral (theory), the other messy and personal (practice). Both are informative and educational in their own ways. In the best of all possible worlds, a person is informed of their tradition, perhaps informed of others’ traditions too, but also experiencing what they talk about and connected into something larger than themselves.

For too long I’ve privileged theory over practice. For me, it’s been the safe route and the path to a couple of degrees. I love the theory; I love the knowledge I’ve gained about the rich and bizarre world of religions. But practice is scarier. I’ve long kept my practice to myself. Practice involves commitment. It allows space for disappointment, embarrassment, perhaps even ridicule. But by keeping it to myself I lose out on community, depth of understanding, experience of and relationship with the Divine.

I’m hoping to break this pattern of duality between theory and practice. By diving into practice I am going beyond my theoretical knowledge of my chosen traditions. I’m going to find out how the practice feels. How does it affect my perception of the world, the Divine, myself?

I admit that it feels rather…foolish, fake, silly, to think of myself as Hindu. I know that Hinduism isn’t just about being South Asian, though it is the main religion of India. Hinduism considers itself, like all major religions do, a source of universal wisdom. But unlike the Western world’s big three (Judaism, Christianity, Islam) Hinduism is far more flexible about truth, gods, and belief. One can fold in much that is not explicitly Hindu or Indian. But still. I’m as Western world, white British Isles descended as they come.

Which raises another interesting point for me. All the traditions I’ve been engaged with, with the exception of Judaism (which I’ve never practiced, but worked for several years in the larger Jewish world), have been focused on the mystical, more inwardly turned aspects of those traditions. To see me on the street is to see just any other average white Westerner. You cannot identify my faith or practice by anything external.

I respect those who wear their religion openly. I’m thinking of Orthodox Jews, whether it’s the beards or hats or the large amounts of black or the women’s skirts and all around look. I’m thinking of Muslim women and the many ways they cover their heads. I’m thinking of Sikhs with their turbans. Every day they leave the house and people can identify their faith. Sure, Christians might wear a cross around their neck, but that’s much more subtle (most of the time) and easy to miss. I notice that I’ve not chosen any tradition that requires me to look any different than I normally do. Unless some one reads this blog or asks me what I’m up to these days, there’s no way to know that anything is different with me.

So far I don’t think there is anything discernably different about my life, other than my morning devotions.

A Hindu. A yogini. For now, that’s me.

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