What Difference Do Our Spiritual Practices Make?

What Difference Do Our Spiritual Practices Make? May 23, 2023

What Difference Do Our Spiritual Practices Make?

What Difference Do Our Spiritual Practices Make?

When we begin a spiritual practice, we generally expect it to make a difference. Why would we develop and follow our spiritual practices if we did not think they would change our lives in some way? We choose our practices, and work to follow them, because of how we expect them to help us.

One of the standard questions about our spiritual practices is how they will help us. What is it we hope to accomplish, and how is this particular practice intended to help us accomplish it?

People often ask me practical questions about spiritual practices. They may want to know what the goal is or how their breathing affects their practice. Some people ask what to do if they make mistakes or get confused. Other people want to know how soon they will see results.

The more understanding I gain about spiritual practices, the less I believe these are the most significant questions.

As my experience with spiritual practices grows over time, the more questions and insights I have. I used to approach spiritual practices as ways to become stronger or better at spiritual life. I thought following a practice was like being in school or learning to play a musical instrument. Practicing was about learning how to become better at what I was doing.

Now, slowly, with practice and patience, I am beginning to appreciate our spiritual practices in a different way.

We are not practicing to develop new skills or abilities. Spiritual life is not about our becoming the best prayers or reflectors we can possibly be.

Our spiritual practices are not about our mastering a specific set of skills. Every day of every practice is about taking our first step.

Each behavior, each discipline we practice fits together to create the life we live.

The Difference Our Practices Make

Our days seem to fly past in the blink of an eye. It feels like we spend the week trying to catch up starting the moment we open our eyes in the morning. At the end of the day we close our eyes wondering where the time has gone.

It is already the second half of May! Could New Year’s Day have been more than two weeks ago?

We may feel spending time on our spiritual practices is a waste. It would be wiser for us to use that time to get more things done, right?

When we spend time each day listening to sacred stillness, we are open to remember. Our minds are free to pay attention.

The time each day reminds us the days are not whizzing past us. As we take time to sit and listen we become able to hear deeper, sacred truth in the stillness.

Our spiritual practices are not the solution to all our problems. It is not that we never become frustrated and distracted. We still experience challenges and things still make us angry.

Our spiritual practices help us learn how to live in the present moment. Each moment is full of eternal potential. Listening is how we practice being open to the sacred truths in the stillness all around us and within us.

It is not that we hear profound truths or secret messages in the stillness. Listening to sacred stillness helps us learn to hear whispers in the quiet.

Practicing listening each day does not make us particularly spiritual people. If anything, our practices reminds us we are not as special or as spiritual as we might want to think we are.

Our spiritual practices do not turn us into superheroes. It reminds us we am human.

Why Are Our Practices Important?

I do not believe there is anything magical about our spiritual practices. The days when I do not think I have time to spend on spiritual practices are often days when I need to spend more time practicing.

Our practices are not about maintaining a certain level of spirituality for 20 minutes. It takes us time to stop paying attention to distractions. There are days when we feel like we have achieved something by listening well. Then we realize we are not listening, we are evaluating how well we are practicing.

In my experience, we need to spend enough time to feel settled. My practice is not about finding or sustaining a “perfect” level. I practice listening to sacred stillness long enough to not be assessing my performance.

In some ways, practicing for 20 minutes is important because of how we do not spend that time. Our practice makes our choices and priorities clear to us. We learn about ourselves when we give up something else we would like to do so we can practice.

In some ways, our spiritual practices can be like other practices. As we practice playing a musical instrument we gradually become a guitarist or a drummer. We practice basketball and, over time, we become shooters. When we practice law or medicine we slowly become lawyers or doctors.

Through our daily practice of listening to sacred stillness we become listeners.

How Our Practices Can Change Our Lives

I do not practice listening to sacred stillness to transform myself into a different person. We are not trying to make ourselves better or stronger or improve ourselves.

My practice of listening is about opening myself to what the stillness has for me.

Practicing listening is not about learning to be more effective listeners. We listen so we can hear what is there. As we spend time listening each day we become more accustomed to and comfortable in stillness.

Our experience of stillness helps us recognize how sacred it can be.

As we listen to sacred stillness we begin to hear how valuable life can be.

The truths we are most hungry to hear are waiting for us in sacred stillness.

What we hear when we listen each day can change how we live our lives.

When will our spiritual practices make a difference today?

Who will our spiritual practices help us become this week?

[Image by icouldbreathe’]

Greg Richardson is a spiritual director in Southern California. He is a recovering assistant district attorney and associate university professor, and is a lay Oblate with New Camaldoli Hermitage near Big Sur, California. Greg’s email address is StrategicMonk@gmail.com.

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