The Gifts of Spiritual Practice

The Gifts of Spiritual Practice.

I’ve been meditating for 3 decades and teaching meditation for about 3 years. I thought I’d like to share with those of you who haven’t made it to my classes what are the benefits of sustained practice. Before I get into listing those, I want to say a little bit about the process of meditation practice itself.

Once you’ve really gotten engaged with a meditation practice and you’re doing it 6-7 times a week, it becomes a very important part of your weekly rhythm. I’ve seen it take two or three years for a person who is fairly serious about wanting to develop a practice to get to the point where they’re doing it this consistently. For one thing, you have to carve the time out of your week to do it. If your schedule isn’t pretty consistent M – F, then this can be fairly difficult. Some mornings you might get up at 6:30 to get kids ready for school or get yourself ready for work, but other mornings you might get to sleep in to 7:30. If you try to alternate between mornings and evenings, then it’s harder to miss a few days and not lose track of your fledgling practice. If you’re going to stick with it and gradually incorporate it into your daily schedule, then it’s because you’re starting to see benefits from your practice. Either that or someone you trust is telling you about those benefits and you’ve seen it in their life and you want it too. Certain benefits will come in after a couple weeks of sitting 4-7 times a week, and other benefits will come in after a year, and still others will come in after five years.

I most recently came back to a daily sitting practice 3 ½ years ago after going through a period of being more sporadic with it. What I found in the period before that was that if I missed more than one day, it was easy to miss another day and then harder to get back to the consistency of the practice. Even now, I find that I can miss one day a week periodically, but if I miss two in a row, the whole project can get unstable. Plus, I miss what my practice brings to me. So what is that?

For one, starting my day with meditation feels like I’m practicing good mental hygiene. I’m getting focused, I’m getting grounded, and because I’ve been doing the practice for so long, my whole system gets regulated.

Contrary to what some people think, meditation doesn’t always make you calm.
The basic practice of meditation is that you’re staying focused on your breath, and when your mind wanders, you bring it back to the sensations at your nostrils or your diaphragm. Some mornings (and I find this to be especially true if I’m up by 5:30 or 6) the mind is relatively calm and I can have a clear and enlivening session. More often though, the mind wanders, you get caught up in a train of thoughts, you bring it back to the breath and off it goes again. The time of actually settling into quiet might be very short, but even with that being the case, meditation charges and regulates the system, and I rise from my pillow feeling much more ready to face my day.

What I have just said points to one of the gifts of practice: Consistency. When you get to your meditation cushion every day whether you feel like it or not, it develops an important muscle. Let’s face it, there are those mornings when the alarm goes off and you just want to turn it off and go back to sleep. You don’t have to get up then. You could sleep for that extra hour and still get to work on time, but you get up anyway. This is your time, this is your practice, and the only way it’s going to develop it is if you get up and go!

If you’re not getting up to go to your job, if you’re not getting up to go make money, what are you getting up for? You’re getting up to connect with Mind, in it’s uncovered state; you’re getting up to connect with Life! Your life, but also the Big Life, that moves at subtle levels through your mind and body and moves in every other being. It’s a chance to get below the level of the stories that we’re always engaged in about politics, the environment, whether we’re making enough money, or even how our marriage is going or how the kids are doing. It’s an encounter with unmediated Presence, and when you get a taste of that, your world gets way larger!

Another gift of meditation is mindfulness. Now mindfulness seems to be the thing that has been pulled out of eastern religions that everyone is talking about it. But it’s a great thing to cultivate. Mindfulness basically means you can be present with what you’re doing without your mind flying off in other directions. The quality of presence that comes with mindfulness enables you to show up in a deeper way with your partner, kids, at work or just hanging with yourself, enjoying life. It helps you to be way more effective in life. This is part of what comes from spending all those hours on the cushion bringing the mind back to the breath over and over again!

Another great gift of meditation is self-knowledge. There is so much here. You gradually come to know yourself as more than just how you react to things that present themselves to you in your life. You get beyond thinking of yourself as just your opinions, beliefs and points of view. In meditation you get to find out what is underneath those patterned thoughts. You can take a look at where those beliefs came from and whether you still believe them or not! You can look at the influences that shaped you in your childhood and start to heal some of the hurts that may cause you to respond over and over again in similar ways – even when those responses don’t bring a good result for you and your loved ones. Since I’m a psychospiritual counselor, I know that we often need support at looking at the early wounds that most of us have experienced. This can happen in therapy, but even so, coming to that healing work with an established meditation practice can speed that work up and support it immeasurably!

What also falls under the heading of self-knowledge is awareness of your gifts as well as your wounds. You can come to own your basic generosity and kindness and know that is part of who you are in your core being and not just an act you put on to get love and approval. Or you might possess an incisive quality of discernment that helps you cut through the confusing choices that often cloud our path. Your basic gift may be a humor or a wit that can lift the mood of those around you during tough times. Clearly, you don’t need a meditation practice to know these things about yourselves. Often these kinds of qualities will be mirrored for us from friends and co-workers, but I have found that in meditation, we can clarify or purify these gifts.
It’s part of the process of clearing any conceit or ego-attachment that may be connected with them, or clearing self-denigrating overlays that may be attached to them such as the thought : “Oh, I’m just nice to people so they’ll like me back”. That may be true and it may also be true that you’re just a fundamentally kind person. If you find that there is some of the “doing it for the approval” in the mix, then you can certainly work on upgrading that to behaviors that are coming from a more self-referenced place rather than taking your cue from how people are reacting to you.

The last thing I want to touch on in this piece is The Four immeasurables. I liken the four immeasurables to the flavoring you put into your coffee drinks at your favorite coffee shop. Whereas simple meditation on the breath is like the coffee, metta or lovingkindness would be the caramel you throw in there for sweetness, karuna or compassion would be the vanilla you add for depth of flavor, mudita or sympathetic joy would be like the peppermint to spice it up a bit, and upekkha, or equanimity, would be the cream you throw in to balance the whole thing out. These practices add a richness to your personality and since they’re grounded in an open and balanced mind and heart they offer a lot to the people you encounter in your life as well. I’ll just touch briefly on “Lovingkindness” practice and leave the rest for you to look up on your own.

After sitting and being with the breath for five minutes or so, bring your attention to the heart and imagine the heart like a golden glowing sun, pulsing with each breath. Take some time to let that sun shine on your whole body, on all the stuck places in your mind and the hurt place in your emotional body. After doing this for a while, feel that sun radiating out to touch the heart for family and loved ones, especially those you know are having difficulty, feeling the love flowing directly from your heart into their heart and calming their fears and worries and uplifting them with a big dose of Love. After doing that for as long as you want, send that warm love out to others in your community you’re not so close to; – people you see at the grocery store, your mail lady, teachers or other parents at school, shower them all with love and wishes for their well being. Other layers you can continue to move through are your city, the country, or the whole planet, and if you want to get in a little extra practice, send the meta to those you’re in conflict with or politicians who may be driving you crazy. Once you feel complete, bring your attention back to your own heart, take a few breaths, and appreciate yourself for the work you’ve done and send out a silent blessing to all those you’ve just thought of.

These are some of the benefits, or gifts, of consistent spiritual practice. After practicing as long as I have, I find that there are still deeper and broader places to go in understanding what this amazing mind/heart is that we all possess. If you’re interested in more information on these topics, you can look them up or you can certainly contact me and come join a class. There are so many resources out there. Blessings on your day!

This entry was posted on Friday, March 9th, 2018 at 10:18 am and is filed under Blog. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.


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