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The Spirituality & Practice E-Newsletter is a regular update from Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat with a teaching story and links to new content on the site. It's free and a great way to keep up with practices for your journey.
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The Path of Practice
By Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat
SpiritualityandPractice.com continues the work on spiritual practices that we began in our two books Spiritual Literacy: Reading the Sacred in Everyday Life and Spiritual Rx: Prescriptions for Living a Meaningful Life. On the homepage and the Spiritual Practices homepage (and at right on this page), you'll find links to 37 homepages on specific practices organized as an alphabet.
We "discovered" this alphabet when we were choosing passages for Spiritual Literacy. Most likely, we learned, is something is about compassion or gratitude or justice or questing or transformation, or wonder, it also illustrates the presence of the sacred in our experiences. Spiritual Rx contains a chapter devoted to each practice, and some of that material also appears on this website. In the following excerpt Spiritual Rx, we describe the path of spiritual practice.
Practice has always been the heart and soul of the world's religions, and it is also the distinguishing characteristic of today's less organized spirituality movements. It can be something as simple as lighting a candle or a ritual as complex as a Native American vision quest. It can involve the spontaneity of a Christian's flash prayers in the street or the rigorous structure of a Muslim's five-times-a-day prayer. It is Africans and Sufis expressing their yearning for God through dance, Jews studying the Torah, Buddhists doing mindfulness meditation, and Hindus looking for divine signs in common objects.
The variety of practices matches the diversity of human personalities. Many connect with the Holy through the mind while others emphasize the body or the emotions. Some prefer group worship; others, private prayer. A person's daily practice might include elements of ethical training, emotional transformation, motivational change, physical exercise, community building, study of sacred texts, and acts of service. Practices attend to every mood and moment.
Many of us, however, were raised to think of spiritual practice as little more than a short grace before meals, saying bedtime prayers, and going to a weekly worship service. The problem with seeing practice this way is that it can become just another entry on our already crowded To Do lists, one of those frequently unexamined routines of our daily life. Practice degenerates into an onerous obligation similar to taking out the garbage or flossing our teeth.
A far more useful and rewarding approach is to view practice not as an activity we do but as the path we travel on our spiritual journey. It is our way of experiencing spiritual reality. Practice is and always has been here; it is a path with no beginning and no end. We just have to step into it. And, although practice does not require that we leave the realms of reason and sense perceptions, it gives us a much broader base to operate from.
This means that everything we do is practice. As the Zen Buddhists put it, how you do anything is how you do everything. Walking down the hall mindfully is as important as sitting on the mat in meditation. How a Christian acts at work on Monday is as significant as attendance at church on Sunday.
You don't step on the path of practice for a few minutes a day, then jump off to go about the rest of your life. If you want to see how you are doing, look at how you behave during a breakfast disagreement with your partner, in a traffic jam on the way to the office, in the line at the bank when someone skips ahead of you, in your reaction to a homeless person begging for money, or at your club when you are asked to do something that violates your conscience. This path also encompasses the joy you feel in a job well done, the elation that washes over you while making love, the affection you have for your pet, and the communion you experience in a circle of close friends. . . .
We have been using the term "path" here and, most likely, you are imaging it as a road perhaps a dirt one winding through the countryside that eventually turns into a paved highway or a city street. You may see sharp turns and intersections, roads taken and not taken. Or you may recall the restrictive way the religions tend to describe the path as the straight and narrow, or the steep and difficult climb up the mountain.
Those attributes may indeed be part of the path of practice, but we don't want to limit it to those images. Think of practice as a very broad boulevard. Although there are places along it when you can be still and alone, it is also packed with people and beings, animate and inanimate, visible and invisible, of our time and all times.
Part of the path may go in a direct line, but the route is hardly linear. It is constantly changing, from lines to circles to spirals to lines bursting forth in new directions and then circling back on top of the whole complexity of it all. There are no obvious intersections and one-and-only choices because everything is connected and overlapping.
What's more, this ground of practice is not dirt or stone or cement at all. It's more like a carpet made up of many colored strands, all interwoven, a diversity within a unity.
Excerpted from Spiritual Rx: Prescriptions for Living a Meaningful Life (Hyperion, 2000, paperback 2001). Copyright 2000 Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat. For more information and to purchase, click here.