Philip Goldberg was looking at the galley proofs of this book when communities around the world began lock-downs in response to the spread of the COVID-19 virus. He realized that "if ever there was proof that crazy times can get crazier at a moment's notice, and that spiritual practices are a necessity not a luxury, this is it." The author has been studying the world's religions for more than 45 years and has published some 25 books. He has created three e-courses for Spirituality & Practice on teachings from the Yoga tradition and been part of a fourth.
Goldberg sets out in this paperback to show how to build a repertoire of spiritual practices for those of us who are feeling overwhelmed, confused, helpless, afraid, enraged, and despondent. He notes that practices are an absolute necessity because "they provide a much-needed sanctuary when we need it most" and "they're also a sturdy platform for corrective action." He adds later that "spiritual methodologies are a boon to engaged citizenship and a blessing to our collective well-being."
Basic to this "sadhana" (personal spiritual routine) is meditation, and Goldberg gives instructions for breath and mantra meditation, plus additional tips such as: "Before beginning, you might want to sanctify the moment. Perhaps recite a prayer — one of your own or one from a sacred tradition. Or utter an invocation that expresses your intent. Try completing one of these sentences: 'I enter into meditation for the purpose of . . . ' 'May this practice bring . . . ' 'I dedicate this meditation to . . .' " He also suggests before and after meditation practices: prayer, chanting, visualizations, and sacred study.
We appreciate how Goldberg weaves practices together with clear guidance while giving us permission to find the combination that best suits our needs. One chapter is devoted to "Spiritual Time Management." He discusses how to make time for practice and then suggests a simple but extremely helpful approach: make lists of possible practices divided by how much time they take, from less than 5 minutes to more than a month. You could supplement practices you already do with others you find online (Spirituality & Practice has a database of more than 1000 practices searchable by key words). Goldberg suggests sifting through your memories for activities that ignited a sacred spark and talking with friends about their practices. Here's some good additional advice:
"Avoid spiritual promiscuity. Adding to your inventory through ongoing exploration and experimentation is vital, but beware the risk of becoming a dilettante. Spiritual dabblers have been compared to a person who keeps digging wells in search of water but never digs deep enough to find any. They've also been likened to a hungry person at a buffet who grabs a bit of everything that looks good but never gets properly nourished. The lesson: by all means try on practices for size, but wear them long enough to break them in and see if they really fit. Endless sampling can be just as counterproductive as a stubborn commitment to a practice with limited value."
For those who want or need a community to practice with, Goldberg offers some good questions to consider in organizing a spiritual group or finding a spiritual buddy. For those who find safe harbor in a spiritual space, he talks about visiting sacred sites, practicing in nature, visiting a museum, and sanctifying your home.
The final two chapters address the "crazy times" we live in. Goldberg offers some practices that can become interventions when you are facing difficulties. He then brings in such practices as metta and tonglen as part of "sacred citizenship." This is an eminently practical resource with nuggets of wisdom and inspiration mixed in. For example, what might we say to get someone whose life is going very well, unscathed by troubles, involved in activism on behalf of others? How about quoting Mata Amritanandaymayi, the hugging saint: "If you're on a rooftop, safe from the fire on the ground floor, it's a good idea to help put out the flames, because they'll get to you soon enough."