The Pitfalls of Spiritual Practice
How to avoid the pitfalls of spiritual practice and find a ritual that is right for this season of your life.
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On the morning of the new moon, without any prompting or pre-planning, I woke up, picked up my mala beads, sat outside, and began chanting the Gayatri mantra.
Beyond journaling, I intentionally didn’t keep a consistent practice throughout the entire summer. Life was busy, but also I felt resistance in my practice. It didn’t feel like what I was doing (which up until that point was Ashtanga yoga every morning) was “working”. When this happens I ask myself three questions.
3 Questions to Help You Avoid The Pitfalls of Spiritual Practice
1 – Am I being superstitious in my practice?
2 – Am I practicing in order to avoid something I have to do?
3 – Is it just the wrong practice for this season of my life?
What I mean by superstitious is – am I doing my practice because I think that if I do then everything in my life will turn out perfectly, or am I practicing to be best prepared no matter what happens to me? If it’s the former, it’s time to stop my practice for a bit.
Practice as avoidance is another pitfall of spiritual life that tripped me up more than once in the past. I think it’s also tied to superstitious behavior in that we believe that if we prepare enough then everything will work out the way we want it to. The problem is, life requires not just our belief, but also our effort.
There’s that great Christian parable known as the Drowning Man where (obviously) a man is drowning and yelling for God to help him. In this abridged version, God sends several good samaritans with water vessels to help him, but the man keeps shaking his fist at God yelling “Why won’t you help me?”.
Questioning whether a practice is right for the season is a tricky one. It requires us to be radically honest with ourselves. Is this practice not right for me or am I avoiding something I really need right now.? The yogis say, “Often, what we most need is what we most avoid”.
Treat Your Practice As An Experiment
In a recent yoga teacher training workshop with the teachers of La Scuola, I recommended participants stick to their practice for 40 days and then decide if it was right for them. When we treat the practice as an experiment we get a more objective understanding of whether or not it’s a good fit.
Personally, I’m being pulled toward a time of deep learning. I hunger to dive deep into a subject with a guide further along the path than me. Strangely, I miss waking up at 4am to walk into a dark Shala, smell the incense, stand shoulder to shoulder in silence with fellow seekers awaiting the first call to practice.
The Gift of Virgo Season
This urge feels serendipitously in line with the start of Virgo season on the 23rd. For me, the archetype of Virgo is the craftswoman. The one divinely committed to their artistry who knows that if God is in all things, then God is also in the work of their own two hands.
In the words of the indomitable Ben Harper, “I can change the world with my own two hands”.