There are periods in one’s life where a formal spiritual practice can be helpful. This can be undertaken whether you are involved in a religion or call yourself an atheist. There is no need to let beliefs get in the way of developing your spiritual self. In fact, exploring true spirituality requires going beyond belief, getting out of the head and into some real things that are with us every moment – in our bodies, in the air in how we walk – things that “belief” or conceptualized thinking barely understands.
Experiential practice such as Yoga, prayer, chanting, meditation, Qigong and artistic pursuits in music, dance, visual art, poetry – can help you with real life situations that require a genuine response. Many paths have been designed by exceptional individuals and evolved through generations of practitioners specifically to cultivate the realization of life’s purpose and social/universal function i.e., wholeness. When engaged with enlightened mind and heart, these kind of practices can heal habits of thinking and action that prevent us from happiness and a deeper experience.
Sometimes we think we’re doing something “spiritual” but little has transformed. Our preferred activities are still talking, eating and seeking entertainment from a consumer and self-centered point of view. In a dharma session I attended with Bhagavan Das he said very simply “If you want a different outcome, you need to do something different.”
Instead of eating a big meal same way every time, at every occasion -Birthday, Christmas, Valentines Day focusing the conversation on how the food tastes and what we are going to buy next week -what else can we do? The subject of the occasion may not even come up!
How about sometimes saying thank-you to the whole universe ,including the animals, plants, rain, sun and people who brought this food to your plat, before eating a meal? , How about paying attention to the purpose of the gathering we attended and the people whom we are gathering for? When it is someone’s birthday, focussing on their life and how they are doing right now, celebrating their presence on this earth? We say that is why we are getting together but often, after saying “Happy Birthday” or giving a gift, we get back into same old conversation.
How about making a chalk drawing together on the ground describing how truly touched we feel to be here for this occasion? For an important celebration meal, how about eating something totally simple and small, a humble meal just to give you fuel while you are present with why you are together? We once had a thanksgiving get together down by the river during sunset -at dinner time – and chose to skip having a meal at all. It was our thanks-giving silent meditation and nice visit together. Not having a meal just that one time amplified the celebration.
How about doing a little dance to congratulate someone’s new baby? Or reading a poem out loud to congratulate a friend’s personal breakthrough or to express an appreciation of nature? How about deeply listening when someone tries to tell you that you had hurt their feelings or made things difficult for them? How about giving up your position in favour of someone else’s?
How about making an appointment with friends just to sing or chant the names of God, or just sitting in silence and feeling something together? How about dropping your exaggerated baggage and feeling the happiness you have bubbling underneath?
The creativity to engage in such ways can unfold spontaneously when one practices well established methods of meditation and contemplation that strip away the usual patterns and allows a greater awareness to emerge. A key point is to choose a path that is well suited to your nature, and to make the practice of it your own sincere practice.