One thing I say over and over in spiritual direction is “practice your practice.” It is something James Finley taught me years ago. Many people of different faith traditions have practices; some meditate, some pray with beads, and others keep a gratitude list. All are beautiful disciplines, but they are not the only way to practice your practice.
I have noticed that finding a practice that one can keep consistent is a big step that is sometimes overlooked. We seem to think if I do this meditation each day, then I will be spiritual and find wholeness. But, the days come, and we lose our will to practice, or we feel like we are somehow failing at meditation, and we quit. What we can easily forget is endurance is part of what we are training our souls for—endurance to fair the storms of life and heartaches that can come with being human.
How do we endure when our practice doesn’t seem to be bringing the fruit we expected?
I think the first question we should ask ourselves is, “Is this practice still something my soul longs for? Is this practice mine, or am I doing this because I think it is spiritual?”
My husband and I were talking years ago about him wanting a spiritual practice. As I sat there listening, I was confused. In my eyes, he had a spiritual practice. My husband is also a photographer and loves to capture nature, especially the sea. He can spend hours at the shore, jumping from rock to rock, climbing hills, and running from waves that suddenly surround him and his tripod- just to capture the ocean. He is filled with joy. His smile while capturing the waves as the sun sets on them is contagious. He comes home with shoes filled with sand, and his gratitude and awe inspire me. I commented to him that I felt this was his practice- this what makes him feel alive and reminds him of the joy and goodness surrounding him. Since then, when the clouds are just right, he will text me on his way home from work, “Going to practice my practice.” I know exactly where he is, and it makes my heart so happy.
When finding a practice, the first thing we should do is ask, “What do I love? What brings me peace and joy?”It can be art, or a walk, or a bath, or even a nap- find that one thing and commit to it.
That second part is more challenging than we would like to admit. However, endurance and discipline are part of what our practice is teaching us. There are many excuses I have heard of why someone hasn’t been practicing their practice, and the most common is that they are too busy. Trust me when I say this, you are not too busy. When we claim that somehow the world will stop if we take 20 minutes for our own souls, we have forgotten how we were made. Taking care of yourself and protecting your practice might take more endurance than running a triathlon. Trust me; I have done both.
I think my teacher, Thomas Merton, sums this up perfectly.
“Discipline is most important, and without it, no serious meditation will ever be possible. But it should be one’s own Discipline, not a routine mechanically imposed from the outside.”
Discipline is part of the practice, but if we are counting on others to hold us accountable or even decide our practice, it will easily only become an empty routine.
So how do we endure? At first, it will feel just like it would when training for a triathlon- it will hurt a little and might leave you a little sore. You will use mental and spiritual muscles you didn’t’ know you had. But if you keep practicing your practice, you will one day not know what you would do without it. It will become such a part of your day and soul that not doing it will hurt more than doing it. And in the endurance, you will slowly learn what the practice was here to teach you, that life has moments of joy and is filled with good things. And one of the best of things? You, you are the gift your practice brings.