Spiritual Practice Makes PerfectDec 01, 2016 12:47PM ● By Reverend Donald Graves
Photo of Rev. Donald Graves at Annual Meeting Photo Inset (Rev. Donald Graves & Rev. Janis Farmer)
Many people have felt distress, pain and/or suffering at some point in their lives. Life offers a plethora of opportunities to repeat these experiences. Virtually everyone has entered into or gone through an identity crisis, and to the degree one doesn’t learn how to deal with these occurrences, they tend to resurface again and again.
One of the Buddha’s observations upon awakening was, “Life is suffering.” If life is suffering, this means that suffering is inevitable. He went on to explain what causes suffering (ignorance), and what can be done about it (“Wake up and don’t do what causes suffering.”). He then went further, suggesting some practices to help along the way—“Right perspective, right thinking, right work”. On the surface, this seems simple, perhaps too simple. At other times, it seems far from simple—especially when “the dark” takes over.
Siddhartha Gautama grew up in India as a Hindu, and spiritual practices were part of his daily life and culture. He meditated. He practiced at least one form of yoga. He performed the rituals and practices of his culture and time, because that is how people lived then and there. Because of the context of his birth and life, spiritual practices were a significant part of it all, just like fast-food, instantaneous communication and television have become part of living in the U.S. in the present time. People here live very different lives than they did in India 2,500 years ago. Here and now, spiritual practice seems optional; it’s a choice rather than how most Americans live. Here, one learns spiritual practices and practices them because of individual perceived value and benefits—not because it has been embedded in the culture.
Since the late 1960’s, when The Beatles brought Maharishi Mahesh Yogi to the U.S., massive amounts of research have focused on meditation and yoga, along with other spiritual practices. Subsequently, most people today already understand that spiritual practices relieve pain of all kinds—emotional, social, physical, psychic and so forth—and help the body and the mind work more effectively, increasing peace and harmony in day-to-day activities.
Even with all of the scientific proof of their efficacy that spiritual practices alleviate suffering, why do so many still suffer? Skipping the obvious answer: “Because many don’t know about them,” the not-so-obvious response is, “Because it’s hard to practice when suffering or in pain.” The pain or suffering is too distracting, and it’s too easy to say, “It doesn’t work!” and therefore to stop working it.
Center for Spiritual Living Tucson offers several different ways in which one can learn spiritual practices that address the challenges of life. Abraham Maslow’s little proverb has been paraphrased in many ways: “He that is good with a hammer tends to think of everything as a nail.” By learning multiple forms, techniques and practices, one can pull out one particular tool that works better than another in any given situation. Screwdrivers work much more efficiently on screws than hammers, and saws work better than hammers when shortening a board.
If the only tools available in the toolbox are survival strategies, it’s difficult to see and move beyond survival. It also can become automatic to think of every life situation as “survive or die”. Most who suffer with post-traumatic stress (PTSD) live in this world; this is the hell in which they feel stuck. Hyper-vigilance and anxiety, while natural, are not life-affirming experiences and finding a way out can seem utterly challenging—even when several ways out already exist. Accessing different spiritual practices can open the doors or windows to freedom and possibility.
For instance, a regular meditation practice guarantees an increase in peace of mind and harmony. Journaling or writing poetry can uncover perspectives that may prove otherwise difficult to see when dealing with complex emotional conundrums. Yoga, tai chi or qigong can make a huge positive difference for stress relief and to improve overall bodily function. An effective prayer life, in whatever form works for each individual, opens the mind and relaxes the heart, allowing greater possibility in every area of life. With greater possibilities, everything improves.
All of these practices can be learned and are readily available and attainable. The challenge arises when the crisis, upset, stress or PTSD reaction comes raging full-blown from out of nowhere; this overwhelming reaction catches one unaware. When everything in life works smoothly, spiritual practices easily fit into daily routines. However, when the sun eclipses and everything goes dark, these practices become most important. Because of previous programming, this, too, is the most likely time to set them aside in exchange for some historic survival strategy, which never works in the longer term.
When thoughts arise like, “I don’t have time to meditate,” or “I’m too busy to pray,” or “My job takes up too much time to do yoga,” everything can quickly go to hell in that proverbial handbasket, dragging everything into the black hole of powerlessness, hopelessness and despair. These ugly periods are the times when it is most critical to make time for spiritual practice.
Even after over 40 years of practice, these times can try humanity’s soul. Challenging experiences require every ounce of inspiration, motivation and determination one can muster to sit down and meditate, or pray, or step back into the very practices that would lift that tired and tried soul into the light of possibility again. During these tough, dark and exhausting times, a way back to the light of sanity can be invaluable. This is when having a spiritual community provides a lifeline.
By thinking differently than in the past and by behaving differently now, greater possibilities reveal themselves; love increases, wisdom deepens, and a truer sense of “who I really am” becomes more vivid and vital every moment. By practicing, one awakens sooner rather than later. This is but one of the reasons why spiritual practices are so important to learn and even more important to practice.
Center for Spiritual Living Tucson teaches spiritual principles and practices that help improve the quality of life. It teaches the traveler how to get and stay strong during his/her life journey, and provides a community with which to share that trip.
Many years ago, a great sage is quoted as saying, “Be Ye therefore perfect…” Spiritual practice does in fact help one realize that perfection.
10:30 a.m. Sunday Services at Center for Spiritual Living Tucson are held at 3231 N Craycroft Rd., in Tucson. Meditation is also held at 10 a.m. For more information, call
520-319-1042 or visit TucsonCSL.org. See ad, page 17.