What Spiritual Practice?

When asked: “What’s your spiritual practice?” 

A typical answer most people give is: “I meditate.” Or “I do yoga sometimes.”

It is rather interesting how the modern world has unanimously agreed to define meditation or yoga as the default spiritual practice.  If this definition is true, then most of us, even if meditation and yoga are part of our lifestyles can only practice spirituality a few hours a week. 

This probably explains why so many people would say: “I don’t have time for spiritual practices or personal development.” Of course, it is difficult to commit more time to meditation or yoga practices when we only have 24 hours in a day yet many responsibilities.  

The solution isn’t finding more time, but changing perspectives, as is the case with most challenges we face in life.  In reality, it is not lack of time, but lack of a holistic understanding of what spiritual practice is that prevents us from engaging in this most important practice of our lives.  

Let’s first redefine what spiritual practice is.  Since all of us are spiritual beings having a human experience on earth (if you don’t agree with this statement, then the rest of this article might not make sense), our entire life on earth from the moment we were born to the moment we die, is a spiritual journey.  There are two ways to walk this spiritual journey – consciously or unconsciously.  When we are unconscious, we might be practicing anger, fear, or frustration.  When we are fully present with life and connected with our conscious mind, we are practicing spirituality the way it is intended to. 

In other words, we have opportunities to practice spirituality before, during, and after every breath we breathe and it requires no extra time at all.  The reason most people consider meditation or yoga as a spiritual practice is that those are the moments, by default, we practice spirituality mindfully.  If we practice mindfulness – being present and aware as much as we can, we can potentially turn every single awaken moment into a spiritual practice moment.  

Take the example of cleaning a house, it is a perfect opportunity for mindfulness practice.  Ask ourselves, am I fully present? Do I resist it? Is this job beneath me? Am I able to do whatever job is required of me at the moment with dedication without judgment or emotional turbulence? Do I try to rush through and get to the finishing line as soon as possible? Or do I put my attention on the process of cleaning, the same way I would prepare for a speech in front of thousands of people? 

Let’s not underestimate the simple task of cleaning.  Hidesaburo Kagiyama, the founder of Yellow Hat, a Japanese auto supply and parts retail chain, created his company culture through practice cleaning.  In Mr. Kagiyama’s words, clean space creates a clean mind and a clean spirit.  The practice of cleaning teaches us to be humble, appreciative and passionate about life. 

For the last 55 years, he demonstrated how we do anything is how we do everything, and how we do small and insignificant things can speak volumes about our characters.  Through cleaning, he not only created a company culture of commitment, mindfulness, and resilience but also turned a small mom pop shop into a national chain generating 14-billion-yen annual revenue.  

Spiritual practice opportunities exist in everything we do – from cooking, painting, to parenting; from every interaction we have with family members, colleagues to strangers; from how we respond to weather change, stock market change to social and political changes.  Are we mindful and present? Do we self-observe and self-reflect? Are we calm or do we make emotional decisions? Do we choose to be victims or creators in the face of challenges? Are we reactive and resistant to changes or proactive and curious? Do we choose relationships carefully and put our best effort nurturing each one we choose or do we try to be socially connected with everyone, but not present with anyone?

A friend once expressed the dilemma between going for spiritual practice in an ashram and taking on a business assignment in a corporation.  In her mind, going to the ashram is good for her soul, but taking the business assignment is good for her bank account.  They appear to be mutually exclusive.  

Here is a different perspective as food for thought.  There are 3 places for spiritual practices, with increased levels of difficulty: 

1. in an ashram or retreat

2. in daily life  

3. in a highly toxic or political environment  

It is much easier to be mindful in an ashram when the environment is quiet and distraction-free.  It is more challenging to practice mindfulness in everyday life with many expectations and temptations around. Moreover, it is a challenge to even keep our sanity in a toxic environment.  It required much more inner strength to become the light in the darkness and to avoid being swallowed by the darkness.  

In essence, it is not about choosing between spiritual practice and business assignment.  It is about knowing our spiritual maturity and needs at the moment, then choosing the right environment that gives us the most spiritual growth without crushing us.  The final state we want to reach is a quiet mind. No matter how turbulent the outside world is, while fully aware and present, we are uninfluenced and remain peaceful on the inside.  That’s when we can enjoy the ultimate confidence, resilience, and freedom.    

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