“Is there any spiritual practice that you recommend as being superior?”
That’s pretty much it.
Everything else is only a layer of fat. All our philosophical musings, our spiritual rituals, our beliefs, our opinions, our social engagements and so on may provide our minds with a lot of succulent fat to chew. But there is no meat in any of it.
“Spiritual” is not this other dimension of experience that is separate from the mundane. Spiritual IS the mundane.
Washing the lotus feet of a Buddha statue is just as spiritual as washing the dishes.
Singing devotional songs in an ashram is just as spiritual as singing Top 40 tunes in a karaoke bar.
Sitting on a meditation cushion is just as spiritual an activity as sitting on the toilet.
A monk praying in a monastery up in the mountains is just as spiritual as an investment banker closing a deal in his office up in a skyscraper.
We think because the first set of activities lead to an altered state of mind there is something “more spiritual” about them. We feel like the quality of our awareness is improved, our vision is expanded, our senses are aroused – and this leads us to believe that these practices are somehow different; that they have an aura of sacredness, of extraordinariness, of specialness, of spiritual depth to them.
But that is a facade. It is a trick of stagecraft designed to lure your attention. It’s because you have forgotten how to find the spiritual IN the mundane that all these tricks and elaborate rituals have been constructed to try and remediate you.
When I was a little kid I was a lousy eater. So my mother would have to devise these elaborate stories and rituals to even get a single bite into me. The spoon would be an airplane or a train and my mouth would be the airport or station. And we’d try and see how many passengers we could accommodate today.
That’s what meditation is. That’s what spiritual practices are. Elaborate techniques to get petulant children to consume the MOMENT in its entirety, one morsel at a time, without balking at it or becoming too distracted with the next shiny piece of thought-candy that comes along.
Spiritual practices are our existential aerobics regimes. Ashrams and retreats are our existential gyms and fitness centres. Civilization has turned our bodies flaccid and has addled our minds by exponentially shortening our attention spans. Gone are the days, when on a hunt, we could squat concealed in the long grass and silently scan the horizon for prey for hours on end. Instead, I sat in a restaurant today and watched every single patron there obsessively glued to their phone, whether or not they were dining alone.
Our “spiritual practices” aren’t spiritual practices at all. They are “correctional practices”. They are designed to offset a certain gross imbalance in the way we have grown accustomed to live.
Just as a person’s physical health has little to do with how many times they go to the gym, spirituality has little to do with how many times one meditates. Gym workouts serve the purpose of offsetting the imbalance created by a predominantly sedentary lifestyle. But people who are active in their daily lives to begin with, don’t need gyms. I workout regularly and consider myself pretty fit but the elderly people living next door can outwork me any day. They’ve been farmers their whole lives and have a physical endurance that is far beyond anything I can muster.
Similarly, spiritual practices serve to offset the imbalance created by a culture of distraction. Yet, people who are open, attentive, curious and present in their day-to-day, moment-to-moment, don’t need spiritual practices. Ordinary life and it’s events are where they find their spirituality.
I have nothing against spiritual practices just like I have nothing against gym workouts. My only issue is with the misconception that spiritual practices are the bedrock of a “spiritual life”.
That’s total nonsense.
That’s like saying workouts at the gym are the fundamental basis of a physically fit and healthy existence. Opportunities for activity and physical exertion arise constantly in our everyday lives if we so choose to engage with them. Physical fitness seems to be an inherent requirement in our very existence as physical beings. Gyms have hardly INVENTED fitness! They simply provide a space for us to engage in that sort of activity IF we are unable to do so otherwise.
Similarly, spiritual practices and rituals, teachings and philosophies, ashrams and centers provide a space for people to engage in “spirituality” IF they are unable to find opportunities to do so in their everyday lives. Yet, they don’t hold any dominion over or claim to spirituality. Spiritual experience is a constant in our lives – if we choose to engage with life in that manner. Spirituality seems to be an inherent requirement in our very existence as spiritual beings.
If someone were to ask me what workout regime I would recommend for them to live a fit and healthy life, I would answer : “None”. I would simply tell them to use their body for what it was designed to do. And to use it THOROUGHLY for that purpose. To utterly exhaust it.
And my answer to your question about spiritual practices is, likewise, similar. Use your spirit for what it has been designed for. To experience every moment being THOROUGHLY alive. To utterly exhaust each moment.
Chuck the fat and sink your teeth into the very meat of it.