Q: What are the key elements of a spiritual practice?
This is a very large subject, but as meditation is often pointed out as a key element of any spiritual practice, let’s start there. Various meditations are used for various practices and outcomes. And, there can be levels to these meditations. But, as with all spiritual practices that move us toward oneness/awareness, the truth is that any meditation practiced diligently can get the job done.
But even within some spiritual practices, hierarchy has been created. When you reach a certain level, you move from beginner to intermediate. Then to advanced-intermediate, and so on. And while this is not meant to be used as a measurement, but rather, as a tool to determine where one is in the process, nevertheless, it often becomes about measurement. We begin to think that one type of meditation is better than another, or this school of meditation is better than that one.
Let’s use breathing as an analogy. You can breathe faster or slower. Or change the rhythm, intensity, or depth. And each will, in fact, cause different sensations. But the type of breathing, in some ways, is a distraction. It can trigger phenomenological experiences which are often desired and can cause spiritual, intuitive, and mystical experiences. But, at the end of it all, it’s just the simple breathing that matters. Nobody fails breathing. Breathing happens.
This truly is also the practice of meditation. The simplest meditation is to just follow the breath. In, out. One, two. It doesn’t matter whether you count or say in or out. It’s simply a reminder to pay attention, as a focusing tool. And, as a result, one has to experience meditation.
Do not overcomplicate it. If you can breathe, you can meditate. Get good at that before you rush off into the fancy stuff.
Q: I understand the idea that if you can breathe, you can meditate. But the challenge is to turn off the mind. And to focus on the breathing.
Not true. Don’t focus on turning off the mind. The mind’s purpose is to think. Instead, gently turn away from the mind and focus on the breathing. The mind will do what it will do. It will think. At times it will distract.
In time, through consistent practice and focusing on the breath, the mental chatter will become background noise. It’s there. It’s available to pay attention to. But it becomes easier and easier to choose not to. Until eventually it just becomes a kind of hum. A kind of white noise that does not require attention. The joy in following the breath will help develop focus and concentration.
It’s only a matter of remembering when you are in meditation that following the breath is the journey at this point.
Q: It seems that meditation is the bedrock practice of a spiritual practice. What are the other key elements of a spiritual practice?
All religions outline the same practices. Right thinking, right speech, right action, and so on. It is not about a commitment to an external way of life. But to a way of being. And the being is seeking cleanliness and purity. This isn’t about meeting the demands of some external dogma. It simply is that experiencing this beingness brings peace. From within that peace, one can see, experience, and understand deeply.
It’s like pebbles thrown in the pond causing concentric circles that interfere with each other. Causing a disruption on the clear surface of the pond. Where before you could see your reflection in the water, as well as all the way down to the bottom of the pond, now it becomes very difficult to see deeply because of the disruptive patterns. When the rippling ceases and the pond settles back down, there’s the ability to see deeply again.
This is, in essence, the spiritual practice. Do what places you in peace. Eat healthy food. Take care of the physical body. Feed the mind positive information. This will help. But more than anything, do what brings peace.
If you need it to be more complicated, you can make it as complicated as you’d like. But the only requirement to set the conditions for spiritual growth is to live in peace. That allows one to expand consciousness. Allows one’s senses to awaken. Allows awareness to expand outward and co-mingle with all other awareness. Which allows the understanding that: “It is all one. We are all one. There is only one. I am that one. I am.”
Peace is the way. Once you experience the magic and power of spiritual peace, on your own you will seek it out.
Q: How would you describe what that peace is?
It’s an awareness of full presence. It’s been said in many ways. Be here now. Be in the present.
There is a stillness that allows peace to expand. This is one of the purposes of meditation. It loosens one’s grip on anxious thinking, which consumes so many.
By following the breath, the body has to relax. In that relaxation, an awareness of stillness begins. From within that stillness, peace is experienced. There’s a quiet joy and appreciation and an awareness.
But rather than use words in order to ask to be given more words, do the practice. The experience itself is what is needed to have the understanding.
Q: How do we tap into that knowingness that’s going so deep?
Breathe. Pay attention to the breath. It will take you far away from the mind and its chatter. It’s so simple. There is nothing mysterious or complicated. Do the practice. Don’t measure. Just do the practice.
When you forget to follow the breath, as soon as you notice, simply begin following the breath again. Keep it a very gentle process. It will not take long to groove the practice into a very deep meditation.