When people ask me about spiritual practices or disciplines, I generally do not recommend any. The reason I don’t recommend any is because people tend to view practices as a means to an end. They think that if they do certain things then they will result in a spiritual goal.
Yet even when I don’t recommend practices, people will press me on it. They say that they know it is all grace and that there is nothing they can do to wake up spiritually, but they are hoping there is something that might help in some small way. Today I am going break my pattern and suggest a practice.
I had a Zoom conversation a couple of weeks ago that I have been thinking about. Like so many people who email or talk to me, this person asked about what practices I would recommend to help with spiritual awakening. Like I normally do I explained that practices do not produce spiritual awakening. They are just something we do while waiting for grace. We do them because we have to do something.
People do not like to hear that. That is a blow to the ego, especially the ego of someone who considers themselves to be a spiritually minded person on a quest for a spiritual goal. Spiritual practices define many spiritual seekers. They dress a certain way and have all sorts of spiritual paraphilia. They meditate or go on retreats or go to satsang or go to church.
They practice yoga or attend conferences or workshops. They may have a special diet or perform rituals or repeat mantras or so many other things. We Christians go to worship and privately pray – both silent contemplative prayer and traditional spoken prayer. We read scripture and study spiritual books and read devotional works and serve others. These are what we call spiritual disciplines.
When people ask me about spiritual practices or disciplines I generally do not recommend any. I tell them to keep doing what they are doing … or not. The reason I don’t recommend any is because people tend to view practices as a means to an end. They think that if they do certain things then they will result in a spiritual goal.
Yet even when I don’t recommend practices, people will press me on it. They say they know it is all grace and that there is nothing they can do to wake up spiritually, but they are hoping there is something that might help in some small way. Today I am going break my pattern and suggest something.
What I am suggesting needs to be a continual practice. Something you can do all the time. Like mindfulness. Practices that have a beginning and end time give the impression that Divine Presence can be turned on and off. It can’t. The Kingdom of God is always present. It is just a matter of whether we are paying attention.
So I am suggesting that you pay attention as often as you remember to what is always present, that has no beginning and end. Do that whenever you think of it. No pressure to do it a certain amount of time. No guilt if you forget. No stress, which would defeat the purpose.
I like the 17th century classic by Brother Lawrence, The Practice of the Presence of God. In that small book this French Carmelite monk repeatedly says that he practices the presence of God all the time, no matter what else he is doing physically or mentally. He even says that when we are doing some formal spiritual practice like worship or prayer, that we should stop that for a moment and simply be in the presence of God.
The best spiritual practice is a nonpractice. It is not something you do. It is something always present no matter where we are or what we are doing. It is simply to be aware of that which is always present. That is the Presence is God. That is Nondual awareness. That is the Mind of Christ or Christ Consciousness. It is not something we seek. It is something that we are, and we simply notice that it is always present. It is our true identity, not a practice. The best practice that we can do is simply to be aware of who and what we already are.
Can some spiritual techniques help us be aware in this way better than others? Maybe. Not for me. For me it was not until I abandoned all spiritual practices and sought Truth directly without techniques or intermediaries or mediation through spiritual disciplines that I noticed what had always been present in the midst of all spiritual practices.
In my experience of doing spiritual practices for decades, all spiritual practices tend to be coopted by the ego to distract us from divine wakefulness. We practice them to wake up but they just lull us into a deeper sleep, into a false narrative that we are getting closer to spiritual awakening. It is not true. You can’t get any closer than you already are. You can’t get any closer to what you already are.
In my experience spiritual disciplines give a false sense of progress or hope that if we keep doing what we are doing long enough and well enough, then one day we will hit the spiritual jackpot. Once again it was not until I stopped all spiritual practices and rejected the whole religious search and sought Truth no matter what it was … It was not until I deconstructed everything about my religious faith that awakening happened. It is only when we fail and are completely discouraged and we know that nothing can work, that we experience the grace of spiritual awakening.
That grace is exactly what happened to the Buddha. According to Buddhist tradition he tried every ascetic and spiritual practice and spiritual teacher he could find. It was only when he gave up and decided that nothing was working that it happened. He sat down under a tree determined that he would not get up until he was enlightened or died in the process. That single-minded determination is the only thing that works in my opinion. And it that cannot be faked or manufactured. If there is anything that helps it is that type of resolve.
That resolve only works if you have a sense of what you are looking for. Fortunately I think everyone at some point in their lives has had some experience of Divine Reality. You may not be able to describe it but you know it when they see it. It is just a matter of whether we recognize it at the time and what we do with that.
People tell me all the time that they have had what they call a spiritual awakening or a transcendent experience or they use some other term. They want it back and they want it permanently. Unfortunately you can’t repeat an experience. And you don’t really want a spiritual experience. Experiences come and go. What I am talking about is the Reality the experience communicated.
I tell people to focus on what they knew to be permanent in that temporary spiritual experience they once had. That which did not cease to be present when the experience ended. Direct all your attention on that, and it will be seen as present at all times in all experiences.
Everyone has access to spiritual wakefulness all the time every moment. How can we not? It is who we are! Yet we ignore this spiritual reality, our true spiritual identity. Then we run around looking for it! I am simply suggesting you not ignore it any longer. Instead focus all your attention and resolve on it.
In spiritual awakening one realizes that the treasure we have sought all our lives has always been right here right now. A part of us has always known that. A part of you is in touch with that and knows that right now. All it takes to wake up is to pay attention to that part of you that is already awake, and realize that this Wakefulness is who you really are, and it is the Whole of reality. Everything else is a dream. Just ignore everything else you are thinking and feeling and doing and hoping and wishing and simply notice the One Reality that is here now.
Even if your sense of this Divine Presence seems very slight and small - like only a tiny pinhole of Light in the darkness - focus on that pinhole of Light that you think you see. Keep your eyes on it. Approach that Light. Touch that Light. Put your eyeball right up against that pinhole that is no larger than the eye of a needle, no bigger than the size of a mustard seed, and peek through that strait gate and you will glimpse the Kingdom of God. That is why Jesus used metaphors of tiny things like that. And when you glimpse it clearly, you will see you have always been in it.
Keep focusing on that narrow gate no matter what. Let nothing else matter. Your Pearl of Great price, Jesus called it. Forget anything else. And see if you can do anything to enlarge that hole a little bit so you can see clearer. In time that hole becomes big enough to squeeze through into the Kingdom of God. Then you see that you haven’t moved at all.