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Lions Roar : November 2014
ment and discipline. you need a regular practice, something you actually do. the defining characteristic of a spiritual prac- tice is that it is useless. it has no practical purpose, except to connect you to your heart and your highest and most mysterious purpose—a purpose that is literally unknown, because it references the unanswerable questions i mentioned earlier. We do so many things for so many good reasons— for our physical, psychological, or emotional health, for our family life or economic life, for the world. But a spiritual practice is useless. it doesn’t address any of those concerns. it is what we do to touch our lives beyond all concerns, reaching beyond our lives to their source. For me, that practice is sitting in silence. i certainly recommend it to everyone, regardless of your religious affiliation or lack of one. But there are many other beneficial practices. Prayer, for one. Whether or not you believe in God you can pray. you can contemplate spiritual texts, art, poetry, or sacred music. you can walk quietly on the earth. you can gaze at the landscape or the sea or sky. and there are many other such useless practices you can devise or invent. you could practice gratitude. as soon as you wake up every morning, you could close your eyes, be quiet for a minute, and say the word “grateful” to yourself silently. then just sit there for a moment or two and see what happens. or you could practice giving—always making the effort to say a word or offer a smile or material or emotional gifts that confer blessings on another person. or you could practice kind speech—on all occasions, even difficult ones, committing your- self to speaking with kindness and including the needs, hopes, and dreams of others. Not just speaking from your own side. or you could practice beneficial action—com- mitting yourself to being of some use to others, in whatever way you can, even stupid ways that seem not to be useful or beneficial but could be if you intend them to be. For instance, you could prac- tice benefiting others by wiping sink counters in public restrooms, or in your own kitchen. Wiping counters with a spirit of beneficial action—with that thought in your mind intentionally—can be a daily spiritual discipline. or you can cook a meal with love for others. even if the meal is for your- self, you can benefit yourself, because one’s self, truly and kindly understood, is also another. or you could practice identity action—recog- nizing that when you do anything, you are not, and cannot, do it alone, solely by your own power. every action you ever take involves others and a world of support. you could notice that whenever you do anything. or you could practice compassion—going toward rather than turning away from the suffer- ing of others, as well as your own suffering. We all want to avoid pain, to make it disappear. But when it’s impossible to make the pain disappear you can go toward it rather than running away. you can become softened by it. i could go on and on. Spiritual practices are unlimited. they are imaginative and—espe- cially—full of love. they come from love, they encourage love, and they produce love. When you do them over time, you find that you are living in a world full of love. For your life and for our lives collectively, we are going to need love in the times to come—lots of love. in good times, love is lovely. Nothing can be better. and in hard times, love is necessary. it turns tragedy into opportunity: something diffi- cult and unwanted becomes a chance to drive love deeper, to make it wiser, fuller, more glorious, and more resilient. as timothy Kelly, who was abbot of Gethse- mani monastery, thomas merton’s monastery in Kentucky, said, “How one lives one’s life is the only true measure of the validity of one’s search.” So please do seriously think about it—but not without some joy and lightness. today you are closing the door on one life and opening the door to another. today you fall out of heaven. Where will you land? What will you do there? What is really worthwhile and what is just distraction, however much people tell you it is not? you are the only one who can ask and answer these questions. ♦ SHAMBHALA SUN NoveMBer 2014 66