It’s not so much a matter of WHAT you practice but THAT you practice.

“The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you; don’t go back to sleep. You must ask for what your really want. Don’t go back to sleep. People are going back and forth across the doorsill where the two worlds touch.
The door is round and open. Don’t go back to sleep.” ~ Rumi

It think all of life can become a living practice. Considering it in these terms is actually a big relief for me. I completely lets me off the hook for trying to get it perfect! (or maybe even “get it” at all.)

In my last blog I talked about breathing as a practice and have recently been emailing back and forth with someone about their mindfulness practice. I have a yoga practice, which could use some dedicated commitment as well as a slightly more disciplined spiritual practice. I know many people who are engaged in a rich variety of practices that enhance their lives.

One of the key benefits to the work of engaging in a practice is slowing down. I recently lead a workshop where we practiced Audio Divina. In short, it’s a contemplative practice of repeatedly listening to a piece of instrumental music and noting how it impresses our heart/mind/body/spirit. Afterwords more than one person commented that it was hard to slow down enough to follow the format. We can gather momentum so quickly in life that slowing down becomes a vital practice in maintaining balance.

In the East it is said that the human mind is like a tree with thousands of monkeys swinging continuously from one branch to another. I can completely identify with this. In my case I refer to this as “the voice.” That voice that offers running commentary beginning when I awake and pretty much motor-mouth’s through till days end. At this moment if there’s a voice telling you that you don’t have that voice…that is the voice. This is the voice that has opinions and judgement about everything along with plenty of advise too. In my case, if the voice was a paid consultant I would have fired it’s sorry ass long ago since almost all the advise it offers is unhelpful.

It is almost impossible to hear the more subtle leadings in life with that constant chatter.

Practice makes perfect. I think I can state unequivocally that is not true. In her brilliant Work, Byron Katie asks us to consider four basic questions when wondering about our response to a life question or situation. The second question is, “Can you absolutely know that is true?” There is not much that holds up to that kind of scrutiny but I know that no matter how long and diligently I practice I will never achieve perfection. Not going to happen, at least in this lifetime.

So does that mean why bother? I don’t think so. That’s sort of like, why clean the toilet, or wash the floors or dust (well maybe dusting could be exempt) they are just going to get dirty again? There is a palpable benefit to a regular practice.

Along with a slowing down another advantage gained from any kind of spiritual practice is perspective on our life-force. In First Nations tradition this is Hawk medicine; the view from 60,000 feet along with the capacity to see the obvious in everything. Perhaps the Great Spirit is offering you a gift you only need to receive.

People around the world engage in spiritual practice as a foundational part of life. Like the word spiritual itself, this has a broad and hopefully deeply personal meaning for you.

I am spiritual but not religious. This means different things to different people. Rather than throw the baby out with the bathwater though, I’d like to draw upon some of the wisdom tradition that has been passed down to us by mystics, yogi’s and wisdom teachers of all spiritual traditions. A heads up here as I will be quoting the rather well known Jewish mystic and healer, Jesus of Nazareth. Christianity is my tradition, so of course the one I practice.

Years ago I saw His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama along with about 5000 of my closest friends. For me it was a deeply moving experience. His lightness of being was palpable even from 250 meters. He talked at length about such things as the Middle Path and such but what I recall the most was his encouragement to not convert to Buddhism. He encouraged us all to stick with the religion/faith practice we currently have and devote ourselves to that. He talked about how people flit around from one faith to another without landing long enough to do the deep work that leads to the benefits. These are wise words from a current day mystic.

The Sufi mystic Rumi is one of my favourite poets. Again, he writes,

SPIRITUAL HEALTH
A good gauge of spiritual health is to write down
the three things you most want.
If they in any way differ,
you are in trouble.

Gotta love something that can throw your mind into that kind of a loop eh?

Here’s another one that might twist even a postmodern thinkers mind.

“To you who are ready for the truth, I say this: Love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer for that person. If someone slaps you in the face, stand there and take it. If someone grabs your shirt, giftwrap your best coat and make a present of it. If someone takes unfair advantage of you, use the occasion to practice the servant life. No more tit-for-tat stuff. Live generously. Here is a simple rule of thumb for behavior: Ask yourself what you want people to do for you; then grab the initiative and do it for them! If you only love the lovable, do you expect a pat on the back? I tell you, love your enemies. Help and give without expecting a return. You’ll never—I promise—regret it. Live out this God-created identity generously and graciously, even when we’re at our worst. Our Mother/Father is kind; you be kind..” (Book of Luke 6:27-28, 31-36)

Cynthia Bourgeault describes the above text in her book The Wisdom Jesus; “We can see the razor edge of his brilliance as he [Jesus] takes the familiar world of [sacred Hebrew poetry] far beyond the safety zone of conventional morality into a world of radical reversal and paradox.” Living these kinds of lessons is a hard practice for me with a mind that yearns to think in a dualistic right/wrong context.

No matter what your practice whether it be; creative arts, Thai Chi, religious, mindfulness, business, spiritual, yoga, nature…however it is you connect with something greater than yourself to observe the inter-relationality of all, please stay mindful of the space Rumi talked about, “the doorsill where two worlds meet.” It’s often the juiciest place of all.

I believe that some type of transformation is the desired outcome of a spiritual practice. I hope that my practice engages both my ego and shadow side in a fruitful, reflective examination. As Richard Rohr puts it, “If you don’t transform it, you project it.”

It’s not practice to be perfect but practice for the sake of the practice and the greater Work which will help us all.

To breathe or not to breathe~it’s not really a question.

The pace of our lives can often leave us living in our heads and gasping for air.  In my work as a Registered Massage Therapist a vital component to my work is to assist people in reconnecting with their bodies. Children seem to have a natural relationship with their bodies but as we age, we sometimes get disconnect. There could be many reasons for this. Whatever the cause of this apparent separation from our bodies, they are always communicating with us. If we do not “hear” the more subtle communications, the body will escalate to pain and/or disease to get the message across. Pain is obvious and is what usually motivates people to come into my office.

In every treatment we breathe, since it’s a very effective way to reconnect to our bodies. Beginning by placing my hand on the lower back I invite people to breathe into it. This is quite challenging for some people. Our culture tends toward a more shallow upper body type of breathing rather than using the diaphragm, the muscle whose primary task is respiration. Some people forget to breathe all together.

For those who have a yoga practice, sing or play an instrument breath is foundational to the work.

While I am coaching new clients with their breathing I ask them if they have ever watched an infant breathe. Think about this yourself for a moment. When you watch a baby breathe, particularly when they are at rest, they naturally use their diaphragms. What you see is their little bellies moving in and out, as they exhale and inhale. Babies are perfect diaphragmatic breathers and are born breathing this way. No one teaches babies how to breathe.

 

The thing about breathing is that you don’t think about it, right? Who thinks about breathing? Practically no one. The practice of breathing I encourage in my clients leads them into their bodies, to start feeling their bodies thereby promoting body awareness. We don’t have to learn how to breathe using our diaphragm, we simply need to remember something we already know. We were born knowing how to do this; it’s really a matter of dusting off some old synapses and developing a practice.

 

This connection to our bodies is vital to our well-being. Pain means there is something out of balance or perhaps a sign of injury, but very likely some form of dis-ease. This is like the red warning light on the dashboard of your car. Many people deal with body pain by ignoring it or taking a pain killer. Pain medication may be fine and even advisable under certain circumstances but many people use pain killers regularly. This is like seeing a red warning light on your cars dashboard and covering it with a piece of tape. It’s very unlikely anyone would ever do this, yet many people do this to their bodies all the time.

Breathe

If you spend very much time at a computer you likely do not breathe while you are focusing on your computer. Obviously you breathe enough to keep from passing out but that is likely it. I only mention computers in particular as they are so good for my body-work business. Almost any type of work that exclusively involves your brain can lead to apical breathing or breathing into your upper body.

 

There is no other way to get into this habit other than thinking about your breathing.  I am not here to convince you as that will not work. My encouragement is to simply try it. If you like, consider it a mindfulness practice. That’s all it really is anyway.

What is involved is staying present with your breath was you work. It’s when we are living in our heads that we forget to breathe. To help you remember watch other people when you are at a meeting, on public transit or a place were there is a group of people. Notice how they are (not) breathing. What you will most likely see is shallow upper body breathing. You may see shoulders rising as well as collar bones and the neck muscles contracting as people inhale.

 

Air moves into the lungs by the creation of a vacuum. When the diaphragm contracts it moves down into your abdominal area. This creates a vacuum that draws air in. The diaphragm is designed to handle 80+% of resting respiration. The axillary muscles of respiration attach the upper cervical spine and head to the second rib, sternum and clavicle. When you use these axillary muscles to breathe you are lifting the ribs to create the vacuum drawing air into your lungs. These axillary muscles can do the job but become fatigued and stressed. People can get horrible headaches from over-using these muscles.

A Breathing Practice:

Sit in a comfortable chair or lay down. Put your hands on your belly. When you inhale your hand should rise first. The breath starts in the belly and moves up into the ribcage, not the other way around. Simple, yes. Easy, no. It takes practice but it is well worth it.

Connecting to your core wisdom

Have you ever driven somewhere, arrived, then as you turned the car off you realized you don’t remember driving for the last while? We are often asleep during parts of our day. I don’t mean asleep as in catching a few zzz’s but rather, not being “present.” During that car trip your mind was not asleep. There were all sorts of thoughts going on. Perhaps you remember them, but perhaps not. Having a spiritual awakening is the desired outcome of a spiritual life but we need to be awake to experience it.

Here’s another question. Have you ever had a gut feeling to do something, then thought about it and changed your mind and come to regret with not having gone with your first thought or gut instinct? Almost everyone has. How does one discern the thoughts offered by Spirit from those manifest in ego? 

Our minds are a wondrous gifts, but do not provide us with the whole picture. Our minds are tremendous organizers, multi-taskers and so much more.  Integration is not about leaving the mind out of the picture, but rather learning to align it with your heart and gut. Discerning with a more balanced approach in these three vital areas will offer deeper insights on your journey as you’ll then be in touch with your deepest spiritual intelligence.

Developing a regular spiritual practice is the most significant aspect in learning to hear your inner wisdom. A practice of meditation or contemplation of any type will get you beyond the egoic mind and the dualistic thought it will use’s to sabotage you.

It is crystal clear to me that the answer to my problems will not come from reading another book. A significant piece in the journey to true freedom and real peace of mind comes from developing a disciplined and regular spiritual practice. This a something that Spiritual Direction can guide you in manifesting in your life.

A life including contemplation really is the change that changes everything.

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