Practice makes . . .

. . . better. Practice makes that which once seemed difficult easier.

In athletics, and even in playing a musical instrument, or doing any other action requiring motor skills, practice can create something commonly called “muscle memory.” The repetition of an action makes the action more natural and less dependent on intense concentration. An accomplished basketball player might be able to spin a ball on the tip of her finger, for instance, a skill I would find immensely difficult and even, at least currently, impossible.  The basketball player does it almost without thinking. 

Our spiritual journey can also benefit from repetition.  That’s the part we call “practice.” 

I think it’s important that we differentiate between beliefs and practice. Someone can have beliefs with no practice. It’s also possible to have a practice without specific beliefs. But when we combine the two, we create a spiritual life that is alive and growing and engaged and the source of a consistent river of peace and joy that flows through our lives.  Perhaps most important, it is the ongoing practice of our beliefs that strengthens our intuition and allows us to be the primary guide on our own journey. It’s how we become our own guru. 

A spiritual practice can be almost anything as long as it occurs with some regularity and is meaningful to you. Meditation, yoga, mindfulness, mantra chanting, prayer, reading a spiritual text, listening to music that centers you — these are some of the more common spiritual practices. But a practice can also be planting flowers or looking up at the full moon or lighting incense or volunteering or acknowledging the four directions or making good use of that magic wand you bought on a whim at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.  You give symbols their meaning, and whatever you decide is significant . . . is. 

The paradox is that it’s not the practice, but it is the practice.  Let’s break that down a bit. It’s not the practice in the sense that any physical action or practice we engage in within the temporal realm of ego and this physical existence is not inherently important. The Truth with a capital T is that the Divine Essence that you are remains the same regardless of any act you carry out.  Whether you meditate today or not, you remain the Presence of Divine Love. 

But, in this dynamic life, the life of time, the life of beginnings and endings, it sometimes takes a practice, even just a quick breathing exercise or making prayer hands, to remind us again, and again, and again, of who we truly are and what is truly real.  And in time, we create a spiritual muscle memory that helps us to live more consistently from the core of our being, the place where only love and peace and joy reside. 

That’s what practice can do.  It can help us uncover our Divine Nature, and it can help us live from that place more and more consistently all the time.  It can be the conduit to the the most important discovery of this life — the discovery of the Self. 

But there is one thing practice won’t do.  Practice won’t make perfect. Because it doesn’t need to. You already are. 

Duck, Duck, Duck, Zen

My good friend and sherpa-guru, Denise, recently reminded me of the spiral quality of the spiritual path.  The idea is that the journey is not a straight line or even a chaotic one; it’s a purposeful and patterned returning and returning and returning to constant themes throughout our lives, each time seeing them from a higher place.

This might show up in our emotional work in this way: We visit a therapist in our 20’s to work through a particular emotional pain.  We journal and scream and talk and cry it all out until we feel a release.  It’s gone!  We’re light and happy and free.  Life is beautiful.  Until a year later when the same old shit pops up again.  It might seem we wasted all of that time, energy, and money.  But if we’re really aware, we recognize that we’re seeing the old pain from a slightly different perspective.  We’re a floor up in our spirit, but we’ve circled back around to the same side of the building.

The spiritual journey follows a similar stairway to heaven, and I’ve gone round and round.  I’ve learned to recognize different levels (“fifth floor: ladies lingerie, peace of mind”).  An early level is one I call:

Practice-Practice-Practice-Forget About It

Actually, there are at least two preceding levels: Practice-Forget-Forget-Forget, and Practice-Forget-Practice-Forget.  But, we can talk about all three together.

The practice is our spiritual work.  It looks different for each of us.  My practice is meditation, yoga, engagement with my spiritual community, reading, walks in nature, and general mindfulness.  Some people practice with prayer, church/synagogue/temple, playing tic-tac-toe.  Literally ANYTHING can be part of a practice if you have imbued it with that energy.

Early on the journey, I had really great intentions.  (Pause for delayed laughter.) I knew what called to me, but I hadn’t quite found the groove.  I worked at it.  Boy, did I work at it.  And I would forget it, sometimes for weeks, sometimes for months, and at least a time or two for years.  It took getting beyond those levels to really see how important the forget-about-it times were.  Those were the incubation periods.

Then came the next level:

Practice-Practice-Practice-Wander In The Wilderness

Until we completely purge our inner victim, we’re destined to periodically wail into the heavens, “My God, My God, why has thou forsaken me?” This is done with a flourish of great drama.  This is the level on which we find ourselves saying things like “But I’ve been doing my work; really I have.  Why does God let this HAPPEN?” (Wail, moan, general gnashing of teeth.)

This, too, is an important time.  I believe Jesus may have been on this spiral when he spent his 40 days in the desert.  It’s the level where we wrestle with angels . . . and devils.  At times, we threaten to scrap it all and live our entire lives in happy hour at the beach.  We are tempted to buy happiness by giving up the hope of joy.

The most important moments of transformation happen here.  We make a decision: keep climbing or jump over the rail.  What we don’t realize is that jumping over the rail only puts us back into a forget-about-it state.  We WILL be back.  We can’t un-know what has been revealed to us.

Eventually we reach a new landing:


We’ve achieved consistency.  We walk our talk.  Life still presents challenges, but these are much rarer, and we tend to view them from a place of detachment.  This doesn’t mean we don’t care; in fact, we have learned compassion at levels we’ve never known before.  We just don’t internalize pain so readily.

This is a beautiful level.  It can also be exhausting.  The practice brings peace, but in those 3:00 a.m. moments when no one is watching and we’ve dared to be really honest with ourselves, we still sometimes wonder, “What’s the point?  IS there a point?  Is something supposed to HAPPEN? Is this IT?”

And then magic happens.  It happens because of our practice.  It happens in spite of our practice.  It happens most often in those 3:00 a.m. moments of heart-opening honesty.

The magic doesn’t have a level.  It dances around the spiral like pixie-dust and star stuff.  It waits until we’re ready.  And then it teaches us the next step:


Every great religion teaches it.  Every great master has done it.  Every enlightened being lives it.

How do we know God?  How do we align with Divine Mind?  How do we step into the One-Ness?  We. Stop. Practicing.  At least for a moment.  We stop everything.  We release.  We let go.

We surrender.

Much like the early levels, I’m sure there are some additional levels here, and perhaps the place of true bliss is one of surrender-surrender-surrender-surrender.

Maybe there is even something after that.  I’ll let you know.  I’m still climbing.

Reclaiming The Brain

I am not a profundity snob.  Truth can just as likely be found on a bumper sticker or a billboard as it can in the words of a yogi master.   And sometimes it can be spoken by a half-drunk, Irish actor.

At last night’s Golden Globe Awards, Colin Farrell gave an acceptance speech which included these words: “Curiosity is love.  Ignorance is nemesis.”    And my entire life suddenly made a certain kind of sense.

I have a need to know . . . everything.  If I read a novel in which a minor character is a bricklayer, I want to know how bricks are laid.  If I hear a friend talk about a trip to Austria, I will ask her questions about the land and people and customs and food and architecture.   If I watch a t.v. show on the birds of South America, I am likely to get on the Internet and research the lovable caique, a relatively small and brightly colored member of the parrot family.

My spiritual journey has centered around two big lessons.  One is that I must move from my head to my heart.  I am (news flash) a head person.  I can analyze everything, even emotions, which of course should be felt.   I am on a continuing journey to move the center of my attention about 18 inches south.   Because of this spiritual lesson, I have often condemned my great need to know.  After all, isn’t all “knowledge” kind of like a huge trivia game we use to pass the time in this incarnation?

The second big lesson of my spiritual journey is to be in the moment.  Being present means being aware, and being aware . . . wow . . . could mean caring about Austria when it comes up in conversation.   Being aware could mean having an understanding about what it means to be a bricklayer rather than just skimming over the word.   Being aware could be what made me Google caique.

Curiosity is love.  Ignorance is nemesis.

Thank you, Colin.