One of my first tasks of the day is to open the shades in the entry and dining room, just as one of the last tasks of the day is to close the shades. If I am aware, that simple homey gesture becomes a time of prayer --morning and night time prayers, bookending the day.
Thank you for a restful night's sleep
and for the grace
of a new day. May I move through it
in openness and with love and
Thank you for the gift of the day now ending. I am
grateful for the many riches I have received today.
Forgive me for the ways I have been more closed than
open. May the rest I receive tonight lead me to be present
to the light that flows within and around me.
It is possible for most anything we do to become a spiritual practice, especially "If you approach it in the right way--with intentionality, humility, receptivity, hope. And of course with an attentive eye on the activity of the divine." (The Sacred Year, Michael Yankoski, p. 12) http://www.michaelyankoski.com/#sthash.YQXNbcQ3.dpbs
I can be intentional about being present to activities I enjoy and welcome doing, no matter how ordinary. For example, I enjoy most aspects of home tending, even cleaning bathrooms and kitchens. I start dinner in the evening and as I chop and stir and simmer I can give thanks for this daily sustenance, and I pray for all those who go hungry. I can sweep the front steps and breathe in the glories of the sun or the crispness of the air. At the ironing board I can smooth the creases in my husband's shirts and be grateful for the love we share. I can put away the books and papers accumulated in my office over the days and feel such gratitude for the freedom I have to read and write for hours on end. I can and do pray my way through the day--as long as it goes smoothly, and I am doing something I enjoy doing.
What happens, however, when I am doing something that I don't enjoy doing? I don't like to vacuum or lug bags of groceries in from the car and then unpack them. I am not crazy about folding the laundry or changing the bed. I get frustrated when I am doing errands and I get stuck in traffic or when I am not able to find what I need in the grocery store. Viewing those times as an opportunity for spiritual practice usually doesn't occur to me. However, I know that by filling my life with intentional spiritual practices which simply put are "ways of seeing and being in the world that help us wake up and become fully, truly alive." (Fully Awake and Truly Alive, Spiritual Practices to Nurture Your Soul, Rev. Jane Vennard, p. xviii) http://www.sdiworld.org/resources/educational-videos/reverend-jane-e-vennard I am more likely to ground myself in light and love when hit with times of stress, fear, grief and loss.
Father Thomas Keating who teaches the spiritual practice of centering prayer http://www.centeringprayer.com says, "The only way to judge your practice is by its long-range fruits: whether in daily life you enjoy greater peace, humility and charity." Who doesn't want to live a more loving and compassionate life?
Examples of Spiritual Practices
When considering spiritual practices, most people think about reading the Bible or praying at certain times of the day. Or meditating. I write in my journal, and that is one of my main spiritual practices, but I also walk a labyrinth when I can and in the past one of my main spiritual practices was doing Tai Chi. Meeting with a spiritual director is a spiritual practice, as is going on retreats or a pilgrimage.
But what about making music, baking bread, pulling weeds, cleaning your house, driving a parent to a doctor's appointment, volunteering at your grandchild's school, sitting with a friend who is recovering from surgery, attending a yoga class, reading or writing poetry, walking along the river every morning?
Barbara Brown Taylor http://www.barbarabrowntaylor.com wrote a wonderful book called An Altar in the World, A Geography of Faith says, "No one's spiritual practice is exactly like anyone else's. Life meets each of us where we need to be met, leading us to the doors with our names on them."
If what you do at any moment opens you to the fullness of life and fills your heart with love and compassion and gratitude and a new awareness of our own essence, you are in the midst of a spiritual practice. How exciting is that?
Vennard writes about on-cushion and off-cushion practices, (p. xx) using Buddhist language. On-cushion practices are the more structured and formal practices and in the Buddhist tradition that would be meditation time. Off-cushion practices are spontaneous and informal and can happen and be available to us at any time, for in any moment there is the opportunity to be mindful. I think, as does Vennard, that a combination of both off and on-cushion practices are necessary to live a fully awakened life, and one leads to the other which leads back to the other and so on. A wonderful circular energy.
Barbara Brown Taylor adds further illumination about on-cushion and off-cushion spiritual practices, although she doesn't use those words. She writes about practices of walking the earth, getting lost, encountering others, living with purpose, feeling pain, and other ways of living fully. This is what she says about living her life as a spiritual practice.
My life depends on engaging the most ordinary physical
activities with the most exquisite attention I can give
them. My life depends on ignoring all touted distinctions
between the secular and the sacred, the physical and the
spiritual, the body and the soul. What is saving my life
now is becoming more fully human, trusting that there
is no way to God apart from real life in the real world.
Yes and Amen.
What on-cushion spiritual practices are part of your life? What do you do in your ongoing day-to day existence that with greater focus and intention could become off-cushion practices? In what ways can you fill your life with spiritual practices? I would love to know.