Inner Work - Spiritual Practice

A spiritual practice is anything that allows you access to your spirit. It may be prayer or meditation, but it may also be riding a bicycle, weaving, or solving challenging problems. A spiritual practice includes any activity which truly brings you home to yourself, and which aligns your three selves so they are in fruitful communication.

Because of the pulls you have to focus your attentions and energy outward into the world, there is a tendency in your culture to get cut off from your spiritual nurturing, and to obscure that "small still voice" within you which can guide you. There is a tendency to get so caught up in the momentum of your Talking Self projects, that the Earth Elemental Self and Wiser Self have trouble making their needs and desires felt.

There is no reason why your spiritual "practice" needs to be separate from the rest of your life. There is no rule that says you must sit apart in pious reflection and prayer for several hours a day. In fact, the more you find ways to let the activities you do naturally resonate for you, the more likely you are to have a dynamic spiritual practice.

We knew one woman, a lawyer, who felt a very strong need for more spiritual focus in her life. But she had a limited amount of time. So she began to use her attention differently throughout her day; many of her "maintenance" activities became an opportunity for her to listen in to herself and get grounded.

For example, she loved to do the dishes each evening after supper because she could tell from the way she approached the task what was happening with her energy and spirit. One day she might be singing and tuned into all the sensual pleasures of splashing in water, the next she might find her mind a million miles away, running in anxious circles. She considered this time at the sink her "meditation" time, because it gave her insight into what her mind and attention were doing.

She could invite her awareness back into her body, into the present, by trying to gently focus on what she was doing -- a rote, but important activity. When she was successful it would still her mind and calm her body, and bring her serenity.

She identified other parts of her routine that she could use as opportunities to simplify and come home. When she was waiting "on hold" on the telephone, she would practice attending to her breathing. When she walked the half-mile to her car after work, she would try to attend to her earth elemental sensations -- the smells and sights and sounds. She discovered that if she took five minutes to toss a ball in the air, or bounce it, several times a day, it actually helped to lower her blood pressure -- her spirit wanted to play, and that amount of play lowered her frustration level enough to make a significant difference to her health!

The small acts of attention to her spirit throughout her day added up to a profound spiritual "practice" for our friend. She created a "ritual" way (list making) to begin and end her work day, so that she could be more fully present. She used multicolored pens to bring more color into her sometimes-boring desk work. As she stood around with other people, she found herself falling into discussions that were more meaningful to her than just a re-hashing of work concerns. Since her mind was not running unchecked in circles, she was able to make more personal and heart-felt connections with her colleagues and family.

If you have spent time meditating, you may recognize some of these "symptoms" of a spiritual practice. It tends to radiate outward into your life, affecting the quality of your experience in even the most "secular" of realms.

We think of this approach to spirituality as the care and feeding of your spirit. It is perhaps ironic, because in ways you have been taught that the Divine force will take care of you. One doesn't think of "God" as needing care. Yet the more acts you do to attend to the divine force of your being, and to cultivate it, and to nurture it, the more you will feel the flow of spirit strengthening and expressing itself within you. You are creating an opening for God (or whatever divine force you believe in) to enter your life.

Think of it as maintaining and cultivating access to your root system. Think of it as nurturing the "spirit" everywhere you find it, whether it be the realm of enthusiasm and willingness in your professional life, the physical well-being of you and your friends and family, or the emotional needs of your children and your inner child.

There are three primary realms in which you can focus for your spiritual practice: the heart, the earth elemental realm, and the mind or imagination.

The Heart Realm

You are happier and more alive when you are able to open your heart. That's rather plain and simple. Your heart is your doorway to connection with this world you live in. When you feel open and receptive in your heart area, things flow in your life. When you are shut down or tight in that area, then you tend to experience great discomfort and disconnection.

Any work you do with love is a spiritual practice. If you love your dog or cat, you are giving your spirit an opportunity to move and flow in your life. If you allow a colleague to truly care about you, you let your spirit be called forth. It is "spiritual" to work on your communication skills, to engage in fruitful exchanges with other people. These things make your spirit flow and sing.

Each time you allow yourself to take the time to come home to your heart, to find the eye at the center of the storm of feelings, to allow the ebb and flow of "meaning" to register for you in your life, you are pursuing a spiritual practice.

Come home to greet yourself hundreds of times each day. Take a moment to acknowledge your private feelings and urges, even when you are not in a position to act on them. Work on the arrangements you make in your life, so that more and more you do things and go places that make your heart sing. This is spiritual practice.

The Physical, Earth Elemental Realm

The earth elemental realm is one you might not think of as "spiritual." When you take care of your body, and listen to its needs, you are maintaining your temple. Beyond that, it is through the body that the spirit expresses itself. So physical activity can be a key to opening up your spiritual awareness and feelings.

Any physical action that allows you to know your aliveness is a spiritual activity, which gives you an opportunity to align your body, mind, and spirit. When you sweep the floor, you can convene your mental attention and spirit within your physical body. Can you see that? There can be deep satisfaction in physical acts, on their own terms and in metaphorical ways as well.

The intuition is also part of the earth elemental realm, and it is through your intuitive and physical senses that your wiser self most clearly communicates. Thus any work you do to develop this vocabulary, to become fluent in its grammar and cadences, is an important part of a spiritual practice.

The Mental Realm and the Imagination

Much traditional spirituality takes place in the mind. Prayer, theological exploration, moral precepts are often mental constructs. But we wish to take you beyond reading "spiritual books" and thinking about philosophical issues, to point out that any habits of mind which are wholesome and life-affirming are part of your spiritual practice.

The spirit can flow in a life where the talking self is responsive to its earth elemental and wiser self partners. The spirit has difficulty flowing in a life where the talking self is tied up in knots, running in circles of obsession, or hooked on rigid ideas, expectations, and judgements.

Each time you free yourself from rigidity and judgements, you are practicing being "spiritual". Each time you allow yourself to authentically investigate something, even something quite secular, such as the plumbing under your sink, you are using your mind the way it was designed to be used -- and that is a spiritual act.

Each time you laugh, play with ideas, allow your spirit to move and expand within you, you are being spiritual. But you are also being spiritual when you allow your authentic grief and pain their rightful moments. Learning to be authentic in your moments is a deeply spiritual task.

Your imagination is one of your great doorways to the Divine. It cloths itself in metaphors and images and insights, and teaches you to know the Divine in more of its many facets. Your imagination is one of the places where you most fruitfully and easily receive inner information, inner knowing and inner nourishment, so practicing any form of art or intuitive activity (in a non-self-destructive manner) is a way to draw up the resources of the wiser self.

We often laugh when Ellen is asked: How do you know that all these spirits aren't just your imagination? We say, what else would we be? Your spirit animates the part of you that has receptors for being animated: your imagination. So of course we are imaginary -- much of the best "reality" is!

Train your mind to work in concert with your heart and your instincts. Train your mind to really serve you in the way it is designed to serve you: as an instrument that gives shape to your energies and experiences.

Since you are a committee of three and are trying to balance three agendas, a lot of your spiritual work consists of making adjustments. Those of you who have been on a spiritual path for a while will recognize this. Say you meditate every day. You will know that your meditation is not a blissful voyage into nirvana every single day. Some days your meditation is a matter of getting your brain still enough so you can sit still physically. Some days you spend your meditation time computing your food budget. Sometimes your meditation is the gift of an image that will serve you. Sometimes your meditation is a nap time, sometimes your meditations take you into a deeper level of awareness or knowing. The meditation practice does different things for you at different times. And that's true for every form of spiritual practice.

The spiritual practice you create is one that grounds you in the particulars of your time and physical conditions. It is one that unifies you, in the unique mesh of energies that are special to you. It is something you design from the inside out -- trying things and seeing what brings you most fully home to yourself, what awakens you most fully.

Paths to Enlightenment

There are so many teachers wandering around your planet suggesting that the path to enlightenment is specific, rigorous and limited to certain directive practices. They say: "do only what we tell you to do" and neglect to teach you the origin and reasons for those practices. We do not agree with this. The path to enlightenment is the path that you take to hearing your own inner wisdom and truth. It includes any practice you find which opens your being to its own authentic rhythms. And we assure you, your inner wise truth is as "great" as that of the wisest of teachers -- in fact it is identical. It is the truth of all-that-is, knowing itself.

As you form your own spiritual path you will also be re-forming, in the sense of reworking, your talking self, so that she is more able to handle the energies and ideas that come to you. It is a reciprocal process. You ask for guidance which helps you develop your self. It comes in the form of messages and insights, but also as experiences and events. In response to those insights and experiences, you grow in awareness, so that you can then more clearly ask for - and receive - guidance. It is a long evolutionary process; it is a journey you take. And like most journeys, its significance comes most fully from the quality of your time spent traveling.�