Now that we’ve covered the compelling scientific evidence that overwhelmingly demonstrates the physical and emotional benefits of spiritual practice – we stumble upon a deeper motivating force that inspires spiritual development: TRANSFORMATION.
In other words, how can you really tell if your prayers are being answered? How do you know if your meditation is successful or going in the right direction? What are the global, cosmic, timeless benefits of daily devotionals, practicing forgiveness, or counting your breaths?
Teachers of all traditions – from the Christian Mystics to Yogic devotees to spiritualists of every persuasion – agree on this truth: the fruits of sincere, committed, honest and sustained spiritual practices are…
- expanded awareness
- more patience
- deeper love
- unbounded compassion
- gentle kindness
- humility and confidence
…among many, many other qualities. You may or may not have had the good karma to meet His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama in person (sadly, I have not!) but seeing his picture, watching his interviews and teachings he always seems to carry himself with dignity, he walks neither too slow nor too fast, he is generous with his smile and with his eyes, his handshakes are confident and humble at the same time. One of his most universal teachings is, “…there is no need for temples; no need for complicated philosophy…our own heart is our temple; the philosophy is kindness.”
Remember Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta? Her legacy is of unshakable faith and unbounded compassion – especially for the poor and the infirm. She is most often pictured kneeling in the dirt washing the feet of the poor and the sick, giving food to poor children, or smiling softly as she embraces her rosary. She taught that “The fruit of faith is love, and the fruit of love is service.”
Scientific evidence as well as the experiences that we witness and share on a global scale all reaffirm that it really doesn’t matter what your spiritual or religious preferences are, only that it is important to engage in spiritual practices that develop humility, compassion, and awareness.
But it is not enough to rattle off a few mantras while you’re waiting for the bus (as I have certainly done) or to stare into space for hours completely blank (ack! guilty again!) but to truly engage the heart and the mind in the pursuit of spiritual goals.
Many years ago I was sitting in a group listening to a young Tibetan teacher speaking on this very topic. We could tell by his gestures that he really wanted to convey something important. His translator was struggling to help him find a word, when finally we heard “Juicy…YES! Your practice must be really juicy.” We all laughed, and we understood. Imagine that you want to eat a peach, you are holding it in your hand. You can feel the soft white fuzz in your palms, you squeeze it gently with your fingers and feel that it is at it’s peak of ripeness. As you bring this peach to your mouth, you pause to smell it’s fresh, sweet, tartness – and you bite right in. Peaches are a wonderfully juicy kind of fruit, there is no way to contain the juice as it dribbles down the sides of your mouth. But the sticky, sugary drippings are the least of your concern – it’s the moment of savoring the burst of soft sweet fruit on your tongue, as if this were the very first time you’ve eaten a peach.
“…mental action that maintains the blank, vacant state…[does not] give birth to any compassion whatsoever. You feel neither respect nor devotion. You are temporarily stuck in a frozen state of nothing whatsoever. Now, compare this to the juicy qualities of compassion and devotion that flow forth from an authentic practitioner! In Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche (Tsokni Rinpoche’s father and teacher), you sensed that nothing was obstructed. No matter when you saw him, morning, night or whenever – he was fresh and juicy – not like a dried-up yogi who is blocked up and closed off in his private space.” (p. 249-250)
How to achieve such “juicy-ness”? Engage your heart and your mind in all your spiritual practices. Pause, before you say your prayers or recite your mantras, to examine your motivation and your intentions. Ask yourself, “Why am I really meditating today?” Naturally and quite spontaneously, you may find yourself dedicating your practice to others – to someone you know who is sick, for a resolution of global conflicts, for relief for the poor. If you begin with this pause, with just a brief moment to ask yourself “why?” (with honesty and compassion for yourself, too) your practice will become less and less about reducing your blood pressure or increasing your life span, and more and more about your deep, sincere wish…
“…for others to have happiness and the causes of happiness,
to be free from suffering and the causes of suffering,
to never be separated from bliss without suffering,
and to live in equanimity, free from bias, attachment and anger.”
(“The Four Immeasurables” of the Buddhist Tradition)
You are invited to transform with us as we deepen our spiritual practice this winter! Please join The Holistic Homestead for our annual Winter Retreat, February 8 – 14. The retreat is completely online and free. You will receive daily inspirations, teachings and practices from healers and spiritual teachers of many traditions. You will be able to comment and share with other participants and submit prayer requests which will stay on the homepage all week long. Click here to register – and make sure you’re “following” us here and on Facebook! Questions? You can e-mail me directly: firstname.lastname@example.org.