Spiritual and Religious Practices

General practices from various disciplines and traditions

 

ARTICLES:

Surrendering One’s Will          Wrong Mind, Right Mind, or Spiritual Mind

Prayer Works          Beyond Inner and Outer

Follow Through          No-Striving to Higher Consciousness

Mind Ways          Changed the World

 

Surrendering One’s Will

Spiritual teachings emphasize transcending the ego, an aspect of which is surrendering one’s will. This is not to be confused with not making an effort or being indiscriminately compliant in situations, but rather is relinquishing one’s sole reliance on the logically rational mind.

The dominant voice in one’s head is first recognized, and then considered to be only one aspect of the mind. And more importantly, it is no longer understood to be one’s self. Realizing this, one cultivates mindfulness or mastery over one’s conscious awareness through practices consistent with one’s spiritual orientation, e.g. meditation, prayer.

One admits the great divide between oneself and Spirit, and that one usually thinks, feels, and acts in ways contrary to the ultimate truth of nondual oneness of all existence. And with a strengthened mindfulness one trains the mind to correct and eventually prevent thoughts associated with individuality, suffering, or harm to others.

Until one naturally behaves righteously one uses one’s individual will in service of its own transcendence. As a means of strengthening positive habits one declares certain actions unacceptable, and focusing on them one at a time, refrains from engaging in them until they are extinguished. Eventually this enables one to more often behave in a virtuous manner even as old habits beckon one not to do so.

Reading various philosophy and theology on reality and truth, and inspirational works of virtue and righteous action, challenge the mind to operate differently. They reveal the conscious awareness of the true self, and serve to weaken the false will. Especially useful are works that clarify principles contrary to natural worldly behavior, e.g. rather than seeking understanding one works to understand others, giving loves results in receiving love.

One practices bringing oneself into union with the Spirit/God within. This is experienced as a range of awareness from stillness, quiet, and clairvoyance through to an infinite and eternal all-encompassing now. This presence is of one’s true self, the “empty witness” or “awareness of awareness”, and it lovingly observes the world as itself. During these moments the individual will, formerly believed to be the self, is in the background and subject to the will of this witness awareness.

Now with the true self more frequently shaping one’s experience the personal heart is moved to a less significant position. The Divine heart becomes a stronger loving force, reducing fear, and resulting in greater equanimity, nonattachment, and acceptance. Operating more from feelings of Divine love, the individual will is weakened and the Divine’s overall influence is strengthened

Remembering one is an aspect of Spirit following karmic dictate, not an independent agent, serves to further humble the individual will. One intentionally practices dissociating from individuality, especially its habit of attributing to oneself extraordinary positive outcomes. And this effort is supported by the natural humility that arises from witness awareness and Divine heart.

One strives to rely completely on Spirit. One cultivates a faith that all things are possible even when one cannot envision success in a particular circumstance; not simply because one is eternally hopeful, but because one knows that God/Spirit has unlimited power to accomplish anything deemed worthy.

One also strives to steadfastly identify with Spirit/God so the individual will is completely replaced by Divine will. Then, with ego relinquished one lives in the world guided and directed by the wisdom and heart of the Divine, embodying an enlightened holiness and omnipotence to act in ways atypical of, but beneficial to humankind and the world.

          Questions:

Describe in your own words the difference between mindfulness, presence, and witness awareness.

What five qualities do you associate with virtuous behavior?

Other than the two already listed in this article, describe two principles contrary to natural worldly behavior that would serve to challenge one’s mind to operate differently and more like the Divine mind.

Describe the influence on individual will you believe karma, or the law of causality, has in determining one’s behavior.

Drawing on your own experience, describe the difference between union with versus identification with God/Spirit.

*****

Wrong Mind, Right Mind, or Spiritual Mind

After being a psychologist and practicing psychotherapy for over forty years if there is one thing I have learned it is that no one does anything one hundred percent of the time. Even the most anxious person feels calm sometimes, the saddest feels happy, and the coldest acts friendly. Everyone shifts across different states of mind, sometimes out of one’s awareness and sometimes through conscious volition. The latter done through being mindful about the content of one’s mind, and present to one’s choices and actions in any given moment. Everyone has three states of mind to monitor and manage, and if done well will foster personal and spiritual growth. These states of mind may be labeled as wrong mind, right mind, and spiritual mind. And by attending to them one is able to strengthen or weaken them by shifting from one to another as one chooses.

The method being proposed is simple to describe but challenging to do consistently and to master to the point of it being natural. Yet, if one has developed some basic mindfulness and presence skills it is possible to learn and use. The method requires being mindful of these states of mind, what are actually one’s various personae, and shifting from an undesired to desired one: from wrong mind to right mind or from right mind to spiritual mind. One must shift the whole mindset, the gestalt, not only some of the qualities. And when successful one experiences a change in one’s being, feeling that one’s “me” has been altered. Effort is then focused on maintaining the chosen mindset.

The following descriptions of the mindsets are given only to serve one in generating one’s own personal list. One may label them what one likes, but one should avoid being pejorative: maladaptive mind, wellbeing mind, spiritual mind; or, poor mind, thriving mind, waking mind. The three minds are distinguished by their mental, emotional, subjective, and action characteristics. Wrong mind is: mentally self-loathing and negative; emotionally fearful, sad, or angry; subjectively down, feeling inferior, weak, a failure, and a victim. It involves: poor concentration or being spaced out; confusion regarding self and one’s goals; and, aggressive action toward self and others. Right mind is: mentally self-accepting and objective or positive; emotionally neutral, calm, or joyful; subjectively feeling confident, strong, equal, and capable. It involves good concentration and focus; clarity regarding self and one’s goals; and assertion in one’s action for self and/or toward others. Spiritual mind is: mentally accepting self and others, nonattached to outcome and open to what happens next; emotionally neutral, peaceful, and/or loving; subjectively feeling equanimous, expansive and deep, and in union with “other”. It involves: focused presence with higher intuition or direct knowing, clarity regarding truth, and “action without action” assertion that is beneficial and naturally positive regarding self and others.

In many ways this method is one of retrieval. One retrieves knowledge and wisdom, bodily experience, and transcendent experience to either maintain or shift one’s state of mind: whether one is drawing from personal learning or healing, or from one’s spiritual practices one is using what one has already experienced and knows. One rejects the wrong mind, chooses not to focus on it, and volitionally embodies the desired subjective feeling while remembering the valid mental content associated with the right mind. And if one desires spiritual mind, one adds the transcendent qualities of that mind, essentially shifting right mind to spiritual mind.

Embodying the subjective feeling means one maintains or assumes the body posture, breathing, and movement of the desired mindset qualities, for example calm, strength, and/or confidence for right mind. Strength training, yoga, competitive sports, stretching, actually any body postures and movements one assumes throughout one’s day, can provide this if one has already recognized the qualities in them that are being described. Doing this first can provide a mental clarity and objectivity that enables one to either correct cognitive distortions or falsehoods, and/or repeat the positive and useful knowledge one has previously learned. These two steps then move one more fluidly into right action. As mentioned previously, the separate aspects of this process need to occur as one gestalt, practically simultaneously. Of course this is where practice is required.

Spiritual mind is always best achieved from right mind. One does this by remembering one’s formal practice experience. For instance, one can recall and relive in the moment what meditation is like mentally (e.g. not thinking), emotionally (e.g. emotions rise up and pass), and subjectively (e.g. boundary of self feels expanded beyond usual limits). Breathing as if in meditation, praying as one engages in other activities, or even reflecting on spiritual aphorisms are means to move to spiritual mind. One might also recall times when one’s mind was altered into transcendence unexpectedly or without formal practice. This might include remembering a morning sunrise, a peaceful walk in nature, or even aspects of a paranormal experience.

This is not necessarily an easy means to improve one’s mind. However with practice it is a viable means to do so. Mindfulness and presence skills cultivated through practice enable the volitional control of one’s mind as described in this method.

Perhaps most importantly, formal practice on its own will not result in improving one’s ego-existential psychospiritual condition or achieve the transpersonal one. What one does in formal practice must be employed while living in the world; actively controlling one’s mind being the sin qua non of this application if one is to develop spiritually.

          Questions:

What are the life situations in which you are most mindful and present? The least?

Take a moment to evaluate and label your present persona. Predict how this might possibly change over the next three hours.

What circumstances are conducive to you being in a spiritual state of mind?

Sometimes one becomes stuck in a wrong state of mind and strategies such as emotional expression, physical exercise, engaging in a positive activity to distract oneself from it, or journaling are necessary to produce a shift to a right state of mind. Reflect on your skills in this regard.

If on a spiritual journey, rate your commitment to practicing the principles of your tradition when not actively engaged in formal practice or with your spiritual community.

*****

Prayer Works

It is helpful to categorize prayer beyond its content and according to its purpose: the three major types being petitionary, contemplative, and centering. Petitioning or supplication is characterized by a humble and earnest request for something for oneself or another. Contemplation involves reciting a prayer or passage from a holy text while subconsciously reflecting on its meaning, allowing insights to surface from the unconscious and superconscious. Centering prayer is similar to contemplative but rather than seeking insights its primary goal is altering one’s awareness to a state of peace, love, and joy; that secure and blissful feeling of ethereal wholeness and being we label centered. All three approaches have several things in common beyond the noted purposes of asking and learning: they can provide guidance, they may be used to cope with adversity, and, they can provide and/or strengthen community when praying with others.

In the hopes that others may find them useful I will share three prayers that I use regularly in the various ways described above. I will give my rationale for valuing these prayers as I do, bearing in mind that only the author of a prayer can definitively say its purpose or meaning. Though associated with particular spiritual traditions I believe these prayers transcend them and can be used as part of any spiritual practice. And though I am writing specifically about prayer, the purposes, benefits, and means of relating to these sacred words applies to meditations, chants, songs, teaching stories, etc.

The first is a Native American song entitled “Song of Two Ghosts” and is presented in Bierhorst (1984) as a song to the dying or the dead:

 

My friend

this is a wide world

We’re traveling over

Walking on the moonlight

-Omaha

 

For me when repeated contemplatively I am reminded of the mystery of life and Spirit, the importance of nonattachment, and from the centered feelings that emerge begin to search for my gracious response to a circumstance or event, personal or otherwise.

The next prayer is usually referred to as the “Prayer of Saint Francis” and can easily be found online; there is variation in the text but most are true to the one presented here. I find it particularly useful for several reasons. The first is that it affirms my intentions to be a better human being, to act not from my individual self but from my spiritual self. Secondly, the prayer offers me alternatives to the more common human reaction, e.g. hope instead of despair, and in doing so offers me the opportunity to contemplate and visualize the actions that embody the alternative response, e.g. understanding can mean listening to another without offering my opinion until I know the other recognizes my empathy and comprehension of their point of view. Thirdly, but in some ways most importantly, the prayer is structured in a way that reveals spiritual principles of the workings of reality. For example, it is in dying to our individual self that we transcend the usual experience of time and directly know timelessness and subjective eternity; additionally, not identifying with the body but with Spirit allows one to consider life is everlasting.

 

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.

Where there is hatred, let me sow love

Where there is injury, pardon

Where there is doubt, faith

Where there is despair, hope

Where there is darkness, light

And where there is sadness, joy.

O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console,

To be understood as to understand,

To be loved as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive,

It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,

And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

-St. Francis

 

The next prayer is referenced in Job and Shawchuck (1983) as being at the altar of Coventry Cathedral in England and is credited to Saint Paul:

 

All have sinned and come short of the glory of God.

The hatred which divides nation from nation, race from race, class from class,

Father forgive

The greed which exploits the labors of people and lays waste to the earth,

Father forgive

Our envy of the welfare and happiness of others,

Father forgive

Our indifference to the plight of the homeless and the refugee,

Father forgive

The lust which uses for ignoble ends the bodies of men and women,

Father forgive

The pride which leads us to trust in ourselves, and not in God,

Father forgive

Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another as God in Christ forgave you.

-St. Paul

 

I do not take this prayer as an admonishment but rather as a reminder and an obligation. The first reminder is that the human race has exhibited and struggled with poor character traits for millennia. Though change is occurring in collective human consciousness, it is slow, and those who are championing the cause need to be steady in their efforts and patient with others; this perspective helps one to not be part of the problem. Secondly, I am reminded that Spirit forgives all who act in these ways, including myself, through and with loving karmic consequence not wrathful punishment. And as an obligation I find this prayer to be powerful in one very specific way. It requires that I forgive others when I observe or suffer the transgressions noted, and that I do so as more than an ordinary human being. It behooves me instead to respond as Spirit, actively offering forgiveness from divine wisdom and love. And doing so not in some detached or submissive fashion, but instead with perspective, grace, and action that are provided by the God within, thereby insuring engagement that is powerful and effective even as it is loving.

Maybe these prayers will find their way into your spiritual practice, maybe not. It is hoped that my sharing the way I use these prayers will enhance the manner in which you approach your meditation, prayers, chants, etc.; and that in doing so the Spirit within you is strengthened in meeting every day with wisdom and peace.

     Questions:

 What is the most frequent reason for you to pray, meditate, chant, etc.?

When and where do you pray?

Other than prayer what other spiritual practices do you use to assist you in acting more naturally from your spiritual self?

What is your opinion about understanding others before, and perhaps at the expense of, being understood?

Reflect on the last time you disagreed with, or forgave someone, as you believe Spirit would have.

*****

Beyond Inner and Outer

Did you know? When asked, people will tell you their awareness, and therefore their mental self is located directly behind their eyes; often adding that is where they exist in their bodies. Awareness moves naturally from existing behind the eyes to residing in another region of the body, for instance where there may be the pain of a sprained ankle, but can also be moved with intention. Breathing deeply in a yogic fashion, filling the lungs completely makes one feel as if one’s awareness has moved from behind the eyes to the gut. One then feels more solidly oneself, more powerful, more connected to the ground. This is the subjective sensation of the empowered individual self in which the mental mind is embodied and upon which it rests. Opening one’s heart, projecting warm and tender feelings to someone is another example of manipulating one’s awareness, in this case from individuality to loving connection, one’s awareness being moved closer to, and maybe even becoming part of the recipient of the love.

Locating and moving awareness in this manner, altering it through recognition and willpower, is the means by which one controls the sensuality and sexuality of one’s body, works with feelings one experiences, and gives one more mental control of the persona one lives and projects in the social roles one plays. Mind and body are integrated; one is in greater control of oneself and not driven by unconscious beliefs and desires. Instead one is mindful of one’s awareness, both of one’s inner experience (i.e. thoughts and feelings) and one’s outer experience (i.e. people and objects’ actions in the environment and one’s interactions with them), and therefore one’s actions are decided consciously and purposively.

This concentration on, and manipulation of the physiological and psychological aspects of inner and outer awareness are the same skills used in experiencing and monitoring higher states of awareness, the ones associated with the transpersonal and nondual conditions. The aforementioned attention paid to both inner and outer, and to the interaction between them is transferred to monitoring and engendering the “beyond” of either type of awareness. Consider them as a “beyond inner” awareness and a “beyond outer” awareness. “Beyond inner” awareness is the mental experience commonly referred to as “deep” thoughts; that is, fresh, meaningful, and comprehensive insights and wisdom about topics relevant to human existence, one’s fulfillment, and spiritual matters of all kinds. The nature of this mental awareness ranges from that which integrates information regardless of its diversity and results in a logic ranging from visionary to inspirational to directly known or claircognizant, with each of these mental categories having an ever increasing degree of being felt as absolutely true. And this includes the epitome of truth that all is One. “Beyond outer” awareness is the kinesthetically felt experience of “me”, one’s subjective self, expanding into and becoming part of the environment and the objects in the immediate vicinity. One’s personal boundary is no longer one of separation but now is transpersonal with one feeling as if one includes all of, as well as oneself is, the world. Most importantly, the “beyond inner” and “beyond outer” come to together in one nondual ineffable singular awareness; one that feels as if consensus reality has been turned inside out, inner and outer switching places, with normal time and space boundaries no longer applicable. This should not be confused with psychosis, because unlike a psychiatric difficulty one continues to function well in consensus reality even though there has been this radical change in awareness. And if or when significantly comprehensive, this awareness will lead to one’s first experience of kensho (i.e. satori) or One Taste, that moment of experiencing and realizing that one’s true nature is Source Consciousness. Now there is Witness awareness, and one not only identifies with the Source but also observes manifestations of the Source while abiding in Divine peace and love. It is important to note that once this is experienced the method being described herein becomes more natural, and striving in spiritual practice eases.

Mostly associated with, but not limited to the nondual direct path, this strategy of paying attention to the location of one’s awareness enables one to recognize the quality of awareness and strengthen it accordingly. One only has to mentally note the form of the mental information as it shifts from individual and surface awareness to “deep and inner” awareness; and also to recognize the kinesthetic bodily experience of one’s “me” subjectively expanding its boundaries, uniting with objects in the world around it. In this way observing for and tracking movement of the location of awareness in one’s body, mind, and the world, helps one note its nature enabling the further development of one’s awareness, one’s character, and one’s true identity as Spirit.

     Questions:

Reflect on the location of your “I” mental awareness versus the “me” subjective feeling awareness in your body. Be sure to distinguish these from the emotions you feel.

How proficient are you at using willpower to change your state of awareness (e.g. nervous to calm, submissive to assertive, egoic to transpersonal), and what are the methods you use to do so?

When was the last time you experienced what this article calls “beyond inner” and what do you think caused it to happen?

If your spirituality distinguishes between transpersonal and nondual awareness, what defining characteristics of each condition are used to do so?

What do you believe are the necessary practices or preconditions for direct knowing?

*****

Follow Through

Now that you enjoyed that aphorism, had a “good” meditation, a useful spiritual insight, or maybe a positive yoga class, a walk in nature, an inspiring psychic reading, or a successful soul retrieval, how do you feel? What is your conscious awareness like, the information present in your state of mind, your body? And, most importantly, how long has it lasted? And before your being returned to ego, monkey mind, and samsara, spiritual seeker what effort, if any, did you make to maintain your taste of God? Walking meditation, ceaseless prayer, a stone in your pocket, yogic breathing, random acts of kindness….

     Questions:

List several activities that are a regular part of your practice.

Describe the qualitative change in mind or body that you feel following several of your spiritual practices.

What techniques do you employ to maintain the spiritual awareness that results from your formal times of practice?

When you realize your spiritual awareness has faded what is it that you usually do?

*****

No-Striving to Higher Awareness 

Using the 19th Century psychologist William James’ belief that the spiritual part of the personality is located in the quiet interval between thoughts, one can explain the no-striving, direct approach practice of enabling Spirit to emerge. One observes the mind as it monkeys around, jumping from thought to thought, while attending to that quiet moment whenever it occurs to one to do so. With no effort whatsoever to bring it about, eventually one realizes, but only after the fact that these quiet intervals have increased. Peace and love arise, time is replaced by an eternal now, and ego dissolves into the One. Then, not dwelling on this experience, allowing it to pass, the wisdom and knowing of higher awareness comes forth. With practice this spiritual awareness recognizes Itself and witnesses to Its creations.

     Questions:

How would you describe the relationship between “spiritual” quiet and “absence of sound” quiet?

What practices do you use to experience and/or prolong the spiritual quiet?

According to your spiritual beliefs describe the nature of the relationship between quiet and Spirit.

What effort do you believe is made in this “no-striving” approach?

When you remain in quiet for periods of time what changes do you notice in your conscious awareness?

*****

Mind Ways

Regardless of your religious or spiritual beliefs your mind moves from one topic to another, usually not concentrating well enough to problem solve, only enough to be bothersome about what you must decide or do in the future. Unless of course your mind has decided to revisit the past, in which case endless replays dominate, sometimes with picture, sometimes with sound. So unless it is time to seriously devote yourself to these topics move your mind to your spirituality. No matter how you do it, just do it: repeat a religious idea or slogan, pray a prayer repeatedly, breathe the deepness of meditation, observe the world as God’s creation or as part of yourself. The possibilities are endless, only to be determined by your spirituality and what it means to you. And you can do this anywhere, anytime and it will lower your worry, improve your peace of mind, and enhance your mindfulness.

     Questions:

As you go about your day do you recognize when you are dwelling on a topic and whether or not it is productive thinking or needless worry?

Other than the strategy mentioned above, what methods do you employ to sustain spiritual awareness throughout your daily routine?

When successfully sustained what results do you recognize from this method, e.g. calm, kindness, assertion, understanding, patience?

What would cause you to resist using a strategy like the one described?

*****

Changed the World

The world, that part of the nondual that we mostly experience as material not spirit, separation and individuality, is not, and never will be perfect. But that is not reason for us to accept what it is or what occurs, certainly not out of powerlessness, failure, or just plain old giving up. Ironically, whether it is a personal or universal problem, when we do this we are actually contributing to the problem we wish did not exist.

Taking constructive action is necessary, some would even say ethically required of us, whether to change our bad habits or heal ourselves in some other way, or perhaps to contribute to the betterment of the whole. And I would agree, stating that an examined life then mandates action. However, perhaps unlike many, I believe there are two categories of action, that idealistically if resources permit, one would engage in simultaneously. First, is to define the problem, create a plan to solve it, and then execute that plan. One does this whether it is personal, perhaps needing to lose weight, or to learn to assert oneself in one’s life so there is meaning, or universal, acting to improve women’s rights, or to stop global warming. The second, again along with the first course of action, or as an alternative but equally important is to love. This is not the love of “like”, of tolerance, or of denial. This is a love of the problem and those who cause and/or maintain it that originates from the nondual perspective, often referred to as unconditional or divine love, that at a minimum requires one’s transcendence of individuality, of both self and other, and of the problem and its opposite. This is often spoken of as a faith awareness in which one peacefully surrenders to what one cannot change; maintaining a nonattached-to-outcome attitude, all the while accepting guidance of heart and action from the Source (God), often in the form of higher intuition or as a direct knowing provided by the nondual witness awareness of an awakened mind. And it is this latter love-informed, thinking-without-thinking, acting- without-acting that provides one extraordinary insight into the problem, thereby providing the likelihood of heretofore unforeseen solution; and if one chooses to love what one cannot directly alter then one brings to the problem’s personal-interpersonal and/or social-cultural aspects a divine supernatural equanimity and compassion that facilitate change in relationship and therefore circumstance, reality, and the world; being the good in the world you want to see in the world. Taking action is important, even if only from the individual self state of mind, but action that is Spirit-informed, whether it be love relating or love-inspired problem solving is the best because God (Source) wills it through you.

     Questions:

When you consider personal or world problems what do you tell yourself, and what results from that self-talk?

When was the last time you used the dual approach to problem solving being described?

What spiritual philosophy or principles do you draw upon to love that which frustrates, saddens, or threatens you?

How do you regularly practice being the change in the world you wish to see?