Practice of the Week

Category: Slogans to Live By: Practices for everyone to keep in mind and pay attention to. These practices don't require setting aside a separate substantial chunk of time. Just have the intention to grow stronger in each of these areas as you go about your day, and sometimes make one of them the focus of your daily journaling. The titles of these practices are guiding slogans to live by.

Familiarization is the key. To get out of an old way of being, get deeply familiar with a new way.

We take our point of view so much for granted, as if the world were really as we see it. But it doesn't take much analysis to recognize that our way of seeing the world is simply an old unexamined habit, so strong, so convincing, and so unconscious we don't even see it as a habit. How many times have we been absolutely sure about someone's motivations and later discovered that we were wrong? How many times have we gotten upset about something that turned out to have been nothing? Our perceptions and opinions are often quite off the mark. The world may not be as we think it is. In fact, it is virtually certain that it is not.

There's nothing wrong with habits as such. Habits can be good. But an unconscious habitual point of view will not be optimal. A little reflection shows us that our habitual way of seeing things, in many instances, large and small, causes us much difficulty. It's often distorted, causing us extra upset we don't need, and it's too narrow, limiting our possibilities and our love. And yet we are pretty stuck on our point of view. Clearly, it will take some doing to see through it, and this is why spiritual practice takes time, effort, support, and much repetition. But little by little our way of seeing the world and being in it can shift. With effort, the mind can be trained.

So choose your spiritual practice, and stick with it. Support your path with daily journaling, study, and meditation. Add further supporting practices such as mealtime grace, keeping sabbath, and getting enough sleep. Stick with these practices -- familiarize yourself with them so thoroughly that they become second nature.

New pathways in the brain are built through familiarization with a new approach. Repetition and repeated drill brings the establishment of a new habit that is not, like the old ones, unconscious -- but instead is a habit you have thought about and chosen to cultivate for reasons that come out of your best motivations. It's a matter of brain-washing yourself, but in a good way: washing out an otherwise musty brain, freshening it up.

Left alone with its unconscious habits, the mind goes down predictably dull and often disadvantageous pathways. We think, feel, and see in a way that doesn't serve us very well -- and we assume that this is a fixed and necessary experience. It's not! Repeating teachings and intentional practices establishes new pathways, new habits.

The brain is plastic, fluid. It changes with our inner and outer activity. When we go to the gym to lift weights or do aerobics, we know that these activities are not something we will do once or twice. Their virtue is in the drill, the repetition over time. This is what changes our body.

Through familiarization the habits we want to inculcate will little by little become automatic. When someone asks you for your address or phone number, you probably don't say, "Let me think about it." You don't need to reflect or consult with anyone. The information is at the tip of your tongue because you are fully familiar with it. You haven't needed to make a special study of the information because by simple repetition with interest over time you have made these facts part of you. The same thing happens with spiritual practice. Faith, God, and inspiration aside, repetition is the true soul of spirituality.

This is a sad fact: If someone does ask you for your phone number, your address, your place of business, and so on, you can answer easily because these things are uppermost in your mind. You refer to them every day. But if someone asks you to account for the condition of your soul, probably your response would not be at the tip of your tongue. Probably you would be embarrassed or confused by the question. How good is it that we are quite familiar with our outer circumstances and activities but quite unfamiliar with our inner lives, with our soul, our spirit? The practice of familiarization proposes that we correct this imbalance and become just as fluent in our spiritual lives as we are in our material lives.

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For list of all weekly practices: "Spiritual Practice Directory"

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