Practice of the Week
Category: MIGHT BE YOUR THING: These practices are not for everyone -- but one of them may be just the thing for you! Any of these might also be, for you, in the "Occasional" category, but are listed here because they are good candidates for being a central practice.
from Jane Ellen Mauldin, "Everyday Relationships," in Everyday Spiritual Practice, abridged and adapted.
In college, I came to picture the spiritual path as involving extensive stillness, quiet, and meditation. My route to enlightenment, however, took a big detour into family responsibilities. I am so busy making school lunches, doing laundry, driving to boy scouts and dance lessons – and working full time outside the home -- that my longed-for hour of daily meditation is still just a pipe dream.
With much trial and error, I've developed a spiritual practice of everyday relationships, to satisfy my hunger for spiritual growth in the relationships to which I'm deeply committed. My method has four parts.
It's easy to gulp down the coffee in the morning with a quick look at the newspaper and an almost peremptory "howdy" to your partner or spouse across the table. This doesn't qualify as awareness! Take a long look at your sweetie, at least once before you or they run out the door. Do the same for the other people you care for -- your parent, or child, or even yourself. Really look at these people. Know that they are there. Know that you are near them.
If we are lucky, we might sometimes get our loved one's awareness, too. I was barreling down the highway in my minivan not long ago, five minutes late as always. Suddenly, my twelve-year-old beside me stopped humming along to the radio and burst out: “Look, mom!” He pointed to the sky above us. The setting sun, behind a cloud, was streaming radiant pink, blue, and gold rays of light in every direction. The color filled the sky as if the sun, behind the cloud, had intensified its usual brilliance tenfold. "Oh, mom," said my awed son, "I don't think I will ever forget this!" His awareness focused mine. I don't think that I will ever forget it, either.
Appreciate the present moment. Anyone who has ever lived with a baby knows that they are very good at calling us to live in the present moment. Anyone who has cared for an ill family member, or a parent fading with Alzheimer's, knows that the present moment is very precious and is truly the only reality we have. Now. Here.
Appreciation requires slowing down. If we rush through the task of wiping, feeding, assisting, then we miss the moment and we miss being alive during that time.
Treating everyday relationships as a spiritual practice requires seeing the holy in those relationships right in the middle of the busy-ness and messiness. Not long ago during a rainy winter morning at the doctor's office, with the ancient magazines and a blaring TV, my young children begged to read books and chew on them, respectively. They coughed enticingly into my face. I was overstimulated and anxious and impatient with waiting. Then I realized/remembered that living in the moment means THIS moment. I didn’t like being in that moment, on the vinyl waiting room chair, sneezing and wiping runny noses, but there was holiness there, whether I liked it or not. The spiritual task is to notice the holy in every moment.
“Jesus said, ‘Split the wood and you shall find me. Lift the stone and there I am.’ (Gospel of Thomas 77)3. NONATTACHMENT
A spiritual practice of everyday relationships, as spiritual practices generally do, helps us wean ourselves from attachments.
For example, I am very attached to my expert idea of what kind of person I want my husband to be. He ought to think like me, act like me, and always come to the same logical conclusions that I do. I am, of course, often disappointed. When I expect my husband to live up to my ideal of him, I get a pretty good understanding of how attachment is the source of suffering. If we keep hoping that reality and real people will fit our idealized standards, we will always be disappointed. If I can let go of my attachment to what I want my husband to be and do, I move toward unconditional love. And unconditional love -- compassion, without expectations or attachment -- is, many teachers say, both source and result of spiritual growth.
Every spiritual path entails challenges and difficulties. We will not grow, deepen, and achieve greater knowledge and understanding unless we are committed to sticking with our practice. For the spiritual practice of everyday relationship, that means a commitment to the relationships, and to approaching them with awareness, appreciation, and nonattachment.
Commitment makes possible a depth, wholeness, and peace that we cannot otherwise achieve. I’m not suggesting committing yourself to an abusive situation. If that’s where you are, I hope you’ll take steps to get out. But if a relationship is worth keeping, it’s worth full commitment. Reminding myself several times a day of my commitment is a key component of my spiritual practice of everyday relationships.
Commitment is a practice that can continue even long after the one to whom we have committed has died. Commitment creates an opportunity to practice awareness, appreciation, and nonattachment.
Sometimes I catch myself thinking of parenting and partnering as duties that take me away from a more spiritual time. When I slow down and pay attention, though, another truth becomes clear: The wiping, listening, cleaning, hugging, holding, forgiving, helping with homework, and driving to Little League are all activities within which we can find connection and renewal, if done with awareness, appreciation, nonattachment, and commitment.
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