When it comes to sports, music, entertainment and other skills practice or rehearsal is easily accepted. It’s recommended, there’s a cultural belief in it and it improves a team, orchestra, ensemble or individual performer. Practice has validity and while there may be some resistance to it at times, mostly everyone partakes in practice.

This isn’t the case when it comes to spiritual practice. One attends a 6 week meditation class, signs up for a series of yoga classes, buys some instructional DVDs, goes to Tai Chi in the park, completes Reiki classes or whatever the case may be. There’s initial enthusiasm, even excitement. One feels good about making an investment in well-being and peace. Then slowly apathy sets in. There’s a drop-off in regularity. ‘Busynesss’ is allowed to take over. And poof, one’s practice stalls.

Spirituality is a life improvement skill, amongst its other significant benefits. It improves the person and the life of the person. By extension it improves the lives of the people around a person.

The word spirituality comes from root words in Hebrew, Latin, and Greek that all mean wind, breath, or air—that which gives life.

— University of Minnesota Center for Spirituality & Healing

Current research highlights the positive outcomes of having a strong sense of spirituality. Having meaning and purpose in one’s life, a spiritual community and partaking in contemplative practices have all been linked to better health, a longer life, and better coping skills during difficult times.

Trampolinist by Ray Massey
Trampolinist by Ray Massey

With this being the case, what exactly is the resistance to spiritual practice all about?

  1. Fear
  2. Avoidance
  3. Restlessness
  4. Lack of self-appreciation
  5. Lack of commitment
  6. Misguided priorities
  7. Bad time management
Fear:

Spirituality is positive and beneficial, but it also asks us to look at things in our life and especially within. It asks for change and when applied produces change. Spirituality can’t just be adopted and expected to work well, while the person continues in unhelpful behaviors and thinking. There’s implementation at play and integration. The individual has to digest the insights that spirituality inevitably brings.

Some of these insights can be painful. Certainly there’s peace and joy, healing and empowerment. At the same time, clear-eyed viewing of oneself is necessary and this can create fear. The fear in turn leads to not putting in place those practices that bring such personal insight. This fear can also be unconscious.

One other aspect of fear is the unknown. Spiritual practices open up many more possibilities than what schooling, society, the brain and the five senses say are possible. At the beginning this can cause some trepidation because these possibilities push boundaries, are unfamiliar and unknown.

Avoidance:

People tend to avoid what’s uncomfortable. Rather than leaning into the insights that practicing meditation, Reiki or yoga brings there’s a strong push away, a recoil. The instinct is self-protection and an insight about oneself that’s painful activates this instinct. The truth of the matter is that there’s no real danger here. With some patience, acceptance and compassion (all of which strengthen with spirituality), the other side of the insight is right there, one thought away.

If self-awareness isn’t taken all the way to the other side, then the unhelpful patterns simply continue and worsen. Pain may be avoided initially, but the misery deepens. This is an unskillful approach.

The other aspect of avoidance is that a kind of dependence on negativity is developed. The familiar, albeit difficult and unpleasant emotional states are chosen over the possibility of relief and positive emotional states being established. Rather than sit in meditation or put Reiki hands on oneself, the familiar blame, resentment, upset almost feels better. Almost.

The mind goes in the direction it’s pointed. Read Unhooking from Neural Circuits to find out more.

Lack of self-appreciation:

Too often negating voices in one’s head are allowed to dissuade from sticking to a routine. These negating voices have taken hold because self-appreciation is a no-no. It’s not a value in society. The value is “serve others.” Well, sure. That doesn’t have to be and can’t be at the detriment of the individual. When self is negated, service to others suffers. The capacity to serve others diminishes in direct proportion to how little self-care is put in place.

There are many demands made on one’s time from family, friends, work, other social connections and involvements. There can be a tendency to overcommit too. This is another form of avoidance.

Spirituality as a self-practice is being addressed here. Receiving help, counsel, support from others is the other side of this coin, with its own strange resistances. Asking for help is its own difficult journey for many people. Before that’s even possible, a self-care routine has to be established.

Sitting to meditate, taking out the yoga mat for a few sequences, lying down to give oneself Reiki is where being able to receive begins. If a welcoming orientation isn’t there, none of the benefits sought in spirituality can truly be available to the person.

Restlessness:

A lot can be said about restlessness. For now this will suffice and it applies to any contemplative practice, not only meditation:

It is important to understand that when doing meditation, you are making a commitment to something other than your restless mind. Meditation is not the time to be figuring things out or analyzing your experience.

Neither should you be fighting your mind or trying to make it quiet. Just watch thoughts as you would watch clouds passing by in the sky. There is nothing personal about your thoughts. They are just phenomena passing through awareness.

— Adyashanti

Lack of commitment:

Practice can fall by the wayside because of lack of commitment to the teachings one has received and lack of commitment to oneself. Part of commitment is inspiration. If practice is regular, inspiration is there to spur the practice on. Dry periods are a natural occurrence, but without inspiration there’s unnecessary drought. Commitment to practices is its own reward.

If time, effort and money has been spent to receive teachings and trainings, it behooves the practitioner to go ahead and implement what’s been learned. Obviously there was intent and desire at the beginning to even complete a class or instruction. That intent and desire must be followed through on by bringing the teachings into one’s everyday.

The word commitment comes from the Latin committere to connect, entrust. The practitioner is entrusted with the teachings and is the only one who can connect the training to the rest of their life, day by day, week by week, month by month.

Misguided priorities:

Spiritual practice has to be the priority, especially in the mornings. Too often a to-do list is already there in the mind upon waking up. The to-do list can’t be allowed to run the day. Personal, sacred time first thing in the morning or at least before engaging worldly things is a priority the practitioner has to choose and claim.

The truth of the matter is that once items on the to-do list are engaged, the morning and then the day gets away. The other truth is that spending 20-30 minutes in practice doesn’t make fewer hours available to do what needs to be done. Quite the opposite. Spiritual practice creates efficiency. It brings peace and focus. Tasks are handled in a centered way, often in much less time than originally thought.

Bad time management:

Time management goes hand-in-hand with priorities. If spiritual practice becomes a value in a person’s life, time management is easier. There are still situations where one has to get to work, or it’s a particularly busy period.

That’s why is vital to stick to a routine long term. This helps to ride out fluctuations in how busy one may be. Practice times can be shortened if there’s a longstanding track record. To get to work in the morning, it be necessary to get up a little earlier. If a solid routine is in place, quality of sleep improves. So does general energy levels. The alarm clock going off a little earlier may in fact never be a problem.

Evening practice is not to be discounted. It has a value too. Sometimes the thinking is that after a long day, one is too tired or wants leisure time instead. Indeed nothing beats the freshness of mornings. But if one is conscious of time, there are many pockets of it that can be utilized. This also makes the evening much more pleasant.

The benefits of adopting a contemplative practice—such as meditation, prayer, yoga, or journaling—have widespread effects not just on spirituality, but on physical and emotional health as well.

— University of Minnesota Center for Spirituality & Healing


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7 Reasons Why We Neglect Spiritual Practices