The practice of personal and spiritual growth is twofold:
- Methods of contemplative practice
- Qualities that are practiced
They come in that order. There can be a tendency to put the cart before the horse.
If you have access to effective methods of practice, you know they are transformative. They are powerful enough to change you and make undoubtable shifts within you.
This is really important to grasp. Because personal and spiritual development isn’t a pastime or folly. It’s a consequential endeavor.
So you want to get it right. And the way to do that is to commit to practice methods. You may have a natural inclination toward a certain trait or spiritual quality. You can encourage this. But it’s a mistake to attempt to directly incorporate qualities, even ones that are more natural, without having practice methods to solidify the process.
The problem for most of us is that while we may be naturally considerate or enjoy helping others, we also have a host of psychological complexes and scars that dominate our thinking and behavior. These challenge and limit any tendency we may have towards consideration or altruism.
We also can’t find our way to other enriching qualities which lead to happiness and health.
Among others, methods of practice include:
- Healing arts
- Spiritual psychology
- Movement practices like tai chi
- Art therapy or contemplative arts
- Vision quest
Contemplative practices are practical and transformative, helping to develop deep concentration and leading to quieting the mind amidst the hubbub of modern life. They aid in the exploration of meaning, purpose and values.
Contemplative practices can engender greater compassion and better communication, boost focus and attention, lessen stress and stimulate creativity, supporting a loving and more open approach to life.
To be who we aspire to be or to start again after crisis is a process. It takes time and effort, regularity and application. Change doesn’t happen overnight and it definitely doesn’t take hold overnight. It’s not a straight line. There are turns and obstacles, setbacks and inertia.
That’s why grasping at qualities isn’t wise or effective. No matter how much we want to be a certain way, even have an affinity to that quality, it’s nearly impossible unless we engage with transformative practices. These methods are designed to move us from our stuck and entrenched limits, to a wider view with many more possibilities. They help us breakdown the old and outdated and let us know that the new and alternative are within our reach. Transformative methods make change real, encouraging and inspiring forward motion, while supporting and comforting us.
Qualities such as love, kindness and compassion cannot be faked. And that’s exactly what will happen if you reach for them without a method to act as foundation and load-bearing beam. You’ll be a pretender. At the first hurdle, conflict, confrontation you’ll revert to your old ways.
Methods deepen qualities and make them real, practical and actually beneficial. Methods remove qualities from the theoretical, intellectual and wishful and bring them home to you. You begin to practice qualities alongside methods and they start to flesh out, grow their wings and take residence within you.
Who we are at this moment is shaped by family, DNA, ethnicity, education, socioeconomic status, peers, socialization and enculturation, our own psychological development and the choices we’ve made.
The end result of this process, despite our best intentions and inherent goodness, is usually a mixed bag. Life is designed in part to cause discomfort, so that we can fill in those areas of pain and suffering, so we can stretch and grow into those areas, to find succor and harmony.
When we combine methods with qualities it simply works better. Qualities are meant to be lived, to become part of us and how we engage life. They are life-giving resources, affirmative, powerful and fathomless. And they’re grouped together. You may be okay with aspiring to one or two qualities that you natively bend to, but if you commit to practicing methods of personal and spiritual development, you’ll soon notice that the tapestry is much richer than you’d previously realized.
Transformative practices eventually help us to actually embody qualities that are life-saving.
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