There’s a trend these days to read, follow, and quote authors and well-known figures in the world of spirituality. Watching a video or listening to a podcast are also popular. There are teleconference calls of every spiritual stripe. You can attend a multitude of seminars and workshops. Access to self-improvement information, spiritual and healing know-how, and empowered living is at unprecedented levels.

At the end of the day and upon awakening, however, we are left to our own devices, and we are still the same person before doing any of the above. It’s a good thing that we don’t have to travel to faraway lands and try to find elusive teachers. It’s a good thing that this information is establishing itself in humanity’s psyche. And although still not mainstream, there’s a definite tip in that direction.

On the other hand, without actual personal practice, it’s all a cop out.

None of the information we’re able to take in these days has any impact unless it’s internalized. And internalizing isn’t ‘being more compassionate’ because the Dalai Lama suggests it. In fact it’s near impossible to be any of what’s suggested through various sources unless and until we have an established and regular personal practice at home.

Contemplative practice is not based on belief, but on intrinsic confidence and understanding.

— Sakyong Mipham

Understanding comes as a result of spiritual practices, chiefly meditation. We undertake such practices for spiritual development. Unless we develop spiritually within, no outer experience or knowledgebase can have any real impact.

Many people become dependent on the ‘high’ of a seminar or audiovisual program. While attending, the program seems miraculous, life-changing. But when it’s over there’s a slump, a let-down. To counter this, the next seminar seems highly attractive. And the cycle continues.

In this scenario there’s no steadiness, no deepening. No real groundwork is laid inside the person. There’s no foundation, nor scaffolding; no interior chambers to rely on, nor ladders to the next elevation.

Something else happens in true spiritual practice.

… meditation also means to cultivate basic human qualities, such as attention and compassion, and new ways of experiencing the world. What really matters is that a person gradually changes… We develop a propensity toward altruistic behavior and the cluster of qualities that give us the resources to deal with the ups and downs of life.

— Matthieu Ricard

Practice doesn’t develop ephemeral qualities, like only reading or attending a seminar can. Practice develops enduring spiritual qualities that enhance both our nonphysical self, and the life we live in physicality.

Thich Nhat Hanh says, “Whatever you do mindfully is meditation.” This is true. But without actual practice the mind is not mindful, the mind doesn’t present its best version, it isn’t an aid to us but an obstacle. We have to sit silently and engage other spiritual practices too so the mind can exhibit its luminosity.

If we don’t practice, we operate at a nominal human level. If we do practice we operate at a more conscious level. We become fully human. Practice makes us conscious. This isn’t the kind of ‘conscious’ we become upon waking up in the morning. It’s self-awareness. It’s the awakening to the many levels of reality and possibility. It’s becoming conscious to consciousness.

Consciousness as a lattice for reality, stores and gives access to qualities that bring out the highest expression of our humanity.

Human qualities often come in clusters. Altruism, inner peace, strength, freedom, and genuine happiness thrive together like the parts of a nourishing fruit. Likewise, selfishness, animosity, and fear grow together.

— Matthieu Ricard

What we sit with, what we allow, what we let accompany us in life internally and externally grows together. Left on its own the mind falls into all manner of patterns. What we want is neither the high of an intense program or impactful book, nor the low of habitual self-defeating patterns. Instead we need the steady thread of continuity and depth, of regularity and constant return to the storehouse of spiritual qualities and resources.

As we meditate, we simply sit straight and watch the breath. So what does that do? It creates space. In fact, the technique itself is just a trick. The main point is to recognize all these thoughts and distractions that are constantly bombarding us. We still get angry, but we know that we are angry. When we are angry and know it, the anger has a lot of humor. With that kind of anger, we have more control.

— Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche

Practice betters us by revealing all we have inside. We originate as a whole, then through life experiences we fragment and focus on the fragments. We’re not the fragments. We’re the Whole. Practice shows how this is so and how to source our life from wholeness.

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What is Spiritual Practice?

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