Seemed like I was never going to get back to this series, I know, but Olympics mania is over and I’m ready to get back to posts.
One Chair or Many and Going Deep
When it comes to doing practices, there’s a big divide among teachers about whether you need to “sit in the one chair” (i.e. pick one spiritual path and follow only its teachings) and those who feel it’s best to choose the practices you like and create your own path. A similar disagreement exists about frequency of practice, how much you practice, etc., which I’ll discuss in the next section.
Since I’ve never found “one chair” I wanted to sit in, I’ve been like Goldilocks, moving from chair to chair. I’ve slowly put together a spiritual path that’s eclectic and ever evolving … and just seems to suit me.
I have stopped sometimes in one chair for one or several years so I have some understanding of the benefits of moving deeply into one set of practices. But generally I still had other practices or teachers in play so I don’t know what it’s like to literally follow only one tradition.
My observation over the years is that growth depends on willingness to dig deep and face the shadow. And you can avoid doing it whether you’re on one path or following many. I’ve known just as many people who spent years skimming along the surface of one tradition as I’ve known people who’ve used flitting from one chair to another as a way to avoid the depths.
If you want to grow and transform on your spiritual path, my first piece of advice is:
Commit to exploring all the issues and emotions you’ve buried in the shadows.
Ancient practices are generally designed to open up those dark spaces as are some great modern body work and movement techniques. It’s easy to tense up or change how you’re practicing so you close those avenues and stay on the surface. If you stay aware, you can catch yourself resisting and choose to move through it, allowing the release to happen.
For instance, the movements I teach which trigger deep releases often release deep into places where people hold buried issues and memories. When they start touching into something they don’t want to see, they often (1) make the movements smaller so they’re not going as deep into the muscles or (2) speed up, which automatically also makes the movement smaller and which makes the release less likely or (3) refuse to do the movement at all. Every practice holds the possibility of surrendering to the opening it offers or finding a way to avoid the opening.
One of the hardest things I’ve had to learn is how to recognize (1) when I’m resisting and (2) when I’m recognizing something either isn’t going to make a difference or that it’s not the practice for me. I’ve been fortunate in choosing alternative therapies/therapists or practices, as I’ve had a reliable “yes” meter. If I feel a big “yes” when I encounter a new therapist or practice, it’s going to be a good match. If I feel indifferent or a big “no” but do it anyway, it usually isn’t helpful or is a bad experience.
There are, however, moments with a good therapist or practice when I know I’m just resisting. For me it shows up as a big knot in my stomach and feeling anxious. It tells me there’s something there my ego or inner child has been holding back from my consciousness. Since I now appreciate the freedom involved in opening those places, I relax or breathe into the therapy or movement or chant or… and let the buried issue rise to the surface where I can release it.
It’s worth learning how your resistance shows up — you may have a knot in your stomach or it may show up elsewhere in your body or as a mental shut down or a big emotional sensation… Just learn what your “nudge” is and then choose to gently keep moving through it.
Specifics of Practice
My personal experience of practicing has been that well-designed practices have an impact if you believe they will. And it doesn’t matter if you follow every step of a prescribed list of “must dos” or do it every single day. If you’re reasonably committed to doing a practice regularly and you do it as best you can, it will have an effect.
I’ve run into a lot of teachers over the years who insist you have to do the practice they’re touting in a very specific way and often add you must do it every day. And they tell you it won’t do any good if you fail to follow all the rules. I often wonder if they understand how many people are convinced not to even try because of such statements.
More and more in recent years I’ve been noticing how much Judeo-Christian religious thinking permeates New Age/New Thought spirituality–at least the U.S. version of it. For me that includes strong views about good and evil, right and wrong and following all the “right” rules the “right way” in order to be “saved” or, in this case, “enlightened”.
I see the teachers who need everybody to meditate or chant in only a very precise way and who teach you that the practice will be useless or worthless if you fail to follow every rule as being caught in that religious institution-style view of black and white rules and a vengeful God who rewards and punishes based on rule-following.
Some teachers are very fussy about sitting in a precise position for meditation. Most of those positions are pretty uncomfortable for me so I’ve modified them by either using a Nada Chair or by lying down. I have amazing meditations and doing them has been central to transforming my life so I just roll my eyes when somebody tries to tell me I can only meditate sitting cross-legged with my hands in a certain mudra and a shawl around my shoulders, etc.
There are fussy versions of many practices, with similar admonitions about no impact if not done precisely so. I hope no one ever lets such nonsense prevent them from practicing but I’ve known people who felt they might as well not bother at all because they couldn’t do it every day or didn’t want to have to follow every rule, etc. I say,
do what you can without worries about being perfect and the practices will help you
Daily practice will obviously have a greater impact than sporadic practice (or no practice 🙂 ), but I’ve found over the years that skipping a day or two a week doesn’t make much difference and I’ve made progress on every other day–just not as much. I even think sometimes letting yourself miss a practice can be just what you need.
The bottom line for me is: the benefits of practices like meditation, tai chi, chanting, etc. are so great, choose one or more practices that suit you, do the basics of it/them to the best of your ability, and figure out a schedule you can commit to–even if you do something three times a week for 15 minutes, it can start to create new grooves.