Life as Practice

While Francis is teaching and travelling, I’ll be sharing some guest blog posts here on Finding Grace at the Center. Francis has written a lot in recent weeks here on the blog and there’s much to reflect on. So, I hope you’ll enjoy some of my own reflections on the writings.

Life as Spiritual Practice

Francis recently suggested we take an honest look at our motivation in spiritual seeking and practice. Why did we begin to follow a teacher or teaching? What is it that sparked our spiritual search or our desire to develop a spiritual practice?

For me, it was the pain and suffering of being alive. This included many periods of emotional and mental crisis in my teens and 20’s, the inability to settle into any kind of stable career, repeated episodes of emotional and mental breakdown, failed attempts to relieve my own suffering and craving for peace with alcohol, cigarettes, sex, food and spending sprees and eventually at the age of 29, the sudden shock of a cancer diagnosis. I had reached a point where it was clear to me that all of my attempts to find fulfilment and satisfaction in all the usual ways were failing.

And being presented with the possibility of death much, much sooner that I had ever truly imagined focused me very quickly into the present moment. In fact, in the early days of diagnosis and treatment, there wasn’t even any conscious choice or decision to return to the present moment. That just happened. The grace of that moment was really the deep contemplation of the loss of all those things that had been causing so much distress: me, the past, the future. When I really looked, all I knew was what was here and now. And looking in that way gave even the smallest of experiences a new and rich depth.

There was really no framework or foundation for that experience however, and so in time, the frenzied activity of worldly seeking was simply transferred to spiritual seeking and many attempts to develop a spiritual life and a spiritual practice. Almost all of which met with abject failure when the motivation was to escape from my own personality or from the reality of here and now.

 

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“… it is important to realize that spiritual practice it is not about escaping the difficulties of human existence or even escaping the human condition altogether. It is about helping us navigate the difficulties of the human condition with a little more skill and grace, wisdom and compassion.
Spiritual practice doesn’t really create something new in you or give you something that you somehow lacked before. It simply helps you get more in touch with energies and forces that were ALWAYS within you, but that you simply were not in touch with before. If you put your attention on spiritual practice and make it an essential part of your ordinary day, each and every day, you will gradually begin to experience small changes in your life from the inside out.” ~ Francis Bennett.

 

 

 

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You may imagine that you don’t have a spiritual practice because you don’t sit in meditation for 20 minutes each day. But if you’re consciously engaged in spiritual seeking, 2 hours a day talking about it on Facebook or 3 hours a week watching videos of teachers on YouTube or reading this blog is a form of practice.

Spiritual practice sounds like something you have to force yourself to do, something that takes great discipline and effort. And sometimes, that is absolutely the case. In essence however, spiritual practice is the practice of letting go, of releasing the grip of an egocentric mindset.

 

 

Resting in and as awareness or witnessing the chattering of a busy mind, IS a kind of letting go.

 

Surrendering our egocentric grip on reality to the wisdom of a teaching (in whatever form) is a practice too. You might find that listening to a certain teacher or reading a book on spiritual awakening facilitates some relief from the grasping of the mind or the clenching of the gut… experiencing that relief or respite is simply the return to the presence of God, the fall into grace.

 

Personally, I find this relief in any form of surrender or letting go… any kind of letting go after hanging, clutching or grasping on… be it a bracing walk in the wind, plunging into a swimming pool, an afternoon’s pottering about the house completing chores, time spent in silent contemplation, writing a journal, writing poetry, reading, singing and other creative activities or formal meditation practice for 20 minutes in the morning and 20 minutes in the evening.

 

Whenever I engage with life as a practice of letting go or surrendering to the actuality and reality of life right now, I experience the active peace of the present moment… or to put it another way, I find that my own life and my own unique individual expression of myself in the world is itself the practice of the presence of God.

In ‘The End of Your World’ by Adyashanti, he says

“… understand one thing: no matter what our path – whether it’s a progressive path or a direct path, whether it’s a devotional path or otherwise – the trajectory of our spiritual lives and of all spiritual awakening is towards surrender. Ultimately, that’s the name of the spiritual game. Everything we do spiritually is leading us to a spontaneous state of surrender – to letting go. That is where it all leads, no matter what the path is, no matter what the practice is. Once you know that, you notice that each step along the way is the next opportunity to surrender. It may take effort to get there; it may take effort to get you to the point where you are willing to let go into grace, but ultimately the whole of spirituality boils down to letting go of the illusion of the separate self – letting go of the way we think the world is and the way we think it should be.
We need the willingness to lose our world. That willingness is the surrender; that willingness is the letting go. Each of us has to find what that letting go means for us, what we need to let go of. Whether it’s easy or difficult doesn’t matter in the slightest. It is the letting go that is ultimately important.”  ~ Adyashanti from ‘The End of Your World‘.

 

What I have learned from the guidance of Francis’ teaching in my life is that while the path of awakening is not at all for the feint hearted and certainly not for those who wish to avoid or escape life through all the means that might have worked in the past… and while, as Adyashanti says here, it can be described as the end of your world, for me it has been the start of a new world.

One where I can finally come out of hiding and drop all of my preferred methods of escaping from the challenges of this world and myself, and meet them with a great deal more skill, grace and joy.

With love 
Mike Jenkins