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Keep going!  (aka Don’t STOP Practicing! Please!)

FINALLY making it back to writing!  Ahhhh….. Thank the Divinity!

I’ve written a number of times already about the importance of having a spiritual practice, especially The Next Level of Weirdness, and also The Purpose of Yoga, Premature Surrender and have alluded to it in others.  Most people reading a blog on this particular site are probably at least aware that it would be beneficial to oneself and to others to be practicing yoga and/or meditation daily, or at least more frequently or for longer than they already are.  I’ll summarize and give a strong suggestion, not meant to be additional ammo for the inner critic: if you don’t already have a daily practice of SOMETHING aimed toward your deepest Spiritual Self or toward cultivating a deeper and more meaningful connection with the Love and Consciousness within, then please begin, if at all possible, even if it’s just 5 or 15 minutes a day.  If you can’t do daily, how about every other day? Or come to yoga class twice a week instead of once. Or…anything in the direction of introspection/inner clarity/love. The effort will be well-worth it, especially when you look back 30 or more years at how your life is different than it would have been if you hadn’t been doing it.

This article, though, is more for those who already have some form of practice going on and is inspired by more people than I wish who have relatively recently told me about having LOST their regular practice for some time and find themselves wishing they had continued, wanting to get it back, and finding that it’s actually somewhat difficult to actually resume.  

I started a daily practice almost 3 decades ago, and from the beginning, I was always wary of any mental attempt to decrease my sadhana (repeated spiritual practice) time or intensity level (Resistance and Excuses blog).   For many years, as a pusher, but also as one dedicated and attempting to be sincere on the Path, I would often meet that thought by actually doing MORE sadhana, increasing my time or practice commitment in some way or another.  Having kids did put a little dent in how much I could actually do, for full disclosure, and certainly there are life changes that will do such a thing, but if you have a practice already, I can only say, “PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE continue it!”  Don’t stop, ever. If you have a daily practice, don’t miss a day, unless you are deathly ill. Occasionally every few years I miss a day for that, but I will still generally try to be in our home yoga room for some amount of time anyway, even if it’s horizontal.

Last week a sincere student and spiritual practitioner said she had read that VERY bad things can happen if you miss even a day of your practice.  I have never heard of such things, though I can imagine in some specific cases and with very specific practices given by your Guru that there might be some truth to it.  However I think that ideas like that are meant to harness a little bit of fear to help motivate the continued practice of certain students. I have been with Amma, my spiritual teacher, for over 21 years, and interestingly, just in the past 3-5 years, in her talks she has started to include more frequent and strident encouragement for spiritual practitioners to KEEP doing their practices and don’t stop, just like I was saying above.  She gives the analogy that if you are driving on a freeway and get off at an exit, some exits are easy to get back on the freeway, but we have ALL, no doubt, gotten off on an exit that we had to go a LONG way to be able to reverse course and get back on the freeway and continue in the direction we were really wanting to be going.  If we get off the “freeway” of our practice—the inner and outer, speedy, deliberate and steady movement in our chosen direction—just as when we get off at an unknown exit from the car-freeway, we DON’T KNOW in advance if we will be able to get back on easily or not.

I had a student some years ago who had, at the time, been meditating since high school and through college.  She had participated in multiple 10-day silent meditation retreats, way more than anyone else her age that I knew.  She practiced yoga daily as well. But then she stopped, I’m not sure exactly why. At the time she thought it was a temporary thing, maybe work or boyfriend or health challenges seemed to be the reason, I don’t remember the details.  But she knew me and I knew her history, and I encouraged her to start it back up, which she continually had every intention in doing, but she never did, that I know of. She moved away some years later and I always keep her in the back of my mind as my “poster child” for Keep the Practices Going!  I imagined back then, when her wanting her practices back but doing nothing to get them back, that that mindset would probably result in 30 or 50 years going by. In my imagination, I could see her regretfully looking back in her old age and realizing the time had slipped away, and the Spiritual Knowing which she had had previously and which so inspired and uplifted her had been lost and forgotten long ago.  It’s a sad thought, BUT it served as yet another inspiration for ME to keep my practices going.

Starting a practice is, for most people, a somewhat challenging undertaking, if not downright HARD!  Adding a little bit of quiet and looking within in a noisy and externally oriented life, not surprisingly, often meets with resistance of many different possible forms.  It takes a good input of energy to start up (anything), but it takes MUCH LESS energy to keep it going once it’s established. Especially as we (many of us) are aging and there is less energy available anyway (yes, even for me, regardless of whatever weird preconceptions you had about me are 😇), the energy we have is precious so let’s utilize the energy wisely and use it to keep our sadhana going, not have to restart it again.  

The flip side of it is, if we have a practice, of a month, or 6, or a year, or 10 or …, we are not only honing our inner tools, but we are strengthening our awareness, raising our energy, deepening our connection with our Truest Self/Source/the Divine, and the benefits of that process accrue over years.  I have a friend who got HIV back in the 80’s, when it was essentially a death notice. He is the only one of the people he knows who got it back then who is still alive, and he attributes that to his long-term meditation practice. Certainly such things are possible.

For full disclosure again, at Kripalu many years ago, one of my teachers there had the seva (service), his JOB, was doing sadhana, 13 hours a day, for many years.  He had no other seva like everyone else did. When the Guru there fell, he stopped completely, and though when I talked to him a few years after that and asked him about it, he said on the occasions when he did do his sadhana—meditation or yoga or pranayama—he would “immediately go back where he had been.”  That is possible, too, but most of us are not practicing 13 hours a day for years, AND honestly, I felt sad that he wasn’t continuing to “add to his spiritual bank account” and was just “living on savings,” though he obviously had abundant “savings” in this realm.

As an aside, some people are able to teach yoga fairly well without a daily or even regular practice, but it will end, I’ve seen it end in MANY people already.  I see teaching without practicing as giving energy from savings that they had somehow accrued previously without building more. A yoga teachers job should be to build their own energy, and then the Universe/the Divine will naturally create an outlet for some of that to go out to help others in their yoga.  Then there will be no depletion of the “spiritual/energetic bank account.”

All this having been said, if you don’t want to take my advice/suggestion/encouragement, I can probably put you in touch with a few people who HAD a practice and then stopped, and now find themselves wanting it back and having a hard time getting it going again.  I’m sure they’d be happy to agree with me.

If you have a regular practice (of ANYTHING uplifting and helpful to you and the world), please join me for a moment of respect and gratitude to the Source of the inspiration to do it and to continue doing it.  Somehow it’s there in you and not in others, and I know that you appreciate that it’s there. It could be something as simple as, “Thank you, that Source, for the motivation to continue on this Path that I love and that inspires and uplifts me and helps me serve others with love.  Please continue to guide and manifest in this Life.”

If you had a practice previously, it may be helpful to take a moment and give some respect and gratitude for that inspiration that had been there and that is now hard to access.  “Thank you, the Source of that previous inspiration to do spiritual practices. You served me very well then. Though I am currently finding it hard to connect and receive that inspiration, I am open to it returning so that I may continue to be more and more true to my Deepest Self/the Divine and to more fully and easily serve others.  If the inspiration does return, I pray that I may cherish and guard it appropriately. By Your Grace.”

The most frequent advice I give to people is “Keep going.”  Once on a Path, that’s the best advice. It is and will continue to be worth it.  Relax and just keep going.

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