What is a Spiritual Practice?

tree-with-raysI’ve put the phrase “Spiritual Practice” in my blog title, but it may not be clear to many readers what that means. A spiritual practice is something you do with the body, with speech or with thought that evokes or develops the spiritual in us. The most common spiritual practice in the West is prayer. Other familiar spiritual practices are singing hymns, reciting a mantra (or saying a rosary), bowing, and meditation.

I borrowed the phrase “Aging as a Spiritual Practice” from the title of my first book, Work as a Spiritual Practice. In that book I adapted many of the Buddhist mindfulness practices-such as mindful breathing, walking, awareness of the body and emotions-to the workplace. It was the first book of its kind, and while I’d like to think that the contents of the book made it sell well, I suspect that the title had a lot to do with it (note to aspiring authors: the title matters).

So when it came time to find a title for this blog, and for this style of teaching, I googled the phrase “Aging as Spiritual Practice” and there was nothing out there. That’s the great thing about Google; it not only tells you what’s out there, it tells you what’s not out there. Nobody had thought of putting aging together with the notion of a spiritual practice. Of course aging is a universal life process; but how can aging itself be a spiritual practice?

That’s what I’m trying to explore. Both ancient Hindu philosophy there are Four Stages of Life and the spiritual journey is the fourth stage; the theories of Carl Jung posit that the second half of life is the natural time for spiritual development-for “individuation”, as Jung called it. It is only with the rise of a consumer society, advances in health care, and myriad forms of plastic surgeries, botox, facials, viagra and skin care that human beings have found success worshipping at the fountain of youth. Stay young forever! Or at least pretend for as long as possible. As the kids used to say: Not!

Instead of that idea, I want to bring back the notion that the second half of life is a time for important work and the really important questions: Why am I here? What can I do? What will make a difference? How can I help?

These are questions that naturally arise as we turn from our forties to our fifties and matters of child-rearing, livelihood and career become less challenging. Especially now that societies all over the world are in crisis and in flux-and not just economically-never has the role of elders been so vital. In a time of rapid change, those who have lived long know something about the path to take. What’s more, when they see the path we are on, they are more likely to say, “We’ve been down this road before; let’s go back.”

How do we find out what we do know about the path to take and how do we develop that knowledge?

Through Aging as a Spiritual Practice. That’s what it means. More to come.

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