Life is Not a Spiritual Practice Run
December 19, 2000
The following two articles were sent as one of three pre-conference readings to all subscribers of Yehudah’s Nuggets Newsletter. The conference was held online on AOL’s Addiction & Recovery Forum in December 20, 2000.
The key to working with any spiritual practice is not to practice it. I don’t mean to be cute by that statement, but life is not a practice run. I think any of us who find ourselves in a crisis are not interested in practicing something. Essentially, for any teaching to be effective it has to be seen and done as part and parcel of our daily lives. Our life every day and every moment is our spiritual practice. What we do and how we be is a statement of our spirituality. If we see our spiritual work as doing our spiritual practices, when are we going to live our spiritual life? The ancient aphorism “If not now, when?” seems to apply here.
I am interested in living my spirituality. It is too easy to divide our lives into chunks and parcels. What happens, then, is we forget that real consciousness is expressed in how we treat others and ourselves. The real notion of spirituality is:
How we live every day What we say and do Whether or not we get angry or not How much we pursue forgiveness How we manifest holy values It is not how we breathe or chant; it is how we live.
Spiritual practice brings us closer to others and opens the doors to intimacy with ourselves, others, and God. Too often in today’s world people get involved in spiritual practice as an escape from engaging themselves and others. I think we all have seen this when we encounter people whose spirituality is filled with self-righteousness and zealotry. This kind of thing is — as I once read in an ancient text — akin to talking about heaven but living with your life and the life of your friends and family in hell. It’s ironic, because everyone who is around people like that can see it clearly, yet the individuals are so caught in fear and denial that they think they are spiritual.
In truth, living with all this intense pain did not allow me any time to luxuriate on the path. Pain cuts right through any residual spiritual materialism. It cuts right to the core. It demands our attention and in the moments when I truly could surface from the pain I remembered certain fundamental teaching on suffering.
One of the strongest sources of comfort came from a holy book called Chesbon HaNefesh. The author was a great teacher in Yeshiva of Slobodka just before World War II. He taught the following short lesson:
“While you should try to protect yourself from harm, if you do suffer, the best tool is acceptance. Accepting your situation greatly minimizes the amount you actually suffer. Everyone will inevitably drink from the cup of suffering, which is either a test or an atonement. By failing to accept your suffering, the pain you feel will be much more acute and harsh than necessary.” (no.76-77)
I could not and would not venture to measure the harshness of what had happened to me, but I did discover that the only way I had any real conscious awareness was by accepting precisely what had happened. This was now my life and I sought to embrace it. It was difficult and certainly filled with pain, but it was my life and as near as I could tell, I had no other life on deck.
It came down to actually accepting or living with tremendous fear. While I admit to still having fear, the healing balm that I place on my heart is acceptance simply of what is. From that vantage point I could envision a path of healing. And while that path may not bring a total cure for my body, it can bring me to being healed.