By David Benner
One of the things I am always interested to discover when I talk with people about their journey is their most important life practice. By this, I don’t mean something they feel they should do but what they must do to stay deeply connected to life. Some might think of this as a spiritual practice, and some might even call it a spiritual discipline. But since God is the source and ground of all life, choosing God is choosing life, just as choosing life is always choosing God. So, to side-step the religious language that so easily gets in the road of real communication, I usually just ask, “What brings you life?”
A friend recently told me that for him it was the contemplative engagement with a crossword puzzle – not just solving the puzzle but the stillness and absorption that was central to the process. Another told me it was an early morning walk on the beach near her house. Others speak of such things as making art or music, prayer, touch, puttering in the garden, reading the Bible or other sacred texts, writing in a journal, meditation, and soulful conversation.
For decades my most essential practice has been walking. Walking grounds me and aligns my being. My breath and pace quickly fall in line with each other and I settle into a place of contemplative stillness, attentiveness and openness. Like the anonymous author of The Way of A Pilgrim, the first-person account of a 19th-century Russian pilgrim walking across Russia while practicing the Jesus Prayer, prayer wells us from my depths as I walk. But I don’t walk so I can pray. I walk so I can return to my center and find myself again realigned with the transcendent ground of my being. I walk to connect to my environment and get out of my head and into my senses and body. I walk so I can let life flow through me rather than my manipulating it to get out of it what I think I need or want. My walking is my prayer – a prayer that arises from my depths and connects me to both the beyond and the within. And, as St. Augustine noted, things are solved by walking (solvitur ambulando). Walking simply has a way of sorting things out and putting everything into perspective – and the great thing is, I don’t need to do anything to make that happen other than place one foot in front of another and let myself fall forward.
There are, of course, a number of other things that I do to open myself to life. Over time, the mix changes. Some persist for a lifetime – like walking – while others are simply for a season. I suspect the same is true for you.
Pay attention to what brings you life and avoid being willful about spiritual practices. Ways of living that are no longer vitalizing often must be allowed to die so that something else can take their place. Life practices shouldn’t be a matter of discipline. They should be a matter of desire and necessity. But it’s alarmingly easy to fail to notice the difference between discipline and desire when we go through life with either non-attentiveness or egoic willfulness.
What new things are you drawn to that might hold the promise of connecting you more deeply and vitally to life? What old things have you neglected despite the fact that they have always brought you life? What things must you do if your being is to be more fully aligned with the Ground of Being? Make a point of doing them.