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Introduction, Workshop 8: Life Practices

In "Spirit in Practice," a Tapestry of Faith program

"Tell me, why do we require a trip to Mount Everest in order to be able to perceive one moment of reality? I mean... is Mount Everest more 'real' than New York ? Isn't New York 'real'? You see, I think if you could become fully aware of what existed in the cigar store next door to this restaurant, I think it would just blow your brains out! Isn't there just as much 'reality' to be perceived in the cigar store as there is on Mount Everest?"

—Wallace Shawn

The 1981 movie My Dinner with Andre consists primarily of one long dinner conversation between two friends, Andre and Wally. While they are discussing Andre's several years in esoteric spiritual seeking, Wally speaks the words in the quote above, concluding, "Isn't there just as much 'reality' to be perceived in the cigar store as there is on Mount Everest?"

Too often we think of spiritual experiences as somehow different from the rest of our experiences, perhaps even their opposite. We attribute to spiritual experiences an aura of peace and tranquility that seems foreign to the everyday lives of most contemporary people.

Yet even monastics have to shop, cook, clean up, try to get into the shower before their housemates use up all the hot water, and run the business that supports their monastery. Then there are all those tricky personality issues that don't go away just because everyone is wearing the same color of robe. An American Zen monastery advises potential monks that if they're thinking of coming to the monastery to get away from the problems of life, they should think again. Life in the monastery, they say, has a way of bringing life's problems into even sharper relief.

And this really should be no surprise. The same kinds of issues will come up for people whether they're living in monastic communities, cities, subdivisions, or the country. Stresses are manifested in different ways, perhaps, but the issues are real and important. They will come up wherever human life is taking place. Whether consciously or unconsciously, we explore these big issues: What really matters in life? What is of ultimate importance?

It may seem obvious that religious leaders and monastics wrestle with such questions. Yet don't parents also wrestle with them whenever they have to decide whether to attend to the needs of their children or the demands of their own schedules? Aren't these exactly the issues being weighed when considering whether to put in another weekend of overtime to impress the boss or to spend time with a partner who's going through a rough patch? Aren't these the very values hanging in the balance when choosing whether to speak up about a racist or homophobic joke or to "go along to get along"?

Each and every moment of each and every day presents us with opportunities for engaging in spiritual practice. Raising kids, making a living, choosing how to spend money (however much or little of it we have), choosing how to spend our time, the kind of car we drive, the food we eat, the way we care for our bodies, the way we care for our significant relationships, the way we treat our housemates and co-workers—each of these provides us with opportunities to be conscious in the way we live our lives. Each offers opportunities to make choices, to "walk our talk," and to engage in our lives and our living with integrity and intention. These opportunities are at the heart of spirituality.

There is a danger, of course, in proclaiming that "everything I do is prayer" or that "my life is a meditation." It can be, but it requires intention, discipline, commitment, and accountability to make it so. As an illustration: you could pick up a musical instrument that you've never touched before and declare that whatever you play is music, and in a certain sense you would be right. Yet most everyone else would more than likely call the result not music, but noise. Only with at least some amount of regular, disciplined practice can we increase the ratio of music to noise. The same is true of the spiritual life.

This workshop adds an important dimension to the Spirit in Practice series. All of the other spheres of spiritual growth—personal practices, communal worship, spiritual partnerships, mind practices, body practices, soul practices, and justice practices—could be things we see ourselves doing as a separate segment of our lives. This workshop encourages us to see every moment of our regular, daily lives as an opportunity to deepen our spiritual awareness and connections—whether we are giving medicine to an ailing parent or flossing our teeth, dealing with a co-worker or discovering that we've burned our dinner. In short, it encourages us to recognize that our trip to the corner drugstore can be as mystical an experience as a trip to the top of Mount Everest.

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Last updated on Saturday, October 29, 2011.

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