How spiritual practices become ongoing

We can bring any prayer with us throughout the day. Prayers tend to become automatic over time and run in the background even if we are focused on daily life activities. They live their own life after a while. The Jesus or Heart prayer is an example, as is ho’oponopono and metta. The words may come and go, but the orientation and energy – for lack of a better word – continues. 

– from A tantric approach to spirituality

I thought I would say a few more words about this.

HOW DO PRACTICES BECOME ONGOING?

This is not a big secret. They become ongoing if they are conducive to become ongoing, and we do them enough so they become very familiar and a new habit. Our system creates and goes into a new groove.

Depending on the practice, they can become ongoing as a new habit, or as something in the background of our awareness, or they can become ongoing in that we can easily access them when needed.

HOW DOES IT LOOK WHEN THEY ARE ONGOING?

This depends on the practice. I’ll give some examples I am familiar with.

Basic meditation is to notice and allow our experience as it is. And to notice it’s already allowed, and even already noticed. This helps soften identification with what we notice, including our thoughts. And this, in turn, helps us notice what we are, which is what all our experiences happen within and as. As we get more familiar with this noticing and allowing, it become a new habit and easier to bring to daily life, and more situations in daily life.

Training a more stable attention is helpful for just about any activity. We can do this by bringing and keeping attention on something, for instance, the sensations of the breath at the nostrils, and bring attention back when we notice our attention got distracted. (The distraction is usually or always a thought with some charge to it, a thought that seems at least a bit true to us.) Over time, this becomes a new habit that benefits us through the day.

We can notice what we are, for instance, guided by some simple inquiries (Headless experiments, Big Mind process). We find ourselves as capacity for the world, as what all our experiences – the world as it appears to us – happens within and as. As we get more used to and familiar with this noticing, it’s easier to notice it through the day and in different situations.

We can examine our thoughts, for instance, guided by the structure and pointers in The Work of Byron Katie. We explore if we can know for certain it’s true, see what happens when we hold a thought as true, how it would be to not have the belief, and find the genuine validity in the reversals using examples from our own life and experience. As we get more familiar with this over time, this too becomes a new habit. We may find that our mind naturally starts examining thoughts this way in daily life. (Using the structure is still helpful, especially if we notice an especially ingrained and stressful belief. It helps us explore it more thoroughly.)

Exploring our sense fields is a traditional Buddhist form of inquiry. (Living Inquiries is a modern version.) Here, we get to see how our mind combines the sense fields – sight, sound, sensation, smell, taste, and thoughts – into our experience of the world, ourselves, and anything. We get to see that what may, at first, see very solid and real, is actually created by the mind through combining sense fields. It’s not as solid and real as it seemed. We also get to see how the mind associates certain sensations with certain thoughts, and that sensations lend a sense of solidity, substance, and truth to the thoughts, and the thoughts make the sensation appear to mean something. This helps us see that thoughts are thoughts, and sensations are sensations, which softens identification with these thoughts. As we become more familiar with this, this too becomes a habit and something we bring with us into daily life. We may not be able to do a thorough inquiry, but we notice how the sense fields combine, and we are more easily see a thought as a thought and a sensation as a sensation.

Heart-centered approaches help us shift how we relate to others, situations, the world, and ourselves. We learn to befriend the images of these in our own mind, which helps us shift how we relate to all of this in our daily life. (The ones I am most familiar with are tonglen, ho’oponopno, and a Christian version of metta.)

Prayer is a certain form of heart-centered practice. When we engage regularly in prayer – for instance, the Jesus or Heart prayer – it tends to become ongoing. It runs in the background as a kind of orientation and energy. (Sorry, don’t know how to better describe it.) It’s often a combination of periods of intentional prayer with words and noticing it running in the background – through the day and even night.

A COMBINATION: INTENTIONAL PRACTICE & ONGOING

In real life, there is often a combination of intentional practice, a new ongoing habit, and intentionally bringing in the practice as needed. We have periods of intentional practice, at set times or when we find time, and on our own or in groups. We notice how these practices become ongoing in daily life. And if we notice that we get caught in an old habit in a situation in daily life, we can bring in the practice to help shift into the new pattern.

If we don’t engage in a somewhat regular intentional practice, the habit created by the practice tends to fade over time. As we engage in intentional practice again, the habit comes back and often more easily than the first time. Our system remembers.

It can be especially helpful to notice when our old habitual patterns override a practice that has become more ongoing. This usually points to a belief, identification, emotional issue, hangup, or trauma. And we can explore this further.

OLD AND NEW HABITUAL PATTERNS

Why is all this important?

It’s because our old habitual patterns often come from separation consciousness. They may create unhappiness and discomfort for ourselves, messiness in our life, and may trigger discomfort and suffering in others.

Spiritual practices are typically designed to create new patterns for our mind and life that help us in a variety of ways. These patterns mimic awakening and how it is to live from awakening. And as we keep exploring these practices and we get more familiar with them, they become more and more a new habit.

This helps us in our life. It helps us notice where we still operate from separation consciousness (beliefs, identifications, emotional issues etc.). It makes it easier for us to notice what we are. And it helps us live from noticing what we are.

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