A Peek at Practice

Since at least one of my readers is a self-professed spiritual voyeur, I decided I’d write just a little bit about what my (near) daily practice looks like. It changes somewhat from day to day and though it hasn’t been as rigorously daily as it used to be, I’m still in front of the altar with consistency if not predictable regularity.

This post was also inspired by the recent insight I gained about the value of ritual practice, especially daily/frequent practice. For lack of any better way to articulate this, I find that ritual work lightens my karmic load. I feel lighter, cleaner, less burdened as a result of frequently doing this work; this lightness is a very particular sort of lightness and without getting too far ahead of myself, I’m hoping that, just maybe, some of my negative/unproductive wyrd is working itself out. Ritual is good for that sort of thing.

Before I really dive into the content of this post, it’s perhaps worth stating up front that I don’t follow a tradition as such and nor do I adhere to any particular spiritual community. At the heart of it, my personal practice is about devotion, which means that my path is also about service, sacrifice, and study. It is difficult to articulate precisely how all my influences fit together but they do and they make a whole that feels cohesive and stable, if not entirely predictable. So while I tend to use a lot of terms that are embedded in Hinduism and bhakti practice in particular I have no formal adherence to these currents.

I should also say that the exact series of steps I follow can change to some degree depending on what materials I have on hand and what time frame I’m working with and how much energy I have. Tonight, for instance, I was going to use some flowers cut from a potted plant I bought last week but it wasn’t doing so well so I left the flowers for another day.

I started by sweeping my ritual area, dusting the altar, washing the implements, and getting most of the articles properly arranged. I use a thali and a couple of oil lamps for rituals based on the aarti format (worship with light) and they ought to be cleaned after every use. Sometimes they get some oil drops on them or whatever so sometimes a wash before starting is good.

I found some clean clothes to wear and set them just outside the ritual space. I really need a few sets of plain ritual clothes but I simply haven’t gotten around to deciding exactly what it is I want and then making the effort to find/buy/make them. The thing is I need more than one set because of how frequently I like to do ritual. You can’t let your ritual clothes get too dirty and if you only have one set then you’re doing laundry all the time. Ideally I’d like to have three or four, but again – I haven’t made that happen  yet.

Once everything was washed, cleaned, and ready to go I took a shower and washed well. I typically brush my teeth and/or use mouthwash too, but I feel like that has to be done before the shower and I forgot the steps this evening. So I went before the Mother with a dirty mouth. Sigh.

After dressing in clean clothes I cover my head, lay out my prayer mat, and begin. I dedicated a couple items for ritual use so they could be properly used within the sacred space. I did some breathing exercises to light up my energy body and got myself right and proper before beginning.

I start by lighting an oil lamp and reciting the mantra praising the eternal light of spiritual knowledge.  This has become one of the most effective “space setting” practices I’ve ever used. After that comes a series of deity invocations welcoming the High Ones from the altar of my heart into the altar in front of me. There are currently four deities on my Hindu-style altar: Ganesh, Kali, Kanyakumari, and Kamakhya as Sri Lalita Tripura Sundari. Light and incense is offered to each, followed by specific offerings to Kamakhya (tonight it was a pear). Formal praise is offered (pranam) and then blessings asked for. I beg forgiveness for any errors committed and take refuge in the grace of divinity. The High Ones are returned to the altar of my heart in the interior temple and the ritual is finished.

If I’m totally on my game (which isn’t always the case) I also do two rounds of mala in mantra meditation. This takes place after offerings are given and before formal praise.

And that’s what most of my (near) daily practice looks like. In addition to a second, much shorter worship ritual to My Lord, the whole thing can take anywhere for 30 – 45 minutes, not counting prep time. This might seem like a long amount of time but in all honesty I wish I spent more time at it. The length of time spent on (near) daily practice has to be built very gradually though; I got to this point after about 18 months of very regular practice (and that only after many, many years of less regular practice). Of course, there’s also all the studying I do, which can sometimes involve several hours. That’s a little different though.

Anyway, there ya go. I’ll do another Bhakti Bookshelf post later this week I think but I probably won’t be around much until sometime next week. I’ve got a busy 10 days ahead of me. Oh, and if you want some idea of my altar setup, here’s a video I made a few weeks ago.

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