I have this idea in my head that I am a consistent devotional practitioner, that I have a strong pattern of practice in my life. Sometimes this is true but over the years I have to honestly recognize that my practice habits are not me falling short of some ideal; my practice habits are simply my habits – no qualification or footnotes necessary.
Accepting Things As They Are is a difficult but very, very important spiritual skill. Over and over I’m confronted with the fact that various ideals and mental constructs are not real – at least, not in the sense that they reflect Things As They Are. These ideals are constructed one at thought at a time by me. They are real in the sense that they have an impact on my inner life and on the way I try to make sense of the world, but they are not constructs built out of actual experience. Instead, these imagined realities are just distorted reflections and prevent me from engaging with the facts as they unfold.
The fact is that I have practice cycles. These cycles are continuous, ongoing; they unfold one into the next and they form a pattern that is itself unbroken but that is not a simple linear ray tossing me into a predictable and eternal future.
I think most people are probably like this.
I do think that daily devotional practice is possibly the best thing you can do to make your practice deeper and more rich. I spent almost two years doing daily practice and though others would no doubt hold up their own unbroken record of a decade of daily practice and laugh at so small a period, I’m actually kind of amazed I was able to sustain that. It was an amazing time and yes, it came at a sacrifice and yes, I’d recommend it to anyone. In fact, I keep trying to recommend it to myself.
I have not been able to sustain a long stretch of daily practice since that time.
Part of it is me. Much of it is me, no doubt. I know that I lack strength of discipline and that I’m easily distracted. In fact, I actively talk myself out of daily practice. I have very hard arguments with myself about *not* doing my practice. This takes place virtually ever day of long streaks of practice.
Meditators and martial artists will tell you that this is an entirely natural phase of growth. Anyone who has spent any time on the cushion or with the beads will tell you that yes, you will come up with a million and one ways to avoid doing your practice for the day. This is something that happens to devotional practitioners as well, especially those of us trying very hard to adopt a daily practice.
There is no trick to consistent practice. Consistency is only achieved by doing. Again: There is no trick to consistent practice. Consistency is only achieved by doing.
That said, I have found a few strategies that keep my mind pointed in the right direction.
Space management: If my house is messy, I don’t do my work. If the floor in front of the altars is cluttered, I don’t approach. I get very distracted by the general chaos of a messy house. Even though I have always striven to keep my altars very clean (and after about 12 years I did finally get quite good at it!) but this kind of attention and discipline has to extend to the space surrounding the altar. The altar does not exist in isolation. It is a condensation of the space around it just as it is a magnification of the Power it houses. Therefore, space tending is altar tending writ large.
Time management: This is possibly even more complicated than space management. My devotional timetable has to be managed in terms of daily hours and seasonal tides. There are times of the day that I feel most prepared for worship (evening, usually) and so I listen to my internal clock when it tells me it’s time for worship; this usually happens around 9pm. Since I know that I have a kind of internal clock that calls my attention to my desire for worship, I know that the rest of my day can be structured to take place before that time.
Seasonal time management is a little harder. I don’t necessarily observe the full moons, though there are a few in the year that I do pay attention to, such as the Lunar New Year and the autumnal full moons of Ashvin and Kartik. Solstices, equinoxes, and cross-quarter days are powerful for magical reasons though they aren’t of special religious significance for the most part. For instance, I had planned to start my seeds on Feb. 2 but didn’t get around to the task; I’ll be starting them today to participate in the energy of the Lunar New Year, instead. It’s religious in the sense that my plant allies are a distinct part of my spiritual landscape and it’s magical in the sense that these allies are associated with very particular types of work (that I’ll hopefully be resuming soon! Oh I hope).
Planning, though – planning is hard. Planning my activities to coincide with these amazing shifting tides is hard. Maintaining a festival calendar is a challenge I’ve never taken on. Aside from Ambubachi Mela in summer and Durga Puja, Kali Puja, and Lakshmi Puja in the fall I don’t really observe festivals or holy days at home. (That’s a lie; there’s 2 – 3 weeks from mid-October to mid-November that’s pretty much a constant party for the Dead in one way or another but I’ve been doing that for so long I barely remember that it is, in fact, a marathon observance of holy days.)
Lifestyle management: This has to do with how I spend my energy and what I prioritize. I suffer from chronic volunteerism. I have the habit of always stepping up and taking on tasks. As my health needs got more complicated and more time-consuming to manage, I had to take hard looks at *why* exactly I was so compelled to take on these tasks. The realizations that arose from this introspection were not flattering but they were helpful. I’m now less likely to volunteer for things – though I still offer to help with a frequency that needs curtailed.
The other part, priorities, is a tendency that has emerged from the very beginning of my spiritual efforts. It wasn’t a super obvious thing at first – just a tendency towards study and practice when I could have been doing other things – and later it shaped things like socialization. Over and over again my spiritual life was prioritized over things that other people choose to prioritize. (This isn’t to say that either prioritized choice is better, sounder, or more noble than the other. I sometimes envy the convenience of others’ lives and i have no doubt that they sometimes envy my life’s apparent simplicity.)
The thing is, it doesn’t take much to shift priorities on a day to day basis. It’s very simple and no real sacrifice to *not* check my email for the 12th time and to instead go pray. So even as I’ve gotten pretty good at the broad strokes and grand gestures of lifestyle management, the little choices remain challenging. And so it goes.
11 thoughts on “Habits and Cycles”
I have always found that sometimes the ego gets in the way of the devotional practice, or it becomes a habit to the point of not being an active participant anymore (going through the motions, so to speak). In those cases it is very hard to continue a practice, and probably better if you don’t! But once the heart becomes a part of the daily devotion, then it becomes a sheer joy to be able to do the practice and do it regularly. Perhaps you need to find a specific practice that makes your heart sing?
Once I begin actually doing my practice, I definitely get into it. Sometimes I can’t wait to get home just so that I can spend time at the altar. I think that I have a lot of personal development still to do regarding sticking with things that I know are important to me. Ego is sneaky that way.
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Ego is sneaky – oh heck yeah! I also get the hangup of beating myself up when Ego gets in the way of my doing magic, devotionals or even when I’m supposed to be meditating. But I need to realize we are human. We aren’t going to get this stuff perfect, and I don’t think we are supposed to be perfect. We are supposed to try entire heart and soul, and in this life, for now, it is enough.
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There are reasons in Hellenic tradition to break from daily practice, such as a death in the family. This hasn’t happened to me yet, and I’m not sure what will become of my practice once there is such a break in my routine.
That’s interesting; I’ve heard other Hellenic practitioners talking about the required break due to death, etc but this isn’t a concern I’ve ever come across. Do you expect that something will change?
I have no clue. All I know is that I have an unbroken practice of several years, and that’s pretty amazing to me. I’ve never managed that with other daily routines, so what may come when I must break it is uncharted waters.
That’s very admirable. Some people observing purity taboos have a family member perform the right ritual actions; this seems to be the case when the action is the important part, not necessarily the person doing it. When it’s important that a specific individual make an effort, the compromise can be to do something in keeping with the same spirit but that doesn’t involve going to the altar (or temple, etc.). Would a reasonable compromise be to sponsor a ritual on your behalf, to invite someone over to tend your altar, or participate in some practice that isn’t impacted by miasma taboos? (Scripture study, meditation, listening to lectures, etc; not sure what sort of activities might be relevant to your practice.)
These all sound like good ideas.
Perhaps they will be useful in the (hopefully distant!) future. 🙂
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YES. so much yes. and I am not sure I will ever be less than frustrated with myself as I have this ideal stuck in my head, partially because were I to be able to keep to it I know I would “feel better” in my life. not feel better about myself, but as the results of that kind of practice, feel more grounded and centered closer to Those I worship etc. Meanwhile I try and squeeze a job and some kind of social life in to limited time with a daily practice I never feel is enough. LOL
It really helps to read about your quandaries as well …..it is not necessarily something that is simple and easy, this balancing act. and yes I do get side tracked and have an addictive personality which does get me in trouble with distractions.
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The quandaries – yes. We don’t talk about them enough, but I also realized that these questions and problems and little obstacles don’t show up right away. I think some people (including myself, at times) have felt resentful of (real or imagined) leaders not telling us about the difficulties of devotional practice. Why didn’t anyone ever tell me this was hard?? Well – because devotional practice in polytheism and pagan is still very new and so we collectively haven’t had the body of experience built up that might inform us of these facts and because we’re still busy trying to convince people that devotional practice is an actual thing that people do.
The all-or-nothing mentality regarding personal worship practices isn’t very helpful to a lot of people, I think. Saying that we should prioritize the Powers above, say, the needs of family in order to achieve optimal worship levels is ridiculous. Who said this such a thing was an optimal level of worship anyway? Upon what authority is their statement given the weight of my belief? And what if (gasp!) there are things aside from worship that I want out of my religious experience? It’s certainly fair to say that I worship out of love. I love all the Powers in my life and I love them in different ways and in different configurations. That said, my association with my ancestors is different than my association with Loki. It’s all part of my religious life but these are different aspects and expressions of my religious life; therefore, the way I engage with and prioritize these associations are going to be different, too.
Anyway. Yeah. 🙂 Religion and association with the Powers offers different things to different people; therefore, methods of religious expression and practice habits will also be different.
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