The difficulty and beauty of the spiritual path is that no one can do it for us. As much as we might like to hand the reins of our spiritual evolution to a wise teacher or a trusted authority, no one can do it for us. It doesn't matter what faith tradition we adhere to, no one can do our work for us.
Unity co-founder Charles Fillmore wrote, "If you absolutely know within yourself that the only knowledge that you get is through your own consciousness, is through your own development, and that you can't receive a single thing from another, you have started right. If you go right on from that point, you will reach the goal, and you will never reach it in any other way."
There are a bounty of books to read, there are a multitude of classes and work-shops to take, there are Sunday talks and conferences to attend, and we should do all of those things as part of our learning journey, but none of that in and of itself brings us to the embodiment of truth teachings.
Through workshops, classes and services we can come to an intellectual understanding. But it is only through the effort of our own practice that we come to know the *felt* Truth of our teachings; that we come to have a felt experience of the Divine, a felt experience of our Oneness.
As much as we might like it to be so, it is not a one and done. This practice is something we do over and over.
And about that practice thing...
For some time now I've had an exercise regimen. Every morning I pull out my yoga mat and start my routine. On this particular morning, after many, many months of not having missed a day, I pulled out my mat and lay down and suddenly got that feeling of I don't want to do this today! I really, really, really don't want to do this today! Can't I skip just one day? No, you're not imagining the whine - it was there.
I mean, I just wanted one morning off. Just one.
That ever happen to you?
But I know myself well. One morning off turns into two mornings off and then a week goes by and then perhaps a month with my showing up now and then to do my exercises and then I'm ... oh... yeah, stiff and uncomfortable and wishing that I hadn't stopped.
I know that when I stay committed to my workout I am stronger, more flexible, in less pain, and more resilient. The reason I am those things, is because I have been repeating the same exercises over and over to strengthen and to build deep in my muscle's memory it's full range of motion.
As I lay there on the yoga mat, staring at the ceiling, I had the thought that building physical muscles and physical strength and physical flexibility and resilience wasn't all that different than building spiritual muscle and spiritual endurance and spiritual resilience.
Just as having a daily exercise regime is critical to building physical muscle, having a daily spiritual practice is vital to building spiritual muscle. And just like my exercise regime, if I take one day off, it can easily lead to a second and a third and suddenly I'm not practicing my practice so much and I've lost some ground.
And this holds true for everything - if we want to play a musical instrument well, we need to sit down every day and practice the same things over and over until the music is in our fingers, in our hands, in our feet, in the marrow of our bones. Until we and the instrument are one.
If we want to be a basketball star, we get on the court every day, shooting the ball at the basket over and over and over until the knowing of just what it takes to put the ball through the hoop is part of who we are.
It takes intention, commitment and yes, repetition. Doing the same thing over and over and over.
Modern day mystic, Episcopal priest and author Cynthia Bourgeault puts this in a most beautiful way. When one of Jesus's disciples asked, "Master, where do you come from?" Jesus replied, "Come and see." In other words, he was saying that to have that same knowingness and experience of "the father and I are one," you'll have to go where I go. And to go where I go, you'll have to practice.
Cynthia says, "...to really know this presence you need to tune in on a different wavelength: to shift from your usual binary operating system - in other words, a belief in separateness - to the heart frequency... Wisdom Christianity is practice-driven. When you do the practices to nurture the heart, you will sense this connection as a living bond. Your being becomes receptive to the higher meaning. When the practices that sustain this encounter begin to drop out, you revert back to your usual operating system, and the connection fades.
"In other words, you are the vessel, the instrument that receives the wisdom. As you attune and fine-tune your instrument, you will know. It's not knowing something more, like a new fact or a piece of esoteric information; it's knowing deeper, knowing with more and more of your being engaged."
If we want to have that deep knowingness of the Truth of who we are, if we want to be a vessel for Light and Wisdom and Love and Abundance then we need to tell ourselves, over and over, the Truth of who we are. And we do this over and over and over until it light us up from within and we know that we know that we know it's the Truth.
And this doesn't mean, or at least I haven't found anyone yet for whom this is true, that having a practice and knowing this Truth doesn't mean that we will not encounter challenges any more than having an exercise regimen doesn't mean that we won't ever take a tumble, any more than being a virtuoso player means we will never strike a wrong note, or as a pro basketball player we will never miss a basket: we will. But we will have resilience that allows us to recover and make the next basket, strike the next right note, recover from our tumble and retain a deep knowing that Truth hasn't changed.
We are living in the earth plane which is a plane of contrast. We will rub our edges against other edges as we navigate life on earth. And when we bump into the rough edges in this world of form, of contrast - soft and hard, up and down, hot and cold, the stronger our foundation is, the easier it is for us to regain our footing.
This is Spiritual resilience - when we have a bad day - our foundation is there to support us, but if we don't have a practice, those rough days can throw us off kilter.
When we have a foundation that holds us, we can approach our challenges with our hearts more open, with vulnerability, with compassion, and with greater authenticity.
The experience of the All That Is, of God, is a felt experience. And we get to that felt experience by practicing, by beginning again every day fresh with a beginners mind, as though we are approaching the Truth for the first time. We approach as empty cups, as hollow reeds, waiting to be filled, willing to be poured through.
We begin again so that we don't approach with prior assumptions, with the half-attention of the 'I already know this' mind. That mind that says 'I know it all already' while yawning with boredom is a closed mind. That mind says, 'there is nothing new for me to learn here now.' And so there isn't.
But when we come to our practice fresh each day with an open mind, as though it were our first time, willing to know God, willing to know Truth in a new and deeper way, this brings us, step by step, to a knowing of our inherent wholeness and to a knowing of our Oneness.
And when we know that we know that we know this, our meaningful action in the world is driven by the engine of embodied Truth from within, it is guided by and imbued with the Wisdom of God and this allows us to impact the world around us with inspired action rooted in our own wholeness and certainty of our Oneness.
I look at the life of Jesus and to my eye, he very much acted in the world but where he acted from is of critical importance. He took time to go on high and begin again and again and again, to know the Truth of who and what he was, and then come down from the mountain bringing all that he had cultivated in the stillness and act from that place.
And so each day, we begin our practice again with beginners mind. We find a practice and we commit to it. We sit or we walk or we listen daily, whether we feel like it or not, for no one can do our work for us but us.
Again and again, we close our eyes and return to what matters.
Beginning again. Beginning anew. Return again and again to the basics and pull our threads once again and yet again from there.
And so the work is always, always within.