How To CreateTime For Spiritual Practice Amongst Work and Family Responsibilities

The point of spiritual practice is to create sustaining habits of relating to each moment that allow us to feel deeply a part of God’s presence. Feeling deeply a part of God’s presence means that we are conscious that every aspect of our experience is vital, alive, has intelligence and purpose. This knowing is not intellectual, but an experiential consciousness. In any given moment, I have the potential to experience the world around me teeming with life – birds, sky, air, people bustling and moving about. Even inanimate objects like tables, chairs, stereo equipment, rocks, and walls, all radiate a vibrant energy that I have the potential to perceive. In addition, I can be aware that every cell in my body, every breath that moves in and out, every thought that emerges in the landscape of mind is also filled with vitality, energy, and intelligence. The Hasidic masters say that there is no place empty of God’s presence, and it is true that I have the possibility of having this reality illuminate my life in any given moment.

If I know experientially that I am a part of God’s presence in any given moment, then fear and loneliness does not exist. I am not afraid that I will cease to exist because the “I” that I know myself to be is the vital intelligence and energy that expresses itself in all life, not just my body, not just my mind. This “I” can never die because it is the fabric of the universe. I am never afraid and I am never lonely because I feel an intimacy and relationship with all of life – with the earth, with creative expression, even with strangers. Even though there might not be any mutually accepted societal context for conversation or relationship, I know that we are part of the same reality – the same red blood flows in our veins, we laugh and cry, have joy and struggle. We are part of the Divine family.

When I know experientially that I am part of God’s presence in any given moment, then my choices affirm and deepen the reality of my kinship with all life. Acting with kindness and compassion is effortless because love is an expression of the reality of connection. Acting with discernment does not need to be a confusing effort because it is clear how boundaries honor life and give opportunities for growth and creativity where there were none.

If we can see that our true happiness, fulfillment, and ability to be effective agents of positive change in the world is dependent on our ability to have a conscious and aware relationship to each moment, then it would make sense that we would find ways to be more aware of God’s presence in our lives. Spiritual practice is the training for living this kind of relationship to each moment.

However, in our modern world, we manage so much information input. Others and ourselves expect us to be engaged in a high level of activity. It is a challenge to find time  for spiritual practice. And yet, our lives depend on it. At least, to live the kind of lives that many of us want to lead, depends on it.

In order to make spiritual practice part of our lives, we need to have a deep understanding of a few things. First, what would be our experience if we felt God’s presence in our lives more? What is the cost of not having this awareness of vital aliveness and connection in our lives? How does it affect our choices? This kind of understanding requires deep reflection. For those of us who exercise regularly, we are in touch with the benefit of exercising and the cost of not. We can feel the pleasure of an endorphin rush immediately and over time, we can appreciate the experience of physical health and how our lives benefit from strength, flexibility, and energy. We also are in touch with the cost. How do we feel about ourselves and our lives when we are flabby, short of breath, and need treatment for health problems?  Exercise is still a discipline that we struggle to fit into our lives, but some of us are successful in making it a part of our lives because we experientially clear about the consequences that it has.

While it is easier to be clear about the relationship of exercise to our overall health and well being because it immediately touches our experience of the physical, it is more difficult to have the same embodied awareness of the relationship of spiritual exercise or practice to being aware of God’s presence. And, for many of us, the experience of God’s presence is fleeting if not non-existent, so the implications of living with God in our lives are more difficult to imagine. As a result, it is difficult for many of us to prioritize spiritual practice because we don’t reflect on what it means in our lives in a consistent way.

For those of us wishing to make spiritual practice more a part of our lives, I would propose two primary directions. First, seek out experiences individually and in communities that are specifically designed to create a space for God’s presence. As an individual, this could mean scheduling walks in nature or time by the ocean. In community, it could mean seeking out community musical or meditation experiences that minimize outside distractions and invite presence and awareness. Synagogue prayer experiences have the possibility of creating this space, but it is up to the individual whether communal prayer in their synagogue inspires this experience of God’s presence.

The second direction is to make the space for spiritual practice our primary choice. We go through many transitions in a day. We transition from sleep to wakefulness, we transition from home to work, from work to home, from wakefulness to sleep. Choose some action that is spiritual in nature to be the first choice at each of these transition moments. Much of Jewish ritual is about being aware of God’s presence as the first choice in each of these transition times. Waking up in the morning, we say Modeh Ani and do the ritual washing of the hands. When we leave the house in the morning, we kiss the mezuzah. When we arrive home, we kiss the mezuzah. When we go to sleep, we say the Shema.

We go through transitions blindly, letting our actions be dictated by what is currently in our minds at the time. However, if we can make sure that we dedicate our first choice in each of these transitions to the intention of being aware of God’s presence, then we affirm the primacy of the choice for God in our being over the material. So much of what we are trying to do is retrain how we see the world. Living in a very material, consumer oriented society, most of us can’t help but prioritize the material – most of our to-do list has to do with the material. We prioritize the material because our underlying perception of the world is one where we believe that the material exists independent from God. And therefore, God does not feel applicable to our lives in an immediate way. The more we have experiences of God’s presence, as discussed above, the more that we will start to feel God’s presence in our lives. But, even when we don’t feel God’s presence, just making spiritual awareness our first choice, can help retrain our perception that there is intelligence and purpose to everything in our lives.

Making the spiritual choice, the first choice is not easy. When we get home from work, we may have immediate responsibilities to attend to. We may have the to-do list in our minds that we are driven to engage with. Even faced with the possibility of choosing a spiritual action first thing upon arriving home, we may do it quickly to get it out of the way, or tell ourselves we will do it later. Every time we choose the material over the spiritual, we affirm and strengthen our perception that the material to-do list is more real than the presence of God. Every time we choose to take the time to invite God’s presence first, we affirm reality that God is the source of our being and all life.

What might this look like? Many of us don’t have the luxury or patience to spend 30 min in meditation in the morning, or upon arriving home. At the beginning, it is deciding to spend 1-5 minutes stopping or engaging in some activity that is intent on opening to God’s presence. We could stop, get quiet, and close our eyes and come home to our breath. We could slowly and ritually wash our hands – netilat yadayim. We could stretch in the morning with the intention of opening up space not only our bodies, but in our mind and hearts for God’s presence. When we arrive at work, before we open our email, or look at our task list, we can take a moment to center in around the question: How can my work today be a vessel for God’s presence?

The more we seek out and plan for more specifically designed sacred experiences, and the more that we make the spiritual choice the first choice, the more that we will naturally create more time for spiritual practice in our lives. Regular spiritual practice is dependent on a transformation of consciousness – the way we see the world. And the ongoing transformation of consciousness is aided by regular spiritual practice. As we progress on our spiritual journey, our relationship to God becomes closer and more intense. It hurts to be away from God. We can’t wait for Shabbat, we can’t wait for the moment when we will be able to be with God again. As this relationship intensifies, our seeking of mini-Shabbat’s increase – moments when we take time out from our doing in order to be in God’s presence.

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