I am blessed to have a week and a half in India, a place brimming with sacred energy and the roots of the spiritual practices about which I am learning. Piecing together your own spiritual practice is a bit like a buffet lunch.
I have had many buffets this last week. In fact I shall be very happy not to see one for a while! The choices are many: different types of bread, fruit, juices, Indian food, veggie, non-veggie, and of course dessert. These are the offerings; it is all there and it is up to the customer to decide what to choose. My favorite strategy is to cruise the entire thing, looking over my choices before I pick what I want. I want to avoid stuffing myself merely because it is all there.
When I look at spirituality this way, I can also avoid stuffing just because it is there. The practices we are learning about include a daily ritual, or Pooja, aryuvedic morning routines, meditation and chanting in Sanskrit, Hindu deities and their stories and various powers. It’s a large buffet! And studying it in its entirety can be overwhelming.
But I can listen to my teachers and benefit from their expertise. I can take up the parts of the practice that call to me and leave the rest behind. Are ancient Sanskrit mantras, joyfully sung in repetition, actually powerful? Who knows. But if they speak to my heart, what harm is done in taking up this beautiful practice?
And in our culture, where achieving is everything, and whoever dies with the most toys wins, it is beneficial to find a place of calm between the moments of chaos. And why is this important, in the grand scheme of things? Is my personal peace serving others, or is it just hippy-dippy naval gazing?
There have been studies that show levels of violence recede when people meditate. Not just for those people, but for their entire community. Hey, peace rubs off! Who’d have thunk it? I look at it this way: the world can be seen as a giant jigsaw puzzle, where each of us is a single piece. No matter what some people pretend, they are only a solitary piece of the whole puzzle. (Hate to break it to you, reality show celebrities.) It’s a beautiful picture, but if a single piece is marred, or missing, the whole thing is thrown off. Have you ever done a one thousand piece puzzle only to fall short when you are missing one last piece? That’s what I imagine our world is like. At the moment, whole sections of the picture are marred or absent. When one person gets their spiritual shit together, their individual piece is polished and ready. We fit.
So my delving into these practices causes a ripple effect. First my close relationships are more harmonious. Then it affects the people I work with; all my little clients are recipients of a more pleasant vibration as my inner peace radiates. Maybe I can spread the feeling to my neighborhood, Historic East Side, yo! So when I sit and meditate or chant, by myself or with others, my consciousness raises and others are touched as a consequence.
I’m not saying I won’t mutter, “where is your turn signal, asshole?” while I’m driving to work. But maybe I’ll do it less often. I’ll still yell at my dog when he gets into the garbage. My neighbor’s obsession with street parking will annoy me. And my mother, well, you know! But I will have a place inside myself to go when I get off-balance. I can touch it and remember. Maybe Ganesha and Lakshmi will be helpful in my life, and maybe they won’t. If I finally memorize that darn sun chant to perfection, I won’t get any points or gold stars.
But maybe, just maybe, if I clean the dust off my puzzle piece, I can make the whole puzzle more beautiful. Here’s hoping!