I keep a checklist of the things I want to accomplish every day. Once I perform a task I check it off my list. The idea of the checklist is to motivate me to perform each task on a daily basis and it worked well in the beginning. One of the items on the list used to be “prayer / meditation.” I put this on the list to remind me to exercise my “spiritual muscle” on a daily basis. In the beginning this worked well as a reminder.
Eventually, however, this stopped working. It stopped working not because I refused to exercise my spiritual muscle. It stopped working because this item became another item on the checklist. The fact that I had this on the list negated some of the power of my spiritual practice. I found myself approaching this item motivated to check it off the list; to have it accomplished. I found that my spiritual practice does not work this way.
I firmly believe it is the nature of spiritualism whether in the form of prayer or meditation that it must be performed whole heartedly. Return to me with all your heart. (Joel 2:12). If not, then I am only going through the motions and any spirituality drains out of it. This is true because spiritualism by its nature deals with the nature of my heart, with truth and not surface level appearances. Render your heart not your garments. (Joel 2:13). To the extent I can keep a spiritual practice on the check list and maintain a wholehearted expression towards the task the checklist serves its purpose. But the point at which spirituality becomes a task to compete is the point when it needs to be removed from the checklist. In other words, if I am not approaching spirituality with my whole heart then I am not being spiritual. Whatever I am doing has become an empty gesture (in terms of spirituality). In the same respect, religious ritualism serves to remind of truth. To the extent ritual stops reminding me of truth because I am not approaching it with my whole heart then it becomes empty and is not serving its purpose. In a sense I am checking something from the list that I have not yet completed if I do not pray or meditate whole heart.
The spirit is truth. Render unto Caesar what belongs to Caesar render unto God the things that belong to him. (Matt 22:21). Checklists are for items I want to accomplish because I want them accomplished and not because I want to experience the performance of the item. Certain things can be put on the check list because they do not require whole hearts to perform. These things belong to Caesar. That is, the physical world. For spiritual things, prayer, meditation, being grateful, these things belong to God and must be performed whole heartedly. These things belong to God (if you like).
So I removed this item from my checklist and I found that I still perform the task. But now the quality of my performance is different. The checklist served me well to begin the practice. But to maintain my spiritual practice I had to eventually take it off my checklist.
I recently read Tony Robin’s book Money Master the Game. I recommend it for anyone who is concerned about their financial situation and does not know what the first steps would be to address that situation. Towards the end of his book he talks about a three-step meditation technique he practices every morning. For three minutes he thinks about all the things he is grateful for. For three minutes he sends out blessings to the people he thinks need help. And for three minutes he pictures himself succeeding at whatever endeavors he wants to accomplish.
I was introduced to this book through a podcast where James Altucher interviewed Tony Robins about this book. James frequently talks about what he calls “The Daily Practice” where he tries to work on four pillars of his life every day. Those pillars are physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual.
I have been trying to follow the advice described above from both Tony Robbins and James Altucher for some time now but during Lent I have decided to do this in a more disciplined manner.
This lent I am taking 20 minutes out of my day (preferably first thing in the morning) to meditate. I use the free “Insight Timer” app as a meditation timer which rings a bell in the beginning and end of the meditation. For the first part of my meditation I follow Tony Robbins’ meditation technique. During the gratefulness section this morning it came to me that one function God serves is to be an object for gratefulness. I know being grateful is a powerful spiritual practice because it deprograms what my shame-ego tries to program me to think. It seems to me that expressing gratefulness to someone is more powerful than just being grateful and so (for me) God can be that someone. Another thing I noticed while meditating today was that the voice of my shame-ego was smaller than the voice of my intentions. It was in the background trying to undermine me but was easy to dismiss. God is the personification of the object of my gratefulness. My shame-ego is the personification of the voice that undermines me in my head. I am also reading a daily Lenten reflection book called Lent with St. Paul.
For the intellectual pillar I am trying to finish a novel I have been writing for some time which I intend to publish as an e-book. I will also work more regularly on this blog. I also write down 10 ideas a day (another James Altucher suggestion).
I run, walk, and do push ups every day. I avoid those activities that do not serve me physically.
This pillar seems to be the most difficult for me. James Altucher talks about avoiding negative people and associating with people who love and respect you as a way of working on this pillar. I do this to an extent but because I work from home I do not associate with people outside my immediate family with the regularity I need. During this Lent I will try to seek out organizations to join to work on this.
I am grateful for the opportunity to focus my energy in a more disciplined way during Lent. I recognize that it is important not to overburden myself with an overly strict regimen because I risk burning out and abandoning the practice. I simply try to do the best that I can with a whole heart.