Extra-Ordinary Practice

I wish I was different.

I thought this as I sat on a cushion at a kirtan the other night. I wish I was different enough to enjoy this more, to be swept up in the bliss that I’ve been told is available in this practice. I wish I was different enough not to have f*cked up, to have handled things…. well, differently. I wish I was different. And the voice I hear that I think is Spirit said, because then you could be happy?

Yes. If I was different, I could be happy.

What if you could be happy exactly as you are?

I sat with this for a moment and tried to imagine being happy with all of my f*cked-upness and decided it feels impossible.

Perhaps that’s the point of all these spiritual practices – it’s not to make you different, but to help you be happy as you are.

And in my moody huff I thought, you win again, Voice. Fine. I’m missing the point of spiritual practices. Thanks. I’ll add that to the list of mistakes.

I went back to chanting the names of the divine, not at all convinced of anything.

I could tell you that then there was a major epiphany, some angel’s trumpet/ lighting bolt /Krishna kiss that made everything better. I could tell you that I learned to hold my whole self with blessings and compassion, that I won at life. But that’s not what happened. It was a perfectly ordinary practice and I went home and ate a sandwich.

This morning, I remembered the kirtan and this exchange with the Voice. Since my mood is less shadowy today, I can admit that my memory is tenacious when it comes to mis-steps and weak when it comes to grace. It’s been easy for me to forget the many times I’ve learned about unconditional love, both in theory and practice, and I have needed many reminders. I have excavated my soul in an effort to be different, to find worthiness, and it feels like there’s so much more to do.

So let’s be scientific for a moment and consider the reasons that my digging hasn’t worked and I still need so much reminding:

1. There is no worthiness to be found. I am inherently flawed and always will be.
2. I was always worthy.

As I sit with this, both feel true.

I am flawed and always will be, not because I’m an awful person but because I am a person. All of us have been promised grace and mercy by every decent spiritual teacher in history, not when we make ourselves perfect, but right now. They tell us we can be happy, saved, enlightened, freed— just as we are. We are worthy even though we are flawed.  It is because we have flaws that we need practices, gentle reminders and invitations to happiness. We wouldn’t need practices if we were already perfect, but we wouldn’t have them at all if there was no hope.

My Voice was offering a reframe for all that digging I relate to spiritual practice. Rather than being a way to mine for illusory gold as I have so often thought, it is the tending of a garden, weeds and all. It’s an invitation to beauty of all kinds. We all might practice – prayer, meditation, yoga, healing arts, whatever it may be – to remind ourselves of the love and joy that are available right now as we are, to notice more often the butterflies that come without judgment to our small patch of garden.

Today as I picture myself in that kirtan again, I imagine each chant as the breeze in an imperfect garden. I arrive and take my place and notice that, yes, weeds and bugs have made their homes here. Rather than treat them with disdain and violence, I invite them to join me in the chant. They may or may not take me up on it depending on the day. Perhaps butterflies will alight even on these weeds. Perhaps it will be ordinary. Perhaps I can practice being happy anyway.

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