A couple of months ago I posted a blog entitled Fruit Salad[i] in which I considered my continuously growing tool box of contemplative practices (traditional morning prayers, meditation, stretching, writing prose or poetry, chanting, drumming, yoga/energy tune-up, etc.), and the challenge of incorporating them into my life in a consistent manner. I wrote, “There are so many ways to begin my day that recently I found myself trying to cram as many of them in as I could in a couple of hours before breakfast.” I concluded that it was all right if I didn’t use every tool every day, but selected from them, and just managed to at least engage in some sort of morning practice if, albeit, not a consistent one.
Apparently, that didn’t really stick. I’ve continued to ruminate about the lack of consistency in laying the spiritual foundation of my day. Each of these tools seems potentially so valuable that I’ve been loath to sacrifice any to other demands on my time. Unfortunately, facing so many options I sometimes find myself abandoning them all, just throwing myself headlong into the business of the day without the benefit of the spiritual grounding they might provide. As I’ve been describing it to others lately, my concern has been that to engage in all the practices I’ve learned, I would have to spend the whole day tending to my “practice” and would have no time left for “performance!” Someone responded that that’s exactly what some monks do. For the record: I am not a monk.
In speaking about this to two of my spiritual mentors in recent weeks, I have gotten similar responses from each. They have pointed out the false dichotomy that I had created between “practice” and “performance.” Why would I feel that the focus, consciousness and intent I bring to it would be relegated solely to my morning ritual? Every moment throughout the day, active or passive, whether engaged in the inner or outer world, has the potential of being done with focus, consciousness and intent. My monumental task is to tend to all the day’s activities with similar consciousness, but surely not with a prescribed set of tools. Each teacher suggested that I continually ask what each moment demands of me. (Who I ask this of may be a matter of theology. I think they would easily say I ask God. That may be, since they’ve found more peace than I in using that specific terminology. Looking for guidance, from within or without, from an intuitive center, a spiritual source, the Universe, my kishkes, God, all amounts to the same thing. The search is the important part.)
This conversation reminded me of the prayer, Sheviti adonai l’negdi tamid—I place God before me always[ii]. I only became aware of this prayer in recent years and, in moments when I find myself less resistant to the G-word, have remarked that it seems like the only prayer one would need. When I mentioned this to Rabbi Shefa Gold, she pointed out that one prayer would be sufficient if we could maintain it constantly, but we cannot maintain one prayer. It slips away. That's when the vast tool box becomes particularly handy. That is precisely when we must ask, “What is needed right now?” be it another prayer, or a chant, a meditation, or what have you.
Shefa defines prayer “as the flow of connection between the finite and the infinite.[iii]” We don’t restrict that connection to moments of literal praying. Every aspect of life has the potential of providing that connection. Therefore each moment provides a unique opportunity to be prayerful. Shefa told me of wise counsel she had once received from a teacher who said, “Enjoy your breathing! Enjoy this very breath! Do not take it for granted!”
It’s liberating to know I don’t have to get X, Y, and Z rituals done in a precise order at a precise time every day to be connected. It’s both daunting and exciting to know that every breath—even every keystroke or mouse click—every moment can be a meditation, a prayer.