One of the most unsettling influences of the past two years has been the disruption of our routines. Things have happened since January of 2020 that we could never have anticipated, for which we had no frame of reference and no warning beforehand. Since that time our collective physical, mental and psychic well-being has plummeted, our faith in our country’s leaders and the principles on which our government rests have been shaken to its core, and – perhaps most disturbing – our sense of “normalcy” has been completely devastated, and has had to be rebuilt anew.
One of the things I did to keep myself busy during the pandemic was to become a certified therapeutic art life coach. This means I am trained to help people use art as a technique to work through their pain, stress and anxiety, and help to heal and have hope for their future. During the training, the instructor, also a yoga practitioner, mentioned that she writes or creates artwork every day as part of her sadhana. Because I struggle with staying focused – I’m a consummate multi-tasker – I was especially interested in this idea. I practice yoga, journaling, meditation… but I have a really hard time staying focused on performing any or all of these body- and Spirit-healing practices on a daily basis. I love the way they make me feel, the way I feel grounded and calm when I perform them… but life always seems to get in the way of me keeping my practice regular.
“Practice makes perfect,” they say. I say perfection is overrated. Our goal-oriented culture pretends not only that perfection is attainable, but desirable. The quest for perfection, in my opinion, is not only futile, but a really bad idea. Just say that it’s possible to reach that goal of “perfection” – the end result is that every one of the most talented people among us would make something that’s exactly the same. Can you imagine a museum filled with the same artwork – over and over again? A song played exactly the same by everyone who plays it, every time? A school filled with people who get the same high marks for regurgitating the exact same information in exactly the same way? BOOOOOR..ing. And who gets to decide what “perfection” is, after all? Creativity is all about rethinking the ideal in a different way. The radical rebels who do things their own way remake the world over and over, and catalyze others to do the same. That’s how our reality is reborn, day after day. So practice, really – practicing the beautiful new ideas in our heads – makes not perfection but creation itself. And when we practice the things that enhance our existence here – our Spiritual lives – we are creating a space for us in this Universe that is truly our own. The end result of practicing what makes us joyful, and creating the world in which we really want to live? Pure passion.
So what is a sadhana? Traditionally, sadhana is a daily Spiritual practice. It can include yoga, reading sacred texts, chanting, meditation, and the like. Ideally, your sadhana will, with continued practice, be reflected in the way you live your life and treat others. It will enhance your interactions with those closest to you, to your community, and outward to the Universe.
Some in the United States characterize it as a “Christian nation,” despite the express statements of the country’s founders to the contrary. The truth is that there isn’t a majority denomination in this country. Although many regions have a decidedly Christian plurality, within that designation there are many differing and conflicting beliefs (i.e. “Christian” in most polls lumps Catholics, evangelical Christians, “mainstream” Christians, traditionally Black Christian, etc. in one group, although their belief systems are often inconsistent). Those who consider themselves belonging to a specific religious tradition may have sadhana-like practices relating to the tenets of that religion – prayers, rituals, special holy days, readings, etc. But for many others in this increasingly secular nation, that daily or periodic Spiritual practice may be missing.
I think that there is a growing segment of our population who consider themselves “Spiritual but not religious.” In other words, they feel some sort of unspoken and unquantifiable connection to what’s around them, or inside them, but they don’t hold to a particular organized religion. They may feel more at home in the woods, on the ocean, or even at a concert or in a museum. For those of us who bristle at the thought of doing something each day as a “discipline,” or think it would be too hard or that we might somehow do it “wrong,” I believe there’s a middle ground. Something in between a strict daily routine, accompanied sometimes by guilt and self-recriminations when we miss a day, and no Spiritual practice at all, which I believe removes one of our most valuable focusing and calming opportunities from our mental health repertoire.
Our life here, especially in this current time and place, is challenging. We are faced daily with situations on a personal, local and global level that raise our anxieties, force us to rethink our life decisions, put us at odds with others around us, and sometimes causes us to despair that the future may not be better, or may even be worse. But now isn’t the time to give up or shut down. It’s time for action. The twist is that there are no requirements, no rules, no “have tos.” It’s up to you what you do for your practice, and how and how often you do it. After all, this is YOUR practice. You aren’t accountable to anyone, and don’t owe any explanations. Do what you choose to the best of your ability, whenever you want. Easy, right? No guilt, no risk, no worries. Just do what helps you to feel calmer, more relaxed and more connected to … whatever you need to feel connected to. The beauty part is that, when you find the right sadhana for you, you’ll want to do it every day, because it feels good to do it.
Here are a few suggestions for a Spiritual practice that may speak to you:
- I’m an artist, and my certification is in therapeutic art life coaching. So my first suggestion, as you may imagine, is a periodic drawing, sketch, painting, sculpture – anything that uses your hands and your imagination. One of those boxes with magnetic sand inside and the little knobs are great, as are chalkboard or whiteboard drawings – write on, wipe off – impermanent just like life. It can be as complicated as a mandala or as simple as a stick figure party or geometric landscape.
- I’m also a writer, so … journaling! Daily, weekly, monthly… whatever works. If you skip a day (or two or three or a week), who cares. This is for you. Write whatever you want. A few words, a paragraph, War and Peace – whatever gets the words out of your head and onto paper or a computer screen. I keep a gratitude journal, an affirmation journal, a wishbook, a written version of a vision board – whatever gets my innermost thoughts, hopes, desires, fears and supplications into the Universe.
- Speaking of Vision Boards – these are so fun. Remember those collages we did in art classes in elementary school? Grab some magazines and cut out pictures of things you want in your life. Paste them (yeah, go ahead and eat some if you want, nobody will ever know) onto a board and put it somewhere you’ll see it every day and think of yourself in the scenario you’re creating. This technique works wonders. Add little drawings, inspirational verses, photos of people you love (or want to love) – there’s no limit to what you can draw toward you by bringing it from your subconscious to your conscious mind.
- SO many people whose Ancestors suggest that they meditate during our readings say “yeah, I know I should, but it’s hard.” If it’s hard, you’re doing it wrong. I think too many people think you have to meditate like a guru for it to be beneficial. Not so! Just a few moments of mindfulness makes a world of difference to your Spirit. Resting mind.. calming, soothing thoughts, deep breaths in and out and a relaxed body is all you need. I find music helps to release my racing thoughts and helps me to ease into a quiet space.
- Music! Do you love to sing, or is there a particular genre of music that calms you down or peps you up? Do you have to get every single album produced by a certain group or artist? Indulge. And go ahead and sing along – no one is listening, but your voice is connecting to the things that resonate with your heart.
- What have you – do what lifts your Spirit, calms your mind and makes your heart sing. What fills you up? Gardening? Housework? Stock car racing? Candlepin bowling? Knitting? Woodworking? Walking in the woods looking for Faeries, or scouring the beach for seaglass? Blowing up stuff in your backyard (safely)? Make it as personal as you can. What’s important is to do what works for you. No explanations necessary.
- MOVE it! Yoga is one of the go-to Spiritual physical practices. But we’ve all heard of the transcendent “runner’s high.” Do you love to “feel the burn”? “Break through the wall”? Swim… oh wait, it’s winter here in the Northern hemisphere – ski, skate, snowboard, play hockey (GO BRUINS!!). Shoot some hoops, swat some balls, throw a pass – do whatever gets your body moving and your blood flowing. Just do it!
These are just a few suggestions. But the bottom line is this: sadhana isn’t one-size-fits-all. Your prayer need not sound like anyone else’s. Personalize your Spiritual practice to you and you alone. Practice what brings you joy. Don’t feel that you have to. Feel you want to. That you need to, because it makes you feel complete and alive and an integral part of the Universe. Do what makes your life worth living. And then practice, practice, practice.