What does it mean to practice something?
Practice is the act of doing something, usually repetitively, so that we get good at.
Whether we are practicing the piano, the violin, or baseball, we are engaged in that activity in order to gain mastery that we will exhibit later.
We spend hours sitting behind our piano at home practicing so that when the time comes for the recital, we will be able to perform flawlessly.
This is the model for practice that is embedded in our mind. We practice something in a controlled circumstance so that we can perform perfectly when it really counts.
As the saying goes, practice makes perfect.
Many of us bring this same sensibility to spiritual practices such as meditation, but this raises two obvious questions: What are we practicing? And what is the performance we are practicing for?
Our meditation practice is supposed to lead to spiritual freedom, but in order to find that freedom we have to give up the common model of practice we just described.
We have to give up any sense of doing something now so that we will attain something later. In fact we have to give up any sense of later at all.
We also have to give up any meditation technique. If we meditate by following a technique – paying attention to the breath, reciting a mantra, or visualizing an image – we can get very good at doing that without ever finding any freedom at all.
There is an approach to spiritual practice that is designed to lead to an instantaneous encounter with the already spiritually liberated reality of our deepest being.
We would hesitate to even call this way of being meditation because it is not a practice involving any interceding technique. If we want to call it practice at all, we would have to call it the practice of freedom itself. Or the practice of direct awakening.
When we practice a meditation technique, we sit down and we do something over and over again in the hopes that it will lead to some realization of the profound freedom we seek.
Many of us experience frustration in our meditation because liberation seems to evade us regardless of how hard we try.
This frustration often makes us try harder.
We assume that the reason we are not experiencing the liberation we seek is because we are “not doing it right.”
So we sit longer hours, follow our breath more relentlessly, hold a visualized image in our mind’s eye more vividly, or recite our mantra without break.
In our quest to perfect our practice, we forget what we are practicing for in the first place.
We spend years embroiled in our earnest efforts. We get really good at practicing whatever technique we’ve been taught and periodically we wonder what we are doing it for.
We both spent a great deal of time doing this kind of practice ourselves until we discovered something truly miraculous – it is possible to practice spiritual freedom directly. It is possible to abandon all techniques and simply allow yourself to realize the truth of spiritual freedom right now.
Spiritual freedom always was, is now, and always will be the reality of your true being. Your spirit was never bound or limited or constrained.
You were always free.
The trouble with the way practices like meditation are usually approached is that they are seen as a means to an end, a path that leads to a goal.
We end up striving for something that we imagine is not already here. We remain lost in the illusion of the meantime before we become who we already are.
It takes courage to let go of this way of approaching spiritual practice and embrace the inherent freedom that we are.
We have to give up any sense of needing time to become more perfect.
We have to embrace ourselves as we are fearlessly and without reservation.
Our culture has trained us to strive for more and work hard for rewards that come later.
This is the operating system that we have been taught and it has been the vehicle through which we have attained everything that we currently have.
Spiritual freedom cannot be found with this operating system. Spiritual freedom cannot be found at all. Spiritual freedom is now.
The meditation practice we teach is the practice of spiritual freedom itself. This means sitting down knowing from the start that you are already free no matter what you experience.
This is possible and it is miraculous. So much of our conditioning convinces us that the instantaneous attainment of freedom is not possible. It tells us that everything takes time and that anything we could have without working for it isn’t worth having.
This is gloriously untrue. The greatest spiritual gift you can possibly ever receive is the embodied life that you are already living. Look around. This is the miracle. We are here. We live in this world, we communicate, we create, we love, we hurt, we awaken – how is any of this possible?
Once you acknowledge the true wonder you are already living, you realize that the most surprising thing is that we could ever have missed it.
How could we get lost in the illusion of searching for the miraculous when it is all around us?
Initially the search for freedom baffles, but once we discover it, it is baffling to understand how we could ever have thought we needed to search for it in the first place.