Something I’m realizing about developing a spiritual practice is that it doesn’t always feel that . . . spiritual. Sometimes it feels like going through the motions, and sometimes in the middle of the practice it’s hard to see the point.
For example. Part of my Druid practice is taking frequent walks outside, and walking in a mindful, attentive way. I try to go several times a week.
Wednesday I went for one of my walks. It was a gorgeous day, so the park was super crowded. As I stepped on the path to take my usual walk, I heard the jingling of someone’s keys. I looked over my shoulder to see two women, talking loudly to one another about god knows what . . . the mortgage, good places to get coffee, jobs. Actually, one of them was talking loudly, while the other occasionally added a comment. The droning voice of the talker was punctuated by the whining of the child, who trailed a good twenty feet behind them, ignored except when his mother admonished him to keep up. I thought that they would pass me and be out of earshot within a few minutes–I walk slowly on a good day, and I was tired that day so I was slower than usual. But somehow they kept pace behind me, a constant nagging presence like a bug that won’t stop circling your ear. I even stopped several times, and once I sped up hoping to lose them, but it was like we had an invisible tether between us and they never got any closer or farther behind. Finally I crossed a little pedestrian bridge over the ravine where the creek flows, and sat down underneath it to wait for them to pass. I waited a long time, but they finally were gone. I breathed a sigh of relief. The quiet thundered in my ears, and as I let go of my annoyance my senses got sharper. I was able to smell the sweetness of the pines and cedars, hear the faint trickle of the barely-there creek, enjoy the soft stirring of the breeze on my face.
I had an internal monologue running in my head, something along the lines of “Why even come to the woods if you’re going to ignore the trees, why not just go to a coffee shop or a playground, and why don’t you pay attention to your child who can’t be more than three, and why don’t you put your fucking keys in your pocket instead of carrying them and shaking them so they jingle and scare away all the birds and squirrels, and . . . “
And then I remembered a conversation I’d had with my room mate a few days before. She told me she’d been trying to say a prayer for someone every time they annoy her. And I felt a little bit ashamed of myself for hating on two women and a child, who were, perhaps, having a hard day and needing a little fresh air. I stopped complaining in my head and actually said a little prayer for the women. And it wasn’t even “dear goddess please make them shut the hell up next time.” It helped. My annoyance kind of melted a little bit. I thought, for the rest of the walk, about how people need to get out in the trees if they’re going to learn to love them. I reminded myself that not everyone wants to be a Druid. I reminded myself that a person could love the woods even if she doesn’t stop talking when she walks through them. By the end of the walk I felt a lot less self righteous and a lot more compassionate.
I think that’s kind of how spiritual practice works. You do it regularly, and even when it doesn’t feel like it’s working, it is. Slowly, with time and persistence, you are transformed. But you really do have to keep at it, even when it’s dull, or you feel like you’re going through the motions. Even when it’s really annoying.