Last time we looked at some of the inspiration behind the plan to renew my commitment to spiritual practice. I’ve been examining each area of my life to see what needs to change and exploring practices that might help. In this post, we’ll delve into the details of the plan and how it works…
Earlier this year I was feeling overwhelmed with all the changes I needed to make and frustrated with myself because I wasn’t doing anything about it. I recognised that I was stuck and needed to take drastic action. So like a good little Virgo, I made a list of the main problems and the resources that I already had, and some practices to explore.
It quickly grew into a splurge of possibilities so I wrestled it into shape by dividing the plan into twelve areas covering the various parts of my life. This became the Mystic Warrior Practice, inspired by the Integral practice we looked at last week. Here’s a simple breakdown of the areas:
- Context – the wider perspective of causes and conditions that influence your situation, both Personal and Collective.
- Ethics – the values and morality that underpin your choices and actions.
- Body – health and fitness, including energy bodies and chakras.
- Emotions – emotional awareness and stress reduction practices.
- Mind – mental development, self-inquiry, perspectives and worldview.
- Soul – depth psychology, soul purpose, meditation and communion with Nature.
- Spirit – spiritual practice, contemplation, prayer and communion with God.
- Shadow – awareness and integration of repressed mental and emotional content, both positive and negative.
- Relationships – communication and listening in all major relationships.
- Community – service and responsibility to others, including sangha.
- Work – career, vocation and Right Livelihood.
- Creativity – imagination, play and creative practices.
The areas are all interconnected and none are more important than any of the others. Many of them intersect and overlap, and some of the practices appear in more than one area. If you’d like to make your own plan, you can add areas as you need them, or split or combine these areas as you see fit.
For example, I’ve included family in the Relationships area because I don’t have children. But if you have kids, you might like to create a category especially for them and the issues they raise for you. Or if you’re still in education, you could change Work into School or College because many of the practices apply and will help you to decide on your future career.
You can incorporate the practices you already do into the plan and note areas that need a bit more focus. Doing this will help you to identify specific problems in your life, but it’s worth doing even if everything is fine. It’s easier to practice when things are going well but you may be less motivated to make big changes. So don’t wait for a crisis to hit before you begin.
I’ll be exploring each area in detail over the coming weeks, but if you’d like to get started now, begin with Context. In a nutshell, this involves assessing your situation from a wider perspective before you drill down to the specifics. This is important because you need to know where you’re at before you can figure out your priorities and what practices to do.
Personal Context includes things like where you are on the spiritual path, transits to your horoscope, your karma, life history and current circumstances; and Collective Context includes the wider world situation, society and economy, and major astrological cycles.
All these things will influence the choices you make going forward, but there’s one thing that’s even more important: your own inner compass or soul. You need to build a strong connection with your deeper Self through meditation so you can get clear guidance. There’s no point making a plan that doesn’t align with what your soul needs because it won’t work in the long-run. You need deep guidance on the best way to proceed otherwise you’ll follow your ego’s ideas and that will get you nowhere.
Your plan needs to embrace every area of your life even if there’s one area that needs more work than the others. And if you get stuck in one area, you can still work on other things. In fact, you might need to come at a problem from multiple angles or do practices from several areas in order to tackle a situation. So you’ll need to prioritise the most urgent tasks to create a solid foundation for change.
The key is to keep it simple and don’t try to change too much at once.
Prioritise by being honest with yourself about the issues and look for the root causes. Then you can do practices that go straight to the heart of the problem rather than wasting time dealing with surface level symptoms – although you probably need to deal with them too, depending on what they are. Ideally, you want to find a few key practices that will help across the board, such as mindfulness and yoga.
For example, I have issues that need to be addressed in multiple areas but the root cause of them all is the pesky separate self – my old foe, the ego. My resistance to surrender comes from this basic misperception that makes me fight against myself and reality. When the Great Doubt came up in my Zen practice, I thought something had gone wrong because I didn’t understand it. But the Great Doubt is a good sign.
Fighting yourself also takes a terrible toll on the body so my various health problems are also fuelled by this impasse. I’m dealing with the consequences of that now by building positive routines and working on my self-discipline. But the underlying issue remains, so I also need to deepen my understanding and reframe the situation and stop freaking myself out.
There are other practices I can do that will help me to feel safe and develop faith and self-acceptance, such as deep relaxation, pranayama and prayer. It may also help to remember what’s at stake if I don’t deal with this problem: my body will continue to degenerate if I don’t take care of it effectively – I’m not getting any younger!
What I’ve ended up with is a set of basic practices to do every day:
- Sleep more
- Eat well
- Exercise and get more fresh air
- Chi Kung and Yoga
Pretty obvious stuff. Doing these simple practices is a way to support myself as I return to health. Now I have a solid foundation, I can begin to introduce more challenging practices to dissolve the problem at its root. And that’s when the real fight will begin.
When you make big changes in your life, you move out of your comfort zone and that causes resistance. Some of this is just inertia and bad habits, but underneath those habits is the real cause: the part of you that doesn’t want to change – namely, your ego and its evil twin, the shadow.
The ego is a perfect little resistance machine. Its nature is resistance because it wants to maintain the status quo and stay safe and comfortable. Then you go and make it feel scared by changing something and eroding its territory. The ego reacts by digging in its heels and you get stuck. Or you make a change and then get an ego backlash – you fall off the wagon, eat cake, get lazy, and sabotage all your good work.
When this happens it’s a sign that you need to do some shadow work, which we’ll look at later. But the main thing to remember is to pace yourself. Don’t make too many changes at once or you’ll trigger a mutiny from your subconscious.
And don’t waste time beating yourself up over your resistance and backslides and slip-ups. The ego loves to hijack your thinking by turning everything that happens into an excuse for a good moan. You beat yourself up for beating yourself up, and then beat yourself up for beating yourself up over beating yourself up – and on and on and on…
Don’t fall into the ego trap of fighting against your resistance. When you do this, you’re arguing with reality and rejecting it. Instead, accept the situation and then let it go. That doesn’t mean putting up with a bad situation. You have to accept reality before you can change it. You can’t change a situation when you’re arguing with it or trying to control it.
Remember, this practice isn’t about becoming a better person or fixing some external problem. It’s about aligning with the truth of who you are, and when you do that, resistance tends to fall away of its own accord. In other words, don’t fight the darkness – just switch on the light.
This is easier said than done – which is why you have to practice!
So before you begin, it’s a good idea to accept that resistance will come up. That way, you’re less likely to be thrown off your stride when your ego throws a tantrum. It can also help to remember why the practice is important and what you’re trying to achieve. This will keep you motivated when the going gets tough and you’re tempted to give up.
You might want to keep track of how you’re doing too, perhaps in a journal or practice diary. But it’s important not to give yourself a hard time and get fixated on results. Focusing on the outcome is guaranteed to make your ego get too big for its boots and start interfering. But you will need to assess your progress and adjust your practice as necessary.
To summarise and as a basic starting point, follow these simple (but not easy) steps:
- Take responsibility for your situation and choose to change what you can.
- Clarify the context of your situation, as far as you can, and ask, “What does life require of me? Why am I alive?”
- Identify bad habits and what’s not working.
- Identify resources you already have and practices you already do.
- Identify inner blockages: fears, complexes, emotional blind spots, self-sabotage, self-worth issues, etc.
- Identify how to plant positive seeds and where to start.
- Make a plan and take action.
- Remember: You’re not in charge and can’t control the outcome.
- Let go of expectations.
Following this plan – or something similar – is a good way to deepen your spiritual practice and it’ll help you to become who you’re meant to be. Or who you already are. (clue: Buddha!)
Over the coming weeks, we’ll explore each area of the Mystic Warrior Practice in detail, starting with: Personal Context