I've been thinking a lot lately about this question. Honestly, I veer from one extreme to another as I ponder the question. Both seem to offer advantages and disadvantages. On some level I want to say that the personal practice is best because it demands that you be intentional and honest in the moment that it is done. However, I don't know if this is actually true in practice.
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And that marks a bit of a weird shift for me.
I have always reacted negatively to by rote, formal systems of spiritual behaviour, donning my adolescent, put upon attitude and balking at the confines of structure. I have always believed on some level that your spiritual practice must be infused with personal, flexible, living meaning. Dutifully reciting a prayer by rote, without thought, has always struck me as so antithetical to crafting a vibrant practice.
I may have to eat my words and condemnation a bit here. My response may have been short-sighted and juvenile.
Hear me out before you react; before you say "Faye, you're off your rocker and are batshit crazy." Both might be true, but not necessarily in this case.
- Every time I try to just wing it, I catch myself getting all caught up in my head, wondering what do I want to say, is this right, blech, I don't like that, blah, blah, blah
- Winging it inevitably means that I'm really inconsistent. I mean that both in terms of what I'm saying and doing, and how often I'm actually doing anything.
- All that damn structure actually gets me off my ass, off the mat, and helps me build self-discipline in my practice (damn it).
- It might be wrong of me to say that doing something the same way makes it devoid of personal meaning. In fact, repetition may actually do just the opposite
- More importantly, repetition and structure seem to help me have a better sense of my own spiritual evolution and by extension, my personal growth
So yeah. I'm rethinking things over here in Faye land. Not necessarily comfortable things, but things that are important. I still think there are reasons why you'd want your practice to be fluid and personal but I'm coming to recognize that my personal levels of self-discipline need the structure in order to be fluid and flexible. I know, that seems odd, but it's true.
My practice makes me a better person. And structure makes my practice thrive. Therefore, a certain amount of structure makes me thrive.
Life is not without a sense of humour. Damn her!