A Good Practice Is the One You Do

May 29, 2024

Shambhavi discusses the benefits of sticking to a daily practice and the value of humility in spiritual life. A podcast from Satsang with Shambhavi

I was just thinking about this unbroken sadhana thing. And if I stay away from practice for two days or more, when I sit down to practice, I find my mind wandering much more.

Would you recommend something like a midday seated practice as well as a morning and evening practice?

Unbroken sadhana doesn't mean just doing seated practice a lot of times a day.

So, first of all, just try to establish a daily practice where there's not two or three days when you're not practicing. That would be just a bottom line.

Do some practice every day. Because it's like any habit. If you only do heroine once a month, you're not an addict. [laughs] It's not going to have its impact on you. It's the same with sadhana.

You just confirmed that. That when you skip two or three days, you come back to it, your mind is not as settled.

We have to actually become, like, addicted to our sadhana. We have to form a new habit pattern, or what's called a new samskara, with our sadhana.

That's what really makes the difference in—slowly, slowly over time—in our lives to where we reach these new normals of greater sensitivity and relaxation.

So that's one thing. Just take it real simple and just determine, as Abhinavagupta says occasionally, make a strong decision that you're going to practice every day no matter what.

And this is going to be really good for you because you have a lifestyle– or a job, it's not really a lifestyle. But you have a job that makes it harder for you to make that commitment.

And that's good. Because it means if you DO make that commitment that the result is going to be stronger. The result is going to be better. You're going to get more result than somebody for whom it's really easy to make that commitment.

When we make hard commitments, or we do things that require us to go a little beyond what we think we can do, that builds a kind of spiritual muscle and also just brings more fruit from our practice.

We don't have to go overboard with it, but I don't think it's overboard to say, like, even if you're traveling, you're going to take half hour out and do practice. Even if you can't do a whole hour. Right?

So, I would just try to make a very strong determination that no matter what is going on, even if you have to go in a hotel bathroom to do your practice, you're going to do it no matter what.

The other thing is that doing practice twice a day is great. I mean, I always did practice twice a day. I don't think you need to do it three times a day unless you want to.

But you already are doing something that's like what I'm talking about, which is you're thinking of Ma a lot. So that's a form of guru yoga, right?

Have you taken the formal guru yoga teaching yet?

I don't think so, no.

Okay, so next time that's offered, you should take that. Because guru yoga means you just think of your teacher, or you think of someone like Ma, or you think of a symbol or a mantra.

And you enter into the state of your practice. Or the state of your teacher, it's often said.

And that is the most effective form of what's called guru yoga, that you can do anywhere, and you can do it all day long. There's many, many other ways you can practice that don't involve sitting on a cushion.

And the other thing is, you're doing chat hosting now, and that's great, but you could be doing more sustained seva to the community.

That is where people interact and start, like, okay well how's my practice actually going? [laughs] When I have to interact with people. So there are ways you could be interacting with the community more even given your travels and stuff.

And all of this isn't about what you SHOULD do. It's about what you WANT to do. I also have zero interest in working with people who are only doing things because they think they should.

I posted something on...somewhere. It said, I love the things that my teacher loves, and it's just a process of mutual love.

I love this tradition. I love practice. I love the experience of reality that this brings. I love the devotion. I love this. That's what I'm doing. That's why I'm doing it. Because I love it. It's awe-inspiring to me.

And maybe you're not quite there yet, but there has to be sense that you're doing this because you actually want to do it.

If you only practice on the cushion, you're going to have some experience on the cushion, and then you're just going to continue to be an asshole in your life. [laughter]

It happens to all of us, not just you. Somebody asked me in the kundalini teaching the other day, could they do the practices out of order. Did it matter what order they were in.

I said, well, it's possible to get very strong in some area but not really have a balanced approach. And then you get abusive teachers.

That's how people get some sort of siddhis or powers or whatever, but they're just incredibly abusive. Because they've just done things in a very unbalanced way. So, yeah, we want to be balanced.

Do you have thoughts or advice for... I feel like I have a really hard time maintaining a sitting practice, specifically. know, I go through periods of kind of doing it and then not doing it.

And it almost feels like there'll be periods of diminishing returns or when the sparks stop flying, and then I'm like, eh, I can do other things. You know?

I mean this with utter seriousness. You need to utterly throw out the idea that a good practice is one that has sparks and color. You need to utterly throw that idea out.

That has a misconception. It's also very prideful. And of course, it's the pridefulness of our whole culture, not of you personally.

But the practice that is good is the one that you do.

And when you practice every day, 365 days a year, it's going to be boring and dull sometimes. That is just the way it is.

And then we have bigger cycles that we're going through. Sometimes the reason why practice is so amazing– By our definition, of course. Right? Really, who do we think we are that we know what an amazing practice is.

Anyway, maybe you're just in an astrological period where you have more access to certain things. You know, oops, and then you change periods, and it's, like, all this turmoil comes up, right? [laughter]

And you're like, what happened to my practice? Well, you're just in a different phase of life, right?

Or circumstances change, or your diet changes, or you have an illness, or you're better, or whatever happens. The thing is, we live in impermanence.

Everything is always changing and there is no ladder just going straight to the sky. [laughs]

So being absolutely sober and real about life, and what practice actually is, is one thing that's going to help you to keep going. Right?

Another thing that helps you to keep going is working with somebody who can inspire more subtle responses from you. That's the value of working with a teacher.

Another thing that helps is making your practice area and your altar, if you have one, really beautiful. So that even if you don't want to practice, you still want to be in that room. Or in that corner of a room.

So spending some time decorating, making it really alluring, is time well spent.

And then just having some humility. There are billions of people around the world who practice every single day who have no thought about being great practitioners or having amazing experiences.

They're just doing it out of a sense of devotion, and they're not expecting great things necessarily. Right?

So you need to recognize that those expectations that you have of practice are a product of a false view that is endemic to our culture, right? That we're failures if we're not constantly improving and if things aren't amazing and, you know, all that.

You gotta lose that and think of yourself as just– As another teacher said, you're just a person in a room sitting on a cushion. Don't have any more story about it than that.

The other thing is very important is that people who think they have this way of judging when a practice is good or not. Or they think this is amazing and that's terrible or whatever.

There's just so much hubris in that. Because there YOU are. Like, what realization do YOU have? How do YOU know? Right? Whether it's a good or a bad practice.

And the more I practice, the less I have ANY idea how good or bad I am at it. [laughs]

And even though I've had amazing experiences, I'm still, like, there's other beings that are just so beyond where I'm at. I'm just in some middle all the time. Who knows, really.

So we really need to get more modest about this and more real about this. And we don't have enough realization to even know what's happening. [laughs]

The other thing is that... [laughs] I'm glad you're laughing. That's a good sign. Our predicament IS pretty hilarious.

The other thing is that all of the most important moments of spiritual growth that I've had were completely unexpected and completely different from whatever I thought they were going to be.

So this is why I say, WE really don't know. And as Ma says, we just keep practicing because we never know when something is going to open up for us. We just don't know. So we just keep practicing.

Have you heard of a dark night of the soul? That comes from Christian tradition, but it's very apropos of anybody doing serious spiritual work. Where sometimes you just go on for months or years in agony, or just not wanting to do it, or railing at God.

I've gone through times I didn't even know whether I was regressing or progressing. [laughs]

But the thing that kept me going was the confidence that I had in the teachings. Mostly confidence because I saw how my teachers were. Or just some other kind of confidence that came from some other life.

Or, I don't know where it comes from, but that just kept me going even when I didn't know WHAT I was doing.

And so what I found is if we keep going through those really hard bits, then there's always some kind of reward at the end where something just really lets go and opens up. But those hard things can last for a really long time.

How do you work with daily activities you have to do which are anti-meditative or anti-yogic in nature? For those who have to spend hours and hours of a day on a screen, it goes against the kind of meditative consciousness we want to have.

What are you doing in practice?

I do daily breathing meditations or mantra meditations.

Mhmm. So, there's a lot of things you can do. I mean, one of them is quit your job. Quit your field, you know, do something else. But, barring that, some people do end up quitting whatever it was that they were doing.

The more important thing isn't really what you're doing, it's what you're doing it for.

So there's this concept from Buddhism that I think is really useful, right livelihood. Like, to choose to do something that is either contributing positively or at least not causing harm.

There's ways to evaluate that, and that's more important in some respects than the fact that you're sitting on a screen.

But there's many, many practical things that you can do. One is take breaks to do those breathing practices or do some mantra several times a day in your little break moments.

Just stop for five minutes and do some of that sitting at your computer. Or go outside and breathe some fresh air regularly. Those kinds of things will help.

The other thing is to train yourself so that your attention doesn't become myopically focused just on the screen.

So this means being aware of the sensation of the air on your skin. Being aware of the temperature of the air and the texture of the air as you're breathing. Being aware of your body in space.

Being aware of sounds around you in the room. Being aware of your whole scene that you're sitting in, or even of the city that you're in, or even of the planet that you're in.

Bringing your attention– Even as you're focusing on what you need to focus on, have a dual or triple or quadruple attention going on a much bigger scene, that includes your body and its sensations and what's happening in the room around you.

And that's something that you can just train yourself to do over time. It's not going to happen right away, but it will happen more quickly than maybe you fear.

So you can put little notes up on your computer that remind you to do this. But then, of course, you don't look at the notes.

So you can have something flash up on your screen now and then. You can just tie something around your wrist, like a red string, to remind you to do that.

Put pictures of your teachers around your computer, look at them every now and then. All kinds of ways to make that work at the computer more– to bring it onto your path is really what I'm saying.

Can you talk about relationship between prayer and practice? I was just thinking, I was wondering, can any practice be done as a prayer?

What do you mean by prayer?

I'm still trying to figure that out.

Well, there's the teaching when you're learning puja, which is a form of worship, about the different kinds of pujas. And some of them are motivated and some of them are unmotivated.

So, you can have pujas that you do to get some specific thing. Like, I want to get pregnant, or I want to get married, or I want somebody to get into medical school. These are stuff that you hear in India, right? Probably here, too.

And then there's unmotivated puja where you're just worshiping.

So having a sense of prayerfulness where you're actually asking for something specific, even though it's everyone please get the benefit of my practice, is different from what I would think of as a more unmotivated kind of prayer. Where you're just feeling a sense of devotion and maybe yearning.

In a sense it's kind of– Like everything that's happening already IS okay, but yet we have this yearning inside and a feeling of devotion. If those can be prayer, I would say yes.

But to always be using practice to specifically ask for something, I think that will become an obstacle. At least in this kind of tradition.

So that kind of unmotivated desire. Unmotivated, nonspecific yearning.

[Saxophone playing in background.]

We're going to have some saxophone in with our kirtan. I don't know if you people online can hear it, but there's somebody playing saxophone out in the street.


Satsang with Shambhavi is a weekly podcast about spirituality, love, death, devotion and waking up while living in a messy world.