As summer winds down, the contemplative in me is looking forward to a little more structure, a little more rhythm. During the summer months, there is travel, family visits, and the kids are home from school. This year I was in different cities in multiple hotels and time zones. At times it’s simply not possible to find twenty minutes of quiet solitude twice a day and maintain any kind of spiritual practice.
One of the trickiest elements of the contemplative path is the discipline involved in maintaining a consistent rhythm. When I’m out of rhythm, I’m back in default ego mode. I’m irritable, judgmental, and egocentric. The volume on my mental tapes of past hurt, self-protection, and even aggression is cranked back up. I can hardly hear outside of that echo chamber.
As a teacher once said, the spiritual teacher’s job is to dismantle his student’s ego under laboratory conditions. Hence the strict regiment in most monastic traditions. But in the ebb and flow of our modern lives with their shifting demands on schedule, time, and brain space? It’s so easy to get sucked back into the vortex of ego pursuits and default unconsciousness.
I maintain that along with sound teaching and community, the backbone of contemplative practice is some form of twice daily entrance into non-egoic mind. That can be through Centering Prayer, Vipassana meditation, or Kriya Yoga practice, or something similar.
But there are times it’s just not feasible and the dust starts to pile up, the eyesight gets hazy once again. So here is a mini contemplative practice for those days when we aren’t able to engage in our regular practice for one reason or another. Side note: these exercises are encourages and even more effective when we are able to engage in our regular practice as well!
- Name it: when we become aware experience a negative emotion or get caught up in an inner cycle of negativity, we identify the emotion as accurately as possible. The key here is not to judge ourselves or beat ourselves up, but simply to draw our attention to it, “this is what I’m doing right now.” Over time, we’ll recognize it much more quickly in ourselves.
- Trace it: As best we can, we reflect on the source of the negativity. What event triggered the emotion, or the inner rant? Again, we simply observe rather than making accusations against ourselves. Remember, there’s as much ego in saying “I’m the worst” as there is in saying “I’m the best.”
- Release it: Once we understand the inciting event, we usually understand what it is about our own make up that caused us to attach such negativity to the event. What insecurity was triggered? What inner mechanism is at work here? Whatever it is, we take a moment to verbally let go of it, “I give up my need to feel validated,” or whatever it is. Most of us will have a pattern of negative emotion circling around one of the three main ego issues: the need for affection and esteem, security, and for power and control.
This can be a small, powerful, and absolutely free way of growing in self-awareness. It can let us release internal issues that hold us back for years on end. Especially if we don’t draw our attention to them explicitly. Calling out what’s going on as it’s happening gives us that little wedge of freedom. It cracks the door ajar just a little bit for some sunlight to come in. If we get a degree of freedom from our habitual egoic patterns, so much the better.