My spiritual path is a holistic one that is about committing to being present with the full range of experience. To walk this path requires finding the courage to meet yourself, others, the world and experience with an open heart.
A holistic spiritual practice can be anything from living an engaged, awake life that serves the whole to diving deeply into individual introspection. And different people will have different paths at different times.
This list aims to help people move away from fixed ideas about what practice needs to look like and give people a method for finding a practice that is meaningful to them and that supports their spiritual growth.
intentional activity that establishes, develops, and nourishes a healthy personal relationship with the truth and the depths of experience
a recognition, realisation, or coming into awareness of something; the act of starting to understand something or feel something
the basic principles of cosmic and individual existence; the mystery and intelligence that permeates all things, including you
One of the ways that people start to wake up to a deeper truth is by doing personal development work.
Some examples would be developing a jhana meditation practice for pleasure, doing psychedelic therapy for healing or taking a mindfulness based stress relief course.
Some people who do this kind of work get the benefits they were hoping for from their chosen practice or therapy, incorporate this back into their normal life and don’t delve any deeper. For others they get a taste of something richer, that perhaps they weren’t expecting to find and it can be the start of an exploration into something that goes much deeper than they initially imagined.
It is at this point, when a practice becomes an exploration of something deeper, that it becomes spiritual.
About The List
It is my experience that when spiritual practice does not include all the factors in this list, it is unbalanced. A complete well-rounded practice necessarily includes all these elements, or it can easily become narcissistic, dissociative or a distraction.
If you are at the start of your path, you may want to build the factors up in order. If you have an established practice, you may realise that you already have some of the factors and others you need to work towards. If you are a teacher it may be worth reflecting how this fits with your teaching and your student’s practices.
As you read through, check in with yourself about whether you are holding yourself accountable to these things. You don’t need to be doing everything perfectly all of the time; the aim is to be working towards wholeness. At times it may be most fruitful for you to focus on one or two of the factors and forget about the others completely, but in order to cultivate depth and balance, you will need to dedicate time and energy to everything that is listed here at various points on your path, whether that is over the course of a year or over the course of a lifetime.
1 – Holistic Approach
- My practice, life and relationships are an expression of my deepest intentions and values
- My understanding of awakening and spirituality includes my body, heart, mind and soul
- My practice or practices nourish the growth of the different aspects of my being (body, heart, mind and soul)
- My practice leaves space for mystery to emerge and for things to be different to how I initially imagined them to be
- My process includes welcoming my blind spots and shadows and working through them
- My darkness is welcome – both the enjoyable aspects and the painful aspects
- My integrity and my own sense of the deepest truth is one of the most important guides in my process
- My practice includes both connecting with transcendental aspects of experience and becoming the fullest expression of myself as a human being
- My view of the world, myself and others makes my practice feel meaningful
Related to: Right view
2 – Heartful Approach
- I am connected to my heart
- My connection with my heart allows me to meet myself, others and life with courage, curiosity, joy and compassion
- My belief in goodness in the world supports my capacity to show up whole-heartedly
- My grief is welcomed as part of my wholeness; connecting with it is a heart-opening experience
- My depth and resilience is strengthened by my practice of meeting life with an open heart even when it’s hard
- My life is experienced one moment at a time and I meet the present moment with a sense of joy and compassion
- My connections to other people nourish me and I support others in return
- My practice is inspired by my deepest intentions
Related to: Right intention
3 – Honest Approach
- Sincerity is as at the core of my practice, including both being able to be vulnerable and recognise my own power
- My practice allows me to start where I am, rather than where I want to be or where I think I should be
- I value honesty in other people, over charisma or shininess
- My boundaries are healthy, flexible, well-communicated and come from a place of love
- When I talk about practice I share what feels meaningful rather than trying to impress people
- I listen carefully to what others share and am honest about how it impacts me, rather than creating judgements and projections
- My understanding of the spiritual path feels like a true representation of what it is possible to achieve or experience in this lifetime, rather than marketing hype, hubris or a magic bullet
Related to: Right speech
4 – Continuous Practice
- My daily life is part of my spiritual practice
- My spirituality includes a practice that I do throughout the day
- My perspective of myself and my life feels real and whole and includes my dark and my light
- My spiritual practice includes turning towards difficult things and not writing off parts of life as irrelevant
- My challenges and vulnerabilities are opportunities for me to learn and grow
- My practice includes enjoying the beautiful parts of life, from sex to food to friendship
Related to: Right effort
5 – Contemplative Practice
- My practice includes sitting in silence and connecting with the depths of my inner experience
- I can be present with experience without being distracted
- I practice regularly
- My inner experience is deep, expansive and nourishing
- I have a good understanding of some different styles of practice and their benefits
- My contemplative practice supports me to be the person I want to be
- My contemplative practice puts me in touch with things like truth, love, resilience, whole-heartedness or other positive qualities
- My spiritual growth is supported by retreat or intensive practice time
Related to: Right mindfulness
6 – Shared Practice
- My connections with spiritual friends, mentors and peers feel meaningful
- My teachers, peers and practice communities inspire me to strive for more
- My good qualities and the places where I still have work to do are recognised by others in a healthy and supportive way
- I can recognise difficult dynamics without going into blame or shame and have productive conversations with people about them when necessary
- My view of myself and others allows for human flaws
- My spiritual practice includes a relational practice that awakens me to what it is like for me being in connection
- My relational practice helps me develop a deeper connection to myself and others
Related to: Right action
Helpful content: Guide to Shared Practice
7 – Mystical Practice
- My understanding of life includes recognising that everyone has a flawed or limited working model of the world
- I am open to mystical experiences and to life being different to how I imagine it to be
- My connection with the Universe feels profound; I can access flow states where I feel aligned with the Cosmos
- My present moment awareness can include things that aren’t recognised as real in the dominant paradigm
- My heart is open to the dignity of all beings and of the Universe itself
- I can hold my mystical experiences with an open hand and respect their mystery, rather than reifying them into a new, limited world-view
Related to: Right samadhi
8 – Living the Dharma
- My life, work and practice are dedicated to something bigger than me
- I am individuated and not propagating unhealthy co-dependent patterns in the world
- My devotion, desires and realisation fuel my capacity to contribute positively to the world
- My inner wisdom feels both empowering and humbling
- I am able to experience and enjoy the present moment, rather than needing to fix things first or arrive somewhere
- My intimate connection with myself and the Universe is a valuable part of my experience and my self-expression
- I can feel that everything, including me, is a natural expression of the Cosmos and I trust the unfolding
Related to: Right livelihood
Each one of these factors contains a whole world of exploration and depth that can support your spiritual practice. You can also start in a very simple and direct way. Here are some ways to reflect on these eight factors in your own practice.
The simplest way to reflect on them is to write out the eight factors and describe the ways in which you are meeting them and the ways in which you find them challenging. Try and identify specific examples of both the things you are doing well and the things you would like to improve.
If you would like a more creative way to do this reflection, here are some suggestions:
- Holistic Approach: Draw a sketch that encapsulates you, your life, your practice and your metaphysics at this moment in time. It can be very literal or more metaphorical and abstract, but don’t worry about taking it too seriously. The point is to create something that represents the wholeness of what you are doing in a fun and creative way.
- Heartful Approach: Draw a heart. On the left side, write down a short list of ways that you could be kinder to yourself and cut yourself some slack. On the right side, write down a short list of ways you could be more courageous or generous.
- Honest Approach: Identify three to five lies that you are most likely to tell yourself or others and write them out in speech or thought bubbles in a highly caricatured way. Let them be present and then if you would like, spend some time thinking about how you could approach each topic or theme from a deeper and more whole-hearted place.
- Continuous Practice: Create or find a very simple practice that you can do in daily life. Spend a day, a week and a month committing to staying with it as often as you can.
- Contemplative Practice: Reflect on whether you could give yourself the gift of really dedicating more time to your practice. Can you afford to go on retreat, or take some time off work to practice more deeply?
- Shared Practice: Ask a friend or a loved one if they would like to do a shared practice with you. It could be as simple as finding 15 minutes to connect at the start or the end of some time together. If you need some inspiration, here are some practices you could choose from.
- Mystical Practice: What are some of the weirdest experiences you’ve ever had? Can you remember what it felt like to experience them on an embodied level? How do they fit into your metaphysics and worldview?
- Living the Dharma: Think about some dharma teachers or spiritual leaders, living or dead, who embody something that you find inspiring. Do an imaginal practice where they come and meet you exactly as you are now. What positive qualities would they see in you? What would they give you to help you with your life purpose?
If everyone was able to adopt a rich, wholesome and holistic spiritual practice, we would live in a different world. One where everyone would be connected to what matters most in life.
I hope this list inspires people towards this.