Resources to help you embody a sense of awake and connected wisdom
Here is the list of the eight factors that I have found you need for good spiritual practice. By good spiritual practice I mean practice that can make a real, lasting and positive difference to how you experience being in the world.
This list draws on the Eightfold path and also on a wide-range of research that I have used in my personal and professional life.
What Does Good Spiritual Practice Look Like?
- Holistic approach
- Honest approach
- Heartful approach
- Continuous practice
- Shared practice
- Contemplative practice
- Mystical practice
- Individual support
How Is This Different to the Eightfold Path?
There are two key differences in my underlying assumptions and views of the world to Buddhism and other mind-centric spiritual practices and traditions, and this is reflected in this list.
Firstly, this isn’t about individuals practicing their way out of suffering. Life is not a solo sport and the reality is that this doesn’t work. We are intrinsically interconnected. If we practice and live as if we are in it on our own, then it is the most privileged who gain power and authority at the expense of everyone else – they improve their lives by working their way up the hierarchy, not by being more present with experience as it is.
This list is about living engaged lives, that we can show up more fully for. This can include accessing more mystical ways of experiencing the world that can relieve certain types of suffering but it also includes connecting with the people and situations we find ourselves in, even when that is hard.
We are learning to connect with other people’s experience as much as we are doing that with our own experience.
Freedom is not something we gain, it is something that we gift – we allow ourselves and each other to be full expressions of ourselves through learning to be less judgemental and closed to experience. We build an eco-system of existence together.
Unless you plan to go and live in a monastery or a cave, this is the reality of the world and this needs to be consciously incorporated into the way you practice and live, otherwise you are just deluding yourself.
Secondly, this isn’t about reaching some perfected awakened state or perspective. It’s about awakening every aspect of our being – cultivating the capacity to be with all of our experience with less judgement, less projections, more openness and more sincerity; to see and feel what is really here even if it’s dark or painful.
Any teaching that talks about a way of escaping the darkness and challenge of life is an illusion at best and purposefully misguided at worst.
Life is hard and being honest about this and practicing together in a way that is connected and engaged is one of the things that makes it worthwhile and meaningful.
With this in mind here are the details of what good spiritual practice looks like to me and some of the tools I have created for cultivating them.
1 – Holistic Approach
Developing an understanding that life, practice, experience and relationships are ultimately inseparable and consciously considering the life we want to be living.
Incorporating the whole of our beings – body, heart, mind and soul. Consciously working through the tendency to want to bypass some of the more difficult aspects of experience.
Recognising that we each have unique goals in life and practice and ensuring that we are incorporating our needs and desires into how we approach things, which allows us to become our fullest, deepest expressions of ourselves.
Related to: Right action
2 – Honest Approach
Being willing to be sincere with ourselves and others, including being vulnerable and admitting where we have challenges in life. Not fucking lying to ourselves and each other all the time.
Valuing honesty in other people. Speaking from a place of sincerity – feeling into what feels meaningful and safe to share from our own experience, rather than parroting things we believe other people want to hear or will be impressed by.
Listening carefully to what people are saying and being honest about how it impacts us rather than creating judgements and projections.
Looking to gain a true understanding of different practices and where they can take you, rather than getting swept up in marketing hype and magic bullets.
Related to: Right speech, particularly around truth
Helpful content: Concrete Nouns and Abstract Nouns
3 – Heartful Approach
Connecting with the heart. Understanding that curiosity, openness, joy and compassion are all core components of being able to connect with experience and that these are all qualities that come from the heart.
Understanding that heart-opening requires some amount of grief and heart-break.
Realising that it is through maintaining a sense of openness even when life is hard that we increase the depth and resilience of our beings.
Realising that spiritual practice is not an on and off system that the mind would like us to believe but that life is an experience that we go through one moment at a time.
Connecting with what really matters in life and what you are passionate about with a sense of courage, all of which come from the heart, and using this to guide your decisions and choices in life.
Related to: Right livelihood, particularly around doing what matters
4 – Continuous Practice
Bringing practice into daily life, being willing to see ourselves for what we really are and to feel all the feels related to that.
Not turning away from things that are difficult or discluding things as irrelevant to life or practice. Consciously becoming more aware and present for parts of life that are challenging.
Related to: Right mindfulness, particularly around becoming more aware
5 – Shared Practice
Cultivating connections with spiritual friends, mentors and peers.
Sharing in a community where we are able to see each other through the eyes of a good friend; someone who can appreciate your good qualities and point out hard truths in ways that are helpful.
Recognising that we’re all fucked up one way or another and working from this place of humility, radical acceptance and love of self and other.
Doing shared practices that helps us rewire ourselves for better connections in relationship.
Related to: Right effort, particularly around cultivating supportive emotions
6 – Contemplative Practice
Making time to connect inwards with our inner worlds. Cultivating the ability to be present with experience without running away from it.
Learning about different styles of practice and considering which practices will be most supportive to our development at the moment.
Going on retreat or doing intensive practice to deepen our experience.
Related to: Right concentration, particularly what to focus on both in wider practice and in moment-to-moment experience
7 – Mystical Practice
Understanding that the true nature of reality is not necessarily how we initially perceive it and accepting that we all have flawed working models of the world.
Opening to mystical experiences and different ways of understanding and being in the world. Connecting with these parts of experience in a safe and explorative way.
Realising that one of the reasons that we aren’t mindful in life is because when we become present and aware of what is really going on, it is not necessarily what we expect it to be.
Related to: Right view
Helpful content: Whole Being Framework
8 – Individual Support
Connecting with someone whose wisdom and experience we respect and we feel that we can learn from.
Recognising that no-one else has the answers for us, but that other people can help by sharing their perspectives and experiences.
Engaging sincerely and openly with one-to-one guidance from someone we trust in a way that we are willing to be vulnerable and open about our challenges, so that we get the opportunity to undo unhelpful conditioning, see things that are in shadow for us, learn the things we don’t know we don’t know and feel supported in becoming flourishing versions of ourselves.
Related to: Right intention, specifically around avoiding tying ourselves in knots that keep us away from our true intentions