25 January 2010

Practices for the Flourishing Life

Being interested in "the inner life", or the cultivation of the self as it were, I like to engage in a few practices some might call spiritual. Although some of them arose from suggestions from others, I typically avoid suggestions that seem artificial or imposed. My idea of spirituality is decidedly naturalistic, and I prefer practices that seem natural -- those that I can slip into.

1.Rubbish-Clearing:  Doug Muder introduced the idea of mindfulness to listeners and readers of his "Humanist Spirituality" lecture by recounting his decision to examine his thoughts for their worth, to ask -- "What is the use of dwelling on this idea? Is it good for me?"  I tried it then and found it simple and very effective, but somehow it slipped my mind until recently. I don't know if it has a better name, but I think of it as clearing mental rubbish.

2. Journaling. Although I've kept a journal since 1998 or 1999, more recently my journals have become important to me as a way of exploring my thoughts. If I can write down my thoughts and feelings  on paper, I can examine them better. If you've ever read the Harry Potter books, think of Dumbledore's Pensieve:  he uses it to clear his mind so that he can think about matters more intently.  Something I started last spring was to write thought-provoking quotations I encountered through books, lectures, and the like into the journals, in a space I ordinarily wouldn't write in, allowing me to return to them and mull over them in the future.

3. Reading:  In reading the thoughts of others, we allow their ideas to strengthen ours, either by introducing us to different perspectives or by giving us the opportunity to think critically. I make it a habit to read something thought-provoking several times a week, and have collected a notebook of favored quotations, articles, and poetry for the purpose when not relying on a book from my library. Contemplating poetry and thoughts that lead to more mindfulness strengthen me.

4. Rest meditation: I enjoy reading, and I do most of my reading under a tree outside or lounging on the couch with the curtains open so that I may gaze outside. When reading for prolonged periods, I often pause every ten or fifteen minutes, close my eyes, and maintain mental silence for a few moments -- usually no more than five minutes. I breathe deeply and focus the rhythym. This makes me feel more centered and better able to engage the book.I also do this when I'm about to go to sleep, or sometimes during the day when I need to find my "place".

5. Nurturing empathy:  I find it uncomfortably easy to pile labels upon people, so I force myself to think of other's humanity. In the interests of enabling communication, I think about why people might believe or say the things they do. What need are they attempting to meet in this way?  Also, the best way to nurture friendliness I've found is to be friendly. I don't mean being polite: I mean being friendly.  False smiles and generic greetings are useless, but if you honestly reach out and say "Good morning!" or "How are you? in the right spirit, you'll be better for it. My experience is that while not everyone responds well to friendliness, enough people do to justify by doing it. This betters my life and theirs, and I have made friends in this manner.

6. Immerse yourself in beauty:  Every so often, at least once or twice a week, I make a point of indulging myself in beauty. I see and hear beauty all the time, of course, and I soak it in as much as I can, but once a week or so I like to purpously seek it out, either in music or in photographs. Youtube or Pandora are good for finding awe-inspiring music, and one especially good natural gallery is here. It's in Spanish, but there are enough English cognates in there to make sense of things. The best subgallery is "Hongos, plantas y flores".

These are just a few of own, and I imagine there are other practices out there waiting for me to encounter.


Snowbrush said...

Is the profile picture of Ingersoll?

smellincoffee said...

It is indeed. :)