January 24, 2016

Beginning a regular practice

(Part 3 in an ongoing series. Part 1, Part 2.)

I hope by now you've chosen an element of worship to start your practice with, whether that's prayer, offering or contemplation. Maybe you've chosen more than one, but for this stage, I strongly recommend that you stick to just one at first.

Now, how to translate that one thing into a regular practice?

Some people do best with rhythms, schedules, patterns. Those people should come up with one simple thing they do every single day. Just one, just once. Have one small, short prayer to utter. Have one stick of incense or one small item of food to offer. Have one minute of time set aside for contemplation. Pick a set time to do it -- when you first get out of bed, after your shower, when you sit down to dinner, last thing before bed. Whatever is a nice, stable pattern in your life, link it to that.

(I do mine first thing when I get out of bed, and last thing before I go to bed.)

You won't actually manage to do it every single day, especially in the beginning. Sometimes things will come up, or you'll feel awful, or whatever, and you'll skip it. That's ok. Don't stress about it. Just do it tomorrow, or the next day.

Sometimes you'll stop for weeks altogether. That's ok, too. It happens to all of us. When you're ready, start up again.

It's ok even to schedule days off from practice. Say, Mondays you have to get up extra early, but a morning practice works best for you otherwise. OK, skip Mondays.

Try to do it as often as you can, though. Try for four or even five days out of seven, to start with. It's hard to establish a new habit, so go easy on yourself. You don't want your religious practice to be a source of stress in your life, you want it to be a moment of peace, of solace. So don't stress about it, just do it as much as you can.

Some people don't do well with patterns, and prefer something a little more freeform. That's fine, too. In that case, murmur your prayer the first time you pass your shrine for the day, or the second, or just as some point. Make your offering a splash from your first cup of coffee for the day, whenever that is. When a thought of a god occurs to you, stop and think about them for a moment. If you get to the end of your day and you haven't done your thing, do it before bed. Whatever works for you works, and is therefore a good practice.

The rest of the advice applies here, too. You won't manage it every day. Don't freak out, just do it tomorrow. Give yourself days off if you need them. Simply come back to your practice when you can.

For both groups, when you are consistently doing it without it being a big chore, without having to think about it, maybe not every single day, but consistently most days, then you can add a second thing. Do not attempt to add new things until you have established the habit. Remember, begin simply. Don't overcomplicate your practice. Add an offering to your prayer, or a prayer to your contemplation, or a second prayer to a first, or whatever simple thing that makes sense to you you can find. Or add a second time during the day that you do things. In the morning and at night.

Eventually, you can add more complex things. A lustration (ritual cleansing), or daily divination, or whatever else you like. But maybe not in the beginning. Give it time. Work up to it. Maybe add that as a third thing.

Have one simple, basic thing that you can go back to, though. Sometimes, you will stop your practice for a long period, and starting up doing five things all together and all at once will seem like too much. It's ok to start back up with just one thing. It's also ok to scrap your entire current practice and find a new single basic practice to start with, as the foundation of a new practice.