Setting a Daily Spiritual Practice
March 9, 2014 3 Comments
As much as I harp on about setting up a daily practice, I have to admit that I’m kinda terrible at maintaining my own. Then again, mistakes, lapses, and unexpected events are often the case, and with an already-packed schedule, sometimes prayers or meditations or offerings get pushed back or forgotten entirely (and made up later with profuse apologies). It happens to everyone, unless you’re one of those die-hard devotees with good time management and enough free time to allow for it all (confound you, lucky/hardened bastards). I try my best, all the same, and I try to keep myself on the ball when I can. After all, what good is a daily practice if it’s not kept daily?
Lately I’ve been experimenting with different routines and different ways to set my routines up, from spending less time in the mornings and more time in the evenings to changing when I sleep and how much I (can stand to or get by on) sleep. Some things have worked, and some things haven’t, and it all informs what my ideal practice would look like given my current situation. However, that doesn’t take into account what my actual practice is, and whether aspects of my daily practice are worth it or should stand to be continued as daily as they are, or whether they should be cut back to weekly or even less frequent practices. For instance, it used to be the case that I would spend time every day doing the Headless Rite before attaining contact with my HGA; now that I have contact, I don’t do the Headless Rite except when I really need the extra oomph for a ritual.
To that end, I decided to come up with five major questions that helped guide me to clarify my own thoughts, desires, and necessities when formulating a daily practice, each of which deal with time constraints and necessities:
- What are your worldly obligations? While it may be nice for some of us to daydream about becoming full-time spiritual, devoting every second of every day to prayer and magic, that’s quite out of the realm of possibility for many of us. Hell, even monks of various traditions have to spend some of their time farming, taking inventory of goods, doing chores, and the like. For the majority of us, we’re obligated to interact with the world in ways that can easily take over most of our time, especially when it comes to school and work. Classwork and studying, or preparing lessons and teaching, as well as meetings and overtime work are all important things that must be given highest priority, as well as all the attendant time-sinks like commuting, lunch breaks, and the like. Making yourself presentable and livable, too, also counts as worldly priorities, so getting enough sleep at night, taking care of your body and hygiene, and taking care of chores and errands also count here. Without fulfilling our worldly obligations to the extent that is proper for ourselves, we neglect to build a solid worldly foundation upon which we can build our spiritual lives.
- What are your personal priorities? As human beings, we have human needs such as intoxication, being social, supporting families, enjoying hobbies, being productive, and just generally being happy. Working in the world and Working in the cosmos both lead to happiness, sure, but chances are you’re going to desire other things besides these that can help you be a well-rounded human being. Unless you’re a die-hard OCD schedule-master, you’re going to have at least one hour a day where you’re relaxing and enjoying some sort of pastime. Sports, martial arts, hobbies, craftwork, being social, going partying, writing, and anything “extracurricular” can be considered something personal, and these should also be given important weight.
- What are the crucial aspects of your daily practice? Everyone has a different notion of what they consider to be their daily practice, and more than that what they consider essential to it. Some people have no need for any type of daily ritual, only interfacing with their spirits and the like as needed; other people like doing a bit of daily meditation or prayer, while others insist on doing a LBRP-type ritual every day. It’s up to you to determine what exactly you find yourself doing every day and what you need to be doing every day, and no two magicians or priests will have exactly the same schedule.
- What do you have time for? Once you have an idea for what you want to do for your daily practice, it helps to figure out what you absolutely need to do to have a core minimum practice that you can elaborate for when you have time. When you have little time, you can only do a little; when you have more time, you can do more. It’s that simple. Within the time you can afford to spiritual practice, what is it you absolutely need to do that you can fit within your time constraints? What practices can be combined or smooshed into a single practice, or what practices can be eliminated from daily practice entirely? As we grow, we may find that our needs may evolve over time, working more on this thing that we before never encountered and working less on that other thing now that we’ve gained some more knowledge or initiation.
- When are you most comfortable Working? Even considering one’s obligations and priorities, not everyone is going to enjoy carrying out one’s practice at the same time in the same way. Many of my friends prefer to do their spiritual work at night when they’re relaxing after work, while I’ve always been a morning person and get my best work done before I leave my house. Biasing your practice towards a particular time of day can benefit your practice substantially, but if you don’t have such a preference, using any available time works just as well.
For instance, consider my own situation. My primary worldly obligation is my job: I work roughly 40 hours Monday through Fridays with mandated half-hour lunch break at an office that takes me an hour to commute to in one direction, so already I spend about 53 hours each week at a place where I can’t really do much in the way of spiritual growth or ritual. Plus, I tend to spend about three hours a week taking care of errands and chores, get about seven hours of sleep a night, work out for about half an hour each day, and my major hygiene routine takes about half an hour each day. Among my major personal priorities are going to a 2-hour aikido 20 minutes from my house class three times a week, divination readings and classes on Sundays for six-ish hours at the local new age store, and going out to eat with friends for about three hours a week total. Plus, to factor in where I’m decompressing and don’t need to be doing anything else, we can factor in another hour per day of just downtime.
All told, this yields about 135 hours a week where I’m given to be doing other human things. A week only has 168 hours, so I only (“only”?) have 33-ish hours a week for spiritual work. Taking into account my obligations for each day, this leaves about 9 hours on Sunday and Saturday, 1.5 hours on Monday, 4.5 hours on Tuesday and Thursday, and 2 hours on Wednesday and Friday. On paper, these time amounts hover between “eh, it’s enough” and “mildly stressed for time”, so it doesn’t look terrible from the outset, but when I factor other things such as potential emergencies, delays at work, spending time with my boyfriend or family, and so forth, those 33 hours can quickly dwindle down even further.
When it comes to daily routine, I find that the things I feel compelled to do for my practice are meditation, energy work, prayer, and offerings. Meditation is a must for any spiritual activity, as I and many other occultists see it, and I spend about 20 to 30 minutes in meditation a day, usually in the mornings after I work out and shower but before I do anything else. Energy work comes after all my other daily spiritual work in the mornings before I get out into the world for work or pleasure, and my ritual takes anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes depending on what I need (anointing with oils, weekly banishing, extra ki training, realigning my magician’s altar, etc.). Prayer is a wide and varied thing for me, but I generally break it down into morning prayers (recognizing and praising the Divine and the World, aligning myself with virtue and divine will, singing the Hymns of Silence, requesting the aid and company of my Holy Guardian Angel) and evening prayers (reflection and contrition, thanksgiving, singing the Hymns of Silence); without other prayers, each set of prayers takes about 30 minutes to do. Offerings, on the other hand, are even more varied, and can take forms such as praying the rosary to the Virgin Mary, making a planetary observation with the Orphic Hymn for the day, reciting a chaplet for a particular saint, offering wine to the gods, or spending time with my ancestors; while prayers are for the Divine, offerings (which are also prayers) are for other, lower spirits. I spread my offerings through the week, and usually spend between 10 and 60 minutes a day in offerings to the spirits and forces I work with, especially if I have multiple offerings to do. Some offerings I do in the morning and some in the evening, depending on the spirit and my time, but generally it’s half-and-half. Between all this, I spend about 1.5 hours (one hour in the morning and half an hour at night) to 3 hours (two hours in the morning and one hour at night) a day in daily practice alone.
Clearly, Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays are days where I can’t do my lengthened daily routine schedule, since I’d only just barely cut it on Wednesdays and Fridays (and that’s with an already full day with my aikido practice!), and Monday simply doesn’t have the time (since I reserve that for chores and errands). Sundays and Saturdays, with the most amount of time, would be best for my extended daily routine, given that I have the most time available for them generally, as well as other ritual work or simply relaxing. Of course, even this schedule can be variable; if I work from home on a particular day, I can overlap my work with chores or Work and do away with commuting entirely, especially if I have a day off from work. Plus, I often have downtime at work, where I do my general internetting and a good amount of my writing, which saves me time at home for more ritual work; my own work schedule is somewhat variable within certain boundaries, too, so I can take off early one day and leave later another day to make up for the time. If I take a trip out of town (as I’m wont to do once every month or so), then my free time might not be free at all depending on where I’m going, how far it is, and whom I’m visiting.
Since I work best in the mornings, I try to allot as much time for myself as I can within my boundaries. I take the last available train to work, so I have to leave my house around 7:50am; since I don’t like going to bed super-early but need to get enough sleep, I go to bed around 11pm and wake up around 5am or 6am (usually the former, but sometimes the latter if I really need the extra hour). That way I have almost two or three hours in the morning to exercise, shower, get my morning routine done, and get ready for work before leaving. After work, when I get home usually around 6:30pm or 7pm, I have about four hours to decompress, run whatever chores or do whatever rituals I want, and then wind down for my evening practice before heading to bed at 11pm. Some nights I have plenty of time, even with aikido class; some nights I have only enough time for a quick prayer and heading off to bed after errands and chores.
Of course, my daily practice itself might be changed up a bit depending on what other rituals I do on a given day. For instance, if I do a conjuration in the evening after work, a lot of the introductory prayers I make are the same as the ones I do in my morning prayer set, so I might elide those out of the morning routine or the preliminary ritual. Offerings one day might be delayed a day or so to coincide with a better astrological timing for it, or I might forsake something like energy work entirely (arguably my lowest priority daily practice) if I don’t have the time in the morning and make up for it the next day. Offerings can be more tricky, since they might be made as a gesture of appreciation or as part of a vow, and broken vows are never fun to deal with; I might double an offering to make up for a previously missed one, or simply ask forgiveness and forbearance from the spirit being made offerings. If nothing else, offerings are the one thing I make my highest priority, but even they can get missed from time to time due to scheduling conflicts (like a Saturday offering at my altars when I’m out of town).
After all that, I think I have a good idea of what my daily practice should be like. I’ve looked at my time constraints and time sinks with a critical eye, as well as what my practice consists of and what it should consist of; I’ve figured out what practices can be done on which days and to what extent, as well as my other general free time that I can use for (gasp) more practice, other rituals, other obligations (commissions, readings, studying, drinking, etc.) or other non-spiritual acts entirely (luncheon, video games, aikido, drinking, etc.). The only thing left at this point is to actually implement my practice, and now that the first Mercury retrograde of 2014 is over, it’s a good time to do just that.
Do you have a daily practice you stick to, or try to stick to? What are some of your biggest time sinks in terms of obligation, desire, and vice? What do you consider necessary for your daily work, if anything at all? Feel free to share in the comments!