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Monday, April 12, 2010

Do you have a sense of progress in your walk?

A path refers to a destination. (cc) Aidan
McManus (adeb?nd), 
For many of us, days pass by and we often find ourselves 'going with the flow'. Sure, we might make plans for the future. We might even have plans about where we want to be financially in five years, or plans about our hobbies, and so on. But how many of us have a sense of progress and planning when it comes to our spiritual/contemplative path - or, when it comes to our development as a person?

By a 'sense of progress' what I mean is a sense that we are working on something - a project. This would be a sense that where we are today is hopefully going to be different than where we are in the future. I mean this in terms of our habits, our character traits, our knowledge, our wisdom, our kindness, our compassion, and more.

How is such progress made? Learning may be an important first step. Reading worthy materials, joining in discussions (not debates), talking with and asking questions of wise people, and thinking about all of these ideas are essential. But all of that is merely 'data'. It is raw information resulting in nothing more than book knowledge, and as beneficial to your 'soul' as reading about exercise would be to your body. The real "project" is in what you do with that knowledge.

This is where practice comes in. Here we seek to apply those lessons in our lives. Practice doesn't just mean specific practices with names, like: meditation, negative visualization, existential deliberation, and so on. It also means mindfully putting into practice the mindsets and ideas we read about as we go about our daily activities. More importantly, that by doing so, those become habitual to our character and natural inclinations.

These are things with which I still very much struggle. When people refer to me as knowing a lot about some philosophy or being a 'something-ist', I feel rather silly - because I know that all of the reading and writing I do on these topics is worthless. Only the degree to which ancient and modern wisdom is applied in our lives, and the degree to which they shape our character, matter. The rest is vanity.

The following paragraph is specifically aimed at my naturalist/non-theist friends and readers:

It may seem odd to talk about one's walk, path, or spiritual practice in a secular context. But the recognition that there is a natural-based, rational, and beneficial function to development of character habits and application of contemplative practices is what The Humanist Contemplative is all about. Very often, we secular folks are among those who go through life day after day without that sense of progress in our character development, and I'd think therefore that my notes on this today would be especially applicable to us.

Comment, Brandon:
The couldn't be more timely for me. Lately I've come to realize that things have been 'just good enough' for a long time, and it's been a struggle to try and fit the idea of 'purpose' into a secular context.

"Only the degree to which ancient and modern wisdom is applied in our lives, and the degree to which they shape our character, matter. The rest is vanity."

That stung, but I needed it :)
Cheers to an excellent article.

Comment, DT Strain:
Thanks Brandon. I really appreciate comments like yours :)

Comment, tbrucia:
As I prepare for a 485-mile trek beginning in about a month, this article hits home.... The destination is there (like a beacon), but the discipline of preparing for and executing every exercise (walking, taking care of the feet, cooking, eating, setting up one's tent, observing one's surroundings, waiting, being rained on, and so on) are all the biggest part of the trek. In the process of preparing and executing, one changes... and in a sense, one becomes the preparing, one becomes the execution, and one becomes a reflection of the objective realities one meets 'on the trail'.... One of the realities one (I hope) I meet on the trail is another hiker: the one I am becoming....

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