Dr. Stewart Bitkoff, Contributor
There is growing interest and dialog concerning differences between traditional religious teaching and a form of spiritual practice termed: everyday spirituality or spirituality of the market place. Surprisingly, the usefulness of spiritual practice in everyday life is an ancient teaching, and lies at the heart of human development systems like Sufism; where travelers are taught, through ordinary daily activity, to align with the Higher and make life a prayer.
To help travelers add this practical approach, we will examine the difference between traditional religious form and spirituality; offering various ‘things to know, and things to do’ while following a personal spiritual path.
Religion & Spirituality
For spiritual travelers, it becomes clear that new age and eastern systems offer techniques that speak to the basic difference between religious form and personal spiritual experience. While all traditional religious systems are based upon spiritual teachings, inner personal experience is not always emphasized and many travelers leave the religion of their birth with a deep, inner hunger that religious form did not completely satisfy.
In the beginning stages of learning, adherence to form is essential; and as the traveler matures in their traditional religious training, a deeper more personal experience may be available. However, many travelers ‘opt-out’ or get ‘turned off’ long before this happens. One of my spiritual teachers used to say: ‘after you have studied with me and experienced the Light, you will return to the religion of your birth and become a better Christian, Jew or Muslim.’
External Form. In viewing religious teaching and spiritual experience, it is important to discuss the difference between internal and external reality. Most of us are familiar with the external form of religion; this was the presentation offered during our child hood and emphasized standard prayers, teachings, and social prescription which was directed at a large segment of humanity.
Over the centuries, this is the part that looks different, because it is and changes; external form varies depending upon culture, geography, historical context, and the changing needs of the receiving community. Because this part is not the same, and is tied to time and place, it confuses people; this is the part that travelers argue and fight about it. Yet, internally all forms at their highest level are one, united in spirit.
Internal Form. The internal or spiritual essence which gives life to the external religious form is a living, vibrant element. This part, termed the Light in some presentations, is the inner core or life current to the external form. This is the part which fuels the updating of the Teaching into a newer presentation, and the grace which enables the living teacher or exemplar to function. This is the spiritual essence, the new age traveler seeks to embrace, and become one with.
Religion is like a beautiful maiden, who to fit the changing weather, wears an assortment of clothing. Some days, because the weather is cold or sunny, her outer garments are different. If you were to describe her on these days, one day she would be the maiden in the tall woolen hat and coat, and on another day, the woman in the bright, yellow cotton dress. On the first day, not seeing her covered face, some observers might be fooled and argue on the second day about the woman’s identity or description; not realizing underneath the various clothing, it is the same young woman.
Things to Know
In this section, to help spiritual travelers realize their own inner potential, we will examine some learning statements that must be understood about everyday spirituality.
- You Already Are Spiritual. This is true, and an overriding theme of new age systems and eastern traditions. We are spiritual beings who have entered the earth phase to learn, experience, serve and be co-creators. When you are ready, no one can stand between you and personal, inner, spiritual experience. However, getting ready to unlock your own experience is the challenge, often requiring learning the right things, in the right order, with the right people.
- Daily Living Blocks Awareness. For the most part, every day activity, work, and worry block the inner awareness from coming forward. When focusing on daily life, the ‘noise’ or vibration of this activity prevents the inner awareness from being accessed and perceived. With a period of training, travelers can be taught to operate both streams of consciousness simultaneously.
- Creating Reality. All life operates through consciousness; which is awareness and energy on multiple physical, mental, emotional and spiritual levels. Through our soul, which is comprised of a spiritual energy fabric, we create our own multiple level realities, every moment of the day. And because we are both different and the same, we share reality we both agree upon and experience uniquely.
- Adding Spirituality. The goal of spiritual paths, is to add a measure of conscious, spiritual awareness to the traveler’s individual life and day; this awareness serves as an enriching, enabling element so the traveler can complete daily and higher functions.
- Living Exemplars. In many new age and eastern traditions, the living teacher or exemplar serves as guide to lead the traveler higher. Through the grace of the path, this person serves higher functions; enabling others to embrace their own latent capacity. This person has a duty to discharge and uses the natural, spiritual laws, to help others reach completion.
- Religion as Business. In every age, religion and spirituality have been used as a camouflage and business; a way to gain power, money, or satisfy personal emotional needs. Just because something is wrapped in spiritual garb, it does not mean that it will not take from you. In fact, this tendency to use spiritual forms in order to achieve selfish and harmful ends, historically, has driven many away and thrown one religion against another; and in our world today, this is one of the most harmful elements.
- Use Your Common Sense. In selecting a path, if something seems to be too good or easy, it probably is; and the traveler needs to be wary of systems that ‘guarantee success in 10 easy steps.’ In this endeavor, no one can guarantee anything; your progress along the Path is dependent upon your correct effort and the Higher Destiny.
- Selecting a Path. The reason there are many Paths, is that travelers are different, with changing needs. If you are not satisfied with the religion of your birth, ask and petition The Radiances of Truth for a new path to open to you; then when it appears, follow it to completion. Remember, in this matter, there are 2 considerations; first, what Path seems most natural and second, which Path reaches out and embraces you.
- Life as Prayer. In some traditions, the goal of the spiritual traveler is to make their life a prayer; through intention and focused energy, turn every action into an act of remembrance and service for the Higher Destiny. Each of us is familiar with going to work or school, and using all of our talents and energy to get ahead so we can personally gain or feel more fulfilled. Similarly, in every action, the spiritual traveler works hard to remember and serve God.
- Diversity of Experience. Every traveler has spiritual experience; these experiences are natural and emerge, in part, from our very composition. Many times, these experiences are often not understood as such to be spiritual, seemingly mysterious, and usually quickly forgotten. Often, they may come in the form of an intuition about something that occurs or a happy, positive energy and sense of being connected to everything. These are not the goal of the journey; they are foretastes of a higher state of awareness.
Things to Do
- Quiet Time. Daily, each traveler needs to set aside 10-20 minutes to travel inward. This is personal time where the external noise of the world can be turned-off and an examination of the many parts of self may be conducted. Over time, we must identify the many selves so we can push them aside for a time, and unlock what lies beyond daily consciousness. Going inward, may be accomplished through prayer, journaling, meditation, or at day’s end, observing the repeating patterns of thought.
- Travel Inward. Find a hobby or activity that you enjoy where you can express your inner self. If it is working on a craft, reading uplifting material, or gardening, you want to learn to express the many, hidden parts. Each of us has a creative, spiritual potential, and in the beginning you must make time to explore and refine it.
- Give to Others. Part of healthy, balanced living and ordinary social duty is being part of a family or community, and giving to others. Volunteer once a week at the local hospital, or nightly help your children do their homework. This activity of giving should be entered into freely, without resentment or repeated troubling thoughts like, people tell me I need to do this. If you cannot do this without displeasure, wait until you can.
- The High Road. You know, most of us know what the right thing is; we are born with an inner sense of correct action and helping others. Religion prescribes service and giving activity, because we forget or the business part of religion kicks in. In your conversation and daily activity, try to help, not hurt; as a guide, listen to your own inner voice, which is a natural barometer.
- Pray. As part of our childhood, most of us have been taught specific prayers; some of these prayers become part of our lives and others we leave behind. Usually, specific prayers are different than praying. Prayer is a song that arises from your heart that you wish to share with God. This is a communication that springs from your very essence and cannot be taught; it is already part of you.
- Consciousness Building Activity. Daily, each traveler needs to add consciousness expanding and focusing activity. One of the most familiar exercises is meditation, because it teaches many things: skills like concentration, focus, and switching attention back to the focus word or object. If you have trouble meditating, try another activity, such as prayer or Reflecting the Light. This type of exercise may be learned from a book, class, or a teacher; for many it is part of the learning required, to still and push aside that which stands in our way.*
- Healthy Living. Because we are multi-level beings, we must maintain a balance, so we can access what lies deep within. When we are in physical or emotional pain, it is very difficult to travel inward. Also, when our muscles are tense and we are experiencing troubling, repeating thoughts, the journey inward is further slowed. As a form of readiness, a hot, relaxing shower to clean-off the ‘dirt’ of the day, or a deep breathing exercise to connect with our inner rhythm and bring refreshing air and oxygen into our system, is often suggested.
- Intention. Just about any activity may be done for the Higher Destiny; when we are vacuuming, driving our children to school or commuting to work, by offering-up this activity to the Higher, the activity becomes something we no longer do for self, but to make the world a little better.* When you arise in the morning, who do you go to work for?
- Repeating the Holy Name. In some traditions, travelers are taught by very slowly repeating the Holy Name, with love and reverence, throughout the day and their lives, they will reach journey’s end. Attached to this Name there is Light and energy; when you align with the Highest, gradually, you become one with the Highest. Throughout your day, try this technique of repeating the Name; see what happens. What do you have to loose?
- Practice Gratitude. When you are at your lowest, take a personal inventory and number those things for which you are grateful. Thank yourself or thank the universe for placing these things, people, or events into your life. Do this over and over; in using this repetitive cycle of replacement thought, you will change your consciousness and the energy being created. This more positive thought pattern has healthy and regenerating energy attached to it.
- Good Deeds. Do something positive, generous, or helpful for another person. Make a list of good deeds that you want to accomplish. In performing this positive activity, the good feelings you generate, will be your reward and the energy attached to your feelings, gradually, will change you.
- Take a Class: Take a class on spirituality or read a new self improvement book. Do not be afraid to critically examine your own or society’s most cherished beliefs; because that is how the journey to personal enlightenment and higher knowledge begin.
Life as Prayer
For the Sufi, daily life and traveling down the highway is potentially a prayer. Every moment is an opportunity to align personal action with the Higher Impulse. Through intention and by temporarily surrendering individual need, the spiritual traveler makes their commute to work a song of joyfulness and service.
We were created to participate in everyday affairs, using our diverse range of skills to make the world better.
Let every action become a prayer. Let every moment bring you closer to you Higher Self and the Higher Destiny.
About the Author
Dr. Stewart Bitkoff, spiritual traveler, poet, is a student of Sufi Mysticism and the perennial philosophy. Professionally specializing in the healing applications of therapeutic recreation, psychiatric rehabilitation and mental health treatment; he holds a doctorate in education and served on the faculties of multiple colleges and universities.
Stewart is also the author of Sufism for the Western Seeker, published in 2011, was nominated by ‘Foreword Magazine’ for Adult Non Fiction Religious Book of Year Book of the Year Award, placing 4th (honorable mention) and is a must read, as well as The Ferryman’s Dream. Both books are also in Kindle format and available on Amazon.com or local bookstore.
This article is offered under Creative Commons license. It’s okay to republish it anywhere as long as attribution bio is included and all links remain intact.
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