D Gregory Smith

My Daily Spiritual Practice

Filed By D Gregory Smith | January 31, 2010 1:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: LGBT spirituality, LGBTIQ religion, Metta prayer, Spiritual practice, Spirituality

As LGBTIQ persons, many of us feel estranged from or alienated by organized religion. We can feel hurt, misunderstood, persecuted and sometimes afraid because of religious positions, teachings and practices.

Personally, I have always made a distinction between being religious (observing a particular religion) and being spiritual (belief that you are connected to the universe somehow). I've known and read about LGBT persons who have actively shunned anything spiritual because of their negative experience with religion, and I think that's unfortunate. There seems to be an important component in the human experience that can often only be defined as "spiritual," and in that sense, I believe it's worth exploring - despite, or perhaps because of intellectual stances of agnosticism, atheism or indifference.

For me, it's not simply a question of God. It's a question of exploring and finding my place and the place of others in the workings of the universe. That can happen with or without a concept of God. In fact, I would argue that it's happening every time we work for civil rights or environmental responsibility, or simple justice....

I've had some interest in my own daily practice of meditation and prayer, and several requests to share. So at the risk of serious spiritual over-exposure, I offer you the following:

I try for at least four periods of meditation and reflection every day. These aren't hard, and are mostly linked with things that I do anyway. Since I often am awakened earlier than I plan by my care-giving duties, a consistent, early meditation time is not always possible. I work around this by using my exercise time, usually right after breakfast and the morning emails and other work- normally between 10 and 11am.

I have a treadmill and exercise equipment in my home, because I'm usually required to stay at home with the elderly man I care for, but sometimes, when the weather's nice and I have a helper, I'll go for a run on the Copperway, a walking path close to my home. Wherever I do it, the first half is usually all about the music - usually a Scooby Mix, high energy and motivating. The second half is mostly about silence and mindfulness. To facilitate this, I've adapted the Metta Prayer, or Loving Kindness Prayer from the Buddhist Tradition. I've memorized it, so I can use it anywhere(It's especially helpful in nightmarish traffic!). I say it slowly and thoughtfully, sometimes out loud, sometimes silently to myself.

May I be filled with Loving Kindness.
May I be well in Body, Mind and Heart.
May I know that I am Always Safe.
May I be Peaceful and Truly Happy.
May I be filled with Loving Kindness,
May I be Free.

I pray this first for myself, then for my loved ones, then for those I'm having trouble loving, then for my country, then for all beings. When I pray for others, I usually name them in place of the "I" in the prayer, or simply picture them in my mind. It creates in me a feeling of being connected to others and a sense of purpose.

I also have 12-20 minutes of meditation time as a goal every day. Sometimes I get it, sometimes I don't. I will use my Metta Prayer, there, too, but often I am simply still and concentrate on my breathing and simply being aware and quiet.

I reflect in the shower. It's a place I can usually count on to not be disturbed. I think about being purified and cleansed throughout my life's experiences and the great gift of water, present as holy symbol and sacrament in so many traditions.

The fourth time is when I get into bed, and usually right after I call Ken to wish him goodnight. I think of at least three things I am grateful for in the day, and sometimes I think of the challenges and what they have brought me. It's a good way to end my day, with gratitude and the knowledge that I am a blessed person. It often carries over into my dreams....

I've found this practice to be life-changing and centering. Let me know if you have a daily practice. Or, if you feel like trying something I do, let me know how it's going.

I really enjoy hearing from you!


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I'm kind of an oddball. I identify as an atheist, but I also think of myself as a deeply spiritual person. Feeling a sense of connection with nature, people or the world is important to me, but I don't find the need to believe in a deity.

I've found meditation to be wonderful and I've done it for years. Unfortunately, I've never made it a point to do it on a daily basis. I admire how you make sure to set aside time each day to do so.

One more thing: I totally agree that there is a big difference between religion and spirituality.

As a child, there wasn't a single moment in church when I felt anything of a spiritual nature. Rather than generating a sense of connection, I found church to be terribly alienating. It wasn't until years after rejecting Christianity and the notion of a god that I recognized what spirituality is. Although it might sound unlikely, atheism brought my into my own experience of spirituality by releasing my from my negative experiences with the church of my childhood.

OK, that was supposed to be:

Although it might sound unlikely, atheism brought me into my own experience of spirituality by releasing me from my negative experiences with the church of my childhood.

So much for proof reading before clicking "submit."

TW:
I really appreciate your thoughts and willingness to share your experience- it's all important. I think excluding atheists and/or agnostics etc, from conversations about spirituality is a mistake. We all have things to learn from each other....
Thanks!
PS
I, too, get excited and tend to send things in before I've edited properly- ask Alex!
G

I wasn't forced to go to church as a child, and I still needed a long atheist period to separate myself from mainstream ideas about god. Now I'm developing a spirituality that is kind of hard to describe. At the same time it's monotheistic, polytheistic, agnostic, and atheist. Life is paradox.

Anthony in Nashville | January 31, 2010 7:00 PM

Excellent post!

I have not been able to get comfortable with either meditation or prayer. With meditation, I can't turn my mind off to focus on "the moment" and prayer still brings up images of Church, even though I know religion and spirituality aren't the same. Since I did not grow up praying, it seems strange and I feel I'm not doing it "right."

Anthony,
One of the first things I learned about meditation, is that everyone does it differently- there is no "right".
For me, it's more about spending time to regroup and focus on my values and goals. We all need that.
My practice has evolved from "Okay, I'll see if I can be quiet for two minutes," to what you see above. It's more of a mindset. I'd say give yourself room to experiment- you'll know when it feels right.
Thanks for the comment. Peace,
G

Perhaps you should try Western methods of meditation wherein the mind is focused on specific things for deep contemplation. Many Western mystical/spiritual/religious systems used this and it was also used in Christianity but certainly predates it. They also used methods like those that we know of as Eastern now.
I myself find the old contemplative forms of meditation far more useful to my own spirituality than the Eastern Forms.
Try the walking meditation where you walk a trail or path and contemplate the forest around you etc. You can do it just sitting in the forest or anywhere also. I even like to do it in crowds or at the mall and contemplate on the people around me.

Anthony in Nashville | February 2, 2010 11:32 AM

Rob,

Thank you for the suggestions. I have heard of walking meditations but never quite understood what they were.

Many people in Europe had labrynths designed in which they walked while contemplating and praying. They could be found in gardens and even painted on the floors of churches. This practice is being revived.

bozemanmontana | January 31, 2010 11:05 PM

it's amazing to me how something so simple has become such a necessity for me - that time in silence, listening to the universe. Thank you love.

Frank Gurucharri | February 1, 2010 6:31 AM

For me, there is a huge and fundamental difference between religion and spirituality. Religion is based primarily on beliefs that can become so ingrained and emotionally powerful that they move into dogma. Beliefs are very primitive types of thinking and are lazy. They require no investigation or research into their truth and no learning. They simply require acceptance. And most religious beliefs are taught at a very early age before cognitive skills are developed and with the caveat, never to question them...even though they are often delusional. Our Country has even reached a point where much of our public policy (laws) are based on beliefs not facts; e.g. "illegal aliens" (what hateful language), LGBTQ civil rights, marriage equality and adoption, approval of the use of military force in Iraq because of some believed "nuclear threat", etc.
Spirituality for me is more about practice than belief. I focus on two areas: I practice healthy, loving relationships to everyone each day, even those that irritate me; and I practice values (e.g. respect, honesty, self responsibility, etc.). I keep it simple and focused with daily practice. Period...end of story.

Excellent points. The more we encourage and develop curiosity over conformity, IMHO, the better off we'll be.

I love columns/articles like this, as it gives me further insights into the workings of the human mind. As an agnostic, I'm always a bit wonderous about those who ponder their place in the universe. Me? I'm just trying to find a parking space here on Earth, and among the people around me. I 'give thanks' by throwing a little party for friends, or putting more bird seed in the feeder. The closest I get to meditating is being alone with a bottle of wine and pondering the people I love, and who love me, and trying to figure out if I've been doing a good job of just being human. I figure the universe will take care of itself, and that it doesn't much care about a little speck of carbon like me, nor my place in it. I've got my hands full with the planting and weeding of my own little garden. I guess this does indeed put me into a minority of humanity, as most do seem to ponder 'larger', more
existential things. Kinda makes me wonder if perhaps science will someday discover a bundle of 'spiritual' neurons in our brain - and that I was born without it? :)

Jim,
It sounds to me like what you call "the closest I get to meditation" IS meditation, simplicity can be the most profound thing of all- no disrespect intended.
Thanks for writing!
G

twinkie 1 cat | February 1, 2010 11:31 AM

Jesus Christ is also waiting for you all in a totally accepting relationship with God just as you are. Jesus was not only God but also a left wing social activist. That is why the fundamentalists wanted to kill him. A relationship with Jesus Christ is not about church. However, having one will probably lead you in that direction. It is not difficult to get this relationship.

Pray: Thank you for Jesus for forgiving my sins. Come into my life. Lead and guide me into the kind of life that is best for me and take me to be with you when I die.

That's all. It is simple but profound. And if you want to learn more about Jesus and God in an environment that says you are fabulous, look up MCCBR.org and listen to the services and the music. The preaching is usually good. The music, well, we can harmonize! There is usually a new service up by Thursday. (Depends on when our tech guy gets it up. It is volunteer work.)

Just because something reminds you of church does not make it bad. As GLBTQ and supporters, it is important to PICK YOUR CHURCH CAREFULLY. If they tell you who you are is bad, leave. They are not following Christ and not worthy of your time or money. Not all are bad. In fact a majority are not. It is just that the bad ones tend to be big and have a lot of money and noisy egotistical pastors. Regard them as "religiotainment". I guarantee a lot of their members do.\
\
You can still walk a labyrinth, meditate or even chant but you will have someone real whom you are communicating with and it will be life changing and fullfilling because that person is not you but is in you and is bigger than you and interested in what you are doing.

There are so many religious schools of thought out there I hope that those who have been turned off or repelled by one can find another which suits them. So many of us are accustomed to think of religion only in the terms of Monotheistic Abrahamaic faiths such as Christianity but there are a great many others some of them newer and some of them older. I tend to prefer culturally institutionalized ethnic faiths many of which still survive and many of the ones which were replaced by newer religions are actually being revived.
Many of these are very logical and life affirming and ethical.