"Practice makes perfect." Usually a true slogan.
But not when it comes to perfecting spirituality.
Here at the Church of the Churchless we don't believe in spiritual practice.
We believe in spiritual non-practice. Let me explain.
Practicing basketball isn't going to make you a practiced piano player. You have to practice the activity you want to become good at, not some other activity. But is this what most members of religions and supposedly spiritual paths do?
No, they assiduously practice worldliness, not spirituality. Don't be deceived by the outward appearance of religiosity; a bank robber wearing a nun's habit as a disguise isn't saintly. Look to the essence of the activity itself.
What does every person do each day regardless of his or her spiritual inclinations? Feel emotions. Think thoughts. Undertake actions. Feeling, thinking, acting: these are the three voluntary (or semi-voluntary) activities of everyday worldly existence (perceiving is mostly passive, as our senses perceive whether we want them to or not, a fact I'm reminded of each time I visit the dentist).
Some people are more inclined to feeling, others to thinking, still others to acting. Recognizing this, the ancient Hindu sages matched up a spiritual activity, or "yoga," with each of these worldly activities. Bhakti yoga leads to God through love. Gyana yoga leads to God through knowledge. Karma yoga leads to God through selfless action.
Love, knowledge, action. These aren't just spiritual choices for Hindus. Everyone--Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Sikh, Wiccan, whatever--has to decide how their spirituality will be practiced.
But if all you have to choose between is feeling, thinking, and acting, then you're bound to continue practicing what you already know how to do. If you suspect that your spiritual practice is keeping you stuck, you're absolutely right. How can anything new be experienced when you are doing the same old things?
A Christian feels sorrow when he imagines Jesus dying on the cross. And also when his favorite sports team loses a championship series. A Muslim thinks about what she reads in the Koran. And also about what she reads in the newspaper. A Jew does charitable work through his temple. And also volunteers at his child's public school.
Those whose spirituality is limited to feeling, thinking, and acting aren't engaged in any special godly activity. They're just doing almost exactly what they always do and calling it "religious." But it isn't. Not really.
For the root meaning of "religion" is found in the Latin religare, to bind back, or reconnect, the individual with God. If the everyday activities of life could achieve this reconnecting with ultimate reality, we'd all become saints just by living. Yet obviously this doesn't happen.
Genuine spirituality means taking a course opposite to worldly ways. Practice makes us imperfect when it comes to realizing God if we merely keep on practicing how to feel, think, and act. These activities are just baby steps that don't get us very far. What we need is a single great stride that bridges the gap between what we now falsely believe we are, and what in truth we are.
This great stride is the fourth way of the Hindu sages, Raj yoga, the path of meditation. Again, it isn't just for Hindus. There also have been, and are, countless Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, and other sorts of contemplatives. Deepak Chopra says the fourth path is inclusive:
By following it you are actually following all four at once. Your meditations go directly to the essence of your being. That essence is what love of God, selfless action, and knowledge are trying to reach....The spiritual secret that applies here is this: What you seek, you already are. Your awareness has its source in unity. Instead of seeking outside yourself, go to the source and realize who you are. ("The Book of Secrets," pp. 42, 48)
Eventually the Church of the Churchless will contain sermons that preach the power and the glory of self-realization through meditation. This is much more a spiritual non-practice than a practice. The less you feel, think, and do, the more you realize higher truths.
Nobody has said it better than an anonymous fourteenth century English country parson: ("The Cloud of Unknowing and Other Works," Penguin Classics, pp. 142-144)
...One can feel this nothing more easily than see it, for it is completely dark and hidden to those who have only just begun to look at it. Yet, to speak more accurately, it is overwhelming spiritual light that blinds the soul that is experiencing it, rather than actual darkness or the absence of physical light.
...Work hard and with all speed in this nothing and this nowhere, and put on one side your outward physical ways of knowing and going about things, for I can truly tell you that this sort of work cannot be understood by such means.