I was unfamiliar with the term “spiritual practice” until I began learning about Eastern religions. In the Protestant church I grew up in, I was not really aware of anything that fit in that category other than going to church every Sunday and saying prayers before meals.

When I first learned to meditate, a door was opened for me. Instead of hearing people talk about God, I was experiencing something expansive that felt “beyond” the “me” that I was used to. I could see that this practice could be a door, maybe not directly to salvation or enlightenment, but a way to begin to touch the unseen energy that people have called by many names including God.

But spiritual practice, I have learned, is more than finding a way to get high on God. Like learning anything new, it takes dedication, is sometimes arduous, and is by no means a way to bypass the hard work of deconstructing the ego.

Adopting spiritual practices from another religion is a journey not to be taken lightly. In the ’60s and ’70s, Hindu gurus and Buddhist monks came to this country to find many young people thirsty for what they had to offer. A lot of people had rejected their own tradition and were looking for something to fill the void. For some, this exploration led them back to their own tradition with a new awareness; others found a home in the Eastern traditions, in which spiritual practices are key. Changing our habits to leave more room for God in our lives is not just an act of willpower or desire; it is an act of faith in and of itself. It is not just about “self-improvement” or looking and feeling a certain way; it is a step into the unknown.

Certainly it is possible to have a spiritual practice that becomes rote and just another task, but I believe that spiritual practice, as envisioned in most of our religious traditions, is not meant to be like any of the other disciplines we might engage in. These practices are meant to be a portal, to take us somewhere which can help us see and even experience something of the immensity of God, the Buddha mind, Allah, and all the other words which are meant to describe something that cannot be grasped with our minds.

To enter a portal into the unknown is a frightening thing to do. We don’t know where this journey will take us, and despite having spiritual teachers tell us that this is the way to go, it is different when we face it ourselves. It is certainly much easier to just drop the practice when things get tough.

Do these spiritual practices like prayer, meditation, yoga, chanting, contemplation, lectio divina (the deep meditative reading of Scripture) have anything in common? While some of these practices may take place in a communal setting, they are all meant to bring each individual to closer communication with a divine creator or a higher consciousness. They all have a depth of silence or sacred sound at the core. They all take us out of our “normal” way of thinking and being. There is plenty of research these days touting the health benefits of some of these practices, which is certainly an added bonus, but those of us searching for ways to deepen our spiritual lives are more interested in communion with the divine itself.

Like most people who struggle with making space in a life filled with electronic “connection” and the fast-paced society we live in, staying with a spiritual practice has not been easy for me. Finding the right practice, establishing a discipline, protecting my times of solitude and prayer, all while battling my own inner demons and distractions, has made it a journey with many detours. I have found it important to discover and take into account my own natural rhythms. I am in awe of someone like the Dali Lama, who can get up at 3 a.m. to meditate for two hours before going on the treadmill and then meditating more hours before starting the rest of his more public day. Rather than compare myself to someone with such devotion, I have to acknowledge that for me finding something that truly brings me joy and peace and is sustainable is more important.

While I have not returned to the practice of attending church every week, I have returned to the practice of prayer before meals. It is a time when I can take a moment to express my deep gratitude for this amazing abundance that I have been given in my life, the miracle of food readily available, knowing that there are still millions of people who do not have that luxury.

I have also found the practice of mindfulness that the Buddhists teach to be a helpful way of seeing all of life. The idea is to bring more awareness into every moment, every action, and every thought. The Dali Lama says: “If we examine ourselves every day with mindfulness and mental alertness, checking our thoughts, motivations, and their manifestations in external behavior, a possibility for change and self-improvement can open within us.” Of course, this kind of awareness usually goes hand in hand with a meditation practice, which can help a person begin that kind of awareness in silence with no distractions before trying to be mindful in the busyness of life.

Whatever spiritual practice you may or may not have, it seems increasingly important to me in a chaotic world to be able to find that still point, to touch the eternal, to be able to ground life in a deeper truth. Finding a way to meet all of life’s challenges with compassion and love is what our spiritual practices are designed to teach us. Spring is a time of renewal and my prayer is that each of us will find the inspiration and will to renew our connection to the creative source in whatever practice is “home” for us.

The Rev. Cathy M. Grigsby is an Interfaith minister who teaches at the Chaplaincy Institute of Maine, is the co-founder of the Interfaith Ministers of New England, an artist, a spiritual director and a retired art teacher. She can be contacted at: [email protected]