Many of us, when struggling with finding a way to feel a bit more resilient and helpful to this conflicting world rather than be overwhelmed by it, we think about adopting a set of guidelines for ourselves. We might take up yoga, or tai chi, and learn some of the principles for optimal living that they offer. Maybe get some exercise and have our “church” at the gym. There’s an awful lot to be gained from it. Almost any intentional discipline will have wisdom within it meant to teach us how to be at greater ease and strength. It has a ripple effect on our lives.
Choosing a life practice is somewhat like choosing an algorithm. An algorithm is a set of rules to be followed in calculations or other problem-solving operations. Usually on computers, but metaphorically, in the adoption of a life practice for ourselves, we are literally selecting an algorithm for our daily living.
Setting aside the conflict and corruption which damages our trust in religious institutions, as well as their specifics regarding the metaphysical, the messages they carry, specifically the algorithms for daily living they offer, have inherent within them some fairly irrefutable ideas about how to enjoy an optimal experience of life on this beautiful planet.
These life practice ideas (a.k.a. their dharmas) operate independently from the theology which surrounds their religion (a.k.a. their dogmas) and guide us in how to conduct ourselves peacefully and ethically, how to both seek and offer forgiveness, how to have a happy life, and leave the world better than we found it. That is the source of a life practice we might meditate upon and do our best to follow. Even when we don’t fully subscribe to the theological ideas around which these teachings have ultimately reached our ears and eyes, we can still benefit from their wisdom. The religion is the bottle. The dharma is the message inside it.
The crucial advice is this: Pick one. Because nature abhors a vacuum, we either choose a life practice for ourselves or one chooses us based solely on the vibe we are throwing out there. What kind of vibe are you throwing out there right now? How are you feeling? What are you wanting? What do you feel you deserve? Whom do you love? The answers to all of these questions together emit a vibration into the universe. And we generally experience life through these lenses, overlapping one another as they will.
Our individual worldview plays a significant role in our individual world experience. How we think affects what we notice. It affects the opportunities we recognize. It even makes an impact on the words we choose to describe what we want to others. Life practices help us refine the signal we’re transmitting into the universe.
So maybe it’s even time to consider a church for yourself. That doesn’t necessarily mean on a Sunday morning, although that’s often when it occurs. But the rhythm of that could be a benefit to your life, and it’s a ready group of new friends. An important caveat in the selection of a life practice: Don't go it alone. We need other people for these journeys. A walk in the woods, as comforting as it can be, is meditation, not church. Church, by definition, is a group of people gathered together for a shared purpose. The purpose is to make our lives better with others around to help us verbalize our understandings and even ritualize them. That's how we get better at them. We’re a communal species, after all.
But whether or not you choose a church, or even if you’re already attending one, mindfully adopt the principles of a life practice for yourself. When being pulled along by the current of life, it’s the equivalent of climbing aboard a raft, finding that there’s an outboard motor attached to it, discovering there are written instructions on how to operate it, and then setting about mastering the tides. We don’t change the tide in the process, but we most definitely alter our relationship to it.