Kind Promise: I will appreciate blessings.

When I recommitted myself to the Kind Promises, I felt a sense of joy and relief.

Orange leaves on tree

Photo: Ralph D Jenson

Since then, my monster mind has been grumbling about the dangers of repetitive practice. “You’ve done gratitude,” it snarls. “What good does it do to repeat what you’ve done before? You have to work to deepen the practice. You can’t just do it again.”

I am surfing off the second page of Google results for “deepening spirituality” before my wiser mind makes an appearance.

For hundreds of years, human beings have participated in spiritual practices such as following the breath and reciting The Jesus Prayer. They are, by design, repetitive. The road that my monster mind has been traveling is rutted with the tracks of earlier travelers. “This again?” minds have cried. “What possible good will this do?” Past pilgrims have found their way back to their practices. I have a sense that their lives—and the world—were richer for it, but how?

I played the viola for about 20 years. How many times, I wonder, did I play the scales? At first, I played them to obey my teachers. Later, I played them because I knew it was a good way to build muscle memory. My hands were learning where, on the fingerboard of the viola, to find specific notes. I could avoid boredom by paying attention to what I was doing. Was the note in tune? Was I holding my body, especially my arms and wrists and hands, correctly? Was I producing the tone I wanted to sound? I could experiment with dynamics (volume) and tempo (speed). Making the same motions, over and over, I became more skilled.

Because I practiced scales, the music could speak more clearly through me. Playing became less about my limitations and more about the sound.

I can deepen my practice not by doing something different, but by paying closer attention. I can be mindful in my practice.

Finishing this post, I roll into the living room and am struck by the orange leaves outside my window. I am grateful that I live where I can see those trees and their glorious color. I am grateful for the change in seasons and the biology that produces that color shift and enables me to see it. I am grateful for the brain anatomy and chemistry that combine to make this feeling: gratitude.

I am practicing gratitude…again…so that the sacred can speak more clearly through me. Those earlier pilgrims tucked away their monster minds and returned to their practices. Because of that, the holy expanded in their lives and in our world.