Maintaining Your Spiritual Practice During Hard Times

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Life doesn't ever stop being life. That means there are easy moments and challenging moments for us all. It doesn't matter how clear and free of ego you are, dealing with tuberculosis or cancer is a challenging set of moments for any human being.

Which is why a regular spiritual practice is so crucial. Your practice helps to take care of your heart, body, mind, and spirit right when you need it the most. It is during difficult times that we most need to be open-hearted, clear of mind, and at ease in our bodies--as best as we're able. Those qualities help us to work through any emotions, physical sensations, and ideas that get triggered for all of us who are still working with plenty of old ego responses. For those of you who are exceptionally clear, your practice is a gentle nudge to maintain as much physical relaxation as you can during those times when you feel a lot of physical pain. It's very easy to revert to that old fight-flight mechanism within us. Those tendencies are part of our evolutionary heritage, and they die hard. Our spiritual practice, however, helps usher it out and turn off some of its most powerful emotional and physiological reactions.

However, during difficult times, that's when most people close down, freak out, and not think well at all. It can make hard times harder. Having a regular spiritual practice is a key support when life gets hard, and it is one of the best ways to help us make good decisions and mindfully move through those difficult times.

The Initial Trigger: Hearing the Bad News

There are all kinds of hard times that arise. People lose loved ones. People find out that they have a disease. People get a letter that they're going to be audited by the government. People have romantic break-ups, bad test scores, and rejection letters from jobs. There are all kind of events that arise that we don't like, and they come with greater or lesser intensity.

Additionally, traumatic and immediately life-threatening events also happen. When something physically damaging has happened, it can take a lot of work to process and heal from it. Truly, this is a hard world. But it's your spiritual practice that prepares you for any and all difficult moments. Your spiritual practice helps you to come back to your breathing and witness the news and/or upsetting moment before making decisions and taking action. Your spiritual practice helps you maintain an even keel right when the seas are getting choppy.

3 Important Spiritual Practices

What do I mean by spiritual practice? And what kinds of spiritual practices are particularly useful?

A spiritual practice is a way to center yourself and maintain your inner harmony. It's also a tool for self-inquiry to get to know yourself and why you think, feel, and act the way you do. Some common practices I talk about are meditation, mindful breathing, and yoga. While there are plenty of others, these are the three important spiritual practices that I'm going to focus on today. Primarily I am focusing on these ones because they're really easy and accessible. You can do them all at home, and mindful breathing you can take anymore. While a lot of people like to go to a yoga class, you can do all the poses just as well at home, and YouTube has a bunch of free videos to guide you if you still want guidance.

Getting started on these practices when things are easy is key. If you have trouble meditating when the lights are low; it's quiet; and you're in a comfortably heated room, then it's going to be sheer torture later on when you're headed to a funeral for dearly beloved in-law. So start now if you don't already have a practice.

Yoga and Aligning Your Body

If your body is out of alignment, a whole lot of things are going to feel that much worse inside of you. In many ways, the body dictates how we feel and think, and the ego often attempts to address those physical sensations in inappropriate ways. It's like when someone is really hungry, and then they get angry. So they think that the woman who made a bad joke in the office is the source of their anger, and they blame that person instead of addressing the real issue--the need to eat. For a heart example, people may need emotional support, but instead of getting emotional support, the person gets an ice cream cone or some kind of sugary food to fill an emotional need. There are all sorts of ways that the ego addresses the wrong issue.

With a hatha yoga practice, you can regularly maintain flexibility and fluidity in your body and energy. Plenty of you are probably familiar with the yoga "high" or yoga "glow." That's that wonderful feeling you may have after a good yoga class. That's great. It shows you how much better you feel when you take care of your body. Certainly other exercises offer a lot of benefits, but there is something about yoga that helps foster a deeper inner harmony. After a good class like that, you may want to journal about how your feelings to notice how your mind, body, and heart are functioning. That can further help you notice what a healthy openness is like.

However, you don't have to have a great feeling after yoga to benefit from regular yoga practice. You also don't have to do a specific hour-long class. As you learn about your body's needs, you can create your own practice and attend to your body's specific needs. You can go deeper into issues that you find are stuck in the body (check the hips if you can't seem to find anything; they always seem to be holding something). And of course, you can greatly benefit from maintaining your physical health. In being at ease in your body through the opening and flow a yoga practice can provide, you are better able to notice when you shut down when something difficult comes along.

Yoga and a Self-Guided Practice to Open Your Energy and Clear Issues

Meditation and Retraining the Mind

Meditation can offer a lot of different benefits. One of those benefits is retraining the mind. The mind for many people is out of control. When difficult times come, it can go berserk. This makes it absolutely impossible to make good decisions in those times. As I've mentioned, when life gets difficult, that's when you most need access to all of your mental faculties. The more challenging the situation, the more a healthy clear mind is of utmost importance.

Once again, building meditation into your regular everyday practice is key. It teaches you to let go of your mind and reside more deeply in peaceful awareness (or at least that's one way to use it). There are actually many ways to use meditation, but for the sake of today, let's just focus on learning to let go of our attachment to our thoughts and stories. The more you learn to let go of your stories and your beliefs about how you and life should go, the more deeply you can accept any moment that comes along.

One of the biggest issues that can confront people during hard moments is rejection. When someone does not want to believe an issue has arisen and they reject the moment, they cannot properly deal with the situation. The practice of meditation teaches us to come into acceptance with every and any kind of moment because it's the only sane thing to do. If colon cancer is here, then that is what is here. Trying to not believe that this is your reality inhibits your ability to make decisions on healthcare, finances, emotional support, and other things. It inhibits your ability to process emotions that get triggered. Rejection cause endless amounts of problems, and it will very likely intensify your suffering.

When you've been maintaining a regular meditation practice, it is a lot easier to return to it. Coming to your practice after an upsetting moment is a way to stay open when you may want to shutdown. Your meditation is a way to return the mind to calmness and clarity. If you get stuck in the trigger, then you are retraining the mind how to suffer. The mind is ultimately a very flexible tool, and we can reteach it bad habits. Thus, meditation is a key practice to maintain clarity and healthy ways of thinking even if you feel that you can maintain a lot of clarity all the time. Because of clarity fostered by meditation, you are better able to find solutions in challenging and stressful situations.

How to Meditate


Keeping Breathing. That's the Key. Breathe!

If you don't have time to breathe, then you're dead. We all have time to breathe. We have to. Because of this omnipresence of breath in our lives, it is the simplest and most basic part of a spiritual practice. Coming back to your breath in easy moments makes it a more ingrained process. You don't have to do anything special. You breathe in and breathe out intentionally. Usually when you do that, your breath automatically deepens. Additionally, the body relaxes. When you breathe deeply, the mind tends to open up and calm down. Everything gets easier.

A lot of emotional, physical and mental difficulties are caused or worsened by not breathing well in my opinion. I am sure you can think of times when you feel like you take your first deep breath at the end of the day. Well, what have you been doing all day! Probably you've been reactive and caught up in whatever stream of life events was going on. You are most likely operating on ego auto-pilot, and that's not a particularly aware space to be. When life doesn't give us anything particularly difficult, we can get away with that mode of operation. But when life gets hard, that auto-pilot mode tends to be really problematic. When deeply triggered, we also tend to want to go back to the ego's most basic forms of interaction with life. Some people will do everything they can to get away from this difficulty. Some people try to fix difficult things really fast. Others try to avoid the problems. Yet others try to fight the situation in some way. Some people grab the first possible solution without considering other possibilities. The unconscious ego will do just about anything to get out of difficulty.

To be clear, there are plenty of life situations that aren't inherently difficult. It's our response that makes them difficult. The break-up with a romantic partner is one situation. When it's just you and another, your emotional response to the ending of that relationship is actually your choice. So doing your inner work helps you to be at peace with this ending because all relationships are going to end. That's just the reality of relationships. However, the more physically difficult something is, the more real that is. It's not an emotional choice to feel pain and nausea during chemotherapy. And it's then that having the ability to calm and soothe the body through the breathe is a most needed ally.

If you have a very involved breathing practice, that's great. But simply breathing deeply in and out for 5 to 10 minutes a day can offer you immense benefits and teach your body to more quickly return to deep breathing any time you get upset.

Working Through Issues

As I mentioned, a lot of hard times in life are caused by our reactions. That's another reason that maintaining your spiritual practice is so key. The more you work through your issues, the fewer issues within you can be triggered when a serious event comes up. Additionally, situations that would have been hard before are not as hard or aren't hard at all when you've worked through a lot of issues. So breaking up with a romantic partner can be a loving conclusion for you if you've worked through your issues of abandonment, illusions of "happily ever after," and other things. You see that this is an event that was going to happen, and you breathe into it and let it pass.

In working through our made-up issues, we are better prepared for real human difficulties. People who are confronted with hunger or thirst are not making up issues. Those are true threats to survival. Whether anyone likes your new red shirt is a made-up issue. The more made-up issues we have, the more we tend to get triggered by real issues like disease. So working through our issues through self-inquiry and other spiritual tools is essential to being ready for a major life issue. It allows us to be clear and calm, and when we aren't clear and calm, we can still function a lot better. We also know to return to our spiritual practice for continued support, and maybe we increase the amount of time dedicated to our practice if things are particularly intense.

All of this tends to go in the opposite direction of what most people do. Most people see their spiritual practice as optional or additional, and they drop that practice first when something serious arises. They essentially give up one of the most supportive and healthful things they can do for themselves. And it tends to leave the person feeling more upset, unbalanced, and probably more than a little crazy in the mind. This is no place to deal with any situation much less a difficult one.

Carving Out Time for Spiritual Practice

When things are most intense, we tend to get stuck in the illusion that we do not have time for our spiritual practices. However, it is critical that you do carve out the time for your practice; you will benefit greatly from it. You may have to make modification to where you meditate or the times you practice your yoga, but if you are creative, you can find the space. And you will thank yourself for doing so. For example, if you found out that your mother has had a heart attack, you may end up meditating in the waiting room. Heck, you may even find a nurse who can point you to an empty room where you can drop your yoga mat and have a half hour practice. Of course, you can practice your deep breathing in a waiting room or any place. There are a lot of ways to take our spiritual practices with us, and while it may be inconvenient, there are far too many benefits to having your spiritual practice during these times as well as far too many additional problems that can arise when you don't attend to your own needs.


Opening to New Opportunities From Difficulty

It's often showcased in different media about how someone faced a difficulty and didn't just move through it but found a way to thrive from it. That possibility is there for you too. Some difficulties you simply breathe through, and that storm passes on. In situations of war, you may be breathing through a lot of pain, and survival is the real success. But in plenty of other situations, we see how mindfulness and perseverance can allow someone to excel in life. This is like when a breast cancer survivor founds a new organization to help others going through treatment in some way. A very hard time is turned into a transformative time. Through your spiritual practice, you can find the clarity to see these opportunities that might otherwise be invisible.

In truth, the opportunity for transformation is locked away in every moment. But it is usually a difficult time that forces someone to look for the key. Most people don't look in this way. Most people simply react and try to get through the difficulty. But your spiritual practice can help guide you inwards to remove issues and open your eyes to possibility. It can also help you through less intense moments than the ones I've described. But your spiritual practice can only help you when you dedicate yourself to it and when you maintain it during hard times. In so doing, the fruits that it can offer you can multiply, and you can potentially transform hard times into times of renewal and even rebirth.