Monday, 1 July 2019

Book Review: Roger Walsh: Essential Spirituality: The 7 Central Practices to Awaken Heart and Mind

Practices inspired by the seven major religions: (Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism) to cultivate kindness, love, joy, peace, vision, wisdom and generosity.
The book claims to operate on a perrenialist basis and considering the reliance on religion, one would suppose a traditionalist perspective, although the only perrenialist/traditionalist author he quotes is Huston Smith, a light one at that. The background is really from the self-help/ therapy field, with some new age aspects, notably quoting the ubiquitous A Course in Miracles. Therefore it is rich in personal anecdotes and quotes from scientific studies as well. That is not to say that this is one of those superficial, vague new age servings; the exercises are not bad, and each of the seven qualities are developed over several chapters from basic to more advanced, with sometimes over a dozen useful exercises given. It actually seems to be based in Buddhism, which perhaps gives it the philosophical substance and focus that it might otherwise have lacked. It is kind of like the Buddhist Paramitas/Perfections adapted for other religions and new age practices. There are short quotations from various religions (Sufism, Maimonides, Chuang Tzu, etc…) generously sprinkled throughout the work. This book would have helped me a lot when I was first exploring spiritual traditions and is useful even now. It makes for a good introduction to H.P. Blavatsky’s The Voice of the Silence. Below is a sample practice from each of the seven topics:
These practices are either ancient practices taken directly from one or more religions, or modern modifications adapted to contemporary needs. In most cases I have modified and updated the exercise myself, and occasionally, I have borrowed from contemporary teachers. This updating makes the practices more relevant to our modern lives.  (p.16)
1- Transform your motivation -  reduce craving and find your soul's desire
Exercise (6) Frustrate an addiction (50)
This exercise can be also be done to strengthen additional capacities. For example, going without food by fasting for a day is an ancient and widely used technique. I find that its benefits are enhanced if I try to use each feeling of hunger to remind me of the many hungry people around the world. That way, each hunger pang not only reduces craving but also elicits concern and compassion for the hungry. The exercise then both reduces attachment and redirects motivation, the two key elements of the practice of transformation of motivation. By redirecting motivation we can focus what we really want and find our soul's desire.
2- Cultivate Emotional Wisdom - Heal your heart and learn to love
Exercise (11) A forgiveness meditation (92)
a- Forgiveness from others
Acknowledge the ways in which you have hurt others... Open to the regret you now feel and also to the possibility that you can now release your guilt and pain. Gently and slowly repeat several times, "I ask for forgiveness."
b- Forgiveness for yourself
Allow memories of times when you hurt yourself to come into awareness. As each one arises, regard it  and yourself gently and lovingly and repeat several time, "I forgive myself."
c- Forgiveness for others
Allow memories of times when you were hurt to come to awareness... See if you can recogonize the fear, defensiveness, or confusion in the person who hurt you that produced their hurtful behavior. Then repeat to yourself several times, "I forgive you."
3- Live Ethically - Feel good by doing good
Exercise (4) Do no harm (140)
To give this, decide on a time period-perhaps a day-and try the best you can not to harm anyone. Of course this means not causing physical harm-but it also has more subtle implications, such as practicing right speech in order not to hurt people’s feeling or self-esteem. As with most exercises, it is helpful to write down your experiences and insights and to reflect on them at the end of the day.
4- Concentrate and Calm your Mind
Exercise (1) Do one thing at a time. (157)
To begin, commit a specific time-a day might be good to begin with-to doing only one thing at a time. For one day you will focus your attention on each individual activity. You may not get quite as many things done, but a lot for those undone things will probably end up seeming rather insignificant. What you do get done, you will do more efficiently and enjoy a lot more.
5- Awaken your Spiritual Vision – See clearly and recognize the sacred in all things
Exercise (3) Become a Good Listener (187)
Listening carefully focuses your attention and refines your awareness. We can be more aware of the enormous amount of information people convey about themselves through subtle movements and voice tones. We can also catch our own emotional reactions, which might otherwise go unnoticed and unconsciously dictate our responses.
6- Cultivate Spiritual Intelligence – Develop Wisdom and Understand Life
Exercise (2) Reflect on the Four Mind-Changers (233)
(This a Tibetan Buddhist practice, used for the first month of a three-year retreat)
Life is inconceivably precious
Life is short and death is certain
Life contains inevitable difficulties
Our ethical choices mold our lives
7- Express Spirit in Action - Embrace Generosity and the Joy of Service
Exercise (7) –Take time for awakening service (274)
1)      Begin by dedicating the time and all that you do during it.
2)   Then, wherever you are, whoever you are with, and whatever you do, look for ways to help.
       3)   Whatever you do, try to do it in a spirit of service.
4)   Whenever you serve, try to do it as awakening service in which you learn from each activity while   releasing attachments to the way things turn out.

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