Naming the Shrines

Wisdom is knowledge that has seeped into the bones from the time and energy spent on practice. It cannot be taught, only pointed out. I have spent much of my time talking to myself about ways of knowing without giving myself the gift of practice.

Shinto is a Japanese religion centered around shrine worship, or the worship of places of great power and spiritual importance. I explored the idea of learning to respect one’s own personal shrines in previous post. Up until now I have cultivated a respect for those aspects of my life which carry an added depth of meaning, but I have done so in a passive fashion. When I find myself in the mood or the need to take part that is, rather than making the time to engage in those activities.

Stoics have been outspoken about the need for diligence. The importance of making a habit out of mindfulness. Common practices include daily contemplation exercises and journaling. Many wisdom traditions are centered around a regular meditation practice. The consensus is that one must remain consistent, whether it be daily or weekly, as long as it is something that can be continued over a long enough amount of time for the practice to develop into deep aesthetic knowledge.

Habits, as many of us know, are difficult to break and difficult to form. It is one thing to change when we are driven, but it is quite another to try and form habits when we do not feel compelled. Fascinating how “knowing” something intellectually often has incredibly little sway in comparison to “knowing” something viscerally. That certainly speaks to the importance of aesthetic knowledge and deserves a much deeper dive.

In order to help myself I thought it might be a good idea to make a list of the activities which I consider my personal shrines (activities which carry extra layers of meaning, and allow me to connect to the world around me). Hopefully with this list in hand I can pick some activities which I would like to add more purposefully into my life, and also make a plan for how and when I can fit them in.

I offer this in the public forum as a simple and practical way to start at the first step, since that is where I find myself.

My personal shrines:

  • Yin Yoga/Deep Stretching/Breathing Exercises – long hold poses and breathing exercises with the specific intention of increasing range of motion. Specifically helpful to counteract the effects of distance running on my hips and posture. Time required: 5 minutes per pose, suggested to do at least 15 minutes in a session, but 20 to 30 would be a good target.
  • Meditation – simple awareness and perception exercises, focus on the breath and the pattern of thoughts in passing, coming back to center. I have often sat for 12 to 18 minutes but have not yet developed a regular practice.
  • Reading – I get to do this for my classes and will continue to have the requirement, but I would like to do this daily. Reading before bed is relaxing but I often fall asleep before I would like to which means I don’t retain as much and it takes a very long time to progress.
  • Music – Especially classical, I have been pretty good about keeping music on in the house and have started to include it as part of my commute. This has been the most successful portion of my practice. An iteration would be to be more conscious about picking an artist or composer whose work I would like to become familiar with. Instead of letting the algorithm choose for me and not knowing what I am listening to I can pick an album.
  • Gratitude – Not something I have done very much, but something I am interested in consciously practicing. There is a great deal of research on the effects of this and I suspect that it would significantly deepen my sense of appreciation. Especially at this junction of my life when I am having trouble seeing the next steps, much less the path beyond.
  • Photography – this is a practice which always makes me feel better, connects me with nature and often provides a sense of belonging to something greater. Looking through the lens remains magical in a way that other things do not. My practice of late has been affected by many things, not least of which is complicated thoughts about photography as a means to an end either financially, artistically or professionally. I have unfortunately let negative thoughts about the purposelessness of this practice invade into something which does in fact mean something to me. Whether or not it has the ability to turn into anything other than that need not factor in if I can get over myself. Logistically this practice takes a bit of time (often, not always) and I prefer to do it when I am not rushed. Those sorts of moments do not happen often, and certainly not in a way I can predict.

The plan: In order to improve the sustainability of any practice I feel that it must be folded as gently as possible into what structure my life currently has. Here is a proposal for how this might work:

  • Commute time: Classical music and gratitude practice. Time is already dedicated and happens most days of the week, no significant changes needed.
  • Reading: Bring a book to work each day and use my lunch break to read. This gives me at least 20 minutes of time when I am awake, will keep me off of my phone. I have been surprised by how many pages I can cover in 20 minutes. It will also give me something to think about while finishing out my shift at work, as well as something to look forward to.
  • Stretching/Breathing: The most difficult one to work in but something that I know will be very helpful if I can keep it up. I was doing well making this happen while the children were having their dinner, but it hasn’t been regular. Until I have more daily regularity in my schedule this will need to be an act of willpower.
  • Photography: This, for the moment, will remain something that I do when I have the opportunity. Instead of holding myself accountable to make this happen I will try and think of it as a bonus, as something to grab hold of as a gift. Not doing this isn’t a sign of failure, and not making time for it is not neglect.

With compassion as a watchword, let me approach this plan with compassion for myself, and curiosity about what I may learn in the process.