As management expert Stephen Covey famously said, “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.” So if you’re a car salesman, the main thing is to focus on selling cars and not allow yourself to be diverted to spending a bunch of time researching the history of cars or constantly making sure your desk is clean and tidy. No. Focus all of your work attention on selling cars. I believe that the main thing for human beings is to keep spiritual growth, defined as the emphasis on being present, conscious or aware in your life, the main thing.
And yet, I find so many people who are “into” spiritual growth spending about ninety percent of their time off the wagon and ten percent on. An example: One day you’re having a soulful conversation with a spiritual friend about how valuable it is to be present in the world. The next day they call you up and immediately launch into, “My boss is such a jerk! I hate this job. I’m so stressed out! Ahhh!” They completely lose their spiritual bearings.
Spiritual growth is the main thing
But here’s the thing: spiritual growth isn’t just any “thing” we need to make time for. It is THE most important endeavor any human being can pursue. The first person I heard say this was Eckhart Tolle, author of the bestselling book The Power of Now. He said, “There’s nothing more important you can do than be present.” Another favorite teacher of mine, Mickey Singer, says the same thing in a course of his I just took called Living From a Place of Surrender. Several times throughout the course he says of spiritual growth, “It’s by far the most important thing you can do. And you need to do it every moment of every day. It’s a 24/7 thing. Your spiritual practice IS your life.”
Are Eckhart and Mickey right about this? You bet they are. Why? Why is spiritual work more important than anything else in life? Because it sits atop the pyramid of life and as such, strengthens everything below it. Like what? Like relationships. If you are present and not at the mercy of your racing egoic mind, you will be a better spouse, parent, friend, colleague and even acquaintance. Like your work. If you are present while performing your job — I don’t care whether you’re an accountant, a teacher or a professional basketball player — you can only achieve your best if you’re present. Like your overall well-being. Being present and not stuck in your thought factory mind is the most effective avenue to feeling calm and peaceful inside. And is there anything more important than that?
Why people get thrown off the spiritual path
So if spiritual growth is so good and important for us, why are the vast majority of those so inclined continually thrown off the path? First, and most obvious, life is hectic. Kids. Husbands. Wives. Jobs. Bills. Some people can barely find the time to get six hours of sleep and eat three meals. There’s always something out there in the real world working overtime to pry our attention away from the present moment.
Second, spiritual work isn’t easy. It’s hard to stay present when your boss is an a-hole. Or when you’ve spent an hour in bumper-to-bumper traffic. Or when your son smacks his little sister in the face and all hell breaks loose.
So if you’re one of those people who continually gets knocked off the spiritual path, here are three concrete things you can do to ensure that spiritual growth remains the main thing. The first is obvious: You need to resolve to yourself that spiritual growth is indeed the main thing in your life. For incentive, reread the paragraph above about how spiritual growth will enhance your relationships, work and well-being.
Regular meditation is the key
Second, nothing will be more effective in keeping you on the spiritual path than regular meditation. Why? Because meditation can serve as the anchor for your entire spiritual practice. It’s a set amount of time each day devoted to practicing presence. Over time, meditation will strengthen that core of presence inside you, making you less susceptible to being knocked off the spiritual path — by your awful boss, rambunctious kids, bad drivers or anything else that pushes your buttons.
If you’re not meditating regularly, do it! It’s not that hard and it doesn’t need to overrun the rest of your life, either. Ten or fifteen minutes a day will do wonders for you. Seriously, the benefits are profound and can transform your whole life.
My meditation program
I created a meditation program that is simple and doable and I urge you to try it. I designed it so that a regular person, like me, would be successful in developing a long-term practice. The program, which I’ve written as an ebook called Five Steps to a Regular Meditation Practice, is eight-weeks and starts off with meditating for two minutes a day then building gradually from there. The good news is it’s free. You can access it at davidgerken.net.
Third, practice mindfulness throughout your day. Mindfulness, which I call meditation’s brother, is simply being present in your daily life. If you’re cooking dinner, place your attention on each action that requires and don’t allow your mind to drift to wondering if your family will like the veggie lasagna you’re making. If you’re taking a shower, focus on that and not on the job review with your boss in two hours.
Zen and mindfulness
It’s worth taking to heart here what one Zen master said in response to his frustrated disciple asking, “Master, I’ve been a monk for many years and I still don’t understand what Zen is. Please tell me.” And the master said, “Zen is doing one thing at a time.” That’s mindfulness. And if you continually practice it in your daily life, that will also strengthen your core of presence and make it harder for anything to bump your spiritual practice from its rightful place as the main thing in your life.
Finally, you’ll notice that none of these three suggestions requires upending your life. You don’t have to sell all your possessions, leave your family and move into a Buddhist monastery to keep your spiritual practice front and center in your life. No. You just need to resolve to yourself that that is what you want (easy), develop a regular meditation practice (not nearly as difficult as most people think — especially if you follow my program!) and practice mindfulness in your daily life (not hard and gets so much easier the more you do it). So do it! You’ll be better in every way if you do.