“Spiritual practice is a process of spiritual transformation.
That is, the transformation of our essential nature.”
Some approaches to being religious include a goal of long-term personal change – to come to think and act in ways that will make us better people.
For those who are already living in relatively healthy, moral, and satisfying ways, such activity may be described as “growth” with increased focus on religious/spiritual perspectives.
But for those who are suffering, troubled, regretful, or confused, the activity may point toward more substantial change, which may be described as “transformation”. As Patrick McNamara described this in “The Neuroscience of Religious Experience”, “To let go of unworthy attachments, the old Self has to ‘die,’ sacrifice its old loves. Unless the old Self dies, the new Self cannot emerge or be born. . . “
As has long been recognized by religious traditions, substantial growth involves more than good intentions and occasional activities. It can require ongoing attention and approaches that may involve bodies as well as minds, emotions as well as intellect, and formation of habits (or alteration of original responses) where, through repeated practice, things that one once required conscious effort become automatic.
Karen Armstrong gave an example: “Compassion is a practically acquired knowledge, like dancing. You must do it and practice diligently day by day.”
Some have discussed this activity not as “spiritual practice” but “spiritual discipline”. As noted by Daniel Strain: “Some parts of our practice should be challenging or even difficult. . . if we want to sculpt our character, we should expect some practices to require great effort.”
Approaches that can be used as parts of spiritual growth are discussed in more detail at the following pages:
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