The One Thing Guaranteed To Turn Your Goals Into Reality

" learn to dance by practicing dancing or to learn to live by practicing living, the principles are the same. In each, it is the performance of a dedicated precise set of acts...from which comes shape of achievement, a sense of one's being, a satisfaction of spirit...Practice means to perform, over and over again in the face of all obstacles, some act of vision, of faith, of desire. Practice is a means of inviting the perfection desired."

―Martha Graham

The practice of spirituality

Creating a spiritual life is something like writing a story. Ultimately, it is a mystery—one that will not unfold unless you go into the workroom and make an effort, however banal and humdrum it feels. In other words, you have to practice.

All spiritual traditions show you ways to do this, like attending services and participating in religious rituals. Some practices involve consistently performing a physical exercise, such as yoga and tai chi. Many people find great spiritual value in walking regularly, especially while using breath-control techniques.

The practice of mindfulness
Mindfulness is another example. When we learn to witness ourselves, we stand outside our feelings and thoughts and observe instead of judging, analyzing, or denying them. This practice allows us to become less attached to our dramas, less victimized by our moods, and more aware of what is driving us.

The practice of love
A committed relationship is another form of practice. Many of us think of love as something that should be effortless and constant, not something that requires serious work. The inevitable struggles and disappointments of relationships can help partners develop acceptance, honesty, flexibility, empathy, patience, and self-awareness. To do so, though, we must move off the path to some sort of abstract happiness and get on the one headed toward awakening.

Ironically, when we relinquish the requirement that our partner be the source of our well-being, the relationship can become a wellspring of sustenance and nourishment.

Life as a practice
Some philosophies suggest that life itself, like relationships, is a practice. Ordinary challenges—growing a garden, raising children, or working a job—can be invitations to soul-work. Our daily lives offer us constant opportunities to increase compassion. Many religions have designated days of the week and times of the year for fasting, praying, and reading scriptures. Muslims bow in prayer five times a day. The Balinese Hindus offer baskets filled with flowers and rice to their deities thrice daily, and the Benedictine nuns sing Gregorian chants.

Establish a schedule for your own practice—it doesn't have to be perfect or make you happy—but make it good enough to get you to show up and stay grounded. Mysticism causes us to soar; an ongoing practice keeps us rooted to the earth.

Becoming spiritually literate is about paying attention to what is in front of your eyes at each moment. Thinking about what was, or what could be, diminishes what is happening right now. If we do not pay attention to now, we may never recognize our true prayer or song, the connection to the spark we seek. When we pay attention, we may be surprised.

When her sons were 4 and 7 years old, Lily went to a spiritual retreat and made a recommitment to meditation. When she returned home, she carefully set up an altar in the corner of her bedroom. She found a perfect candle and a meditation cushion with Sanskrit phrases on it. Then she announced to the boys that she would be spending 30 minutes each day in her room meditating, during which they needed to be very quiet.

The day she began her practice, they stood outside her room, compliant and quiet. After about 10 minutes she heard a quiet buzzing, which began to increase decibel by decibel. She tried to ignore the sound, meditating with her special mantra, but the noise grew louder. Soon she could hear the boys hitting one another, then crying and yelling. In exasperation she jumped up, opened the door, and screamed at them, "You two better stop it right now. I mean, stop it, damn it! I am working on my spiritual practice!"

Her sons' faces fell at the sight of their raging mother, and Lily was struck by the absurdity of this scene. Her spiritual practice was hurting all three of them. What her true practice should be, she realized, was to use every event in the day as an opportunity for kindness and patience to emerge. Nowhere was this practice more important than with her children.

Spiritual ideas can be exciting to learn and talk about; so can fitness and learning Spanish. Practice is the bridge that takes us from thinking to becoming.

This post originally appeared in MindBodyGreen.

How To Make Your Relationship Feel Brand-New

No Matter How Long You’ve Been Together

Almost every animal species engages in some form of play. Animals splash or tumble or roll over one another; they scamper or squeal or squawk with delight. Puppies chase their tails. In Brazil, two juvenile black caimans were seen chasing each other in circles, and in Cuba, two crocs played in a courtship ritual, with the male inviting the female to take rides on his back in their pool.

Researchers say that play is not just about fun—it's an element of the courting rituals of animals throughout the creature kingdom, teaches cooperation, and relieves stress.

Play is often suggested to couples as a way to restore their relationships. This, however, is not as easy as it may sound. As we grow older, we lose the ability to play spontaneously. Organized games and sports aside, play is an intuitive, natural pursuit for kids. As adults, we need to relearn the art. To be told to "go and play," however, is as useful as being told to "go and create." Play isn't as straightforward as that for adults. Then there is the question of time—the basic priorities of modern life may leave little room for fun. Acting on the suggestion to play more can cause stress because it is so difficult to do.

So rather than trying unsuccessfully to "go and play," we can provide ourselves with opportunities for play to occur and then see what happens. Here are some ways to do this:

1. Schedule unstructured time, and be open to something new happening.

I once knew two scientists, Brad and Meg, who felt that their relationship had lost its spark. They decided to take a vacation in Costa Rica, and in an unplanned moment, signed up to watch giant leatherback turtles emerge from the sea and lay their eggs on the beach in the moonlight. The experience was so touching that it bonded them, and they came away eager to work together to save the turtles from predators. The unexpected renewal of their bond wouldn't have occurred if they had not cleared space on their calendars for something unscheduled to happen.

2. Make quality time a priority, like you did when you first met.

In the first stage of love, time is plentiful. Somehow, we manage to carve out huge blocks of time from our overbooked appointment calendars and allocate them just to being together. Recently, I talked with Doug, a hardworking engineer and single parent of three, and he told me that he had recently fallen in love with Lexi, a full-time mom with a part-time job.

"I don't really know how we do it," Doug told me with a laugh. "The kids keep us hopping, and we do have to produce for our companies, but we still find time for each other all the same. One of us will drop by the other's house, and then, suddenly, we've spent an hour making love, laughing, or telling stories from our lives. Then it's back to work. Still, it's amazing how much time we can find, just because we want to."

Ask yourself when you and your partner last cleared your schedules for each other. Imagine that yours is a new relationship, like Doug and Lexi's and that you're madly in love, at the height of the first stage. What would you do to get the unstructured time you want and need to be together that might allow something unexpected to emerge?

3. Try something new.

Flirtation and sex often come naturally in the beginning of a relationship and are major ways couples play. These sweet pleasures can continue if we remain open to possibility and opportunity. However, it's natural for many long-term couples to find the sizzle disappearing from their sex lives, and as a result, they may blame, criticize, or turn away from each other. To avoid this, talk about what's happening openly, and try some new "games" to heat things up. For example:
  1. Go to a bar, pretend you don't know each other, and pick each other up.
  2. Practice foreplay without intercourse; touch, kiss, nuzzle, and lick but without penetration.
  3. Have sneaky sex. The sense of exploring the forbidden is very exciting. Make love in the kitchen, do a quickie on a couch at work with the doors locked, or have sex behind closed doors while the kids are watching TV.
The adage "variety is the spice of life" is a truism. Studies show that novelty adds satisfaction to relationships and can reignite passion. You may find it unexpectedly invigorating—and just plain fun.

This post originally appeared in MindBodyGreen.