Friday, 4 June 2010

Eeny, Meeny, Miny, Mo spirituality

I have developed a problem shopping in large stores. It's simply that I am overwhelmed by an excess of choice. I remember being in the toothpaste section in a one of the big American supermarkets. I just wanted toothpaste - simple ordinary toothpaste - for tooth brushing. You know? Nothing special please! There had to be a good 25 feet of toothpastes. Toothpaste for tartar, toothpaste for fresh breath, toothpaste to whiten and brighten. Toothpaste with fluoride, toothpaste with mouthwash, and toothpaste with special unnamed magical ingredients that would surely win you the partner of your dreams. If that choice of contents weren't enough, you have to choose between tubes, gels, pastes, pumps, drops...  and everything comes in five or six different sizes. Oh no! How can I make the 'right' choice? So many options! Help!

As I recall, I had to be rescued from the toothpaste aisle and led gently but firmly to a small mom-and-pop store that only sold two kinds of toothpaste. Done!

Now, when I shop in any large store, I remember to bring one of the most important childhood decision making tools with me: the ancient wisdom of eeny, meeny, miny, mo...  It never fails.

In some ways, spiritual practice is like shopping for toothpaste. If you are a strict _____ [fill in the blank with the religion of your choice], your path is constrained and proscribed. Simple. Just like the mom-and-pop store. You can choose between two kinds of prayer. Easy enough...

If, however, you are seeking spiritual growth outside of a traditional religious structure [Unitarians included here], you are in the mega-market toothpaste aisle! You have too many choices and, like me, you may go into the overstimulation daze and choose nothing. You don't meditate because it might be better to pray, or to do yoga, or to take a walk in the park, or or or or or...

Just like the toothpaste though, there really is no right answer. Eeny meeny miny mo is not a bad way to approach the problem. The truth is that any reasonable spiritual practice will help.

Why? Because spiritual growth depends always on being present, noticing, being mindful, being connected. However you describe it, this quality of awareness is the foundation upon which everything else in the spiritual life is built. You can't notice the sacredness of life if you are not aware. You can't detect the divinity in each person if you never look in that special, deliberate way that requires slowing and focusing. You can't detect the 'still small voice' if you can't stop long enough and listen intently enough to hear.

My advice: Just pick one and start.

Yes, different practices will help in somewhat different ways. After eeny, meeny, miny, mo takes you a certain distance, you may become aware that what you need now is something that is more physical, more focused, more people-oriented, more humbling, more emotional, more intellectual, or more creative. That wisdom will emerge once you are on the path. The key is to get started.

Often incorrectly credited to Goethe, but no less important if another author is responsible, are these words:
Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it.
Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it!
Nothing could be more true of your spiritual journey. Get started, even if your choice depends on the wisdom of eeny, meeny, miny, mo.


  1. There is a wonderful book published by Skinner House called Everyday Spiritual Practice: Simple Pathways for Enriching Your Life edited by Scott W. Alexander, which details nearly 40 different spiritual practices. I bought it at GA a couple of years ago. Sue

  2. I recently read Into the Silent Land by Martin Laird, a book on contemplative prayer. It's very helpful on the pitfalls and difficulties. It's definitely coming from the Christian / Trinitarian tradition, but one can "translate" into one's own personal spiritual idiom.

    My advice would be: pick a really simple spiritual practice that you have some hope of sticking to on a daily basis; otherwise you will fail and then beat yourself up about it. That's why I recommend the above book; it explains how to get over the psychological obstacles.

    Regarding toothpaste: Despite the vast choice available in the supermarket, they all taste really chemical-laden to me, so I go to the local health food shop and buy Aloe Vera toothpaste.

  3. Thanks Yewtree - there are many simple practices one can take up and any book that helps to overcome the psychological barriers sounds like a good thing.

    I disagree about toothpaste though. I just LOVE that impossibly sweet chemically taste!!