Is it Spiritual Habit or Practice?

By Terry Shea

July 15, 2016

Centre for Spiritual Living White Rock

Posted In: Spiritual Wellness, White Rock


One of the greatest benefits of my immersion in monastic life at the early age of 14 was that I got a real appreciation for the difference between a habit and a practice. As off-putting as it may sound, if you get up at 3AM long enough, it will become a habit. If you stop talking to people, give up your watch and possess only two sets of clothes, the one you are wearing and the one in the laundry, it WILL become a comfortable habit, but it will not automatically be something that is sanctifying. What I mean by that is that it’s not going to make you holy. It may not even make you a better person.
I came to the startling realization just recently that it is easy to have access to the New Thought philosophy. In many ways thanks to Oprah, Wayne Dyer, and Louise Hay, it is easier to have that access more than ever before. Yet the evidence is out there that, available or not, much of the time many of us are doing nothing with it. What a waste!
I remember when I decided to leave the monastery. Like all decisions one comes to, there is never just one reason but many. I do remember thinking, however, that it would be possible for me to live my life here obliged to conform to all of the rituals and ancient monastic customs and never become the saint I wanted to become. In the same way, I could have embraced the philosophy called the Science of Mind and not become a Practitioner and a Minister. By the time I began my studies I understood that the difference between habit and practice is intention, and that made all the difference.
One of the most scandalous events in my monastic career was the discovery that some of our monks were sneaking away to go swimming. We lived right on a lake, but for reasons clearly understood by all, we were not allowed to go swimming. It came to light that four of our monks were in the habit (no pun intended) of sneaking away together on Sunday afternoons for a swim. Whether the rule prohibiting swimming was reasonable or just was not the issue. As it happened one afternoon, they snuck away and one of the four was drowned and so their lapse was revealed. So many of the rules that were accepted as fundamental and sacrosanct had to be broken to organize such an outing that I was left stunned by the revelation it was happening, as well as deeply distressed at the death of one of my brothers.
He was buried in the Abbey cemetery. I assume his confederates were disciplined in some way, but the matter was never spoken of and I was left puzzled. How could this have happened?
I learned in that moment that there was much more to what we did or didn’t do, than what we did or didn’t do; that there is back of everything, an intention. Call that intention will, call it choice, call it volition, that is the thought that leads to the actions that we take that creates our entire life. I will not claim that I have always practiced the intentionality that I am speaking about, but what I will say is that I have always been made painfully aware when I was not acting from a clear intention; when I was on auto pilot.
Our topic this week deals specifically with Faith and Doubt, those uncomfortable bedfellows whose dialogue is the stuff of the ongoing conversation I call my Spiritual Practice. Join me this week as we talk about the Intention behind Doubt and the Habit of Faith.