About Mastering Practices

In responding to the question about the importance of doing our practices at a regular time, Hazrat Inayat Khan said, among other things, “Never avoid practices, however tired you are, because once you have mastered the practice, the practice itself will take away all tiredness.” It is a thought that deserves extra attention.

Often we approach our spiritual exercises as something similar to the gym or training center, where so many repetitions, so many minutes of exertion, reward us with  better health.  Heaving weights, hurling our body about to loud music or sweating in an exercise machine are done for their effect, not because they are particularly enjoyable in themselves.  When we set out on the spiritual path and we are given daily exercises – the element purification breaths, for example, or the Sufi prayers – we may have the same feeling: a kind of mild boredom that is tempered by the feeling that this will somehow do us good, and that it won’t take very long anyway.

Some people don’t get beyond this stage, in which case they usually drift away from their practice, and conclude sooner or later that there really wasn’t as much in that Sufi path as they first thought.  Others discover something growing as they persist with their exercises, and in time come to recognise that the practice can be done for its own sake, and not because of some merit to be acquired from its repetition.

A good example of this is in the prayers. Many people were taught to pray in their childhood, as part of a religious education, but if they were taught by people who prayed mechanically, without understanding, then their education did not enliven them; it had the opposite effect, and now they perhaps feel prayer as something suffocating, something to rebel against.  Such a person did not learn that a prayer is something living, and if we attune to it in the proper way, it will bring more life to us.  There are stages to this attunement; we learn the form, and then we begin to discover the life of the prayer–but as one Hasidic mystic said, our prayer is not complete until, when we pray, we feel God’s response.

That level of attunement is what Hazrat Inayat means by the mastering of a practice, and it applies to all our exercises. The various concentrations and disciplines, the repetitions of sacred words, the breathing patterns and the meditations are not given so that we can feel pious, but so that we can master them.  In that mastery, as Hazrat Inayat has said, there is life and light and power and inspiration–enough to take away all tiredness.


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