‘Devotion is not just something superficial; there is deepness in it. Even if it appears very plain when you don’t feel much and your prayer seems mechanical, in reality, it is not! Even the uttering, the chanting of the Divine Names is not merely superficial. In its depth, it is cleansing the impurities which one has carried throughout many lives.’
Commentary, Sri Guru Gita, Verse 1
I’ve heard many people struggle with their sadhana, calling it mechanical or empty. They describe a resistance towards it. They think of it as a thing they do just because they’ve been doing it for so long or they do it out of a sense of obligation.
Many people practice anyway because they remember that first taste of sweetness. They remember how that mantra felt in the beginning, the way they became so filled with love and joy. Searching to break out of that mechanical practice, they keep going hoping that something will shift again.
This is a rough place to be. I’ve been there. I’ve yet to meet a sadhana practitioner who hasn’t been there. In my own practice and through the stories told by others, I’ve learned that most things come in cycles until we learn to break out of them. Life and death. Waking and sleeping. With sadhana, there seems to be a cycle of ritual and routine.
Ritual feels sacred. When my sadhana feels like a ritual I am present, fully in the practice. Each action builds up to the next, a holy crescendo leading me into the next part of my day or night. Nothing feels complete without it.
Routine feels mechanical and empty. When my sadhana feels like a routine my bed looks incredibly welcoming. That book that has been sitting on my shelf, untouched for weeks, suddenly seems interesting again. My mind is anywhere and everywhere else. I have to coax myself into the act of sitting for my sadhana. But I do it anyway because I know that there is something else on the other side of routine. I’ve seen it and experienced it.
I haven’t learned the secret of maintaining ritual every day. I haven’t figured out how to avoid the mechanical feeling of routine. I definitely do not know how to break out of the cycle or even what that looks like. There are a few lessons I’ve learned in this cycle of routine and ritual that have helped me break out of the routine in favour of ritual.
Do what you need to do to be present.
When your practice feels mechanical it is often caused by not being present. The mind is every and anywhere else. When this is happening, you can’t enjoy it.
Turn off your phone. Write your to-do list before your practice. Write in your journal. Chant japa really loudly and then gradually get calmer until you are chanting internally. Whatever you need to do to be present, do it.
Routine can be your best friend on the days ritual won’t come.
Sometimes, it doesn’t seem to matter what you do, it still feels like a routine. If this is the case, change the way you think about it. Think of routine as an expression of discipline, which is in itself, an expression of love.
To be disciplined in your sadhana practice is to say, 'I am going to show up, I am going to be here, I am not going to forget why I do this.' It shows God that you are willing to put the effort in, even when it gets hard.
The spiritual path is not linear.
It is not a straight shot to the Ultimate. It can be messy and chaotic. That’s one of the many reasons we have a sadhana practice. Our sadhana keeps us grounded on the spiritual path so that even when it gets messy and chaotic, you’ve still got your feet firmly rooted in your sadhana and your mind firmly on your goal.
Eventually, you’ll find your way back to a practice that feels more like a ritual. Maybe we’ll all be blessed to break out of the cycle altogether. Until then, have discipline and be present. Do your sadhana and give it your love and level best. God will do the rest.