Benefits of Spiritual Practice
What Science and Tradition tell Us
The Sufi Sage, Hazrat Inayat Khan observed that the sacred name of God is as medicine to the patient, and the divine thought is the compass by which the Sufi steers the ship of her soul to the shores of immortality.
This sentiment is commonplace in the hagiographies of mystics down through the ages. To intone the sacred name of God is to engage in spiritual practice by which one’s purpose unfolds in mysterious ways. It makes one wonder: why and how does spiritual practice form the basis of spirituality? What makes it medicinal and a source of direction? Let’s examine the impact of these practices from the vantage point of tradition, modern science, contemporary research, and direct experience.
Like good nutrition and exercise, spiritual practices like meditation and Divine Remembrance (Zikr) have remarkably ameliorative effects on various individual outcomes. Copious amounts of research suggest that spiritual practices (from prayer to affirmations and different forms of meditation) can help us deal with stress, life satisfaction, mental clarity, reduction of anxiety, and general wellbeing. One such study examines the methods taught at Essential Spirituality. It shows a significant difference in students who incorporated these practices over those who did not (Shinde et al., 2021).
The key here is not the amount of practice but the consistency with which one incorporates it into their life. Our teacher, Babuji, would admonish over-enthusiastic seekers and emphasize “5 minutes of high-quality practice” over hours of unfocused mechanical effort. In time, he would invariably show us how to lengthen and deepen one’s concentration. His advice is not too different from the “heavy-duty” training philosophy espoused by Arthur Jones and Casey Viator (of the Colorado Experiment fame). Their idea is to use short, intensive workouts instead of long, marathon sessions to maximize lean mass gains. Under Babuji’s guidance, heavy-duty spiritual training often incorporated a form of intense Qadiriya Zikr sessions, which resulted in considerable spiritual gains. As a reminder, Essential Spirituality offers such Zikr meditation sessions for free every month. All are welcome to join!
Apart from the physical and mental wellbeing that various spiritual practices can lead to, they tend to have the most impact in the spiritual domain. The Bhagavad Gita underlines this point when Sri Krushna says that “no spiritual effort ever goes to waste” (2:40). In general, a little (intense effort) goes a long way in helping the traveler on the spiritual path to get beneficial outcomes. It also increases one’s faith, which leads to a more serious pursuit of eternal joy. This cycle is continuous and self-propagating, culminating finally into the awareness of oneself as eternally joyful. This state, also called Mar’ifa in Sufi terms, is supremely beneficial and is often accompanied by a tremendous compassion for all creation. For a clearer understanding of this process, please refer to the article ‘Do Faith & Beliefs Matter?’
In this sense, spiritual practice functions quite differently from any physical training regimen. Traditions assure us that no effort goes to waste and that the benefit accrued is inevitable. All the traveler needs to do is be true to oneself – realizing that the Eternal Abode within awaits those who search for it. As Christ promises, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened to you.” (Matthew, 7:7). Even the very act of seeking is paramount to spiritual progress.
Our research, in which we interviewed and surveyed over 200 members of three major spiritual traditions, suggests that, on average, a dedicated seeker on the path spends at least two hours daily in spiritual practices, irrespective of the path they follow. A byproduct of such consistent effort is the conscious spiritualization of every action, even every breath! Advanced seekers tended to equate every act they performed, even the most mundane, with a sense of deep spiritual awareness, making the need for “effort” unnecessary. But this does not happen overnight. One builds up to it, which brings us back to Babuji’s original point – it is better to emphasize consistency over duration initially. The words of the great Himalayan Yogi, Lahiri Mahasaya, perhaps captures this process best, “banat banat ban jaye, or with small, consistent effort success comes” (Autobiography of a Yogi, 246). For helpful tips on incorporating spiritual practice consistently into your life, be sure to read and subscribe to our weekly newsletter Productive Wisdom.
To conclude, whether one uses spiritual practices to live a more meaningful and balanced life or whether one uses these methods to follow in the footsteps of the great mystics, it is undeniable that practice makes perfect when it comes to spirituality!
Shinde, J. S., Shinde, U. S., Hill, A., Adams, C., & Harden, J. (2021). Effect of Data mindfulness training on accounting students: results from a randomized control trial. Accounting Education, 30(3), 277-303.