Sometimes we approach spiritual practice as if it was a kind of obstacle course in which we earned badges for each level we completed. We go out and buy the right “shoes” for our practice – perhaps a meditation cushion. We feel we need the right “running clothes” in order to compete – perhaps a pair of yoga pants that make our butt look better. Then we get the right things to keep ourselves hydrated – some prayer beads work pretty well, and maybe some incense. Then we stretch before we compete by assuming the right postures and asanas and surrounding ourselves with a proper altar, statues, and other images. We hope that we can perform well enough to win a medal or a badge to pin on our chests to show that we are a “serious practitioner,” as if such things could be proven, perhaps by finally sitting full lotus without crying for our mommies.
In and of themselves, none of these things are a problem provided we hold on to them loosely and can let go of them when they no longer serve any purpose. The problem is that when we view them as part of a kind of spiritual resume we aren’t very likely to be able to let go of them very easily. At that point we are attached to the evidence of the practice, and that very evidence is getting in the way of our actual practice. I believe this is part of what the great Christian saints were talking about when they spoke of things like the need for us to become smaller, what some might call authentic humility. As long as the trappings are more important to us than the practice itself, we are attached. The solution is to keep practicing anyway. When it’s time, you will let go of all of the non-essentials, but getting rid of them prematurely is counter-productive. One day you will look around and wonder where all of your badges have gone and try to recall why they were ever important to you. Then you should say, “this, too.”