In life repetition is seen as a necessary precondition to mastery. A basketball player spends hundreds or even thousand of hours shooting foul shots in practice so that he might sink the one shot that wins the game. A musician eats, sleeps, and breathes with her chosen instrument for years, finally attaining a level that deeply touches a listener whenever she begins to play. In both cases the repetition is, at least in part, for an end result. Little kids repeat their ABC’s again and again so that they may learn the alphabet. And so on.

I wonder if some of our difficulties with our spiritual search might be that we assume repetition of practices given to us within a tradition are for the same reason, for a personal result. Call it for evolution, call it for transformation. Or simply say that one’s efforts are for finding inner freedom or inner harmony. Yes, indeed. But I wonder if we miss the mark by being so goal oriented for our inner life. For our outer life, yes, it is good. But for an inner life I think not. Or not in a way we might presuppose. I wonder if the sustained repetition of practices and forms for our inner life might perhaps give results that have nothing to do with us personally. Perhaps our work, properly repeated over and over, is for us to simply become more in alignment with something that is larger than us. Not for us, per se, but for that something. Something larger than all our personal goals, however lofty they may be, and something that is ultimately unknowable, at least through our everyday ways of knowing.

Yes, perhaps we do gain in a personal way sometimes, through what is spoken of as grace. But this personal gain is arrived at in passing, and it is neither guaranteed nor ultimately that important. What is important is that through all of our repetition we slowly come into alignment with a direction that is harmonious with a larger current. It may be a sign of a growing maturity to accept that such a result is enough. To accept that developing attributes of awakening and wisdom are not what it is all about. To accept that the final goal of my effort is to come to where I have been all along, simply to become a human being, with all that includes. This is my proper place, and when I arrive there at last my doubts and confusion cease. And my effort is now effortless.

For us there is only the trying. The rest is not our business.
— T.S. Eliot

Comments are welcome.




  1. “Not I, not I, but the wind that blows through me!
    A fine wind is blowing the new direction of Time.
    If only I let it bear me, carry me, if only it carry me!”
    — D. H. Lawrence

  2. Perfect! I had never read the quote. So glad you sent it, thank you.

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