No spiritual practice is liberating or oppressive, inherently, authentic or inauthentic, inherently, because no spiritual practice can be disconnected from the practitioner. Spiritual practices can allow individuals and communities to turn inward and outward so that the inner being can be arranged and re-arranged as frequently as necessary to remain aligned with a wild and fluid divinity that can’t be contained or defined. In this way, all of life becomes spiritual practice when our lives (sometimes annoyingly) call us to be our most authentic selves and radically attentive, aware, conscious.
I think the examined life gifts us with the responsibility to understand our strengths and weaknesses and to use spiritual practices to mitigate our weaknesses and enhance our strengths. The human spirit/soul is part of the body and needs to be exercised and moved like the physical body. Like physical exercise (pardon the differentiating language—English is inherently disconnected), the same practices don’t work for everyone and the same practices may not even work for one person all of the time. Spiritual relationship is no different than any other relationship—its success lies in those engaging in it to intentionally choose, day after day, to explore and express the uniqueness of their own authenticity and to know that’s ever changing. I have found people who engage in and share spiritual practices authentically exuding the wild divine from vastly different spiritual backgrounds.
There are liberated people in prisons. There are oppressed/oppressive people roaming “freely” through forests. No religion is violent or peaceful, inherently—just as no human being is violent or peaceful, inherently. Authentic yogis/yoginis, pastors, preachers, priests, imams, rabbis, coven mothers, gurus, lamas, elders, spiritual guides, shamans, (I’m sure I’ve forgotten someone and I apologize) model authentic practice. They don’t try to force us to be something we’re not; rather, they inspire us to be our most authentic selves and to find practices that support our authenticity best in a given moment. Liberation, self-recovery, salvation, nirvana, decolonization—whatever you call it—is your own to be owned, it’s always surprising, and it’s never complete. That’s why it’s called practice.
“You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves”