The truth is, when the world gets chaotic and confounding, we need spiritual practice more than ever. That’s when our souls need sustenance. That’s when we need to recharge and ground ourselves to take on the challenge. Phil Goldberg’s new book, Spiritual Practice for Crazy Times: Powerful Tools to Cultivate Calm, Clarity, and Courage, draws on every spiritual path—especially the empirical methods of the Yoga tradition—as well as psychology and scientific research to offer tools and techniques to help you access the sanctuary of peace and fortress of strength within you.
Integral Yoga Magazine (IYM) How can we stay spiritually sane in the midst of madness?
Phil Goldberg: When I wrote the book I had in mind the craziness of modern life in general and the Trump era in particular. I never dreamed that times could be this crazy.
The pandemic and the massive protest demonstrations have made the book a thousand times more relevant. Anxiety, fear, and other toxic emotions have been ramped up, and that makes taking refuge with spiritual practices that much more vital. The consistent use of effective methods such as deep meditation, mindfulness, prayer, Yoga, etc., doesn’t only offer temporary relief. Some of the peace and mental clarity sticks to us when we return to face the world. It’s analogous to withdrawing resources from an abundant account before making transactions in the marketplace. Over time, we are better equipped to maintain equanimity amidst the turmoil—especially if we have an inventory of practices to draw from whenever the need arises
IYM: Where can we all find peace?
Phil Goldberg: Spirituality is practical–not an escape, not just a refuge, not selfish or narcissistic, but a sound approach to both self-protection and constructive action. We all have a sanctuary of peace and a fortress of solitude within us. This is the central message of the book, and of every spiritual tradition. Call it the Higher Self, the Kingdom of God, or whatever you wish; it is closer than our heartbeat at the center of our Being. It is not only shelter from the storm; it is an inexhaustible reservoir of qualities we need to draw upon especially in difficult times like these. We all have this sanctuary within. The question is how to gain access to it. That’s what the practical tools in the book are all about.
IYM: Can anger be channeled constructively as a spiritual practice?
Phil Goldberg: History shows that anger can be a driver of positive change. It mobilizes energy. It injects fuel into the system. But if our better angels don’t take control of it, anger will run from zero to 60 in a flash—blindfolded. We need to recognize when rage kicks in and call timeout. That’s a good time to meditate, pray, stretch, breathe, and maybe also neutralize the energy by running, dancing, singing, screaming where no one will hear it, or even beating up a pillow. Once we establish a little calm, we can reframe what we’re feeling. “I’m furious about this” can be rearranged to something like: “This is wrong, and I want to do something about it.” In this way, anger is converted to indignation—a sturdy, secure platform for constructive action.
IYM: What do you mean by an inventory of spiritual practices?
Phil Goldberg: In addition to a consistent daily practice, I recommend building up an inventory, or repertoire, of methods to call upon at any time, depending on your circumstances, the amount of time available, and your personal needs. I provide guidelines for compiling a diverse range of practices in categories based on time frames, from under 5 minutes to more than a month. By consulting the lists, you can make smart choices when the need arises, like scanning the products in a pantry or the songs on iTunes. We are now facing unprecedented pressure, anxiety, fear, and loneliness—and it is highly likely that outer turmoil, uncertainty, and chaos will continue in one form or another when the coronavirus crisis ends. The aim of this book is to provide the tools you need to ward off the ravages of modern life—and the spiritual weapons to fight back against destructive forces. Readers will find instructions, exercises, guidelines, and recommendations—but no one-size-fits-all formula. Everything is geared toward empowering individual choice.
IYM: How does the Spiritual “Two-Step” help the world from the inside out?
Phil Goldberg: The two steps are: (1) turn within for the Divine Unity we all seek, like rivers meandering to the sea; (2) come out stronger, more stable, more conscious, more compassionate, and more attuned—and therefore more capable. The fruits of personal spiritual practice can be offered up to serve the greater good. It’s a natural impulse when the heart opens up and our cups runneth over in love.
IYM: Why do you say that inner peace is only breath away?
Phil Goldberg: Among the many ways to access the sanctuary within, the quickest, easiest, least conspicuous method is through the breath – especially when some occurrence triggers a strong emotion or circumstances make you agitated. The book contains instructions for several breathing practices—along with useful variations—that can be employed at different times.
IYM: Do you address the COVID-19 pandemic in the book?
Phil Goldberg: The book was written in 2019, when the world was crazy enough. I was doing the final proofreading when the pandemic struck. I looked through the book and concluded that the ideas and practices it contains are timeless. They apply anytime our lives get difficult, no matter what’s going on in the world as a whole. I added a brief addendum to that effect in the Preface. That said, spiritual practices are especially useful in these times. They neutralize fear and open our minds and hearts—and they strengthen the immune system, which is a vital factor in containing the virus. I would also urge anyone sheltering at home to treat the isolation as a spiritual retreat. And if you are privileged enough to do that, remember those who suffer and those who labor at great risk in essential jobs. Compassion and kindness are also spiritual practices.
About Phil Goldberg:
Philip Goldberg is an acclaimed author and public speaker whose numerous books include the award-winning American Veda: From Emerson and the Beatles to Yoga and Meditation, How Indian Spirituality Changed the West; Roadsigns on the Spiritual Path: Living at the Heart of Paradox; and the biography, The Life of Yogananda: The Story of the Yogi Who Became the First Modern Guru. His newest book, Spiritual Practice for Crazy Times is now available in book and audiobook format. A meditation teacher and ordained Interfaith Minister, he is also the cohost of the popular Spirit Matters podcast and leads American Veda Tours to India. See his website for more information.