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Assessing the quality of an ethical and spiritual practice: survey results and suggestions of method

assessing the quality

The recent survey about the assessment of the quality of an ethical and spiritual practice, which the practical curricula offered by OstadElahi inPractice call for, prompted numerous reactions, feedback from experience, as well as some questions. In the following article, Frédéric Perrault provides us with an enlightening analysis of the ideas expressed and invites us to continue the discussion.

The results of the recent survey about the the assessment of the quality of an ethical and spiritual practice are unequivocal. A large majority of us (70%) consider that the qualitative dimension of the assessment during phase 4 (Action) of OstadElahi inPractice labs was somewhat difficult, difficult, or very difficult to implement. Some even feel somewhat helpless in the face of this exercise, referring to a kind of dizziness, to how difficult it is to know if you are being too hard or too soft on yourself, to compare yourself to others, to bring back relevant memories, etc. Others refer to the highjacking of this task by the imperious self trying to discourage us through negative self-assessments. To the point where some have simply given up grading the quality of their practice, preferring to focus solely on a quantitative assessment, or renouncing all forms of assessment.

First of all, let us be reminded that the assessment of one’s ethical and spiritual practice, whether quantitative or qualitative, is part of a knowledge development approach, much like the protocols implemented in the context of scientific experiments. This knowledge development ambition gives its full magnitude to this self-assessment process, which S. Calvez considers to be “the key to success”: “The benefit [of this assessment] is multiple: renew our attention and remind ourselves of our goal, get motivation as we take note of our successes, or take responsibility as we review our failures, but most of all, make a mockery of the imperious self, which, let us recall, will do anything, absolutely anything, to make us forget our nice resolutions.” In fact, neglecting to assess our practice and to analyse our successes and failures could arguably lead us to stall. In this process, as A. points out, keeping a logbook can be of “precious help”: “in addition to helping us fight against forgetfulness, it helps us focus on our daily experiences, encouraging us to analyse them and to set up plans of action for the next day, so that we may correct our mistakes”.

Thus the necessity and purpose of a qualitative assessment, in the context of an ethical and spiritual practice, are clear. It is essential to crystallise the knowledge acquired through in vivo practice, and, at the same time, it pushes us and motivates us, or leads us to adjust our approach. In a way, giving up the qualitative assessment would amount to giving up this self-knowledge endeavour that ethical and spiritual practice makes possible, while depriving ourselves of a motivation tool that can forge our actions.

The qualitative evaluation element of phase 4 (Action) of the InPractice labs provides us with a framework within which to carry out this self-assessment. Four main criteria for this qualitative assessment emerged of the comments posted in response to the survey:

  • Feedback from the certifying conscience
  • Feedback from others
  • Increased awareness in our practice
  • Intensity of the struggle or effort made

Feedback from the certifying conscience

“All that is needed for a spiritually engaged person to find answers to his questions is to delve within for a period of time and make a concerted effort.” (Translated from Bargozideh (The Selection), Téhéran, Nashr-e Panj, 2009—a selection of the notes taken from Ostad Elahi’s teachings in Persian (Asâr ol-Haqq, Vol. 1 & 2).)

According to some, everyone is endowed with an inner measuring tool allowing them to assess the quality of their practice at an (inner) glance. But this kind of initial intuition seems much less accessible and obvious to others. A. thus mentions an ability to assess the overall quality of the practice: “it is based on a global assessment of the day: if I have been overcome by events, if I have forgotten my prayers or if I did them without much concentration… then, most likely, my moments of attention before starting certain tasks have not been done well, or have been done mechanically…”. For Khial, it’s a matter of “impact” and “feelings”: “I assess the quality of my practice based on the impact it has on me.” Mz mentions the idea of “contentment” with one’s performance, but finds this criteria to be subjective.

Yet this kind of appreciation derived from ourselves, from our preconscious, might just be the voice of what Ostad Elahi calls the certifying conscience. It is that conscience that allows us to evaluate “at a glance” the quality of our practice, whether through the light joy that emanates from a practice well carried out, or through the dissonance produced by a sloppy or insincere practice. This daily exercise of qualitative assessment could be a means of developing the acuity and strength of this voice within ourselves—while getting better at discerning it in the midst of our thoughts.

Feedback from others

Several participants in the survey used the impact their practice had on others—whether explicitly or implicitly—as a criteria to measure its quality. Indeed, an in vivo practice, one that is accordingly in contact with others, can be measured by the good done to others, by the rights we forced ourselves to observe, or the trouble or hassle we preserved them from.

It can be difficult to accept somebody else’s point of view on our own practice, yet those who are closest to us often see us better than we see ourselves. It can thus be helpful to ask for their opinion when assessing our practice. More generally, the way others react to our words and actions can provide precious clues as to how sincere and consistent our efforts have been, as well as the impact our practice has had on ourselves.

Increased awareness in our practice

Underlying many of the comments, including A.’s comment above, is the idea of a distance to oneself that would be the determining factor of a high-quality practice, carried out from what Bahram Elahi calls the inner guide, rather than mechanically in the “surface conscious self”. If, in the heat of the moment, I was able to distance myself through a form of increased awareness—as opposed to acting mechanically or impulsively—then the quality of my practice is high.

BM thus asks himself: “Was I aware of my intentions and surroundings or I did I not think at all about my practice and was reminded by chance to perform it?” To which ia adds: “I feel that to be somewhat successful, or to be on the right track working in the right direction, I need to have a certain amount of ‘presence’ or mindfulness on the practice I am working on and on the Source in particular.”

This mindfulness of our actions necessarily induces an increased awareness of our thoughts and intentions. As if having divine contentment in sight when acting had the effect of throwing some light upon ourselves, thus exposing—in our preconscious—certain thoughts or impulses that would otherwise have escaped our conscious self.

A. thus notes: “I discovered a new personality trait of mine: the tendency to complain and to see things negatively. […] Awareness of these thoughts, which, by the way, engenders slight depression and sometimes lack of patience towards those same people I need to help, has been possible, I believe, thanks to the divine light I have benefited as a result of my practice (attention before tasks) and as a result of my regular prayers.”

This increased awareness leads us to grasp the powers operating within ourselves. It certainly plays a decisive role in determining the quality of our practice, and also helps us settle in the inner guide beyond the particular moment of our practice.

Intensity of the struggle or effort made

In spiritual work, efforts matter more than results. Adequate dosage of the difficulty of the exercises we assign to ourselves is therefore essential to the value and effects of our practice: exercises that are too easy won’t make us progress and exercises that are too difficult will discourage us. The qualitative analysis in phase 4 (Action) of the InPractice labs could also be the occasion to adjust this level of difficulty.

Holly asks herself the following: “have I given it my best shot – what true efforts have I made”? D looks at the “amount of time/effort/energy” put into his/her practice: “I actually find it easy to see how much I’ve dedicated myself to my practice. One trick for me is to put my performance on a scale between two extreme points. When I do that, usually I can tell how much better I could have performed and that helps me evaluating my performance.” And SHM: “First of all I try to analyze my intention. I also try to analyze my effort, for example did I try hard or did I just want to do something to tick success at the end of the day.”

Gauging whether or not we’ve “given it our best shot”, assessing if the exercise—regardless of whether or not we succeeded—has led us to truly fight against our imperious self or to counteract one of our weak points, clearly constitute another criteria to assess the quality of an exercise and adjust its difficulty.

It should be noted that very few comments refer to actual self-transformation (such as the acquisition of a virtue or the disappearance of a failing) as a criteria to judge the quality of one’s practice. In this context, clearly, efforts count more than “results”. Certain temporary “results” were mentioned, but usually from a long term perspective that daily assessments don’t provide. For example: increased confidence in the face of sustained turmoil; the development of an attachment that makes us want to keep up the efforts no matter what; a loved one telling us “you’ve changed on that point”…

Conclusion

We have seen that the qualitative assessment is essential for an ethical and spiritual practice to be part of a self-knowledge project. Phase 4 (Action) of the InPractice labs provide us with a framework within which we can develop our capacity to analyse and assess the quality of our practice (and hence of ourselves). The contributions and feedback from e-ostadelahi’s readers have allowed us to identify four main criteria around which such an assessment may be articulated:

  • Feedback from the certifying conscience
  • Feedback from others
  • Increased awareness in our practice
  • Intensity of the struggle or effort made

The practical implications of these criteria are to be explored by each of us, when carrying out our daily self-assessment for a given exercise. Let us mention here a few suggestions that some may find inspiring:

  • NNF: “There were days I wasn’t successful at carrying out my exercise but it was constantly on my mind. In this case do I give myself a high score for thinking about it? Well, I think it has to do with intention and if I was truly seeking to put it into practice. I would ask myself if I was just being lazy or if I wasn’t as attentive to the numerous opportunities that God put my way everyday. I have learned that reflecting on your day is key to doing your practical exercises and really dissecting your overall attention and intention in the process.”
  • ia: “We tend to rejects our entire effort because in the end we failed, but I see how this could be our imperious self trying to make us depressed.”
  • Ocean: “I think the set up of the evaluation is just a guideline and not a definite tool. Evaluations of our ethical practice is very personal and as it has been addressed in great details by others it depends on many factors. Honesty is the key.”
  • David: “I give one bonus + 1 for writing my score to motivate me to log in and log my score, even if I have failed the practice… This point system is the strongest motivator for me, since it always rewards action.”
  • Roman summer: “I noticed that the way you can rate your success is very different from one exercise to another. So I suggest each exercise should have its own rating system.”

Further readings :

OstadElahi inPractice

oe-ip_logo A new tool for spiritual and ethical practice

In all areas, real progress requires theory to be repeatedly put into practice. Ethics and spirituality are no exceptions. As often pointed out on e-ostadelahi.com, it is only through practicing ethical and spiritual principles and thus assimilating them that we can transform ourselves… [read more]

ostadelahi-inpractice-prayer-186x186 “Connecting with the Divine”: a new lab on OstadElahi-inPractice.com

What is prayer? What purpose does it serve? What is its role in the process of spiritual perfection? Under what conditions can one best benefit from prayer? [read more]

Case studies

ratings-300x300 An ethical dilemma on TripAdvisor: what do you think?

[…] We had looked up somewhat systematically comments and ratings shared by fellow travellers on TripAdvisor, in order to plan a few days of vacation. For those unfamiliar with it, TripAdvisor is a website that allows you to find out what other travellers have thought about a hotel… [read more]

penrose triangle Ethics in a delicate situation: what do you think?

[…] Jack and Kelly are a couple. Jack is very socially involved and devotes a lot of his time to charitable activities in their neighborhood. Winter has been particularly harsh this year and Jack has been volunteering countless hours and coming back home very late every night… [read more]

Follow-ups


ratings-300x300
Creating the conditions for the successful practice of ethical principles
This post is a follow-up to a previous post entitled “Ethics in a delicate situation: what do you think?”, which presented a hypothetical case study together with a poll. Let us begin with a few remarks about the poll results… [read more]
conflit2 Is life as a couple a “laboratory” for the practice of ethics?

Family life is filled with delights and annoyances that are felt particularly deeply within the couple itself. The hypothetical case study of “Jack and Kelly” offers an illustration that many of you have commented on… [read more]


See also:


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4 comments

  1. Holly Feb 21, 2015 6:40 pm 1

    Thank you for sharing the above with us , I found it very useful as to how to try and become more focus , how to level and score my practical exercises , how to not forget the main point and intentions , how to not lose hope and simply also enjoy my daily practice as it’s simply such a blessing to know that every tiny step taken to control and fight this imperious self of mine will get me one giant step closer to the beloved.

  2. ia Feb 21, 2015 7:18 pm 2

    This analysis came at a good time when I was just in the grips of struggling with holding on to my practice, struggling with trusting my choices for this practice and trusting in the effectiveness of the evaluation.

    After having doubted my choice of practice points and almost abandoning, after asking a friend for her opinion and then getting an outside opinion on what was wrong with my choice of points—I decided to hone in and really take myself and the practice seriously.
    Thanks to some exchanges with another friend, an earnest person in search of her truest humanity, I realized I could indeed continue my practice.

    Then somehow something changed and I was able to see and feel what I was supposed to concentrate on to work on my biggest weak points at the moment. And now, I feel I can again get in touch with that other part of me, my inner guide, my certifying conscience and my inspiring conscience and also improve my relationship with my blaming conscience.

    I feel good now to have this practice and see how the efforts shift something, ever so subtle, in my heart and in the way I experience my days.

    I am deeply grateful for this but see how delicate it is and that I can quite easily lose it. I see how reason and our sense of things, our intuition or feeling, have to work together so one can rekindle the other.

    I also feel though that I should not be afraid, and I should trust that The Source will keep me on the right track and allow me to keep reminding myself, or get the reminder from outside myself.

    I want to hold on to this thought and am grateful for the analysis and shared comments that are quite rejoicing, for me at least, such as that I can congratulate myself and feel good, even just for going on the page and proceeding with the evaluation. That it is a source of good for me and an encouragement right there. So, lets be optimistic and joyful and not let the Imperious Self kill our spirit.

  3. A. Feb 21, 2015 7:28 pm 3

    Recently, because of an increased mindfulness resulting from practice (my practice consists in attention to the Source before 3 daily tasks and a n° of daily prayers) I have immediately accepted a strong criticism coming from a friend. The immediate acceptance of the criticism resulted from an instantaneous awareness of my internal feelings and negative vision (I had for this friend).

    In other words, I immediately realized that I had fallen into the trap of seeing everything she did and the way she behaved negatively and manifested this negative vision to her my making use of sarcasm (mocking her way of dressing, talking, etc..) or simply rejecting her requests for help when some things worried her. So how quickly you accept a criticism, even if harsh, could be used to gauge your level of mindfulness and hence in turn the quality of your practice

  4. tom Aug 25, 2017 1:37 pm 4

    When it comes time to assessing my practice, I have found that I spend about 20 seconds or less scoring myself. Even if I have done what I have planned, I still find it so difficult to assess my practice. It feels like impatience in many ways, but it also feels like an impossible task. I tried to systemize my score so that I could easily calculate a total number (each time you do a prayer, you get two points), but I still feel that I am lazy about this task. It is probably my imperious self that is the cause of this. I will continue to try and work on this!

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