Talking with God has a bit of a scary ring to it. I mean, you might wind up having to build an ark or be given some other life-altering chore to accomplish. Most of us like our lives the way they are and don't appreciate change. Even if the change is eventually for the better, we resist. Our ego is a built-in change resister. Along with our large brains, opposable thumbs and amazing adaptability, ego is a great survival tool. If something is working, don't mess with it, ego says. But sometimes having an overdeveloped ego can lead us down some dark and very rutted roads.
One of the best ways to control the ego is through spirituality or "talking to God," if you will. Of course, historically, wars have been fought and a lot of bad things have been done in the name of God. This usually happens because ego has merely taken on the guise of God. You can bet if someone tells you that what they are doing is in the name of God and it involves infringing on the individual rights of others, it's ego they are listening to, not God.
Having a conversation with the Divine is mostly asking a question and then listening. Asking the question is sometimes a hard thing because ego wants to convince you that it knows it all already. But sometimes life takes a turn, blindsides us and knocks down the ego's defenses, and we are left with no alternatives. As the old saying goes: "There are no atheists in foxholes." The main point of these life-altering mishaps is to let us know that we are not really in charge of anything but ourselves and we haven't been doing a bang-up job of that lately. Maybe there is a different way of being in the world that might be less damaging to ourselves and others.
Culture plays a big part of how we go about developing a spiritual life. We as Americans are some of the busiest people in the world and trying to cram one more thing into a busy life sounds like too much to ask. But setting aside 20 to 30 minutes can do wonders. The trick to reducing the ego is to not direct God to do anything. Asking a question usually begins with the words "Why?" or "How?" but don't expect immediate results. I'm not saying you won't get them. But don't be disappointed if nothing happens right away. It's kind of like trying to lose that last 15 pounds. It usually takes building up your spiritual muscles over time. Imagine that the ego is fat and the soul is muscle. Doing a spiritual practice will reduce ego and develop soul.
When you go to the gym you use exercise equipment and working out spiritually is no different. The equipment you have at hand will do perfectly. Imagination is a very good piece of equipment. Closing your eyes and imagining someone you love will put you in a very calm state. Choosing a word that has a positive vibe is helpful to repeat as you let your question go into the worlds of God. Setting up a specific time each day helps, too. True contemplation of spiritual writings also works well as an ego reducer.
Another tool is a personal trainer. Someone who has been there and done that and can show you the way, map out a route and avoid the pitfalls. There are a lot of trainers out there and here is where you use that other survival tool I was talking about: your large brain. I have found that faith is a wonderful thing. But so, too, is experience. If someone asks you to do something based on faith or promises unrealistic results, be careful. If after a bit you have not experienced for yourself the benefits of this or that teaching you might want to look elsewhere. If you are disappointed by your first attempts on your spiritual quest, don't stop. There is a fit for you and just the fact that you are looking is a wonderful success.
Steve Hamilton is a Clergy member of Eckankar, the Religion of the Light and Sound of God.