The phrase “means, motive, and opportunity” typically appears as a layman’s summation of the three things necessary to convict a person of a crime. The suspect must have the means, or physical ability and tools needed, to commit the crime. Motive is merely another way of saying that the suspect had a reason to commit the crime and opportunity is simply the chance to commit the crime. While these three don’t entirely ensure guilt, having all three will point the finger of suspicion at a person.
What pray tell, you say, does a pop culture phrase referencing criminal justice have to do with a blog about spirituality? Is this post to be some sort of reference or rant about the persecution and prosecution of the faithful? Is it to be a post about the marginalization and criminalization of certain paths and acts of belief?
Never fear, this isn’t going to be a rambling discourse on the relationship between the legal system and various religious paths. While that is a subject which should be examined, I’m more interested at present in how the concept of “means, motive, and opportunity” can be applied outside of the criminal justice system. Specifically, I’ve been considering how this might be a useful lens through which to consider spiritual practices.
To have the spiritual means to engage in a practice requires three things: 1) knowledge, 2) ability, and 3) access. It is difficult, if not impossible, to engage in a meaningful spiritual practice without having some knowledge base from which to draw. This knowledge may come in one or more forms – an understanding of our deities and what they require from us, a gnosis of our personal spiritual needs and goals, a comprehension of rituals and beliefs, etc.
Ability, like knowledge, may be a multifaceted and not as simple as it initially appears. On the surface, ability is often linked with our physical capacity to perform a task, but our emotional and mental capacities need to be considered as well. Our bodies, brains, and souls do not exist in isolation from each other and while we may find ourselves emotionally capable of a practice, the ability to physically perform the actions may elude us. We may find that we are physically capable of performing an action, but the mental and emotional aspects needed to complete it are just not there.
In order to have the means to do something, it is necessary to have access not only to knowledge and abilities, but often to other things. What is needed depends largely on the particular spiritual practice – access to a deity or higher power, access to a particular space, access to tools or sacred objects, access to offerings, access to clergy, access to other practitioners, et al.
“Motive” in a spiritual context supplies the fuel for our practices and can be mind-bogglingly complex. When we decide to engage in a particular spiritual practice, it’s worth considering our reasons for doing so. Are we doing something because it’s what our path says we should do? Are we engaging in a practice in hopes of gaining something particular? Are these motives something that is compatible with our spiritual tenets? When we are engaging in a practice to assist another, what is motivating us to take this action? Motives, like so much else in life, are rarely a clear-cut case of black and white and failing to understand our own motivations may create unforeseen problems as we proceed. We may find ourselves in a position where multiple motives for an action conflict with each other. We may find that our own motivations conflict with those of the people we desire to help. Learning to navigate through our own motivations and those of the people who we interact with in a spiritual context becomes a vital part of developing sustainable spiritual practices.
Means and motivation alone cannot grant us a spiritual practice; we must also have the opportunity to make that practice happen. While many of us on an eclectic spiritual path aren’t limited by conventionally scheduled times for weekly spiritual practices, we do find that opportunities for spiritual practice sometimes elude us. Schedule conflicts or lack of means may keep us from seizing opportunities or those opportunities may never materialize in the first place. We may find ourselves in the wrong time or place for a particular practice.
By looking at a spiritual practice through the lens of means, motive and opportunity, we can gauge whether a particular practice might work for us before committing ourselves to that practice. We can foresee potential problems with our practice and adjust our plans in ways that might allow make it workable.
For example, I have often toyed with the idea of making a practice of morning mediation. Do I have the means to do this? I know how to meditate and have a lovely private outdoor space to do so undisturbed. Do I have the motivation to do so? What are my motives? I know from past experience that morning meditation helps to keep me grounded and calm throughout my day. I want to create that calm and grounded state for myself in order to help deal with all the little things life throws at me during the day. Do I have the opportunity for a regular morning meditation? It was all going so well, but the honest answer is no, I don’t. I am a night person who is prone to insomnia with a job that requires me to leave the house by 6:30am. I can’t afford to cut into the precious sleep that I get during those early morning hours before rising for work. I might be calm and grounded if I meditate before work, but I will also be so exhausted that I won’t be able to function by the end of the day.
And so it goes, examining that which we wish to do in the name of spiritual growth and practice.