I received a framed copy of this picture from a group who had recently completed a year-long course with me. I found it deeply poignant to take in this monk meditating alone amidst the rocks, mountains and glacier. In some ways it seemed to me to be so simple to connect to God (Life, Spirit) in this environment. Somehow this type of secluded life seemed like a memory that I could feel in my being, so much so that I detected a distant longing for it. So simple!
And yet, I could also clearly feel the commitment that my soul agreed to when I chose to explore spirituality in the midst of culture as so many others have in this generation. It is quite clearly our collective destiny to bring spiritual values into culture, while we nurture relationships, raise families, pursue careers, contribute to community, and navigate the distractions and endless choices that are presented to us, to create a life that reflects what we discover about our truth in our silent moments.
It seems to me that living a spiritually-based life has its advantages and challenges in both an isolated setting such as a monastery or ashram, as well as in culture. But one aspect of life stands out to me as a challenge in both environments and that is relationships.
In an isolated environment I suspect that the greatest challenge would be the decision to forgo the many joys of relationship with a partner, children, parents, siblings, extended family and friends. Imagine for a moment making the decision to leave your entire community, in order to live in isolation for the rest of your life, because your greatest desire is to explore your relationship with God. Your spiritual community would become your new family, but no matter how committed you are, it feels like the longing for loved ones would be a tremendous challenge.
That being said, it turns out that relationships are also our greatest source of stress when we live in culture. I’ve experienced this and heard it from every client and person that I’ve met, and of course it’s the theme of just about every movie ever made, every book ever written, and every song ever sung. It’s as hard to live with people as it is without them!
So what happens when we choose to live in culture AND make our spiritual growth our greatest priority? Here is where relationships, both the easy and challenging ones, become our greatest allies. The birth of my children is what set me on my spiritual path 35 years ago. Of course I fell in love with them, but I also experienced that they brought out the best and worst in me. Fortunately, I was graced with the understanding early on that whatever was triggered in me by them was always reflecting the places in me where my soul’s intelligence had been stunted in some way. I could feel this blocked energy in my field as tension, contraction and heaviness. As I explored these areas I usually uncovered suppressed emotions and distorted perceptions. When I was able to bring all of this to my spiritual practice I found a clarity that gave me a more uplifting view, and access to wiser choices when relating to my children. Later I began to apply this approach to all my relationships and today relationships ARE my spiritual practice.
One thing I know for sure is that I want to learn how to love in this lifetime. I believe that every relationship, easy or challenging, is a gift that shows me where the natural capacity of my heart is being veiled by past conditioning stemming from my personal history as well as collective societal patterns. Each relationship has a shared relational energy field and when one person in the relationship chooses to keep the field as clear as possible through spiritual practice, it creates an environment for both people to thrive. At this time, it feels to me that this is my most loving contribution to Life.
(edited from a blog written in 2015)
Note: The photograph above is by Matthieu Ricard.