“Be in the world, but not of it,” is a saying that is frequently used by spiritual practitioners of various paths. We see this in our everyday lives, when we encounter individuals who may be dedicated to their spiritual pursuits but perhaps lack the capacity to carry that dedication over to the world around them. In many ways, these individuals compartmentalize their lives, keeping their “spiritual selves” distinct from the person they are in their professional or social world.
Of course, it can be intimidating to bring your true and complete self to every aspect of your world in every moment of your life. As practitioners we are constantly confronted by dilemmas that make it difficult for us to reconcile who we are in our meditation and who we are in our everyday lives. For many of us, the issue of how to ethically support ourselves is in and of itself a central point of contention. On a personal level, we may find it difficult to reconcile the calm, grounded individual we long to be with the “negative emotions” we experience fairly consistently within the challenges of our day-to-day life.
These areas of friction are signs that we are engaged with the difficult questions of our time. There is a courage and strength that comes with being an individual willing to engage in a spiritual practice outside of the ashram, monastery or meditation hall. It is important to continue to relate to these questions, and the failure to do so can lead to a sense of defeat that keeps you from experiencing joy from your practice, and can even put you in danger of leaving the path altogether. .
To begin with, we are lucky to be moving into an age where having some sort of mindfulness discipline — or at the very least, awareness around one’s mental health — is becoming more commonplace. Eastern philosophy has entered the mainstream with meditation becoming not just tolerated, but actually provided in common places as the school and workplace. At this moment in our culture, one should feel confident that by sharing their commitment to practice, they are making it more and more possible for others to embrace their spiritual work as well.
This may seem like a small shift in tone, but in my work to bring the practice of meditation to my clients, one of the major setbacks I encountered was the fear that someone, specific or general, will not approve of the practice of meditation. Whenever I offered meditations in my work, inevitably, family constraints, religious associations, or cultural discomforts would arise, making it difficult for students to truly relax into the practice.
For example, one of my clients found it difficult to try meditation because her partner did not approve of the practice for reasons that were distinct to him. Even though my client only practiced when her partner was not present, she still felt an air of guilt that came with bringing this practice into their home.
In working with her to build confidence in her decision to give this gift to herself despite outside influences, I reminded her how too often misunderstanding can lead to contention. In many ways, these practices are still new to our culture, and often, people fear what they do not know or do not understand. With this in mind, I encouraged her to embody the benefits of meditation that she was experiencing. By leading by example she was able to show not tell, how the practice was changing her life for the better.
Eventually, her partner became more comfortable discussing the practice. She found she was able to better communicate with him in the context of meditation as an exercise, not unlike the physical conditioning that was central to her partner’s world. By being true to who she was, leaning into her practice, and empathically finding the right pathway forward with her partner, she was able to bridge the gap between them.
In this example we learn that your leaning into the personal integrity you feel as a practitioner and letting go of the need for others to dictate your relationship based on their beliefs is work that benefits you as an individual and the greater world around you. By resting in any discomfort that arises but continuing to engage with your practice in quiet confidence, you invite others to relate to this new world at their own pace and in their own way. You also allow those who have a practice, the freedom to share their experiences more freely.
Part of our path is learning to be who we are firmly and with conviction while simultaneously relating to those with different views through a lens of kindness and compassion. Do not be afraid to integrate your spiritual self into your greater world. By being an example of what we believe we can prevent the division that often arises in complex systems of understanding.