March 1, 2017

Being Spiritual in the Modern World—Does it Work?

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Spirituality is the essence of life.

At some point, everyone will ultimately walk down the spiritual path in a way that is deeply meaningful on a personal level.

We don’t have to meditate, do yoga, or recite religious texts to be spiritual.

Spirituality is an inward journey that consists of understanding oneself and others.

A spiritual person is someone whose main purpose is to become aware of his or her thoughts, actions, and surroundings. A spiritual being works on self-love and self-acceptance so he or she can properly love others and be kind toward them.

The spiritual journey has no beginning nor end.

To put it differently, spirituality has nothing to do with the physical realm. It tackles the unknown, the unseen, and that which has not yet been manifested. To tap into this vein of exploration is the ultimate spirituality. However, we live in a physical realm, and that’s precisely what makes us curious as to whether spirituality can work in our lives.

We have families, friends, colleagues, and children. We need to be concerned about income in order to get by in life. We have politics, the economy, our society, the institutions to which we belong, the people whom we idolize, movies that we watch, relationships that we enter, and technology that moves too fast.

In other words, the modern world is the exact opposite of the spiritual world. While being spiritual requires us to look inward, love and understand ourselves, the modern world pulls us toward the other end. It comprises everything that propels us to look outward, and it hinders our progress of self-actualization.

Spirituality and the physical world might be similar to the oil and water in a glass. They only float on each other, but they can never mix. We’re not monks who live in the Himalayas. We’re regular individuals in a modern society.

I have pondered many times whether I can remain spiritual in the modern world.

I have found it arduous to be spiritual yet still have an active social life. During the last five years, I oscillated between extreme isolation (to practice spirituality) and being extremely social (with less spirituality). Balancing both was tough. I perceived it as almost impossible.

Practicing spirituality for Buddhist monks is less challenging. They aren’t distracted by our same modern complications. I could relate when I experienced the monastic life during my one-month retreat in India.

I was away from society, all means of communication, and other various other distractions. Getting in touch with my spiritual essence was trouble-free—no outside factors hindered my inward investigation.

Ironically, the same retreat taught me that being spiritual in the modern world is possible. It’s not about the modern world being too complicated or about spirituality being too simple. Rather, it’s about our minds and how they perceive the reality in which we live.

It took me years to realize that the mind can accept the modern world as the right place to practice spirituality. The fact is, heading to the mountains to isolate oneself for higher purposes is easy. What’s challenging is living in a society, yet remaining spiritual. True spirituality is not running away from problems. Rather, the practice of spirituality is about using the challenges we face in life as tools to strengthen our spiritual journey.

Spirituality is not running away from entering a relationship to avoid drama; it’s about being in a relationship and transforming it into a conscious type of love.

Spirituality is about turning the workplace, our house, our environment and our society into places to practice spirituality.

Spirituality is not about running away from being around people. It is about being with people and reflecting our own goodness and journey unto them.

We need to understand that our experiences are essential to our spiritual growth. Our ups and downs in modern life are our blessings—not our hindrances.

I am reminded of the Dalai Lama’s words on this matter. He says that if one’s mental attitude is full of aggressive feelings, even a comfortable environment will bring them no peace. However, if one’s attitude is calm and gentle, even the most hostile environment will have little impact on their inner peace. The basic source of happiness and growing is one’s mental attitude.

Being spiritual in the modern world is challenging, but it works. And it works only with the right attitude and sense of determination. When we understand that spirituality is an inside job, then we’ll understand that it’s our job to decide where it can work in our lives.

Spirituality and the modern world aren’t like oil and water—they’re like salt and water. The salt dissolves into the water until it becomes one with it. This is how we should be in the world: spiritual beings dissolving into it and becoming one with it.

The following is a Zen story that has always been my inspiration concerning this matter. It reminds me that the mind is the judge of events. Whenever I am faced with problems in my day-to-day life, I repeat to myself, “is that so?”

The Zen master Hakuin was praised by his neighbors as one living a pure life. A beautiful Japanese girl whose parents owned a food store lived near him. Suddenly, without any warning, her parents discovered she was pregnant. This made her parents very angry. She would not confess who the man was but after much harassment at last named Hakuin.

In great anger, the parents went to the master. “Is that so?” was all he would say. When the child was born, the parents brought it to the Hakuin, who now was viewed as a pariah by the whole village. They demanded that he takes care of the child since it was his responsibility. “Is that so?” Hakuin said calmly as he accepted the child.

A year later the girl could stand it no longer. She told her parents the truth—that the real father of the child was a young man who worked in the fishmarket, and not Hakuin. The parents of the girl at once went to Hakuin to ask his forgiveness, and to get the child back again. Hakuin was willing. In yielding the child, all he said was: “Is that so?”

Author: Elyane Youssef

Image: @katarrrrina on Instagram

Editor: Caitlin Oriel

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