We live in an age of narcissism.
Society rewards our most self-centered inclinations.
The better we are at tending to our most selfish desires—the more schooled we are at feeding the insatiable hunger of our egos—the more “success” we tend to find in the world.
This was especially apparent to me in those cutthroat high school years when “getting your own” became the primary ethic of my peers. I never understood this excessive grasping for more, nor did it seem right in any sense of the word. However, as did many others, I conformed to this self-satisfying ethos to get by.
There were many times where I felt detached from the closest people in my life because of this. It just didn’t sit well with me—this notion that there is something out there we need to attain and that we define ourselves by how far we go to attain it, regardless of the personal and existential costs. I’ve lost many friends because of this ethic, and I deeply regret it.
I can recall one time, in particular, when I was driving around with someone who, up to that point, had been a good friend of mine. He was in the midst of a three-day drug bender, and I had very little to offer him in that regard. I sensed him getting increasingly antsy as we drove around aimlessly, as he grew more uncomfortable with just being together without some kind of agenda.
Eventually he got a call, murmured some disjointed words into the half-destroyed iPhone, and asked me to park in an empty lot a few blocks away. Almost immediately after I parked, he jumped out of the car, right as some headlights appeared behind me. In a moment’s time, I heard the car door shut and they swerved off into the night, with my door still left open and a few candy wrappers arranged messily on my passenger seat.
We didn’t speak a great deal after that.
Whether it be in climbing the socioeconomic ladder on Wall Street, or trying to make the big time in Hollywood, it pays to be overtly selfish and egocentric. The more attention we give to our self-image and sense of identity, the more we tend to achieve outwardly, at least in a material sense.
Now, I’m not here to say whether this is a good or a bad thing (it’s probably a bad thing, though), instead I’d really like to address how we might come to engage in a spiritual practice and live a truly righteous life, while at the same time surviving in a deeply self-oriented and fast-paced culture.
A friend of mine told me recently that this is “a culture of immediacy,” in that we don’t allow ourselves the time to assimilate what is happening around us and reflect upon it. We usually just go with it, getting caught in the rip tide of the energies that surround us. We don’t give ourselves the space to really understand things, and this might manifest through social media use, video games, or excessive consumption.
We move quickly, is what I mean.
When we live in such a culture, it is made pretty difficult to feel what needs to be felt, to be connected with that which is much deeper than our ego or any kind of mentally formulated identity, to be aligned with our innermost sense of spirit.
However, I maintain that not only is possible to live a spiritual life amidst a deeply materialistic culture, but it is also entirely necessary to do so if we wish to be rightly related to the world around us.
But how can we go about this? How might we elicit a sense of depth and spiritual connectedness while living in an age where narcissism always seems to “win.”
I can only speak from my experience. I have found integrating meditative moments into my daily activities to be profoundly useful. It has allowed me to breathe easier, to relax into my body, and be held by experience itself, even in stressful situations.
So, what is a meditative moment?
It is a full and total embodiment of the space and time in which we happen to reside.
Whether we are walking to work, riding the train, taking a drive, or what have you, let’s allow ourselves to recognize that this moment is the only moment that will ever exist.
Try it, and see what happens.
What is happening right now, right here in this moment, is the only thing that will ever be and the only thing that has ever been.
It doesn’t have to be a lasting experience—it need only be a moment.
Doing this brings a deep sense of alleviation and stress relief. It is a kind of mini spiritual detox, in the sense that no matter what pent-up energy we have contained within our being, we allowed it the room to move through us and dissipate.
No matter what is happening around me, this simple practice allows me to feel good. I feel as though I am a part of all of everything—this cosmic vastness—rather than an isolated individual.
I feel connected.
So, we don’t necessarily need to join a monastery and meditate all day for seven years (though that is not an entirely terrible idea). We can move through modern culture with a kind of ease and fluidity in spite of the madness of it all, but it does take practice and consistent effort.
Author: Samuel Kronen
Image: Matthew G/ Flickr
Editor: Khara-Jade Warren