Life is complex. It is complicated. It is messy.
This is truth.
However, there is a common belief among spiritual aspirants that one must create a simple lifestyle in order to progress in one’s spiritual work in a pointed and determined manner. A simple lifestyle is one dedicated to disciplined religious practice in a monastery, for example, or a simple pastoral life, “far from the madding crowd” to quote Thomas Hardy.
If life itself is complex, complicated, and messy, does removing oneself to a lifestyle of simplicity then resolve the very nature of life – that it is not actually simple?
Creating a lifestyle of simplicity may be pleasing and more understandable, but it does not necessarily mean that it helps you make any more progress in your spiritual journey than having a lifestyle embedded in complexity!
“What?!?! You mean that simply donning the traditional cloak and practices of a spiritual aspirant won’t actually get me to where I want to go?!”
Some notable quotes on this:
“Be in the world, but not of it” (the bible)
“Why did we meditate in a monastery for 30 years and get nowhere when a farmer working his field became enlightened?” (paraphrased from something I read somewhere)
Larry Darrell to Monk: “It is one thing to be a monk on the top of a mountain and another to live spiritually in a city”.
Monk, in response: “You are closer to enlightenment than you think.”
(From The Razor’s Edge, by W. Somerset Maugham: )
“Life is difficult” (The Road Less Travelled, by Scott M. Peck)
“Life in complex” (The follow-up book, called The Road Less Travelled and Beyond, written because people didn’t understand that life is not simple)
“Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving.” (Albert Einstein)
Oh, dear. A conundrum seems to appear:
“How can I even pretend to be spiritual, much less actually be it, when life is complex, complicated, and messy?! And on top of this, now it seems that creating a lifestyle of simplicity is not the recipe for making spiritual progress?!”
And on the theme of “a gentle spiritual path”, which is the underlying them of my journey and my writing:
“How can one have a gentle spiritual path while living in a life that by nature is not simple?!”
Peace within the chaos of life
The way out of this conundrum is actually pretty straightforward, but as with many things in life, not always easy to achieve:
Learn to be peaceful inside yourself while life swirls its dance outside of yourself.
Peace is by nature peaceful. It is the opposite of complexity, complication, and messiness. It is the opposite of chaos. And it is simple.
Simplicity, then, is the result of spiritual progress, not a prescription for making spiritual progress.
“How do I find inner peacefulness while living in the chaos?”
Ahhh…now this is great question!
And the answer is an easy one:
You create inner peacefulness!
Hurray! And this is the end of this article.
Ok, so it is not the end of this article.
Why not? Because like I mentioned in an earlier article, simple cryptic sayings may be truth, but they are of little value in helping one actually do anything.
So, what can you actually do to create inner peacefulness?
Some practical first steps:
- Every single day take some time out from distractions. Even just 20 minutes, 30 minutes, but preferably 60 minutes or more. Set down your smartphone. Turn off the computer screen, shut off the television, pull out the earbuds. turn off the music. Put the book down. Remove yourself from other people. Be by yourself.
- Be uncomfortable in your time out from distractions. Yes, you read this correctly: Be uncomfortable. Do you think that suddenly removing yourself from distractions would be instantly peaceful and relaxing? Heck no! It will most likely be sometimes frustrating, irritating, and even scary. You are spending time only with yourself. You are not used to doing so. Your mind will go crazy trying to fill in the silence gap that external stimuli constantly feeds it. You are literally removing a drug from your mind.
You will be uncomfortable for awhile. Likely for days and on and off for weeks and months.
But that’s ok, because on the other side of the discomfort you will find some very real evidence of what you are seeking. “How long will it take?” you might ask. Not to worry: You will get glimpses of the other side pretty quickly. Just glimpses at first, but tantalizing ones that will encourage you to continue making the effort and keep going.
- Find the separate observer inside yourself: The consciousness that is watching your mind chatter away and your body doing all kinds of things throughout every moment of every day.
You are not your mind. You are not your body. You are consciousness observing and living out a mind and body experience.
You need do little to find the conscious observer inside yourself and spend some time feeling it. Being free of distractions helps you get started. And telling yourself you would like to be present and feel being an observer can be the trigger to actually experiencing it.
Spend some time every day in conscious observer mode only. A few seconds at first is all most people can maintain. Then they get lost in thought again. After a few days you will be able to spend 10 or 20 seconds in this mode. In a few weeks you will find you switch in and out of being present as a conscious observer while at the same time going about living your normal life.
…You will notice that time spent being a conscious observer feels different. It often feels a lot more peaceful.
But emotions, tiredness, discombobulation, and distraction will continually knock you out of peacefulness. Just because you have discovered that you are a conscious observer, and being in that mode sometimes comes with a new feeling of peacefulness, does not mean you are “done” and have achieved what gurus, saints, and enlightened being have become.
But you have definitely taken a really powerful first step.
You are for some parts of your complex, complicated, and messy daily life an awake conscious participant. You are now a participant with the power to observe and intervene in response to what their mind and body are doing, rather than reacting unconsciously and instinctively.
You are taking responsibility for your life in the most powerful way possible.
You are becoming active rather than passive. Not active in running around out there in the world doing things, but active inside yourself.
This is real power.
Power that is yours to take back from those influences you have unknowingly given it to: Distractions, emotions, non-stop thinking, instinctual reactions, beliefs, mental constructs, the story of your past, and your desires for the future.
And now the real work begins. The work of deciding what distractions you will end permanently in your life. Learning where your emotions are being triggered from and deciding if you want to experience the triggered emotions any longer. Consciously quieting your mind. Letting go of beliefs and mental constructs that no longer serve you well. Seeing where the story of your past is coloring your present in ways you not longer wish it to. And letting go of the myriad desires for the future in exchange for only a few important ones that you know will actually be worth having.
But that is what lies ahead.
Right now it is worth acknowledging that you have already tasted the inner peace that is yours to have forever if you are willing to take on the real challenge of making it permanent.
Welcome to the biggest challenge of your life and ultimately the most satisfying goal you will ever achieve:
Inner peace and simplicity in the complex, complicated, and messy external experience that is your life.