What does a Spiritual Life mean?

Well, here I am, 7 and a half years later. Somehow, I have come full circle.

In 2013 I decided that I no longer needed to follow the same old patterns. I no longer needed to pretend that I was happy living the life I was living. So I quit, and asked myself a very simple question.

If you could do anything, actually absolutely anything, what would you do? What moves me? 

And the answer at the time was easy. Travel.

Not just for the sake of it. Not to run away. Quite the opposite. To live fully. To follow my heart and no longer look at the pictures of the world. What about seeing, smelling, hearing, tasting and touching it? So that’s what I did. I set out on a long walk and let go of all the rules that society had placed on me.

Who decided that there is a set way to live anyway?

Essentially I did what hundreds and thousands have done before…I went off to “find myself”. Or to put it another way, to discover what life was…for me. And so, like so many before, I ended up in India…and became a yoga teacher. Yep, I jumped off the merry-go-round and went to join the circus instead!

And now I feel like a clown who doesn’t fit in. It’s a strange feeling. 

We are facing a time of re-integration. Both personally, but also on a more global scale. The situation is asking us to take stock of our world and perhaps look at things in a new way.

The great Indian epic poem, The Bhagavad Gita, is set in the thick of life.
In the middle of the battlefield.
This is life.

I have been all around the planet. I have met teachers, received the gifts of the teachings, and must now face the test of stepping back into the world I left behind. It has not been easy.

The reality of re-integration is that I am in the midst of a battlefield.

People want results. And they want them now. A quick fix.

The default in our society is to stimulate and manipulate in order to not feel. That’s what keeps us consuming. In the modern world, social media, obsession with the physical body, the attitude of “no pain no gain”…these have created a “yoga scene”.

And so, as a yoga teacher, I face a battle.
Despite the training, ongoing study, time, travel, practice, experience, and dedication, what I share appears to have no value in the world I have returned to. Almost like being back at square one. This is the difficulties of re-integration. There is potential, opportunity. But there is also the feeling of ‘really, I have to do it all over again?’

It feels a lot like crossing a mountain range by foot. You go all the way up to the pass, spend some time up there enjoying the view, and then all the way back down. Up and down. Up and down, over and over again. 

You break your back going up because the view at the top is so incredibly wonderful, but at some point, you must come down. And when you finally reach the end of the mountain range, you can look back on your achievement.

You enjoy being back down for some time. It’s comfortable. Relaxing. Easeful. You can make a cup of tea a hundred times a day if you want to. But it doesn’t taste nearly as good as a cup from the flask on top of the mountain.

You begin to think about that view. ‘Oh how fantastic it was at the top’ you think to yourself. You feel heavy with the ease of your existence. Is this really it?

Suddenly you see your life stretch out in front of you, and it is this moment of unhappiness multiplied a hundred thousand times. This feeling of dissatisfaction is what seems to be in store.

‘NO WAY!’ you tell yourself. I will not be that way. But instead of seeing that you can simply change how you are going about things, nostalgia takes over. You remember the feeling of being on top of the world. It consumes you to the point that you no longer see what you have. None of it matters.

All you know is that you must go to the top of the mountain again. But not the same one. Oh no. Never walk the same path! Desire is nostalgia – trying to recapture a sensation that filled a hole once upon a time.

And this is the problem. Because that hole will still exist. It cannot be filled by doing. Only by being. Being present. Taking the moment to its source and being in the void.

The void can be a terrible place. It is filled with emptiness. Fear. The understanding that I do not have control. Stillness.

But stillness can be a very good point to find a new perspective on our habitual ways of being. Agitation, anger, aggression, frustration. They are all rooted in selfish desire. They are the reaction to not getting what one wants. In whatever way that may be. Whether it is the feeling of not being heard, or the sense that your space and time is not respected; or simply that you are not getting the respect you feel you deserve from those who you want it from the most. It is all bound up in the same outward looking view. And it is self serving. 

What does a spiritual life mean?

For me, it is cultivating a practice that leads us to act more skilfully in life. The bodily vehicle is the container, to be respected as the channel of the spirit. By repeatedly reminding ourselves that everything is divine, that there is nowhere God is not, we can connect more deeply with the ,mystery of who, and what we are.

Jesus, Buddha, Mohammed….these great being reminded us that their qualities are present in each of us. This is our Buddha nature. How we cultivate the mind is the essential point. When difficulties arise, whether they be people who irritate or annoy us, or situations that we do not like, these are the times when our practice is real. We are in this world in order to learn, and our lives are not an obstacle to practice. They are our practice. To be open to this is to accept the fact that “I do do not know”. And that is actually ok. To be open to unlearning and releasing old patterns that keep me in this cycle of self-obsession. When we recognise the poison, the remedy is constant presence.

Years on the road taught me there are so many different ways to live. And there is no need to conform.

And so I am a ship at sea. There is a familiarity about this situation, as I sit here taking in the view.

The winds blow me this way and that, and I am buffeted by the waves of life on all sides. There is another layer stripped away. Another endless journey halted in the appropriate moment. Another destination out of reach. Another country, another mountain. A new sea with a new view as the sun rises over a new peak. At least for these eyes. 

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