When a person seeks a spiritual path and knows that this is what they are doing, they often remove themselves from the distractions of the world.
Monks, nuns, ascetics, or hermits often cloister themselves away from the world so that they can connect with the divine more easily, and can discover their spiritual connection more clearly.
The spiritual path is to become pure, to be completely at one with this spiritual core, and to transcend worldly realities to find the bliss of divine reality.
In India, for instance, becoming a sadhu, or wandering mystic, is very common and one must follow such a path if one is ever to attain the enlightenment of a guru.
In whatever religion, around the world, monks or nuns spend hours in prayerful solitude, in order to gain the peace and stillness that allows them to be in contact with the same divine force.
Lay people ply their own modes to gain similar inner peace and connection, in the form of meditation or affirmations.
Yet, take those human beings out of these role plays, take away the modes they utilize, and put them back into the grind of society, and the problems and difficulties of simply living in the world, and often the tools they use in solitude do not suffice.
They can break down and behave as badly as any human being beset by extreme challenges, (although their training will likely enable them to realign more quickly).
In those moments, they may feel lost and confused, and unable to fathom why their ability to cope, to manage, and to maintain balance and calmness is not working.
They may feel that somehow their modes were faulty, or that something inside themselves was faulty, that somewhere they made a misstep or took a wrong turn, and that this is showing in their inability to maintain equilibrium when challenged.
But this is not so.
In my belief system, the truth is that you do not have to become a hermit or ascetic, or give up any contact with the world in order to get in touch with the divine, or with the deeper truths within yourself.
I believe that life is full of challenges and difficulties because we are all following spiritual paths.
We are all threads of focus in god’s mind, and therefore we are all part of a process of enlightenment, which is about discovering how our thread is playing out.
Yes, removing ourselves from the challenges and difficulties of life can bring peace and centering, and a better ability to cope and maintain equilibrium. In that state, most of us can find beauty in the world, in the cosmos, and in ourselves.
But put yourself under extreme duress as a human being, where difficulties are harsh, cruel, unkind, unfair, and just plain exhausting, and it is far less easy to see that same beauty or feel it.
You could imagine that the world upturned in this way is bad, evil, or just ‘shit,’ and you might imagine that such a ‘hell hole’ could never be god given – at least by the god you worship.
Yet in every moment that we are whittled away to our core by such experiences, through pain, exhaustion, and despair, we find ourselves.
When there is nothing and no one else left to rely on, and our prayers never seem to be answered nor have any hope of being answered, and when all our efforts seem to have come to no avail, the truth is that the ‘rock bottom’ we hit is our deepest inner core.
As we sit silently, alone with that inner core, and face the harsh reality of what has happened to us – when we feel completely hopeless enough to not be sure what next to do or whether it is possible to even do it – we reach a turning point.
In the silence of ourselves, in the deepest pit of our lives, there is only one choice – to live or die.
If we even stand up in that pit, we have begun to make our choice, and have begun to choose life – even if we don’t know how that life will evolve from there.
As we move, fraction by fraction, and shuffle ourselves back onto a path, any path, we choose life, and in choosing life we are in contact with the divine.
In reaching that point of deepest despair, we are in contact with the divine.
In realizing that it is up to us to ‘keep on keeping on’, or to ‘give up the ghost’, we are in contact with the divine.
In my estimation, tragedies and challenges are not brought our way by evil but as modes wherefrom even the non-spiritual among us can learn to find their spirit, to align with their spirit and to engage with life in better ways.
For me, life is about living, for better or worse.
When you hit those ‘rock bottoms’ and yet stand up and climb out from them, you learn something about yourself.
You learn something about life.
You learn that ‘rock bottom’ is not death, unless you want it to be – and that if you choose life, every moment is meaningful, even the smallest ones.
Even spiritual ascetics will tell you that deep meditation and the modes of enlightenment will not necessarily make you happy.
Those who follow such paths are not seeking happiness, as such, but peace, respite, and meaning that enables them to be ‘at one with what is’.
When ordinary people go through extraordinary times, and suffer extremes, they also learn to be ‘at one with what is.’
They also learn peace, (though not necessarily happiness), because peace is found in acceptance of ‘what is’ – for when we suffer extremes there is often nothing left to fight ‘what is’ and then all that can be done is to accept it.
They also achieve respite, for every moment without challenge is exactly that, thereafter. (They find respite in the blessing of not being challenged further).
And they also receive meaning, because after you have suffered the worst, then smaller challenges are nothing to worry about, and every moment you are alive has meaning, somehow.
In example, even the most exhausted of us, and the most ill, can look at a bird on a windowsill and enjoy its company.
I do not believe that life’s challenges and difficulties are badness. I believe that they are the tools that guide us back to the divine.
For me, they are simply the paths we laymen find ourselves on.
And they are how even those who thought they had the tools to meet such challenges discover even greater strengths within themselves, when they realize their tools were not apt and must learn to forge better ones.
When you are empty and you have nothing left, all that is with you is soul, or spirit.
When you are only soul or spirit, all that you can do in such moments is BE.
In just being alive, you express divine intention.
From that point, you have enlightenment – which is how buddha also found it, sitting under the bodhi tree, where he had gone in complete exhaustion and despair – empty of all feeling and thought, because all feeling and thought had proved useless in achieving his goals.
And in that state of complete emptiness within the shell of himself, he came face to face with his essential life force, just BEING.
His enlightenment was acknowledging that just BEING was the task of every element in this world, and that nothing else mattered – for life is an experience, and a blessing because we CAN experience.
Good or bad is nothing more than the ups and downs of a ‘roller coaster ride’, and nothing more than the modes with which we use to define and measure our existence.
When we reach ‘rock bottom’ and can no longer feel or think, we lose this ability to define and measure existence, because we lose the certainty that our judgement is correct.
It may seem like a hopeless and despairing state, and for some of us who find such a state of emptiness too confronting it can become a state of hopelessness and despair – but only if they stop moving, stop doing, and stop BEING.
In Taoism, this essential life force or state of BEING is when we are all in contact with the divine.
The most common meditation used by Taoists is not static. It is not done sitting. It is not done whilst ‘spacing out.’ It is done whilst moving.
( You may know this meditation as the beautiful exercise routines of Tai Chi or Qi Gong ).
It is about achieving peace and equilibrium through or despite states of change or movement.
It works much better than static meditation for dealing with the issues of life on a daily basis.
Many years ago, I used Tai Chi to center myself before going on stage when I worked as an actor.
I found that these dynamic methods of centering myself amid activity, noise, and other challenges, enabled me to cope better with stress – far better than sitting with it and trying to bring my mind under control.
It was also a good foundation for centering myself during interviews or tests, because the concept is not about absenting yourself from the world in order to cope, but is about coping with the world while being present in the challenge.
I believe that this is the natural mode of our cosmos, and that it is why those who only seek static meditations or detachments still find it hard to cope when beset by the challenges of the world when they re-merge with it.
The cosmos wants us to learn to manage all predicaments and all situations with equilibrium. So we are tested. We are challenged. We face difficulties and hardships. We deal with sickness and pain, trauma and tragedy.
If we survive, we naturally become stronger, and we usually discover a deeper compassion within ourselves for all other beings who suffer.
That is spirit. That is being in touch with the divine.
If you think of spirituality as an evolutionary existence, then think on this – what happens to your spirit after your body dies and your reincarnational cycles are over?
Do you really think that life will be an endless stream of eternal stagnation in a state of bliss?
God’s life never stagnates, and nor will your life as spirit. For god is a creator, and when you reach the font from where god emerges, you become a creator, too – an artist of the cosmos.
Which great responsibility is why it is absolutely necessary for you to go through the challenges and difficulties of life in the class room of planet earth.
In saying that, it is not necessary for you to strive to graduate this class room any more than a child at any school strives.
There will be times when much learning is going on and many challenges must be met, but other times when the focus is on play and creative self-expression.
Each has its place in the school of life – but a child at school normally doesn’t think upon them, apart from being excited about the challenge or the play, or about just ‘hanging’ with their friends, and nor should you.
When life gets tough and you feel challenged but are getting nowhere in every effort or aim, stop processing, stop trying so hard… Simply BE.
Time will pass until you are ready to ply life again. It’s natural to do so, if you are on the path of life (and not stuck in the sinkhole).
Don’t fear that you won’t be able to keep going, if you take time out for respite. All life needs rest and respite, for that is the natural cycle of the world – and fear is an exhausting energy that will deplete you before you even start ! (It is only fear that ever keeps you in the sinkhole).
Just remember – if you push yourself too hard, all you do is get so exhausted that you burn yourself out. When that happens, you can’t ply life again until you are replenished, restored, and capable.
So pushing yourself too hard actually works against your aims. It is like forcing content through a tunnel and clogging it up, which then requires time and effort to unclog the tunnel before things can move again.
Better to be like buddha, who left the bodhi tree to eat, drink and be merry with a world full of friends, and with much friendly compassion for their worldly predicaments.
Also, remember this – when you look at the sun through the leaves of the tree, the bright glare makes the edges of the leaves disappear.
In the ‘tree of life’, you lose clarity in the moment if you keep looking at the ‘sun’ through the canopy.
In the same way, you lose clarity about your life if you keep looking for the overwhelming brightness of god to shine upon you.
Such are the modes of nervousness and fear, not of intrepid adventure, or stoic philosophy, or steadfast commitment – all necessary to ply life effectively on planet earth.
You weren’t put into the ‘school of the world’ so you could keep looking for your divine parent’s hand to hold.
You were put here to engage with all experience, and to learn from it. You were put here to discover the bright light that shines within yourself.