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Inner compass for spiritual living

KeromeKerome Love, love is mysteryThe Continent Veteran

I was considering today the spiritual life of the mind. You may have noticed that your mind has various patterns imprinted on it, depending on how you grew up. For me, a portion of my youth was spent with a hippy dad, who went all over the world living in various communes. Then later on I was made aware by society of the need to earn money, and that made a huge impact.

So in a way I have these two distinct patterns in my brain, the one that wants to be an economist/engineer and work everything out, steady 9-5 job, house, pension. The other wants to give it all up and follow a spiritual lifestyle of contemplation and celebration for at least a few months a year. This clash of thinking styles is quite apparent in how my mind plays out on these subjects.

When I follow my spirituality, I follow my bliss, truth, peace. When I follow my inner economist, I find anxiety on my path, and there never seems to be enough, even though I am not poor. But I don’t have an income at the moment, I seem to have arrived at the end of one career without an obvious start for the next. So I’m at a bit of a crossroads right now, and this question is very relevant to me.

I’ve considered just banishing the economist, and trying to live by just following where the spiritual path leads me. But I was wondering how other people manage this balance? How do you set your inner compass?


  • federicafederica seeker of the clear blue sky Its better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak out and remove all doubt Moderator

    Through Detachment.

  • My inner compass gyrates from way too much rumination. When the rumination settles (or when the whirlwind of papanca or mental proliferation blows itself out) I can find true north more easily. As an underemployed creative after being laid off after several decades, the economic worries can get unsettling. But then I recall the Buddha directing monks to head to empty huts, the foot of trees and piles of straw. To work out their own salvation with diligence. And I wonder if am worrying overmuch about career and not enough on the work of diligence.

  • personperson Don't believe everything you think 'Merica! Veteran

    I suppose I live a frugal lifestyle and have the kind of job where I have the freedom to not work quite so hard so I can take time to devote to spiritual endeavors.

  • JasonJason God Emperor Arrakis Moderator
    edited September 3

    I manage it by hoping for and working towards a society that values cooperation over competition, that seeks to move away from production for profit and more towards the needs of all, that reduces hours of labour, that ultimately allows for more time and space for more spiritually enriching pursuits. If our inner economist pushed for a more communal and equitable economy, our inner spiritualist could enjoy a more spiritual lifestyle of contemplation and celebration.

  • Veni, sedi, vici [Latin]
    I came, I sat, I won

    I sat, Sati, Sādhu [Buddhism]

    Moving our mind into attention/mindfulness is the result of an increased capacity to bring practice into being/work/our mundane (‘non-spiritual’) lived dharma ...

  • KeromeKerome Love, love is mystery The Continent Veteran

    @Dhammika said:
    And I wonder if am worrying overmuch about career and not enough on the work of diligence.

    Worrying being very much the operative word for me as well. The economic style of thinking means to worry about future income, pensions, a place to live, all these kind of things. As a reasonably intelligent person you like to think you have these things in control, while in fact there is no such thing as control over the future. But the temptation is always to spend time worrying, because that is the habit of the mind.

    When I think back to my childhood there was a tremendous freedom there, travel and meeting people. In a way I feel a spiritual life is recapturing that freedom, teaching myself not to worry but instead to spend time in practice, in meditation. It’s a bit of a question of just living and letting tomorrow take care of itself.

  • federicafederica seeker of the clear blue sky Its better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak out and remove all doubt Moderator

    Yeah. It helps to know how to be child-like, rather than child-ish.

    (I know a ton of guys who find it very hard to distinguish one from the other.... ;) )

  • Here is full-time spiritual employment (de-ployment?):

    “I think that every step, every breath, every word that is spoken or done in mindfulness—that is the manifestation of the Buddha. Don’t look for the Buddha elsewhere. It is in the art of living mindfully every moment of your life.”

    — Thich Nhat Hanh

  • adamcrossleyadamcrossley Explorer
    edited September 4

    I wish I could offer any advice, but I’m more in the market for receiving it. I find this a difficulty as well, and constantly feel as though I’m letting down one of my “identities” by not working on it well enough. I found @Lee82 ’s words contained a lot of wisdom. Perhaps we shouldn’t try to live such defined lives.

  • lobsterlobster Veteran
    edited September 4

    @adamcrossley said:
    and constantly feel as though I’m letting down one of my “identities” by not working on it well enough. I found @Lee82 ’s words contained a lot of wisdom. Perhaps we shouldn’t try to live such defined lives.

    Bodhi Batman is that you? O.o

  • JasonJason God Emperor Arrakis Moderator
    edited September 5

    I've spent the last 20 years or so of my life trying to find a balance, but it's been difficult. At one point, I decided I wanted to ordain in order to devote myself fully to a life of spirituality, but I changed my mind after a month and decided to live life some more. And at times, I found a good balance, with some help from others, where I could work but also find time for retreats and such. The older I got, though, the less time I had for contemplation and celebration, with more and more going towards working and relationships and other worldly things. I've tried to make my life itself a practice, but I find it extremely difficult to be mindful and to develop equanimity and other wholesome mental states when immersed in life, especially emotionally stressful and physically draining jobs. I wish we could have more time to devote to such things, but our western society prioritizes working and making money more than inner/spiritual development and that causes me a great deal of suffering, which is why I hope and strive for a world where that balance becomes more of a possibility. Because I truly think it'd make us saner, and the world a happier place.

  • ... but I find it extremely difficult to be mindful and to develop equanimity and other wholesome mental states when immersed in life ...

    There is a famous saying attributed to The Prophet that says, “There is no monasticism in Islam.”

    Maybe we will puja/pray/remember our practice more once we find a life more ordinary is itself spiritual?

    Apart from sheep sacrificing, the Abrahamic religions may not satisfy the new wolves of dharma. However a pragmatic dharma is emerging. Not all dharma centres are temples or monk homes. Some are in the business of making us more able, stable and prospering citizens of the New World Disorder (also available as a conspiracy).

    @Jason said:
    ... Because I truly think it'd make us saner, and the world a happier place.

    Is it a revolution?
    I'll join.

    Om mani peme home

  • KeromeKerome Love, love is mystery The Continent Veteran

    It seems a lot of people have problems with this, perhaps not surprising because it is a universal issue among those with a spiritual sense of being: how do we manage to feed that part of ourselves in a world where the majority of people seem to think about money and spend so much time on that part of their lives?

    My father tried to manage that balance by working part time as a teacher, where you get more holidays during the year. My stepfather worked very hard within his own business, where he could set his own times of working. There are ways to do it.

    But as @Jason says, it causes a lot of suffering and is an obstacle to a saner, happier world. Not just in the practicality, but in how people think.

  • JasonJason God Emperor Arrakis Moderator
    edited September 5

    Sometimes I wonder if I made a mistake in not ordaining, and if I'm wasting my time trying to live a regular, worldly life. I still think about being a monk often. Here's something I wrote last year after reading some Thomas Merton:

    The idea of monastic life has always fascinated me, and I've often considered becoming a monk myself. Most people have trouble understanding why, but I realize that it's simply because many aren't called to such a life. What is a monk, anyway? To paraphrase Thomas Merton from The Silent Life, a monk is someone who's been called by something inside of themselves — whether you want to call that inner voice intuition, wisdom, or the holy spirit — to relinquish the care, desires, and ambitions of everyday life and devote themselves to the search for truth. In one sense or another, they withdraw from 'the world' and give themselves over to a life of contemplation. Instead of looking outwardly for meaning and happiness, they turn to look within. Instead of taking refuge in material things or the ephemeral enjoyment found in the pursuit of worldly pleasures, they seek a deeper level of fulfillment based on an intangible yet infinitely more stable foundation—that which some call God, Dhamma, or Ground of Being. Their labour is ultimately a spiritual labour. Their vocation is one in which they seek to empty themselves of self in order to, paradoxically, become more full. To the average person, this kind of ascetic, self-denying lifestyle may sound crazy, even dangerous. But to the person called to such a life, it appears as an oasis in the desert. And I find myself increasingly drawn towards those still, deep, love-filled waters of the silent life.

    And from something a couple of years earlier:

    Life is amazing, and I'm not drawn towards monasticism out of revulsion. I don't want to run away from the world; it's just that a spiritual, contemplative life is the only one that makes sense to me. But in our modern world, it seems like the path to acquiring material success has steadily become more and more divorced from that, creating an almost insurmountable division. And I'm afraid of being stranded on one side of the chasm or the other.

  • KeromeKerome Love, love is mystery The Continent Veteran

    That very much speaks to me @jason, it’s beautiful. I too am drawn to those waters, but when I for example consider going to visit Thich Nhat Hanh’s Plum Village community in southern France, I wonder whether I am not too much into other spiritual influences to stay purely with Buddhism.

    Certainly a Christian tradition wouldn’t suit me, although they still have some monasteries not too far from here. If there was some kind of community for new age-oriented monastics I would probably have a look there, although it does make me wonder what such a community might look like! Probably very colourful.

  • JasonJason God Emperor Arrakis Moderator
    edited September 6

    Yes, I think it would be nice if there were more secular or ecumenical monastic communities for people who want to live a nondenominational monastic life. That said, I've spent time in both Buddhist and Christian monasteries and find that monastic life in each is very similar over all. If one can see through the cultural and superficial differences and discover the underlying communal and contemplative framework, any monastery can be a wonderful experience. I've always been partial to Thai Theravada temples, but have since found myself increasingly drawn towards the Trappists.

  • personperson Don't believe everything you think 'Merica! Veteran

    Living a spiritually minded life cuts against the grain of the world and swimming upstream gets tiring. I realize now how much of a difference it has made for me to plug into a real life sangha that is headed in the same direction.

    If that isn't available then it will be harder, and many times when on my own I did fall into despair at the difficulty. I can say though that all the effort does make one a stronger swimmer.

  • Trappists? Is that a Buddhist cult ... :o ;)

    There are secular communes.

    I am too much of a heretic to live under monastic, capitalist, socialist or other dictatorship. Ideally I would be a celebrity hermit such as Thomas Merton, a palace refugee like the mendicant Buddha, or Nun-The-Wiser ...

    The Bodhi of Christ ... o:)

  • FoibleFullFoibleFull Canada Veteran
    edited September 8

    The ancient Hindus divided life up into four stages:
    First was youth and dedication to spiritual practices.
    Second was marrying and family and working.
    Third was contributing to society.
    And then retirement and devoting the rest of the life to spiritual development .. picking up from the Brahmacharya phase of the first stage.

    You are asking for something more real, more practical.
    I actually ended up following those stages.
    And until retirement I had to work to support myself. It wasn't a choice, and it left little time/energy for meditating in the woods (so to speak).
    But wherever we are, that is where we practice. We don't need outer circumstances to match up.

    One of the ladies in our dharma group took the samaya vows from our teacher when she retired. But she lives in her condo ... once a year she journeys to stay in a Buddhist convent for a while. She would LIKE to live there year-round, but has decided not to .. she is old and doesn't want to become a drain on the resources of the sangha community. That seems pretty right to me, too.

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