The Wisdom defines the objective of the human spirit as growing and developing in awareness and consciousness to the point where ‘oneness’ with the divine is reached. Most spiritual paths accept this ‘oneness’ as only being achievable through the use of certain practices.Around the third century A.D., the Christian Desert Fathers taught attunement with the divine as being reached through fasting, prayer and deprival of bodily comforts. In the sixth century, St. Benedict set up various monasteries and established his famous Rule, giving a broader view of monastic life of:
Prayer, learning, disciplined living, and active practical work in the community
Benedict’s Rule was written for his monks and gives a balanced, rounded and humane view of the way in which the spiritual life should be conducted within the monastery. It is worth reading as much of it is applicable to a spiritual life lived in the world today. Some of the points arising from the Rule, and the teachings of the Wisdom, directly relating to a non-monastic contemporary spiritual life are as follows. These are given in alphabetical order rather than in any order of priority and are:
Detachment, Discipline, Learning, Material, Meditation. Prayer, Serenity, Service, Truth, Will
A crucial quality is detachment. We would not be alive without our emotions, but we need to be watchful lest they become destructive and obsessive, leading to jealousy, envy, greed, possessiveness and rage. We observe these feelings in a calm objective fashion without being swept away by them.We also need to be on our guard against desires subtly presenting themselves as spiritual, but which may be selfish.
Discipline is the very essence of the spiritual life. In the monastery it involves a rigid and unvarying timetable of prayer, learning and work. This is not appropriate in a contemporary life but some form of rhythm and regular practice is needed.
Growth in knowledge and understanding of the world of the spirit is a continuing task. There is a danger that we may think we have ‘arrived’ and no further work is necessary. This is most unlikely and there is always more to learn through reading, courses and working with others.
Benedict understood that the needs of his monks for clothing, accommodation, food, and tools had to be met if they were to be free to carry out their spiritual practice. This reflects the teaching of the Wisdom and is as appropriate today as it was in the days of Benedict. Living a spiritual life today is complex in that the individual needs to generate income in order to support himself and this may not be generated directly by the task he feels called to do. Fortunately experience shows that in these cases, all material needs are met. The income needed may not arise directly from the work carried out but will be provided, often in an unforeseen way from an unexpected source.
Meditation and contemplation are methods of ‘listening’ rather than worshiping or ‘asking’. These practices are used by the esoteric, mystical branches of established religions and seldom found in the outer exoteric form of these religions. Meditation is now widely used by non-monastic contemporary practitioners of various forms of spirituality and in many different names and guises. Essentially the practice involves sitting in a quiet place for 20 or 30 minutes, holding the attention centred either on a word, the breath, or some other method of stilling the mind. Direct contact with the divine is made in the stillness of the quiet mind. Thoughts arise, are recognized as distractions and allowed to float away. This is a simple concept but takes application and time to master.
Prayer is the practice of approaching the divine in an attitude of worship and supplication and is the method most often taught and found in exoteric church services. It is equally applicable as a private practice outside the church and in one form or another needs to be part of the regular pattern of living.
We are looking at aspects of a life conducted in tune with the spirit. In the hectic, intense and busy world in which we live a calm and tranquil approach is not only helpful, but necessary. The well-known serenity prayer is a useful guide
God, grant me:
The serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.
Worry about things that cannot be changed dissipates effort and emotion and they are best accepted with good grace. That which can be changed needs to be tackled with energy, drive and enthusiasm. Serenity is the ability to remain calm in the midst of dramatic and frightening events and to remain detached from perceived disastrous results. Focussed on serving the divine, we learn to accept with equanimity all situations as they arise. There is a classic esoteric saying:
‘The master is never perturbed.’
We may not become masters and so can expect to sometimes be perturbed ! However, perturbation is not a disaster if we face difficulties bravely and firmly and keep steadily moving forward despite pitfalls and obstructions.Perhaps, patience should also be added here. A time may come when the objects of the project may appear to have changed or no longer be relevant. Tenacity is required to keep going until clarity emerges.
Those on a spiritual path face a conflict between ‘being’ and ‘doing’. This is not a question of either one or the other but a need for both. ‘Being’ and listening is the start but is only effective when translated into the ‘doing’ of action for the benefit of all. The Wisdom defines the concept of the individual honouring the call of the divine through work in the world in form of ‘Selfless Service’, which is:
‘Service with no return save that of serving the Plan’.
Each person reaches his own understanding of his call and area of service. Very often this task will appear to be materially difficult and unrewarding, but once undertaken will bring satisfaction, fulfilment and contentment - difficult to achieve by other means.
The Wisdom says there is one truth described in many ways, but:
‘Only that which echoes in your heart, is true for you’.
Reading widely and exploring new ideas is part of the path. But we need to keep our clear understanding of what is true for us. The way that we see truth does not necessarily have to be the same as everyone else's but it has to be true for us.
Development and use of the will is vital on the path and is used to discipline the thoughts and to focus upon the objective. It is useful to explore the different methods of training and perfecting the will.