What the Practical Sphere Contributes to the Mystical Sphere
Many aspiring mystics subscribe to the misleading belief that a person must abandon practical life to free up attention for God. REALLY? In many, if not MOST cases, minimizing practical responsibilities may actually hinder mystical progress. After all, idle hands are the devil’s helper. But the practical contributes to the mystical in many more ways than that.
Practical support for mystical adventures
A strong mystical life requires the support of a strong practical foundation of living rightness. A person who isn’t functional enough to create a regular schedule of spiritual practices and stick to it isn’t likely to get far as a mystic. And likewise, a spiritual student who can’t manage to adequately reciprocate to his or her spiritual mentor is not likely to get the teacher’s best.
The “beam me up” strategy fails when there are ethical problems associated with neglecting practical affairs. For example, a man whose family goes hungry because there are no jobs that are “spiritual enough” for him has a problem. So does a woman who prays too much but disciplines her children too little. Those problems will more or less insure that their precious mystical adventures don’t pay off. God is not in the habit of rewarding irresponsibility. Spiritual life is an upward spiral in which we embrace ever-higher levels of responsibility. We graduate to those above only by handling those below.
Guilt robs the very peace that retreat is supposed to provide. A troubled mind is a chaotic mind, and has greater difficulty than usual concentrating on meditation and prayer. In particular, the mind that has ethical problems is always spinning, trying to solve those problems or at least rationalize them away.
For example, a lazy man may spend a great deal of thought energy thinking about getting a job — and a great deal more thought energy thinking about why finding a job is, at least for him, impossible. That poor fellow will certainly be a lot less troubled, and therefore a lot more amenable to meditation, after he gets a job, and puts the whole matter behind him.
It is common (not appropriate, but common) that a person will practically disappear from the relationship to God when there’s a big practical problem to handle — such as settling a feud, or resolving pressing financial concerns. How would you feel if a beloved child disappeared on you? How do you feel about doing it to someone who delights in your company as much as your heavenly Father does?
Clearly, getting one’s practical affairs in order, and keeping them that way, is extremely useful for mystical life. Flying high is much easier when our attention is free from guilt and worry, and our energies are not scattered due to concern.
Practical opportunities for ego transcendence
Practical responsibility does much more for the mystic than prevent a few problems. Though prayer and other spiritual disciplines are important ingredients in the life of a budding mystic, spiritual aspirants benefit as much from the practical challenges of everyday life — maybe more!
Spiritual life is about transcendence of ego, and private devotions contain relatively few ego-transcending elements. In contrast, ordinary obligations and interactions are full of occasions for ego-transcendence. For example: being on time for work; not reacting to your boss; doing the work well; living within a budget; exercising even when you don’t feel like it — to name a few. And that’s just the beginning.
Practical life requires ego-transcendence in many specific and valuable forms that are worth a closer look.
A life of service gives us a lift up the mystical mountain
As you know, spiritual growth is simply a matter of more and more perfectly and consistently manifesting the true Self that God created. Selfless service is a big part of that. Service gives our spirit true expression: Scratch the surface of any child of God, and find a natural-born servant of humanity! That’s why a genuinely spiritual life is a life of service, lived out in practical terms.
The worthiness factor. We may always deserve mystical experience, but we may not always sincerely feel like we do. And yet, feeling deserving, subjectively, may be absolutely crucial to the receptivity upon which mystical experience depends. In general, mystical experience comes to those who feel worthy of it.
Service makes us more receptive to mystical experience, because people who feel good about what they’ve done feel good about themselves. As children of God, we feel good when we serve. Love is our nature — like Parent, like child! We want to serve; we want to give, we want to love. The self-esteem we feel when serving translates directly into a feeling of worthiness.
Guilt relief. Just as a life of service makes us feel presentable to God, a life selfishly lived, lacking in sufficient service, is plagued with guilt, and makes us want to hide. For us, service — real service — is not about sacrifice or people-pleasing; it’s about satisfying our self. Indeed, even if no one ever asked anything from us, we would still feel bad — or at least incomplete — if we did not serve generously.
Guilt is a real obstacle for would-be mystics, because openness is essential for all mystical experience — particularly the experience of Unity with all of life! By liberating the mind from the guilt of selfish living, service frees the soul for higher pursuits. Service literally opens us up to higher consciousness.
A higher base camp. Clearly, a soul-satisfied person is already closer to achieving mystical success than a person starting from the doldrums. A person who is following their conscience and obeying God’s will has already reached an important milestone of spiritual life. So the mystic contribution of service is not just a stronger inclination and greater receptivity for mystical practice, but also a higher base camp — a more elevated starting point for further expeditions up the mystical mountain.
The best retreat is EARNED
It’s not time yet for a work break only five minutes after starting the day’s work. The best time to take a break is when we feel we’re really ready for a rest — when we’ve completed a cycle of action or reached an interim goal — or at least worked hard and continuously in the attempt.
Similarly, the best retreat is the one that’s earned, and truly needed. We feel most truly prepared to set aside quality time with God when we’ve exerted sincere effort in the spirit of earnest, self-transcending service. That exertion prepares the soul to meet its Maker in mystic rendezvous.
You must have had this experience more than once: You work hard all day on some useful task. At the end of the day, you feel really complete, and are really ready for some spirit-rejuvenation. And BAM! As soon as you sit down to pray or meditate, you find that your mind easily lets go of the whole world, and soars into the skies almost effortlessly — as if it had wings of its own. It does — it has earned them.
The healing forces of heaven. And who’s to say for sure, but it certainly seems to be true: Freely spending our creature powers in wholehearted service doesn’t just make us more eager to join with heavenly forces. It also makes heaven more eager to come to us, too.
The forces of heaven are always happy to recharge and revivify a weary soldier.
Give your all in the valley, and on the mountain, God will give it all back to you — with interest! Didn’t the Psalmist rejoice,
“He maketh me to lie down in green pastures. He restoreth my soul.”
God comes to our aid — in the heights of spiritual desiring, as in the depths of fatigue. And that, dear friends, is the essence of mystical experience: It is God’s gift to humanity — literally.
Ethical responsibility sustains the gains of mystical practices
Spiritually-oriented engagement in practical life not only makes mystical achievement more likely, it also makes mystical consciousness more lasting.
Mystical practices can quickly raise consciousness and energy, sometimes producing mystical experiences, lofty revelations, and great peace. But then, as we return to our ordinary lives, the benefits of consciousness and energy-raising practices often fade fast. Why?
A wise man said, “It’s never your good habits that bring you down; it’s always your bad ones.” Irresponsible behavior patterns — such as careless speech, habitual tardiness, procrastination, freeloading, and physical carelessness — perpetuate guilt, and also create problems and conflicts with others. Within minutes, they can cut in half the vibrancy created by an hour of meditation!
Usually, when mystic gains disappear quickly, the solution is not more prayer or meditation; it’s higher ethics. Most often, the errors that drag us back down from the highs achieved through spiritual practices reflect ethical shortcomings.
Think of it this way: When we fall from grace, it is never something we do for others — we do it for ourselves. Our tumbles generally coincide with selfish decisions, uncaring actions, unfeeling words. Understandably so: we revert to patterns of thought and action that are, essentially, primitive, self-protective, and compressive whenever we default from choosing an ethical, self-transcending course of action. So, for the gains of any consciousness and energy raising program to finally become permanent, they must be supported not just by behavioral modifications or philosophic improvements, but by life-level ethical advances.
What does it mean to live an ethical life? Here are some well-known hints:
The Golden Rule — “Do unto to others as you would have them do unto you” — represents a perfect guide to spiritual, ethical living.
And so does this —”Love thy neighbor as thyself!”
A truly ethical life is always a life of service. To hold the Divine charge, we must deliver “God’s mail.”
Living ethically is a fine spiritual art we hone in everyday interactions, and we demonstrate in the way we conduct our ordinary affairs. To permanently end the roller coaster of higher and lower consciousness, we must bring spirit and spiritual impulse into life, into action.
Use it or lose it
Here’s another reason why we need to bring our spiritual consciousness into life. It’s like anything else: “Use it or lose it.” Practical life is where we get to either use it or lose it. Every day, every hour, every minute, we choose how to live, what to do, what to think. We can hold our spiritual charge, and grow spiritually, only if we take charge in our everyday lives.
For example, in prayer and meditation, we may realize our Oneness with all of life, but after meditation, we have to strongly choose to hold onto that sense of Oneness if we happen to run into an irritating person. Likewise, we may be quite radiant immediately after our spiritual practices, but we won’t share much of that spiritual light with others if we keep the world at a distance even while in it; if we perform our daily tasks without strong and enthusiastic spiritual intention; if we allow ourselves to react and contract in the face of ordinary life difficulties.
No matter how we view them, the challenges of ordinary living are a proving ground for cosmic revelation. If we choose an ordinary response to an ordinary challenge, we are voting with our all-powerful free will to let our spiritual awareness slip. A higher response, on the other hand, is a persuasive prayer for continued higher consciousness.
A summary of mystic benefits of practical responsibility
Pragmatic dysfunction is a common problem among spiritual seekers today, especially the more enthusiastic ones. A literal interpretation of the admonition, “Seek ye first the kingdom of heaven” seems to support this unfortunate state of affairs. Nonetheless, the downsides of pursuing mystical goals to the detriment of practical responsibility are significant, while the contributions of practical life to the mystical adventure are rich and varied. As aspiring mystics, we do well to appreciate the valuable spiritual advantages we can harvest from our “worldly” engagements and practical obligations. Primary among these are:
Balanced personality development. Generally, the strongest spiritual life is the best balanced. Often, when we lose our balance, we lose our way — and more than that, we lose “The Way.” What happens to a person who meditates or prays a lot, but serves very little, and takes little practical responsibility? Such a person tends, over time, to become excessively mental, overly self-involved, socially dysfunctional, and functionally incompetent. But simply embracing the various disciplines of ordinary living provides the healthy balance upon which strong spiritual character depends.
Necessary spiritual exercise. No one wants their enlightenment to be effective only in a cave, or only when things are going the way they want. To attain a spiritual consciousness that cannot be shaken by anything in the world, we need to take advantage of the spiritual exercise provided by this world. Spiritual exercise builds the spiritual strength and staying power needed for maintaining a spiritual perspective while facing the many difficult challenges of life.
A sense of larger purpose. People of spiritual consciousness are indeed the light of the world. But unless we engage with the world, we are hiding our light under a bushel basket. We were born not just to experience mystical realities and to know spiritual truths, but to serve the humanity by sharing those gifts with others. We feel useful and fulfilled only to the extent that we actively serve.
Constructive engagement. A person who punches the clock at an ordinary job is protected from becoming a lazy couch potato. Similarly, a person who takes good care of their practical affairs escapes the temptation to spend their “free time” indulging in negative patterns, mental or physical. Constructive engagement also protects us from the bad habits of imposing on others for material support, or relying excessively on God to solve our practical problems. After all, God helps those who helps themselves.
Lay the foundations of your mystical life in the practical
Spiritual teachers often complain that a prepared student is rare thing. It’s no problem, they say, to bestow the gifts of enlightenment — but it’s hard finding a mind ready to receive it. Teachings that could be transmitted in a second to a prepared person cannot be effectively transmitted in years to a person who is ill-prepared.
In the fertile field of practical life, valuable preparation and refinement takes place. Without that under our belts, unfinished business weighs us down, and we cannot take flight into the mystic. The way to the spiritual skies is through, not around. A sense of satisfactory completion allows the mind to soar.