Thursday, 3 September 2015

How to Stay Spiritual in a Materialistic World

This is a question from a young man who wants to explore the spiritual path but finds obstacles placed in his way from those close to him who reject his new found ideas as impractical and escapist. Some of us may have encountered something similar.

Q. I have been interested in spirituality for some time now but whenever I try to discuss spiritual matters with my friends or family they just laugh and tell me I'm wandering off into fantasy and wish fulfillment. I get depressed by this. It's hard to pursue any kind of spiritual life when surrounded by scoffers and non-believers. Have you any advice?

A. I sympathise with your problem which, I would guess, is not uncommon in today’s largely unbelieving world. It is difficult to hold fast to spiritual convictions, never mind put them into practice, when it seems that the whole world is against you. I remember when I was starting out on this path I encountered a similar reaction and resistance, and that was from people who cared for me. I still regularly mix with people who would regard a serious interest in spirituality as odd, if not deluded. But you just have to be true to yourself and not worry about what anyone else might say. Don’t retreat into a proud superiority that looks down on those who disagree with you, thinking them unenlightened and ignorant. But don’t let them deter you from doing what you feel to be right. You might even regard it as some kind of test that examines the depth of your commitment.  If you express your beliefs and are met with a lack of understanding, disagreement or even ridicule then just keep your own counsel, and don’t pursue the matter unless an opportunity presents itself.

This addresses one aspect of the problem, your reaction when the ideas you believe in are dismissed. The other difficulty is how to lead a spiritually purposeful life when your external surroundings, friends and family all conspire against that. Prayer and meditation can be engaged in, to an extent, in an environment that is unhelpful or even hostile to them, but there may come a time when, if you want to deepen your practice, you will have to remove yourself from that environment and find one that is more congenial to spiritual endeavour. Theoretically, of course, one should be able to maintain spiritual focus anywhere and under any conditions, but when we are putting down roots it does help if external conditions are supportive rather than obstructive or even antagonistic. But if that's not possible then the advice to ‘be in the world but not of it’ should be heeded. 

Here's a suggestion as to how you might deal with people who dismiss your ideas about spirituality as self-indulgent, naive or ignorant, all of which are common ways of belittling such ideas. Remind them (courteously, of course) that they are simply expressing their opinions, and opinions are often based on preconceptions, limited knowledge and obedience to the orthodoxies of the day. If they counter that their opinions are based on fact while yours are merely wish fulfillment, you could say that, even if they are based on fact, the facts they are taking as real are simply those operating at one level of reality while you are acknowledging higher levels which include but go beyond the material or physical level. They are being very selective in their choice of facts and ignoring (or just not knowing about) those that do not agree with their already formed opinion and/or prejudice. Don't forget that while some people are actively against any form of spirituality, others are just under the sway of the modern world and its materialistic bias. These latter might be more open to what you have to say

I think the best approach for you to adopt in these challenging situations is to realise that we live in times when those who would hold fast to the truth are being tested. The quality of your commitment, your courage and steadfastness, are being examined. Can you be true to your beliefs when your views are not taken seriously, and the world frequently denies the reality or distorts the nature of everything that seems to you good and holy? Can you live in the light while not disdaining those who do not because they are led astray by worldly forces? Speak out against falsehood but do not condemn those who are the victims of falsehood. That is not your responsibility. You are here to live the truth and be an example of righteousness, if you’ll forgive the use of such an old fashioned word which, nevertheless, has a meaning not found elsewhere.

So, it can be a hard time for those who wish to live spiritually but, paradoxically, it can also be a time when we can best learn detachment from this world; never giving up on it or allowing ourselves to hate it but not identifying with it or falling for its 'wisdom' either. When the world is in ruins (from the inward perspective) it is easier to put all one's faith in God. Today the powers of this world are being allowed full freedom and I don't think we can defeat them outwardly. But we can proclaim the truth and give as many souls as possible the chance to escape these powers. That is your opportunity now. If you flag in the attempt remember the example of the sufferings endured by Christ. The victory was eventually his and it will be yours too if you can display a fraction of his love, patience and humility.


Robert said...

"it can be a hard time for those who wish to live spiritually but, paradoxically, it can also be a time when we can best learn detachment from this world"
Yes that is true. Now is the time spiritual weightlifting will bear the most fruit.
William, I'm not sure if you're aware of psychology's developmental models but it helped me see some things. People's intelligence evolves through stages. So do people's morals, musical abilities, values, needs, and much more. People can be high in one but low in another. Think of Nazi doctors who had high intelligence but low morals. My favorite developmental line is spiral dynamics started by Dr. Clare Graves who studied how values evolve. People develop through automatic conscious (new babies), tribal consciousness, egocentric consciousness, fundamentalist consciousness, modern (scientific/materialistic), post modern (political correctness, sharing, caring), systemic (ordering the world through systems), intergral (whole world as living system/mystical). There are lots of people in the world today who are coming from a fundamentalist background and moving into a modern, science oriented consciousness. They project and associate all religion and spirituality as this pre-rational kind which they are desperately trying to get away from because it now scares them. What they don't yet understand is that there is a post-rational view of religion and spirituality; spirituality that includes rationality but goes beyond it.

William Wildblood said...

I've heard of similar systems which say roughly the same thing. It's a bit cut and dried though. I'm not sure if everyone's developmental line follows exactly the same path but I can see the focus of consciousness moving up from emotional to rational to intuitive with each stage including but subsuming the preceding. And some New Age people who might see themselves as falling into the integral category in that scheme are probably just recapitulating the tribal.
Broadly speaking, though, I agree that that line does make sense.

Robert said...

Yes, it takes very enlightened mind to distinguish between pre-rational spirituality and post-rational society. Many people are getting so sick of materialistic life that anything spiritual, pre or post rational, seems refreshing. Also post-modernists have a way of accepting everything and not ranking anything so of course they have trouble being objective with the pre-rational.