I thought I was being charming at dinner recently, in the midst of telling one of my fascinating stories, when my son turned to his father and said: “Dad, youre a saint.”
We all laughed at his gentle tweak but the phrase stayed with me. In contemplating it I speculated that a fully lived human life probably will conspire to make you a saint. A simple, ordinary human life will ceaselessly teach attitudes of humility, compassion, forgiveness, surrender and even joy as a way to address life’s inevitable sufferings. We generally choose to cultivate these attributes because it is too painful not to. It is not only the easing of anguish that results from this inner work, but the unfolding of natural bliss.
The desire to retreat from normal social intercourse to find illumination in ascetic spiritual practices is ancient and universal, and it is an essential element of spiritual education. But it is a fallacy to mistake the world and the marketplace as being separate from the monastery or ashram. The purpose of ashram training is to become adept at spiritual disciplines, practical mental techniques which can be applied to annihilate the dualistic interpretation of reality. It is foolish to come out of a stint in the ashram and return to the world with the false conceptual duality of “holy/profane” or even “ashram/world”. The world is a perfect Guru and our experiences right now are its teachings.
So instead of thinking that i have to get away from my job, my family, the media, or my social sphere to work on my spiritual chops and get a taste of Nirvana, I try to experience them as my calling. Whatever situation arises in this precious life is the lesson of the day and a chance to hone the disciplined skill of unconditional love. The question “what am I really meant to do?” is answered by rising to the occasion, by being awake to the reality that presents itself. Encounters with fellow humans – family, friends and strangers – are priceless opportunities to discern our equality and to exchange enlightening moments of mutual respect and recognition.
Of course, it isnt always easy to achieve this vision of samadhi, this kingdom of heaven, on a crowded subway car, or in a crisis, or in a tense conversation with a relative or colleague. The will to love and to be un-judgmentally aware is naturally strengthened by strenuous, difficult challenges presented by life in the world. And a more subtle test arises when daily routines are consistently lulling us into a bored, mundane attitude toward the shining gift of human existence. The imperative of every moment contains a calling to awaken to awe. The goad that keeps us working spiritually is the pain of Maya and the reward is the incomparable bliss of sharing in the awareness of the infinite, even in the appalling theater of daily life.
So, saints, our work is cut out for us, it is all around us, and there is more than enough of it!
Happy Labor Day.