Any way of life or activity that trains us to take the attention off ourselves is worthy to be called spiritual. On the other hand, there are many things called “spiritual” which, practiced in the wrong way, can make us increasingly self-centered. Raising a family may be exhausting and seem to leave little time for specific “spiritual practice,” but it is all about other-centeredness. It is a good preparation for meditation.
Conversely, monastic life may give us time for prayer but may also keep us in a shallow state of dissatisfaction, repeating the same unproductive cycles of thought and behavior. But it can be a good preparation for serving the world.
We are attracted to the other-centered option because we crave relationship and connection, which, combined, deliver us into the experience of meaning. Marriage, family, friendship, community, service are all ways in which we can learn to pay attention to others. Very quickly, however, we realize that other-centeredness is hard to do and even harder to sustain. Yet we also realize that we are better, more free and more open to love when we are learning to live in this way. Then we see that the spiritual path is a work. In fact, it is a work of love.
We no longer assume that monks must be better meditators than married people. We understand that the spiritual value of any lifestyle is measured by how it gives us opportunities for turning away from self, allowing us to find our self in the other, free from the constant self-mirroring of the ego.
The Gospels show a Jesus who was neither married nor a monk. Where did he learn that God was in him and he in God? And how did he learn how to communicate this experience of the ‘kingdom’ to ordinary people in such simple and profound teachings? What led him ultimately to the complete other-centeredness in which he laid down his life? We know he went into his Lent of 40 days and emerged having mastered his ego drives and powered with the Spirit to fulfill his mission. We know that he withdrew regularly to places and times of silence and stillness. Perhaps that is all we need to know—that he knew himself—in order to see that he is our teacher. And later, perhaps, to discover how he is also our way to the Father.
If you have begun to develop a regular practice of meditation, you have doubtless discovered a new kind of experience. Have you a sense of what this experience means? Is it a new kind of awareness, of stillness in motion, of silence in words and noise, of simplicity in complex and stressful situations? Have you felt how it has influenced your four kinds of relationship—with yourself, with others, with the world, with Christ in God?
Blending this experience of contemplation with the other kinds of experience in daily life is challenging. Even though you feel the benefits of meditation, the day-to-day anxieties get in the way and may even prevent you from actually sitting. That’s all right provided you don’t lose touch with—or lose faith in—the simplicity of meditation.
Go back to basics as often as you can and remind yourself of how simple and immediate meditation is: sit still, close your eyes, say your mantra, let go of thoughts. Twenty minutes. Morning and evening. Have you grasped the meaning of this simplicity yet—and how the daily meditation makes every week holy?