Being In The World, But Not Of It

Quoting Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. Picture credit:

I don’t half pick my topics – or rather they pick me is a more accurate description of what it feels like. And this one feels big. Almost too big for me to handle. I mean, this has to be one of the most well-known phrases in the Western world, and, as far as I can tell, paraphrases what people believe to be Jesus’ teachings on how we are to interact with and behave in the world. What can I possibly have to say about it that hasn’t already been said? And, (perhaps more unnerving), what can I, a believer in the sacredness of life and the uni-verse rather than Christianity or any other religion, possibly say about it that won’t be considered blasphemous by at least half the people who read it?

That being said, recently this very teaching about ‘Being in the world, but not of it’ has come up several times for me – in seminars and podcasts, in the words of a friend, and in the pages of a book I’ve been reading. I’ve discovered over the course of the past year that the synchronicities in my life are much more than mere coincidences and are, in fact, trying to tell me something; so, round about the second or third time it came up, I started to pay a bit more attention and to contemplate what its message might be for me.

With the ‘being in the world’ part a given – by sheer dint of living in this world I am, we all are, inevitably and inextricably ‘being’ in it, whether aware of it or not –  I was at first drawn to the ‘but not of it’ aspect. It seemed to be asking me to reside more fully in the ‘spiritual side’ of my being.

I can’t deny that the balance between my human aspect and my spiritual aspect is one that has needed some readdressing. Until the last year or so I had resided very firmly ‘in this world’ with little or no awareness of there being anything beyond it. Not going quite as far as denying perhaps – but definitely ignoring and shutting away in a deep, dark closet that very rarely saw the light of day – any spiritual aspect of my being.

I was preoccupied with life; or, to be more exact, with ‘my life’ – ‘my’ job, ‘my’ friends, ‘my’ family, ‘my’ hobbies, ‘my’ relationships, ‘my’ dog, ‘my’ home… All the things we build up around us to help us create the identity which gives us our sense of security in the world.

And yet, even as I write this, I am aware that all that time the river of life – the process of being in and living in this world – was gradually awakening in me what we would traditionally call ‘spiritual’ qualities and values – a love of and deep respect for nature; the gifts of gratitude, compassion and wisdom; a sense of wonder and awe at the magnificence of the world we live in. I just didn’t see them as such.

The last year and a bit has seen a period of transition and deep transformation in my life and, as a result, this delving into the spiritual side of my being has become a conscious choice on my part. I am taking the time and space needed to connect in with my soul and ask what it really wants to experience in the world, and how it wants to self-express; spending time in meditation and in gratitude; learning how to be an active co-creator with life, rather than just letting life ‘happen’ to me. While still being engaged in the day-to-day processes of ‘my life,’  I’m now also preoccupied with LIFE! in a much larger sense of the word – the LIFE! that runs through all of us and is the life-force behind everything in the Universe; the inter-connected nature of all that is; how I can come into ever greater harmony with this sacred life-force energy that is behind all that is and is what some people know as ‘God;’ and the impact that these new knowings about LIFE! have on the way that I live ‘my life.’

When it comes down to it, I feel that I am residing more fully in the ‘not of it’ aspect  – the spiritual aspect of my being – than ever before.

Well, okay… if I’m ruthlessly honest with myself, I’m residing more fully in the spiritual aspect of my being than ever before when I’m by myself and taking the time to ‘connect in’ in this way.

This connection with the spiritual side of my being more often than not flies right out of the window as soon as I enter into interaction with others.

I don’t mean this in the way that it might sound – that I turn into a screaming ball of fury who forgets all about embodying gratitude, compassion, wisdom and any other of the so-called ‘spiritual’ qualities and values.

No, it’s far more mundane and far, far more subtle than that.

When I’m with others, I, quite simply, get so caught up in that interaction that I often completely forget to connect into that still, quiet place within and to listen for guidance about what my soul wants to express or experience. I neglect to be the witness consciousness and find myself unconsciously reverting to old patterns of speech and behaviour that, while not necessarily bad as such, are often not as empowering as I would like them to be; either for me or for others. And, more often than not, I’m not even aware that I’m doing it until after the event. If I was aware at the time, after all, I could shift and change it…

And this is what I think this teaching means for me; coming, as it does, at this time in my life: developing more self-mastery so that I’m able to sustain that sense of connection with the silence that is in my heart and which speaks volumes about what my soul is desiring in each and every moment; so that I can maintain the self-awareness that allows me to make more conscious choices about how I’m experiencing and expressing myself in the world all the time – when I’m interacting ‘in the world’ as well as when I’m spending time alone.

Because while it might be a lot easier to do when I’m on my own doing my ‘spiritual’ practices, how can I hope to create lasting change in my own life and have a far-reaching positive impact on the world (i.e. the people around me) if I’m not able to bring this more awakened self also into the times and spaces when and where I’m interacting with others? How can I shine the light of my soul, and in doing so allow others to come into closer connection with and to shine more of the light of their soul, if the moment that I come into interaction with them I become so absorbed ‘in (the things of) this world’ that I forget that I am, in fact, a soul undertaking a human journey?

It is this, still-new-for-me, understanding that we are all in fact souls having a human experience, that has led to the inverted commas around the word ‘spiritual’ at times during this post. For, this being the case, there can be no ‘spiritual aspect of my being.’

A ‘spiritual aspect of my being’ implies separation; a side of me that I can put on or take off as I choose.

But if I know myself as a soul on a human journey, then everything about my life becomes spiritual; from the smallest and most mundane occurrence right down to the most profound.

It is already and inextricably so, and, in fact, can be no other way. But when applied to the way I choose to live my life, this is a message of integration, not of segregation. Of merging the ‘spiritual aspect’ into myself and my every day life so completely that there is no separation: the spiritual and the human aspects become one as we embody the truth of who we are – a soul housed for a while in a human body; part of Divine LIFE!-force energy expressed in human form.

While I know that traditionally ‘Be in the world, but not of it’ has been interpreted as a call for believers to set themselves apart from the world as they embody the qualities of Christ as opposed to the values of the world; for me, at this time and place where I find myself in my life, it is far more a message of integration: how can I be in this world as I am (simultaneously) not of it? In other words, how can I integrate these two aspects of myself so fully that they become one?

It seems to me that the challenge is for us to really embody our Divinity – the ‘not of’ this world side of ourselves – in each and every moment, even as we are fully present in the world. In practical terms, for me this translates as being able to walk through the world engaging fully in it, while also retaining the sense of myself as an eternal soul who has only chosen to inhabit this body for a time; to be able to sustain the highly-aware self-consciousness necessary to do this; and to let this knowing of the truth of who I am inform all my choices – my choices about the way I think, my choices about the way I act, and my choices about the way I speak, both to myself and to others.

If and when I am able to do this, I believe I really will be able to say that I am in this world but (simultaneously) not of it. Until then I will rest in the knowledge that this is the ever-present truth of my being, even when I forget it is so.


The River Flow and Embracing Change

Photo courtesy of Jeremiah Goodman.
Photo courtesy of Jeremiah Goodman.

It seems that in each act of nature there is a kernel of wisdom; an immutable and eternal truth. When we allow ourselves to be really present with the world around us, our eyes are opened and we perceive more. All that is left, then, is to allow our hearts to fully engage and to receive the gift of knowing that nature is gently and lovingly sending our way.

This is the story of me and a river. A river that is, literally, waved in front of my face every day; there being only a narrow road, a field of (right now) Chinese cabbages and a stretch of river bank between it and my house. Like most of the rivers in Japan it is dammed. I walk by this river almost every day with my dog and observe it in all its many seasons.

Today, as on most days, the water is moving freely, glistening in the sunshine, animatedly tracing its path downstream. This is the river in flow; vibrant and healthy; powerful and alive; moving purposefully towards its destination.

Just occasionally, when no water has been released from the dam for a while and there’s been a dearth of rain, the river loses its vitality. It still looks poetic, trickling between the stones and pebbles on the river bed; but the water flow shrinks to a dribble and stagnant pools of it collect between rocks, stranded there without the vitalizing force of the river flow to carry them forward and downstream.

This river has been an important presence in my life ever since I moved to the village. Its beauty and quietness create a resonant peace and stillness in my heart, and I love to walk by its side.

This last year and a half it has also been a profound teacher; demonstrating by example the constant flux and flow of all that is, and reawakening in me the knowing of the necessity of embracing this change and flow in my own life.

As with the river, so it is with us; without any forward momentum our circumstances stagnate and we wake up one day to find ourselves stranded on a river bank in our lives, questioning if this is where we really want to be.

This is where I found myself at the start of last year, forced to confront the fact that the relationship, in which I’d thus far been very happy, wasn’t actually moving forward towards the kind of life of partnership and the shared future that I envisioned.

Even when we know a truth, it can take us such a long time to accept it in our lives; especially when that truth is a painful one.

And sometimes a stagnant pool of water or a familiar river bank can feel so much safer than releasing ourselves into the river flow.

Awakened from autopilot mode, I at first tried to control and shape my reality in a different direction, hoping for change within the relationship that would bring it closer to the kind of life I envisioned.

When this didn’t work, I was torn between the part of me who wanted to cling to the safe and familiar that was not only known, but had also been the biggest source of happiness in my life thus far; and the recently awakened part of me who had begun to accept that the only way I could stay in the relationship was if I chose to deny myself the opportunity to experience what it was I really wanted from relationship: a shared life built together.

This internal battle played out externally in bouts of anxiety, depression and tearfulness, as I desperately clung onto that rock in the middle of the river that my relationship had been and all the safety and security that I thought it provided; fearful to embrace the uncertainty of the river flow, even as the knowing in my heart told me that its time had come and urged me to let go and embrace the resultant deluge, allowing myself to be swept downstream.

Eventually I did pluck up the courage to relinquish myself to the river flow.

And, after a brief respite reminiscent of the stillness at the center of a whirlpool, that was when the resistance really kicked in.

It bewildered me that even though I was the one who had walked away, believing I was making a decision that served my greatest and highest good, I was still experiencing so much pain and strife at this very decision.

It is said that it’s not the change in our lives that causes the stress and anxiety, but our resistance to it.

I now know this to be true on a very personal level. It was my inability to let go internally  – to accept that circumstances and people change and some things just aren’t destined to last; that all of life is change and flow and we can never hold onto anything in the physical world, its security is all an illusion; to forgive myself for not being able to make it work and for walking away from this person who had shown me such love and kindness; to release my attachment to someone who had been such a large part of my life for so long –  even after I had let go externally, that was the cause of my pain; not the actual change in my circumstances.

And in this, too, the river became my teacher; a physical representation of the inevitable flow of all that is, as I learned to consciously release attachment and embrace change and flow.

I spent many an hour walking by the river, exhaling my resistance and attachment to the old, my fears of the unknown, my doubts and insecurities about myself and my future… Breathing in surrender to the river flow, acceptance of what is, the belief that everything in life is occurring for our greatest and highest good, trust in myself and my decision, faith in the Universe and its design for our lives, the courage to step forward into the new and unknown and embrace its infinite potential…

Being by the river and its physical reminder that all of life is flow and change calmed my heart and gave me strength. It showed me the necessity of putting my faith in the never-ending unfolding beauty and flow of life, rather than trying to cling to the illusions of the physical world or control the flow of reality

This was a process to which I had to surrender, just as the water surrenders to the river flow. And, painful as it may have been at times, I now find myself several miles downstream; more connected, more peaceful, more empowered, and facing a whole new view.

During the course of this life shift I have come to believe that just like the river we have a path, and that the flow of life naturally leads us there. I willingly surrender to this flow. I open myself to embrace change and the unknown. I am choosing anew each day to release fear and doubt and to embody courage. it is my intention to live like the river in flow – vibrant and healthy; powerful and alive; moving purposefully towards my destination as I enjoy the journey along the way.

In Celebration of Me

Picture Credit: Caroline Numina, Young Serpent;

Today I celebrated the anniversary of my 37th year here on Earth. I started the day walking my dog in the mist and the light rain, surrounded by the mountains and autumn colors of this beautiful village that I live in. As we walked I offered thanks for all that has already come into my life and all that is yet to come.

There’s something about a birthday that awakens the reflective side of our nature. Surrounded by people all day, I didn’t have the chance for much self-contemplation; but as the day draws to a close and I’m surrounded by the quietness of the night, I find myself turning inward again. As I do so the desire to self-express arises; and so it becomes, simultaneously, a turning outward, as I create this space to share what is in my heart.

Being born in 1977, I was born in the year of the snake. The snake, with its ritual sloughing of its skin, has long been a symbol of rebirth and transformation. This year I have felt an affinity with the snake. It has been, more than ever before, a year of profound transformations, both internal and external, in my life. A year of shedding old skins and negotiating and embracing the new.

Put like that it sounds so easy!

And yet it has been a year that has taken me to the darkest places within; as well as a year that has awakened in me a deep and lasting joy as I have discovered a deeper sense of connection and communion with myself; with nature; with the Universe and all that is.

Looking back I am deeply grateful for all of these experiences; the ones that my mind wants to label ‘bad’ as well as the ones it terms ‘good.’ I see now that each and every one of them has been a necessary stepping stone on the journey of deeper self-knowing and greater self-acceptance; that each and every one of them has helped me to integrate another aspect of myself and come more fully into the wholeness of who I am.

They have all contributed to bringing me to this place; a place in which I am living more authentically and more courageously than I have before; valuing myself more; thinking, speaking and acting from a more heart-centered space; and opening myself up to embrace the intrinsically spiritual nature of life.

Somewhere in the course of this year, I have started to understand what Ram Dass means when he says that we are all souls walking each other home; and to see that everything in my life is taking place with the Universe’s perfect design and timing for my greatest and highest good and my soul’s greatest and highest evolution.

For someone who, only a little more than a year ago, would have said that she didn’t even believe in souls, (or was at least undecided as to if they exist or not), that is a pretty bold statement. And yet I feel its truth resonate in my heart.

It was precisely being taken to the darkest places that allowed me to open up and allow this truth in. And so the darkness leads us to the light; in my case, the reconnection with my soul.

It is this reconnection with this purest essence of all that I am that has been the greatest gift of this year of change and transformation. A reuniting with the beauty and truth, the stillness, the Divine essence that lies at the heart of me; and also lies within the heart of you.

I center myself now and feel into this space within; it’s a place that holds the strength and the stillness of the mountains I see around me every day, contains the sunlight that sparkles on the top of the river, and the gossamer wings of the dragonflies that hover over it. It’s a strong, still, powerful, immutable place within that sings the song of my soul and the song of the whole Universe. That sings them in such beautiful harmony that they merge and  become one. A still heart; at peace with itself and all that is.

I am so grateful for this heart of mine. As I connect within my breathing slows; and I feel a deep and beautiful peace spread out from my heart and through my energy field. This beauty and peace, this love, is who I am at the core of my being; it is who we all are at the core of our beings. This is the Divine essence of me. And it is also the Divine essence that lives within you.

It’s my wish for my 37th year to live more and more from this heart-centered space; to emanate my Divinity – this great reservoir of love, peace, beauty, joy, wisdom and compassion  – in everything I do, so that these qualities permeate every cell of my being and radiate from me out into the world.

It is my desire to continue to slough away the old and to embrace deep and profound transformation in my life so that I can embody this vision more fully; actualize the purest and truest essence of myself and share this gift with the world. It’s my hope that others will read this and be inspired to do the same.

Even as I write these words I know that the very human being that I am will fall short of my desires time and time again. I hope that I have enough love and compassion towards myself to simply pick myself up, recenter in my heart, and start all over again.

Every moment is a new moment, a new start; a fresh chance to come back into our heart space, activate the qualities of our Divinity, and embody the person we want to be. The seeds of transformation have been sown in my heart; it is up to me, now, to nourish them and help them grow into an outward expression of all the beauty that lies within.