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.