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The Relationship Between Spiritual and Practical Pursuits

The Relationship Between Spiritual and Practical Pursuits

This episode looks at what elements are similar, and what elements are different when trying to accomplish our life goals in these two distinct arenas of our lives.

Podcast transcript here

Good morning, I want to speak today about a topic that is a bit subtle, but I think important.

All human beings live in two worlds. We have our physical and practical side, and we have our spiritual side. The thing about these two different parts of life is that they're intertwined. They're inseparable, they participate in each other's unfolding, and yet they are clearly distinct, and they require different frames of mind when working primarily or focusing on one or the other.

The other thing about them is not only are they coterminous, they both happen simultaneously in all things that we do. The physical carries the spiritual and the spiritual informs the physical. They are 100% co-present in everything we do. On top of that, they have a number of identical principles, or ways in which we must conduct ourselves in order to manage these two sides of life well.

Even though that's the case in which they are so intimately inseparably woven, still they are different from one another. The person who does well in life will be able to work with and be attentive to, sensitive to, and capable of recognizing exactly which is the predominant focus in any given moment or second, or encounter. And we'll be able to orient our mind. Basically, it's our orientation that is different in each. It's not the principles by which they operate. The principles by which they operate are similar, or possibly identical, but it's our mental frame that defines whether or not we are behaving and living appropriately, when our endeavor is primarily oriented towards one or the other. On the physical side, we make decisions, we make plans, we invest ourselves, we follow, what we expect or anticipate, will yield the outcome, we seek, the result we seek finally to see.

As a result of those things, our intention, our planning, our investment, hopefully these will combine to produce what in the end, we hope to see. If we want to build a house, we need strong intention. That's a big job. We need careful planning, it's a complicated job. We need a lot of investment. It's an expensive undertaking. And we need to be faithful to the foundations each step of the way. We can't get excited when we see the frame go up and depart from the original intention, which clearly defines every step of the way. The plumbing must be right, the electrical must be right, and so forth. From the very outset, once we have attained commitment, we are capable of envisioning precisely what that house will look like. This is what I'm calling the physical practical. Once we've attained or developed or secured commitment toward what we want to accomplish or achieve, we can work rigorously and systematically to create something identical to what we originally design.

Some people want to get rich. They create time generated plans for their lives. By 23, I'll have that, by 35 that I'll be this rich. I’ll divest here, I'll invest there. The person who has the sole purpose of getting rich, this is just a physical thing. This is planning to bring about a physical and practical outcome, namely my wealth. It's a little less manipulable than building a house or building a car or painting my living room or something. But nevertheless, working in these arenas that are physical and practical, even the acquisition of wealth, which has a lot of unplanned developments requires some sort of nimbleness and ability to change the circumstances and probably the same thing with the house as well. You know, you find that the lean of the land is this, the wood that is available, the original materials hoped for are there or not. There are vicissitudes in all things. But nevertheless, the key point is that we can clearly envision and clearly strive for an outcome, and that there are very strict rules to successfully, result in your original intention, very strict rules. These are principles

On the spiritual side. The interesting thing about that is that they require the very same disciplines, the very same pattern, the very same process has to be in place. But the thing about the spiritual side is that we are not capable of anticipating the outcome, we are moving to places that we can't envision. And that is why the spiritual side of our life has an element of faith, the physical practical element of our life should not have an element of faith. I don't want my architects and construction crew to have faith that the house will be ready by a certain date. I just want them to plan it and do it. Whereas on the spiritual side of life, we have a general desire for what we hope to be, how we hope to evolve, how we intend to improve spiritually, what we want the outcomes to be. But the fact of the matter is, we have no way to anticipate what each outcome will be like. So on the spiritual side, we're left only with just the basics, the foundations, the principles, but in place of a clear design and plan, instead, we have faith in its place.

For example, if I'm hoping to improve myself or develop myself or arrive with certain spiritual identities, or spiritual capacities, I can't tell what they're going to be. Nevertheless, like building the house, I have to have a clear intention, I have to arrive at commitment. Commitment is basically come hell or high water no matter what happens, whether it's rain or shine, suffering or loss, blessing or curse, I will persist in what I'm planning to attempt. So that's an identical pattern between physical and spiritual. Then I need to plan a day-by-day plan, I need the elements of how I'm going to pursue the spiritual ends or desires or outcomes I seek to attain. For a building crew, you have to be there on time. We start at six, or we leave the plant at six, we arrive on site by 730. In between, we stop for a 30 minute break or 40 minute break at noon.  If you have a clear plan, we can accomplish our goals.

Similarly, with spiritual pursuits, clarity of plans needs to be in place and implemented. The elements that contribute to my spiritual growth include, very often an authoritative figure, an embodied person who guides the development of my spirituality, not to be disrespectful. It's almost like a tool. It's like a lathe or a level, an embodied spiritual person to whom we surrender is a necessary element. Often people think they can get away with not doing that but they'll just replace it with Jennifer Lopez or some other thing they worship, honestly speaking. The other thing is we may need a foundational text or texts, we need scriptures, we need something that embodies or purports to provide us with inner truths that are not immediately known in our own lives automatically. We read them, we study them, we apply them, we test them, there are authorities, textual authorities, human authorities, embodied spiritual guides. And then there is my own daily regimen, a time of day, there are my activities, meditate, pray, serve, choose to live sacrificially, these types of things. In a certain way, I am doing the exact same thing for physical practical matters as I am doing for spiritual pursuits. I have to arrive at a commitment that will penetrate every type of obstacle or opposition, I have to make a clear plan, I have to know what my tools and instruments are. And I have to have a time period for what I'm doing. I need a clear plan. I need a clear understanding of my tools and instruments. I need a clear schedule, a clear dedication, devotion, discipline.

There are so many similarities between the two. But the spiritual element does have as described earlier already, that you can't anticipate the outcomes along the way. You can't make a blueprint of what happens to you spiritually, because there are so many elements outside of your control. So you have to have faith in sacrifice. You have to have faith in study. You have to have faith in following a spiritual teacher or spiritual leader or your priest and doing what they say that doesn't make sense. You have to have faith in these things, because you don't know what the outcomes are. So you might just read the Bible for a year, then suddenly, after a year, you find that you're able to read people's thoughts, or see into the future, or be able to sleep one hour a day for half a year, and be perfectly healthy and perfectly energetic. You don't know what the spiritual outcomes are going to be. You may be on a spiritual path for 30 years. And then suddenly, after 30 years, you know, all there is to know. Everything reveals itself to you in perfect clarity. These are the elements of spiritual attainment that you can't put in a blueprint. But you could have done something in your 15th year, in disappointment or retreat or giving up or anger or failure of some sort. And then you could have delayed, some acquisition of some spiritual power, or capacity by years or decades, these are the things we can't know.

The final thing I'll say here is that in the Western world, there is a habit of trying to make practical rules be the way of spiritual life. There is a lot of good in that. But there also is a lot of folly. I believe that insights into the values of those patterns do go into any accomplishment. But one doesn't need to pervert spiritual pursuits to make it look like building a house and then hold online seminars, and make your millions of dollars and selling your vitamins and dietary supplements. The world of faith has solid clear rules and regulations that are very similar to practical, physical and practical pursuits. But to imagine that one can simply add just do the exact same thing that one does in physical practical things, to me is a way of really diminishing the impact of a path of faith, thinking that you can come up with rules and regulations for how long to listen to someone or these types of things. They're utterly contrary to the realm of faith, which is the magic and wonder of spiritual pursuits.

Alright, thanks very much for listening.