Life is a storm. You will bask in the sunlight one moment, be shattered on the rocks the next. What makes you human is what you do when that storm comes. - Alexandre Dumas, The Count of Monte Cristo.
Part 1 explored what Spirit in Action is and Part 2 scoped out why this is important at individual, community and planetary levels of function. In Part 3 the question to address is: “What exactly should, could or will I do?”
This is the most difficult challenge to engage with. Our personal responsibility is contentious. Some strive for decades in abject poverty, accumulating tens of thousands of hours in prayer or meditation. Others simply relax into the moment. You might choose to punish the body, discipline the emotions or train the mind. Or, you may choose bacchanalian revelry.
For many today, drifting about in mindless fidgeting, distraction and impulse gratification becomes the default. As we see in burgeoning reports the impact is clearly evident:
- We spend 10 hours in front of a screen versus 17 minutes active (National Geographic, 2017)
- The average person will touch, swipe or tap a phone 2,617 times a day (Lewis P, 2017)
- Our fitness, strength and posture are in decline (Journal of Physical Therapy, 2016)
- Over 70% take medication and 2% take over 5 medications (Mayo Clinic, 2015)
- Adults sleep an hour less than needed – teens 2 hours less (Walker M, 2018)
- We are self-centred and lonely – teen togetherness dropped 40% 2010-15 (Twenge J, 2017)
- Anxiety (and worry) is a constant companion
- Depression and suicide continue to increase
- We have pushed our planet into the 6th great extinction (McKibben B, 2019)
Gyms, diet books, mindfulness, mental health professionals, medicine as a whole and medication have little impact beyond a lucky few. We desperately need a fresh approach.
The question “what should, could or will I do?” becomes interesting. With unlimited freedom to choose combined with the irresistible compulsion to react to short term gratification, most of us have surrendered the quest for higher levels of consciousness.
Many religions have been used on a “should” basis. Authorities decree that people should follow the rules of the church. If we look at the state of many lives, perhaps the approach has merit in our modern world.
What we “could” do is extraordinary. Imagine if we applied modern wisdom, technology and medicine with respect and resolve to human life. This is incredibly exciting. We are clearly capable of immense greatness – peace, vitality, love, clarity and flow. We watch this achievement amongst our athletes, musicians, artists, entrepreneurs and philanthropists.
This vision of actualised human beings has guided the great work of William James, Abraham Maslow, Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi, Ken Wilber and those at the Mind & Life Institute. It is a vision of optimism and hope. In the face of the many challenges facing humanity, it is essential to remember and drill this possibility.
Spirit in Action is a method to frame and guide this journey. If willing and able, here are five deliberate practices that will take you to a much better place.
First, strive to be calm, steady and still in the storms of life. Caught up in the adrenaline surge of fight or flight, we sink to a reptilian level of consciousness. When calm you are healing, moving, feeling and thinking better.
Drill: learn and master contemplative/breathing/relaxing practice 5 min per day
Second, strive to be healthy, energised and dynamic. Illness, fatigue or lethargy makes the experience of enlightenment impossible to sustain. Being able to enjoy vitality is a key part of the experience of connection and joy.
Drill: be non-negotiable in your sleep, activity and nutritional disciplines
Third, strive to be positive, empathic and caring. It is essential to consciously feel and flex your emotions with an orientation towards generosity. The experience of peace, love and joy is diagnostic of enlightenment for many theologians.
Drill: restrain your impulses, generate joy and respect the joy of others
Fourth, strive to be present, focused and clear. Ruminating on the past or fretting about the future causes suffering. When present, we experience each moment in its fullness. Suffering drops away.
Drill: catch your thinking and focus 100% on the present moment
Fifth, live with skill and purpose – particularly in the testing moments. Flow is the state of full engagement with a meaningful challenge. Whether this is in loving prayer, skilled acts of compassion or creative pursuit, your spirit (little self) is in action and you will feel one with Spirit (greater reality).
Drill: define how, where and why you get flow and get a little every day
Accepting wise mentorship on this path of deliberate practice will accelerate your quest. It is very easy to get stuck in eddies when one area consumes too much attention. Many who exercise fanatically clean forget to relax or develop their emotions. Many meditate at the expense of their physical capabilities. Sometimes too much love, can distort our altruism into destructive sympathy.
Each of these base categories of discipline can reach levels of enlightenment. Consider the advanced yogi (super-calm), your favourite athlete (grace), Buddhist compassion (love), mathematical brilliance (clarity). They all trend towards flow.
There are many paths available for enlightenment. We live in a wonderfully diverse and creative world because humans courageously pioneer untrodden paths. Use the basic concepts and the lessons of our great spiritual traditions to stabilise and direct your journey. Seek truth, respect and practicality.
At the end of the day you have to choose and walk your own path.
As Gandhi reminds us:
To remake the world, you have to remake yourself.