Having lived in an ashram for over 30 years, a friend thought I would be a good person to ask about what I thought being spiritual meant. Like everyone else, I use the word a lot without really knowing what it means. I knew that many people who live like me, including myself, do not always act “spiritually” or kindly, and I would oftentimes judge our behavior and wonder how we still manage to inhabit this special place we have chosen to come to. I however, find it painful to continue in his line of thoughts.
My teacher says that her only demand on us is to be kind, yet it smacks of a simplicity that I don’t always get. Kindness has many permutations which are not all evident. One might think one is being kind to somebody, but it might just be indifference, an unwillingness to be honest or, acting in some collusion of codependence. Living with a hundred or so people, I have in my later years and desire to not be self-righteous or tutorial, found that it is often kind not to remark upon a person’s particular failing in the moment, since most times my fellow ashramites are chiding themselves for their own unseemly behavior.
Sometimes people come to the ashram and have remarked that we do not always act in ways they consider to be spiritual. I have to agree with them. We are still acting from personalities that rub up against each other and are reactive. I have tried to defend us at times, saying how would you like to live with a hundred or more people, knowing as you do how difficult it is to live with one person?
In my deepest feeling, I think that spirituality is an attempt to not be ruled by survival, sexuality and power, all self-serving desires. I feel it is an attempt by us to act not from feelings of self-interest but towards an ideal of loving and serving humanity. When I can do that, the contradictions and distinctions between me and others dissolve into feelings of non-separation and equality. It is for that reason I have come to conclude that spiritual people are those who attempt to lead a righteous and kind life, not someone who lives upon an unreal pedestal of non-reactivity.
I am also grateful that in these days’ people no longer have to get themselves to a monastery to become spiritual. Spirit and God are available to all souls in all places. One can simply pray to an altar that one constructs or sit meditatively in nature. In my fortunate days, I feel lucky that I have chosen to live among satsang (a spiritual community). Imperfect as we seem to each other, it is good to live amongst those with similar aspirations.
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