The marketplace always stuck out to me as a very important image in both Sufi oral histories as well as writing. It symbolized for me all the complexities of daily life. There are goods to be bought and sold and a myriad of transactions going on at every moment. In many ways the marketplace symbolizes for me the place where the spiritual aspirant is tried. The daunting task in this case is maintaining an attentiveness to and awareness of the Presence of God, while being fully engaged in one’s day to day affairs.
It is an intricately difficult act to balance both responsibilities. On this famous Sufi murshid Hazrat Inayat Khan had the following words to say:
Balance must be maintained between what is physical and what is eternal by being conscious of both. One must not dive so deep into eternity that one does not know what time it is, nor so immersed in the physical that one is unaware of immortality. As there is night and day, so there is the change of consciousness from the physical to the spiritual, and from the spiritual to the physical. By keeping a balance between these two conditions a person leads a complete life.
Balance is something which is as rarely found among mystics as among others. When we become interested in something, it is our nature to want more and more of it, whether it is spirituality or something material. If we become very spiritual and are not material [enough], we lose the world. If we were not meant to live in this world, we would not have been sent here.
One of the corner stones of Sufi practice at least in so far as I have experienced it is that one can stay engaged in the one’s daily responsibilities while still being immersed in the experience of God. The hardest thing for me has been to keep up that balance of which Hazrat Inayat Khan speaks. There are moments where I am more attentive to spiritual life and other moments where I more attentive to inner life.
In trying to better understand how to balance my own affairs, I started to think about the extent to which our daily responsibilities and activities affect this balance in the current digital, post-modern ambiance in which we find ourselves. While we can attest that spiritual life and daily life have differing aims and that there always seems to have been a gentle conflict between the two historically, how can we use what we use that knowledge and what we know about our society to further our practice?
I was fortunate to be able to open up a dialogue with both Dr. Stewart Bitkoff and Michael Greenstein about how our daily lives can affect the balance we so need for holistic functioning, and by holistic I mean a balance that takes into account our physical, mental, emotional and spiritual needs. From that dialogue this series was born. There will be three posts a week starting this Monday where we will explore such questions like
- What is balanced living? From the point of a spiritual search, why is balance important?
- How is spiritual balance different from healthy, balanced living? Or is it different?
- How can illness be a teacher?
And many more. I look forward to this new series and am very enthusiastic about it. I hope you enjoy it and take away something that might be able to help.
On a last note I think this would be a great opportunity for everyone to really put their two cents into this ongoing discussion. All of us have something to give to this discussion. At the end of the day all the labels fall to the ground and we are people, trying to live in a world where things do not always make sense, where things are frankly difficult and if at time we find ourselves in the company of others it would be great to make the most of it.
A Note on My Collaborators
Dr. Stewart Bitkoff is an avid student of Sufi Mysticism and the perennial philosophy. Professionally, specializing in the healing applications of therapeutic recreation, psychiatric rehabilitation and mental health treatment, Bitkoff holds a doctorate in education and served as a faculty member for six colleges and universities. Check him out at his personal website and also here
Michael Greenstein is the author of Adventures in Sufism a deeply personal, yet accessible narrative where he illustrates the closeness to the Divine can be found in our everyday struggles and triumphs. The universal search for the deeper meaning of life begins for him as a young boy within the familiar ambiance of a metropolitan cityscape. Check his book, Adventures in Sufism, out here: