Yesterday, 416 billion emails were sent by 2.4 billion Internet users. Yesterday, 786,000 television sets were sold, $196 million was spent on video games, and 576 million newspapers were circulated. Yesterday, $9.4 billion was spent on public healthcare, $8.5 billion on public education, and $6.3 billion on military and defence. There was nothing special about yesterday… it was just another day. The complexity of modern civilization is surely astounding, but simultaneously worrying since we are all impelled to complicate our own lives in order to survive in this climate. To a greater or lesser extent, everyone is forced to move with the times, monks included! It’s a far cry from the rural villages of bygone ages, where people moved much slower and spiritual culture was woven into the fabric of day-to-day life.
In a recent discussion with the Archbishop Rowan Williams, we reflected on the intrinsic worth of simple living. He shared an interesting story which I’ll attempt to paraphrase. Once, a young boy approached a local Bishop asking if he could be taught how to pray. The Bishop smiled and told the boy to sit down for five minutes while he finished other duties. When the Bishop returned he found the boy walking around the room and peering out the windows. As the boy sighted the Bishop he repeated his request. The Bishop compassionately looked at the boy and said “I can teach you how to pray, but first you have to learn to sit quietly, speak quietly and eat quietly.” The Bishop left, and the boy was left with some food for thought. Truth be told, to sit silently for 10 minutes would be an uncomfortable and unnatural experience for many of us. However, that quietness is essential – we all live, but do we live consciously.
Stillness, serenity and simplicity were the key messages of the Bishop. Noisy, loud and boisterous environments; opulence and excessively luxurious habits; stressful, demanding and taxing lifestyles – these can all clutter our consciousness, and block one from accessing higher wisdom and spiritual ideals. Unfortunately, the reality is that modern spiritualists are faced with such things on a daily basis. They’re inescapable. Thus, great teachers instead recommend that everyone create a sacred space in their life; a place of retreat, a place of clarity, a place of inspiration. Every day, the spiritualist can make a concerted effort to spend quality time in their sacred space to reflect, refocus and rejuvenate. The sacred space facilitates their meditation on the deeper meaning. This space provides the necessary quietness in an otherwise madly passionate society. It’s the place from where we prepare to face the world, and it’s the place where we return for sanctuary.