16 years ago, after graduating from UCL with a management degree, I opted to leave it aside and embrace monastic life instead. Ironically, it’s all come full circle; dealing with people, projects and practicalities is a sizeable section on the modern monastic menu. I must have some management karma to burn off. Balancing spiritual immersion and practical politics, however, is incredibly challenging. You have to be alert, streetwise, tuned in, and sensitive enough to deal with the complexities and conflicts that harass every manager. Being a monk, however, you simultaneously try to live in a sacred space of consciousness, beyond the temporary phantasmagoria, with a broader vision and deeper meditation. Sometimes I feel like I’m living the life of a public hermit – ‘on the grid’ but simultaneously aloof.
While navigating the practical world and settling into my inner world, I encountered a useful mantra which I tried to embed within my mindset – “learn to live with chaos.” External circumstances are never perfect, prim and proper. Life just doesn’t work like that, and if we’re perpetually seeking the perfect resolution of everything around us, our attention will be perpetually diverted away from other parts of our life which need it. Many things aren’t meant to be resolved – they just need to be managed and tolerated. We must cultivate resilience and steadiness of mind, even amidst unresolved problems, issues, obstacles and hostility. The entirety of our life can’t be spent putting out fires. Some will just have to burn, but we should continue progressing forward nevertheless.
Once, Swami Prabhupada was being driven to a public engagement. As they hit a series of roadworks, the traffic slowly built up, and within minutes all the vehicles were at a complete standstill. As they peered outside the windscreen, a luminous highway sign read “road works: temporary inconvenience, permanent improvements.” The Swami laughed heartily and exclaimed “the material world: temporary improvements, permanent inconvenience!” And so, learning to live with chaos is more realistic, progressive and pragmatic. Like running water effortlessly flows around the obstructing rocks, moving steadily to its destination, so in the face of inevitable challenges and unexpected reversals, we must march on. I’m slowly learning the art of switching off, entering sacred space, and blocking out the chaotic noise of the buzzing world. I’m not suggesting irresponsible indifference, but I can’t allow my inner world to be permanently hijacked. That space is off limits. Otherwise, in the midst of the chaos, I may well miss the whole point.