It’s important to recognise that your spiritual or contemplative practice doesn’t happen in a vacuum.
While you can develop a resiliency and a capacity to be present with a wider range of circumstances through practice, your environments and the circumstances of your life will be the biggest thing that shapes your experience.
In some spiritual settings, focusing on the material or relational aspects of life is either ignored or frowned-upon. But these things hold a huge influence over you and your way of being in the world whether you recognise it or not, so it makes sense to consciously engage with this and consider how you can create a life that feels aligned with your spiritual, material and emotional needs and desires.
There is also the fact that you never arrive anywhere in life and you don’t exist separately from anything around you, so cultivating and participating in happy, healthy environments and eco-systems is one of the most important aspects of spiritual practice.
If you have spent time reflecting on what really matters to you in life, you are much more likely to be a force for good in the world. You are much more likely to be willing to do what it takes to create a better world, rather than be pulled around by unhealthy forces and the will of others.
With this in mind, here are some tools and guidelines for helping you reflect on your wider life and think about the things you would like to focus on and cultivate more of.
1 – Recognise that you have a flawed working model of the world
The things that people care about and how they perceive the world is highly personal and unique. Assuming that these things are the same for everyone increases a sense of competition and flattens your world-view. Realising that every person has a different way of experiencing the world opens it up and creates a huge amount of potential for spaciousness towards yourself and others.
This is really important. The way you see the world and yourself is heavily influenced by your upbringing, your culture and the people around you. There is no way to escape this – how you see things is not how they are.
If you don’t recognise this, it enforces oppression of yourself and others. I’ve noticed that White British and American cultures are particularly bad for thinking that they have an objective view of the world.
Realising the depths of how differently the world can be experienced can be incredibly liberating. An example of this is noticing that there are cultures, even within the Western world, that don’t build the idea of someone’s worth on their productivity.
In order to do this, you need to be able to take a wider perspective. This helps you keep an open mind about what you want in life, rather than being narrowly focused on what the people around you think.
Spend some time considering different cultural perspectives. Or imagine looking at your life through the eyes of a good friend in order to see yourself more clearly; you could even ask them what they think to get some feedback.
Consciously reclaim your projections – be aware that things that create a strong emotional reaction in you are more likely to create a fixed way of seeing and understanding something. If there is an edgy emotion or situation, the mind is more likely to misinterpret the situation.
Understand that this is your life. Everyone else has their own flawed model of the world, so you don’t need to be too caught up in what other people think about you either.
Everyone is learning as they go and working with the information they have available to them at the time. Adopting this attitude helps you keep an open mind about what is possible and realistic.
2 – Make room for feelings, intentions and values
When people think about their life and their goals they tend to focus on how things look from the outside and what they will achieve or get.
Looking at things in this way can mean that you get caught up in status and competition. Or thinking about the things you think you should achieve through the eyes of others, rather than what is going to lead to genuine fulfilment.
It is worth flipping things on their head. Rather than focus on the thing you are trying to get and assuming that this will make you feel good, you are thinking about the underlying feeling or intention that you are trying to cultivate or manifest, and being flexible in the way that you create that in life.
This is much more reflective of what life is really like – you may think that a promotion is going to make you happy but spending some time thinking about the values and intentions you would most like to embody on a daily basis is more empowering.
It also allows you to be present with the process as it unfolds, rather than believing that your life is going to start when you achieve or get certain things.
Embracing this attitude has the potential to completely collapse the status-driven capitalist culture we live in.
With this is mind, these are the underlying desires that fuel almost all decisions, to help you clarify what is driving you:
3 – What do you really want?
People tend to hide what they really want in life from themselves and others, for a huge range of reasons – self-judgement, fear, oppression, trauma, shadows and misalignment with your environment all stop you from being present with your desires.
Framing the question as, ‘what do you secretly want?’ helps cut through this.
Getting really clear on what you actually want is super important. Be honest, if only with yourself about this, and get comfortable with the idea that you might not get it. Or that it might even be for the best that you don’t get it.
This is a fundamentally important part of growing up and being able to be mature and effective people in the world.
If you can’t claim your desires while also accepting that you don’t always get what you want, then it will drive you into narcissistic and power-hungry behaviours, where you are manipulating others and playing games to try and get as much as you can out of the system.
4 – Learning about yourself
Reflecting on what you want in life is an incredibly rich process. Fantasy, when brought into the present moment, is one of the most powerful spiritual tools for connecting with your deepest nature.
Desire is the source of our eros, or what drives life forward, and developing an intimacy with this allows you to see the details of what you find beautiful, compelling, meaningful and worthwhile in life.
If you can learn to embrace the feeling of experiencing and enjoying this desire in the present moment, without needing it to actually manifest, this can create a huge amount of spaciousness in your being.
You can use fantasy and engaging with the process of imagining what you want, as a way to learn about yourself. You can also recognise that the process of cultivating this self-awareness is half the purpose of life anyway.
5 – Leave room for unexpected additions
One of the most magical things about life is that you can’t always imagine how things are going to pan out.
Leaving room for unexpected things to happen allows you to see change and uncertainty as an opportunity rather than a threat.
If you can be clear about what matters to you in life and open-minded about how that it is going to unfold, this allows you to dance with life and the Universe.
When imagining the life you’d like and allowing yourself to express your desires in this way, you can unveil some of the magic of life. It’s amazing how much detail your subconscious and intuitive understanding can reveal to you when you aren’t overthinking things or fixating too heavily.
6 – Remember to appreciate and celebrate
When reflecting make time to look back as well. Remember where you were a few years ago and see how far you have already come.
If you don’t make time to stop and appreciate yourself and all the hard work you have already done, then life becomes an endless slog.
Take pleasure in celebrating the things that you and other people in your life have achieved.