“The sacrifices of a family are like those of any demanding monastery, offering exactly the same training in renunciation, patience, steadiness, and generosity.” Jack Kornfield
You’ve been practicing yoga and have enjoyed sitting for short periods of time in meditation. You really want to sit longer but with so much to do in a day it becomes very difficult. Your family and job demands all your attention and even during those short sits your mind is chattering like an angry squirrel. In the Pali Canon, the Buddha is quoted as saying “The household life is a dusty path full of hindrances, while the ascetic life is like the open sky. It is not easy for a man who lives at home to practice the holy life in all its fullness, in all its purity, in all its bright perfection.” Even Jesus Christ spoke to his followers to “go sell what you possess and give to the poor…and come follow me.” Is it possible to have a deep spiritual life as a householder, or must you renounce the world—and the family life—to attain liberation?
In a culture that has come to embrace all traditions, even so far as calling itself a “melting pot” of humanity, it is no surprise that there is a new democratization of spirituality emerging in America. Spirituality has shifted from the extreme of living life in a cave to modern times of having a two career family life with jobs, children, and mindful sex. It has emerged as a movement to marry the sacred with the secular, and at the core lies the practice of meditation.
“…when we speak about spiritual practice, like meditation, for example, we use the word ‘practice’ because it’s practice for living,” says Elizabeth Lesser, author of The New American Spirituality. In other words, practicing meditation prepares you for dealing with a hysterical child, a demanding boss, a mean-spirited co-worker, an inconsiderate spouse, all those situations that come up in life and demand your response.
Of course, you need to take time away from the world to go deeper into your practice, but the point is that you use your life as your practice, connecting all the dots, which lead you to communion with God. True spirituality is not just about attending church on Sunday and then spending the rest of the week fighting with your family and cheating your competition at work. It is difficult and arduous work, and it takes a focused mind to stay the course in our over-stimulated culture.
As a householder, you will face many distractions in your spiritual quest. You need to earn a living, spend time with your family and provide for their material comforts, and find time to do yoga and meditate. The purpose of meditation is to free the mind from attachment. As a householder, you must be willing to completely give up your attachment to the world of ambition, envy, romance, lust for power, greed, hatred and the many other temptations you encounter in life.
The ascetic can enter a monastery and is taken away from worldly distractions. In the workplace, in the household, and in your interaction with strangers you are consistently challenged to stay true to the principals of right conduct and purity of mind. If your are going to live in the world as a householder, you don’t have to struggle financially and live a poor but simple life. Do the work you love to do, but be of service to others as well. Use the money that you make to provide for yourself and your family and to benefit others in the world. Sharing the bounty you have is a lesson in letting go, of practicing loving kindness and generosity. Without this letting go, your practice is of the basic kind and in the end may only serve to feed your ego.
So, how to begin a meditation practice? Look around your community and find people who come together to sit in meditation. This can be a yoga studio, Buddhist study group, Zen meditation group and possibly even your local library. When you sit with a group there is a supportive sense of community that brings individuals together on a regular basis rather than attempting to take the first steps alone. You can also create a place in your home that allows you 10-15 minutes of quiet uninterrupted time. If this means waking earlier to sit in meditation then set the clock and make the commitment. Just like anything else you wish to learn if you consistently do the practice, you will experience the beneficial results.