How can I know if I have a healthy relationship with the world? This crazy world that seems to be spinning to an increasingly absurd and chaotic tune, when all my inner being wants is some peace and a sense of purpose in it all – how am I supposed to relate to it? From the microcosm of daily survival to the macrocosm of global geopolitics, how is an ostensibly sincere individual supposed to function within this elaborate, chaotic world of duplicity, double-standards and outright deception?
Some say you hide. Retreat to an inner sanctum where you create your own reality that is separate, removed, even elevated. Lock yourself into a transcendent sense of being and an elevated state of mind, and lock the world out. But is this a refuge, or a prison?
Some say when in Rome do as the Romans; either you join the hedonistic party, or get trampled by the hedonists. Immerse yourself in the materialistic reality, the pursuit of wealth or power or self, and conquer it and take its spoils. But is this conquest, or an elaborately orchestrated defeat of the inner being? Or perhaps a very large prison?
Neither of these approaches is palatable or honest. This physical world with all of its challenges and trappings exists for a reason, and we were placed in it for a purpose. Neither denial of the material reality nor succumbing to it achieves anything truly worthwhile, at least not anything that addresses the reality of our existence. We are not angels. We do have spirit, but we are human beings and as such are built and meant to engage in the physical. But how do I do so and remain in control? How can I have a meaningful and healthy relationship with the material world without it making me shallow or materialistic, without becoming addicted to consuming, and without being consumed by every whim or temptation of the body and ego?
Each person has to find their own answer to this question, an answer that addresses the unique challenges each one faces and the special talents each one is blessed with. But through understanding where the common mistakes come from, perhaps we can avoid them and achieve greater clarity.
There are two mistakes people make that lead to an unhealthy relationship with the physical world. The more obvious one expresses itself when I relate to the material reality as a self-important, independent entity that is divorced from its source, or from any spiritual significance or higher purpose. I see the material reality as the true power in my life. As such, it is logical and worthwhile to worship it and immerse myself in that reality.
The less obvious mistake, and therefore the one that is perhaps more dangerous, manifests when I accept that there is a higher source that orchestrates the material reality, and a higher purpose. But I see the material reality working in partnership with that source – not completely cut off, but operating independently and with free reign within its material domain. As such, I don’t outright worship the material reality. That would be demeaning. But ultimately I still accept it (perhaps even reluctantly) as the supreme power within the reality in which I operate. At the end of the day, it still runs my life, albeit more surreptitiously.
So the trouble in my relationship with the world begins when I find myself succumbing to the illusion, expertly and elegantly crafted by the high priests of Madison Avenue, the gods of Wall Street, my boss, my clients, my ego, or whatever else distorts the true nature the material world by trying to convince me (whether directly or simply in my own perception) that material, physical and even spiritual self fulfillment is the answer to everything. So I should worship myself, and by extension that which feeds this fulfillment. This is a recipe for existential indigestion – the inability to properly digest the material experience of our life. The antidote is honest acknowledgement, constant awareness and profound connectedness to the source from which the material reality and its purpose emanates.