Balancing the spiritual and secular

June 17, 2008 | Original NSS, spirituality

Why, you may ask, is someone who writes about Christian spirituality using a Taoist Yin Yang symbol as art? Well, the easy answer is that it’s all part of the Tao of Mary. My years of dabbling in Eastern philosophy still cling — in a very minimal sort of way — to the periphery of my spiritual life. Not because I’m looking for something outside the Christian Way, but because I find so many elements of Eastern spirituality to be a beautiful supplement to our own practices. The whole notion of Yin Yang — that opposing but complementary aspects of our lives can happily co-exist — is something so basic and, well, Christian, to me. We cannot separate our lives into individual and isolated boxes. Spirituality here, work there, exercise here. They have to overlap and exist in a kind of healthy tension. If they don’t, we end up with everything slipping to one side, figuratively speaking, and suddenly our Yin is left without a Yang, and that’s never good.

I first discovered the ability of Eastern practices to further my Western prayer when I learned Hatha yoga many years ago. Hatha is another Yin Yang sort of philosophy, focusing on the opposing energies of hot and cold, sun and moon. Hatha yoga is about preparing the physical body for a spiritual experience. Not necessarily something mystical but something beyond the norm, whether our “norm” is sitting in a chair with a remote control in hand or driving a car down the highway at 65 MPH with the radio blaring.

Try sitting in one spot — without moving — for just 15 minutes right now and you’ll quickly realize that your body does not want to sit still, and your mind wants to sit still even less. Suddenly you have an urge to move your foot, scratch your ear, stretch your neck. At the same time, your mind is reliving every event it can conjure up from preschool to the present. No wonder it’s so hard to pray. We need to learn to quiet our bodies if we can ever hope to quiet our minds and hear God.

But I digress. Wasn’t this post supposed to be about balancing the secular and spiritual? The point of this rambling monologue is that our lives have to be about balance. We cannot expect, unless we plan to enter a cloister or become a hermit, to go through life without the pull of the secular world inserting itself into our attempts to be more spiritually centered. The key, I think, is to learn to find a way to balance those two vital elements of our lives, to allow the Yin of contemplation and meditation to sidle up to the Yang of work and socializing and whatever else we find vying for our attention.

I wish I could learn to integrate the two in a healthier way. I find that when I’m working on prayer, I want everything to be spiritual — my reading, my podcasts, my conversations, my music. But then, when I realize that my spiritual quest has left the garden overrun with weeds and my treadmill covered in dust, I shift gears and focus on those things. The problem is that the prayer part recedes to the point of disappearing.

So where to begin? I think the first thing we need to do is be gentle with ourselves and realize that this back and forth, two steps forward and one step back, is all part of our human journey through life. It would be completely unreasonable for me, the mother of three active young children, to think that my spiritual life could rival that of someone who lives her life in full-time contemplation. We have all been called to different vocations, and our job is to live that vocation as prayerfully as possible, not to live according to someone else’s calling.

On that note, I’ve decided at the spur of the moment to link to a favorite old column of mine, one that talks a lot about this very subject. If you haven’t already dozed off, click HERE and see what else I have to say. Can you believe I’m still talking? Don’t answer that.


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