In her book, Ordinary People as Monks and Mystics, Marsha Sinetar talks of the inherent disquiet that accompanies the beginning of the spiritual journey. There is, she says, a distancing from social convention and being enmeshed in the currents of life. She calls this process “social transcendence”. From my experience, there is a great deal of truth in this concept. Those who seek a spiritual path are a bit syncopated. We are in the world, but not quite of it. We make different choices for different reasons than our peers. This difference is part of what fuels and engages us in the quest of deeper truths. There is nothing special in this, everyone has this to some degree, it is only that those who are on a self-consciously spiritual path don't push these things away - they instead embrace them.
This is, to my mind, precisely where a vipassana practice is so very useful. When I am paying attention to the little things, as they arise in my awareness, I find that I socially transcend in more skillful ways. As I pay attention, it becomes increasingly clear that a large part of my “identity” is the result of social conditioning and I can actually see its working as it exists in my thoughts and actions. This revelation of the nature of the the self, with the slow peeling back of the accretions of social layers, admits the freedom required to begin to explore my own true nature. And, as I do this, I become less reactive in the world around me. I am naturally more tolerant of the social unfolding. And, on very good days, I am able to see that process clearly enough to be able to interject the right action at just the right point to be helpful.
© 2007. Matthew Wesley. All rights reserved.