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Live Like a Monk… In The World

Let’s talk about how to live like a monk while leading an ordinary life with the routines and obligations that most people have. The goal is to be a “monk in the world”: a person with deep inner spiritual embodiment but a typical outer life, with a job, family, friendship and the other accoutrements.

Being a “monk in the world” has several dimensions to it. They may seem to contrast and collide, but to live a full life, we must learn to integrate them. The extent to which we don’t is the extent to which we are fragmented.

And know that it’s more than possible to live like a monk in the world. Some of the most famous spiritual writers of our time are lay people. Sure, they dedicate a whole lot of time to spirituality, but they don’t live a monastic life.

I believe it’s possible to reach the spiritual heights that the monastics do, and we’ll do so in a more authentic context, not shut away from the world and worldly demands, but actively embracing them.

Here we’re going to explore the core facets of how to live like a monk in the world.

Live Like a Monk: Dedicated Spiritual Practice

First of all, it’s crucial to uphold a spiritual practice, whether it’s meditation, yoga, devotion, or any other. This is the monastic component of our life, the backbone of our spiritual connection, the mine that contains all the gold. It’s how we go from being seekers to becoming embodied spiritual beings. With it, you’re well on your way to being a monk on the world.

In my case, I’ve been meditating for eight years. Other than a couple of years when I lost my zeal, I’ve upheld a formal daily practice. And without my daily meditation, I wouldn’t have a spiritual life.

I encourage you to do this daily: don’t just be a Sunday person, or a when-I-feel-like-it person. Be dedicated and take it seriously. It pays off, big time. It’s also easier than ever to receive high-quality teaching and find communities of people who are walking the same path as you. You don’t have to go it alone.

As a reference, it takes around 1000 hours of meditation for the effects to become permanent, and 10,000 hours for deep, enduring transformation. To reach that number of hours, we must make it a core part of our life, like the monastics do.

Infuse the Day

Monastics don’t just meditate while they’re in their formal periods: they work at making their entire day into one unbroken meditation.

This requires a shift in attitude. Your life isn’t just for enjoyment, or relaxation, or achievement, or contribution, but for spiritual cultivation. You don’t necessarily have to change what you do (though we will talk about that), but how you do it.

The key here is to find ways to adapt your spiritual practice to your daily activities. Meditation is perfectly suited to this, and I’ve written articles on how to bring meditation into your life. You can use them whether or not meditation is your main practice, and I encourage you to find ways to do the same with your own.

This puts your life through an orthogonal rotation. Each activity, whether mundane or monumental, becomes a vehicle for your spirituality.

This reveals one meaning of the “monk in the world” quip: we retain spiritual awareness, like a monk, as we go about our business in the world.

Live Like a Monk: Balance Hedonism and Puritanism

One thing that strikes me about monastic life is the abstinence that monks and nuns engage in. They refrain from money, sexual relations, intoxicants, eating after midday, entertainment, socialising with lay people, and more. They even give up their clothes and their hair, and change their name.

Though this has its benefits and a raison d’etre, this is pretty difficult to do in ordinary society, and I think it’s unnecessary. In fact, I think it’s a fragmented approach that can harm your spiritual path. It doesn’t eliminate our primal desires for fun, sex and freedom, but represses them. It creates a personality that is one-minded and detached, one that is out of touch with the day-to-day life of most of humanity.

On the other hand, ordinary people tend to spend all day working a job they dislike, then come home and crash on the couch in front of the TV. They then drink alcohol, eat unhealthy food, and are constantly bombarded by stimulation. Though this is the status quo, I also think this is harmful and will prevent you gaining the clarity you need to spiritually awaken.

After experiencing both sides of this dichotomy, I’ve found that a balance works best for me.

To the ordinary person, I lead the life of a monastic. I don’t drink, smoke, party, or eat animal products. I don’t own a TV and haven’t since 2019. I meditate every single day, and spend my time writing about spirituality and psychology. I don’t buy into most people’s notions of success and happiness. And I found that most of my bad habits and unfulfilling activities fell away quickly when I got serious about meditation.

And I think this is necessary. To do some degree, we do need to live like a monk, in a practical sense, if we want deep spiritual embodiment.

However, to the monastic, I lead the life of an ordinary person. I work long hours. I’m ambitious. I socialise, I travel. I have a partner, and we’re definitely not chaste. I eat three meals a day, and have hair, possessions and my own clothes. I have interests other than spirituality, and I pursue them with gusto.

And so, depending on your perspective, my life looks like both hedonism and puritanism. In my opinion, that proves it’s a nice balance of the two, and I think it has to be this way. It’s no use living as a slave to creature comforts, yet it’s also no use to cower away from the world.

What’s the point in enjoying life without being spiritual? What’s the point in being spiritual without enjoying life? Both are core parts of my life, and I’m thankful I’ve found a way to integrate the two. Besides, if we want deep spirituality to become part of mainstream culture, there needs to be people who can bridge the gap between the monastic world and the lay world.

On the other hand, as dedicated lay practitioners, we must create the space in our schedule and in our being for our spiritual life to germinate, grow and blossom. This is particularly true in the early days of our spiritual path, where our embodiment is more fragile and vulnerable. In this way, we take the wisdom of monastic life and apply it to our own.

Live Your Life

Another facet to being a monk in the world is to live life, to be worldly, to be interested and engaged and absorbed, rather than reclusive, repressed and disinterested.

After all, God is in everything and everyone, whether we judge that thing to be spiritual or devilish. Life is extraordinarily rich. Drink it in. Go and do stuff. Enjoy it, live it fully, dance with it!

Yet also don’t forget that you can’t obtain happiness. Sure, outside influences help, but you have to have the antenna for happiness. Don’t just do stuff to attempt to fill the hole inside, but as an expression of your inherent wholeness. That’s much different to pure hedonism and pleasure-seeking.

That’s the big picture of how to live like a monk in the world. I hope it inspires you to find balance and fullness in your life, blending the spiritual and the worldly, rather than seeing them as separate and conflicting.