How Streetwise Is Your Spirituality?


Have you ever been on a spiritual retreat feeling great, revived – even enlightened?

Only to leave and go back into the world to see how dirty a place it is, all the while longing for the peacefulness of that blissful retreat?

If so, I know how you feel. I remember one meditation retreat where I spent the whole weekend in a state of intense peace, feeling my mind become clearer and clearer, and my heart fill with love.

On this particular weekend I had dragged my brother to the retreat with me. I had my fantasy of how I was going to improve him to help run a wellness business. I thought at the end of the retreat this really was going to make a positive impact on him, and he would be so grateful for my influence on his life.

Unfortunately I hadn’t reckoned what a shock it would be to him to go from a diet of meat, starch and soft drink to a strict vegan regime without a chicken in sight. The poor guy never had been exposed to this before, the food alone must have been torture for him, let alone sitting cross-legged for hours and talking about chakras.

The moment the retreat ended, he ran to the shop across the road to get a meat pie, bag of chips and a coke. I was outraged by this ‘unspiritual’ behaviour, but tried not to let my feelings show. But I couldn’t even last the one-hour drive back home – I blew up at him in the car, yelling and screaming at him. It didn’t matter how much I felt oneness with the universe – I totally lost it within minutes of the end of the retreat.

And that was with my own brother – if it’s this hard to maintain a ‘spiritual’ attitude to friends and family so soon after a retreat, how much harder is it to do it with strangers?

It reminded me of a quote from Ram Dass:

“If you think you are so enlightened, go spend a week with your parents.”

Another time I had a floatation tank session, where I felt so peaceful. I drove home where everything seemed brighter and I could just feel the beauty all around me. I dropped into the supermarket on the way home to grab a few things… and promptly got into a fist fight with another customer! He was being agressive towards one of the supermarket staff, so I intervened to try to protect her. Unfortunately I misjudged my approach, telling him to ‘Go home and calm down’ – which prompted him to lay into me and the fight was on.

How on earth did I go from a blissful state of seeing so much beauty, to rolling around in the fruit and veg section with a grown man, covered in his blood, only ten minutes later?! My intentions were good, but I didn’t take the right approach and screwed it up. I felt I was being spiritual, however I was anything but streetwise.

Experiences like this have taught me that It’s all well and good being ‘spiritual’, sitting with your middle class friends in an ashram, but the real challenge is applying what you learn when you return to the real world.

Outside the building where you practise yoga/meditation/tai chi/whatever, there is real suffering on the streets. Once you’ve sat in silence and meditated, do you just keep meditating, or do you use what your intuition has given you and try and change the world?

A spiritual path is not in a retreat, on yoga mat or in an ashram, it’s on the street in real world situations, in conversations that we share. We hear of all these great stories of ‘enlightened ones’, but what about the next chapter in their lives after these great events?

A spiritual practice entails connecting us with our true selves, being aware that there are real issues out there in the world, then taking action on them. When accessing your intuition, your true self/the universe/divine energy, you must then apply this practice to help others.

Streetwise Spirituality means:

1. Accessing your intuition while in difficult situations in the real world.

Rather than isolating yourself in a quiet environment to practice spirituality, realise there is a bigger picture to why you are continually in challenging situations and apply your intuition and spiritual practice to overcoming these challenges. Being spiritual is not limited to sitting quiet on a mat, it’s all about being present in every moment, including when you are in a tough situation.

There are two basic types of tough situation: firstly, an ‘off track’ obstacle. This is an unpleasant small difficult situation where you’ve veered off your right universal track. For example you have temporary financial issues, a minor health problem or teething personal relationship problems. It’s our duty to use our intuition to realise the difficulty or it will continue to arise again and again.

Second is the ‘wrong track’ obstacle: a major obstacle. Overcoming this obstacle means changing your life in a deep way. For example you lose everything you have, you have a major illness or you lose the love of your life.  These are generally very difficult and may take years to get over. The key here is being present with your intuition in the heat of the moment and understanding the purpose of the situation and how you are meant to grow as a person because of it.

2. Understanding that nothing is black and white in real life.

People like to polarise themselves to one group; “Only indigenous spiritual ways of life are good” “Only knowledge backed up by science is good”.  Not all things on either sides of the fence are the right way.

The key is to combine and integrate different perspectives, such as the wisdom of the tribal people with the findings of scientific research. This is a more balanced approach, looking at a more cohesive system, which creates the best result for people with all of these serious issues affecting the planet. The key is not being attached to any side, be it the wisdom of 20,000 years to the hard facts of science.

Having streetwise spirituality means you acknowledge how both sides can work to help people and the issues in the world today. This is the way of the future: a harmony of applied spiritual wisdom.

3. Aligning your inner life purpose AND your actions in the world.

Our inner life purpose is ultimately to overcome the issues that we have not been able to confront in previous lifetimes, and to discover how we are meant to interact with ourselves and others, (for the greater good of humanity and the world). This is an issue or set of issues we struggle with when dealing with ourselves, consequently we project our issues onto others, or we run away … sometimes to an ashram!  When you come across challenges that force you to confront your personal issues in real life, in the office, with your loved ones, this will reveal your inner life purpose.

Our external life purpose has got to do with us looking at what we love most within this world, the people that we most want to help and then going out and making an impact with them. We become streetwise by not going back to our retreat to get more practice, but instead by tackling the issues head on with our intuition. This is how you make a positive impact on other people’s lives, regardless of what brick wall is placed in front of you.

Practical suggestions

In order to move forward in the modern world we need to take what we learn from traditional spiritual practices and implement them when facing each uneasy situation we find ourselves in. A spiritual life is not about being in a constant state of environmental isolation, or entering different states of consciousness. It is right here in the present with whatever we are doing.

Ultimately we must surrender with a wise, respectful, and open heart to the beautiful things that happen to us, to the suffering and sticky situations we find ourselves in, as well as to the times we are fearful of taking action, and to the injustices around the world.

Honouring everything that happens to us is the path to being streetwise with our spirituality. Streetwise spirituality is not about letting go of life’s simple pleasures or renouncing the world – it’s about helping the world in whatever situation we find ourselves in, then ultimately we gain the world.

Honouring everything that happens to us is the path to being streetwise with our spirituality. Streetwise spirituality is not about letting go of life’s simple pleasures or renouncing the world – it’s about helping the world in whatever situation we find ourselves in, then ultimately we gain the world.

Next time you are in a challenging real-world situation:

  1. As it occurs, take a few big deep breaths.
  2. Feel (don’t think) how you can grow as a person in this situation. What feels the right thing to do right now? What is a very awkward thing for you to do right now,? (As this most likely is what you should do right now.) What can you do to be proud of yourself in this situation?
  3. If there is another person involved here, put yourself in the other person’s shoes. How could you impact this person’s life positively? How can they be amazed by an unexpected act of kindness on your behalf?

If you follow these simple steps above next time you’re in a sticky situation and FEEL for the right thing, the thing that is very awkward for you, when it’s awkward that is where the growth begins. By doing this you will make the world a better place, something you will always look proudly upon.

How about you?

Have you ever struggled with integrating your ‘spiritual’ learnings with your everyday life?

Have you ever been confronted with a difficult situation where you chose the awkward option with a positive result?


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