While there are spiritual traditions that hold that the deepest realizations are found in withdrawal and isolation from the material and social world, maintaining faith and spiritual practice in the 21st century pushes us to participate in the world. It is more difficult to live an isolated life than in previous times in history. We can retreat physically and inwardly as a part of inner renewal, but the so-called external life presses on us almost everywhere we can go. In a fast paced, rapidly changing society and a changing natural world, there is almost constant news of upheaval happening somewhere.
Faith and practice reinforce our hope and trust in an underlying order and goodness, but that hope can be postponed to some future experience when times will be better. Or, it can be a visionary state where we feel an inner experience of the transcendent, the spiritual, but it is located somewhere outside of daily life. There are deep mystical states that do transcend all this worldly business. They are certainly a part of the body of spiritual literature and history. We don't want to dismiss that, but the idea of spiritual participation is also a part of human history that fulfills the human psyche's need for belonging and meaning in daily life. The idea of spiritual participation assumes the inter-dependency of modern life and it assumes the relevance of consciousness and choice. We may not have much choice about the general arrangement of life and the culture we find ourselves in, but we do have the choice to participate in that arrangement with spiritual awareness. So participating spiritually in life means bringing our faith, beliefs, practices, value system along with us in daily life--not leaving them at home in our meditation chair, or on our yoga mat, or on the alter at church--and apply them as we can to situations in our life.
Positive participation means we give our energy and time to activities, interests and people that focus on the positive aspects of life and positive possibilities. We keep our focus on bringing a positive dynamic to life. Practicing positive participation, gives you an openness to life. It reinforces your strengths and the strengths of others. It focuses on reconciliation of differences, healing and peace, thereby reinforcing a unity of life that includes our differences. It affirms the importance of choice and our own place in the vastness of life. In contrast to negativity and an expectation of misery, it invites relationship.
Participation means to take part in something. The key component of the word is “part.” We have a “part” to play; we are a “part” of what is happening. We are not the whole. Our presence is not the entire happening; it is not all about us. Even if we are participating in a solo project, like pulling weeds in a garden by yourself, you are part of the process. If you are alone working on a creative project, the materials are there, they have their own tendencies; there are factors other than you at work. So participation is involvement in relationship, even if it is the relationship between you and the inanimate object. With people, participation is more dynamic. Maintaining your spiritual viewpoint and bringing a positive attitude to a relationship reinforces faith and deepens spiritual understanding. It is a laboratory for showing you, that there is indeed an inter-reliance and exchange in the whole of life, that takes us beyond the limitations of our defined self-hood. There are many different areas of life that can be our avenue for positive participation: family, friendship, creativity, learning, business and work, politics and social activism, service, sports, church...any of these deepen your spiritual life and open doors to powerful spiritual experiences.