[This is part of a letter. Naturally, all personal references have been omitted.]
Your letter speaks of the deep yearning that all of us come to at some time in our lives, later or sooner, in this life or the next, depending upon where we are along the spiritual path. To me, it is the call of the soul wanting to touch God, and to be touched by God. It is healthy and normal and even essential if one is ever to step out of the mundane onto the path back Home. It is to this yearning that I address my thoughts on your seeming dilemma.
Actually, there is no dilemma here. There is confusion however, confusion about priorities. And it is this confusion, common to many of us, that leads us to seek in all sorts of directions for an answer that in truth can only be found within the heart. This is the confusion that creates the fear one feels in the pit of the stomach. And it is this confusion that makes it difficult for us to answer our own questions, even though they can be simply answered if taken one at a time, with understanding and compassion for our self and our situation.
Thus, it seems to me that what your letter asks is essentially this: “What is it that is most important to me at this time in my life? What is my highest priority?” The answer to that question will determine your next step.
If the answer is to seek connection with God above all else, which you suggest that it may be, and which, from my point of view is the only priority really worth pursuing – to devote what time you can find and spare to seeking that connection, to arrange your life to the extent possible today, not tomorrow, or not as one would WISH to arrange it, but as one MUST arrange it at this very moment – then the answers will begin to fall into place.
With that highest priority in mind, what becomes important is not WHAT you DO, how you work, who you talk to, where you go, BUT what you THINK, moment by moment, what you put your mind to, moment by moment, who and what you think about, moment by moment, as you go about continuing to keep the body healthy, safe, and comfortable. In other words, the first thing any of us must do is set our priority. Then, EVERYTHING ELSE we do conforms to that priority, and is directed to meeting it. In that way, whatever work one does becomes less important than the REASON for doing that work. Now, you can theoretically work in a sewer, and still feel fulfilled, because your work is directed toward keeping your body and mind sane and healthy in order to dedicate that body and mind to God. If you apply this idea consistently, eventually you will discover that all work is sacred, whatever its nature, and eventually, happiness will begin to creep in. Indeed, if approached thusly, work eventually becomes almost unnecessary or, at the very most, unconsciously done without resistance.
In other words, it is not what you do that determines your happiness, but WHY you do it. Work is a means to an end, as is everything else, from a spiritual point of view. Most importantly, please remember, work is NOT who you are! Thus, two of the points you raise answer themselves; yes, work is done primarily to feed, clothe, and protect the body, and if approached with that in mind, work becomes relegated to its proper level, and is no longer a means to anything other than survival – you do it because you must to remain alive; and no, work is not satisfying in and of itself, at least from a spiritual point of view, unless it is dedicated toward our one priority, whatever that may be.
Thus, to feel a failure because you have seemingly not “made your mark” in the world simply reflects a mindset inherited, accepted, and embraced from a culture preoccupied with accomplishments on the outer, and neglect of the inner. In my view (and experience), outer accomplishment is not a valid criterion for happiness or for self-judgement or evaluation. It is, in fact, a value society imposes on its members in order to maintain itself. It has very little to do with human happiness, but much to do with a well-oiled economy. It does not bring lasting fulfillment, no matter how successful one is at any of its outer manifestations. (If you doubt that, just ask those who have achieved outer success how happy they truly are. You may be surprised at their responses.)
Similarly, there seems to be some confusion in your thoughts about the nature and place of desires. Here, too, if your foremost desire is confused or complicated or distracted by other, lesser desires, then accomplishment of the foremost desire will be delayed or even sabotaged by these other, secondary desires. The mind can attend to only one thing at one time, and thus, at any moment in time, where you place your attention determines who and what you are. So, if your desires are many and scattered, your life will naturally unfold in a scattered, distracted manner. There is no way around this, unfortunately. It all hangs on our consciousness, and our consciousness is determined by our attention and focus, and our commitment to that focus.
Finally, the distress and dissatisfaction you express regarding your life is not unusual at your age [mid-50s], physiologically as well as psychologically. Individuals tend to take one of two directions at that point in their lives; either they distract themselves from the pain of realization that life is running out, and that most of our past life has been frittered away at mundane and not particularly profound endeavors; or, they confront this naked truth, and set about changing their lives, and redirecting them toward more profound and deeper spiritual meaning. You have obviously chosen the latter alternative, and for that, you deserve enormous support and congratulations. It is the tougher road to take, but the only one toward lasting happiness, it seems to me. So, your dis-ease and dissatisfaction with your present situation is to be welcomed. Instead of regretting it, why not use it positively, as a goad toward change and purpose. Perceived that way, you must be grateful for the grace of God which brings it to you. And you yourself acknowledge that fact!
So, it would seem to me to be most appropriate and more fulfilling to settle down and go more within than without. Again, remember that it is not WHAT you DO that is important, but WHO you ARE at the time you do it – the what doesn’t matter, but your state of consciousness does. In this light, with a partner who is equally committed to spiritual study and work, your path seems quite obvious, doesn’t it? And, by going within, I mean concentrated study with others committed like yourself, with your partner who is committed to it, immersing yourself in books, ideas, spiritual study, days and weeks and months of just sitting there with God. If you can’t do this on an extended basis, then devote to this work whatever spare moments you have. It is not how long at a stretch that counts; what counts is how often and with what degree of aspiration and focus.
If you remember that with spiritual work come moments of great exaltation, but many more moments of work, practice, boredom, frustration, even fear, then the path begins to be more tolerable and less foreboding because you are more accepting of the plodding characteristics that are inevitable in the spiritual process. Also, concomitantly, the more spiritual one becomes, the less important life’s experiences and opportunities and distractions become. The more spiritually focused one becomes, the less demanding or important the previously desired or attractive lures of the senses and the world become. But the focus must be expressed and determined and disciplined. With a partner to go the way with you, you have the best of all possible worlds right in your very hands. My advice would be to try not to let the worldly distractions deter you from your innermost cry, your heartfelt desire to commune with your own God, which only comes with time, quiet, commitment and determination.
I hope this helps.