There is a world of difference between running towards God and running away from the world.
If you find the world empty of value, void of meaning beyond the very short and temporary life span of a human being, and this causes you to turn towards a spiritual life, leaving the material world for the empty pleasures it is, then you may be just running away.
When you run away from something that you dislike, that is a negative emotion. Negative emotional reactions do not have any logic of common sense so you will run blindly in any direction, whichever one seems the most likely. Unfortunately you may think you are running in one direction, but since the run is blind, you will most likely be going the wrong way.
We cannot run away from the world and find God if we simply have heard about enlightenment and are not interested or find no pleasure in the material world. There is a fine line between detached and depressed.
This is the problem with spiritual seekers, many are just depressed and turn to an alternative that sounds like the opposite of what is depressing them, the normal human life with all its obligations and troubles, or the many unfulfillable desires.
The problem is knowing if you are depressed or detached. You may not really know what the state of your mind is since the mind is very good at justifying things to trick you and ease your pain.
The Sufi speak of the three levels of certainty; Knowledge, Vision and Truth. We can know about something, but that could all be wrong or our imagination can distort it tremendously. The vision of a thing proves it is real, but you know that there have been times you were certain you saw something, but it was actually quite different. Truth of certainty is in knowing something through directly and personally experiencing it for yourself.
Unless you experience all the things of the world, you will never be able to relinquish your desires which means you are most likely just making excuses for your inability to get what you want. How do you know if living on a quiet island is the prefect place for a spiritual life? Only by living there. If you have not done so, then the thought will always be in your mind and you will have that as an opposing view to your city life.
If your life is difficult, then you will desire the island and think that is the place for your spiritual evolution, yet you do not know if that is true or not, although you may convince yourself it is.
As Buddha said; ‘To achieve enlightenment, give up all desires, including the desire for enlightenment.’ You cannot be detached from something until you possess the thing. If you have a dream of a person or a thing, believing that if you have it or them in your life it will totally change your life, how can you let go of your desire until you have had it and proven that your belief is correct or not? You must have it in order to be able to let it go and be free.
The problem with this method is that in pursuing this path towards spiritual growth, people who enter the world of experiences often get lost in the material world and attached to the things they have been trying to be free of. It is like wanting to try a very addictive drug so you have the experience but are certain you will only try it once, but then taking two or three doses and become hooked.
There is another Sufi saying; “God gives the most difficult lives to the ones He loves the most.” This is why you may find difficulties and suffering in your life, to help you relinquish those things you have come to taste but have become addicted to, as they get forcibly removed.
We do not all have to go through that experience of gain and loss. We can choose to have, experience and understand, then leave. Leaving does not mean giving up. This is the answer to King Solomon, the biblical figure who was richer than anyone in history yet completely united with God. Let us examine the concept of ‘leaving’.
When I said we must leave the material things we acquired, that does not mean giving them away. If you are very wealthy and you have four houses around the world, millions of dollars in the bank, shares in many companies, kilos of gold in a safe, do you actually have all of that in your hands at any time? No, of course not, in fact you can never actually ‘have’ a house in your physical possession, holding it in your hands.
We do not possess things in any way other than our mind. The certificate of ownership, a document placed in some government office is what determines who the owner of the house is. It is the knowledge of whose name is on that document that determines who the owner is.
Knowledge and information are not material things at all, they are mental concepts, thoughts and images in your mind which you then react and respond to based on other concepts of how you should behave based on the information you have. We never actually physically possess very much at all, in fact faced with a gun to your head, you would quickly be relieved of possessing even your cloths.
In the mystical path, ‘leaving’ our possessions has nothing to do with ownership, it is a mental relinquishment more than physical. We must leave our attachments, desires, and hopes that any thing in this world can bring us the Unity with the Divine Self, which includes the belief of giving up of those material things. The concept that if you gave away all your material possessions and become a monk is also one of the spiritual seekers most prized possessions. That must be relinquished.
We do not have to lose our material possessions to be spiritually free, we must lose our attachments and concepts. Unfortunately, the way the mind works, we can think we have no attachments but are still very much in their control. The test is when you do lose all your money and family and then even your health, will you still have the one goal of Unity, or what will you want to find God for?
If you do not have it to lose, then you can never take that test. Even so, without the test, you can see the level of your spiritual sincerity, or at least a person who is capable can show you where you are.
We do not all have to go through the same experiences, each person is different and requires their unique set of experiences. Following the path of the world to be free from it serves many purposes, and is for the people who are exposed to the material world as they grew up. For example, a bushman in the middle of Africa who has never been outside the bush and has no knowledge of anything that has been invented over the last 1,000 years would not be suitable for this path.
Gain equals loss. This is what you must learn. As Rudyard Kipling put it in his poem “If”;
“If you can meet with triumph and disaster, And treat those two imposters just the same…”
It is not only that for everything that is gained there is something lost, but that there is no difference between gain and loss, they are both the same, it is only a concept in your mind that things can be gained or lost. You believe that you possess things.
We cannot possess other than in our own mind, it is our mental concepts which are the destructive power in our life. To see this we need a strong mind. To get a strong mind it must be exercised. We exercise our mind and spirit simultaneously by being active in the world, building, acquiring, doing, then losing, giving away and seeing the reality that what we thought we had, that which was ‘mine’, never really was.