The 2 Realms of Life
Both are necessary for lasting wellbeing
There are two realms of life: the human and the spiritual.
The human or practical realm is the world of form or all subject to birth and death. The spiritual realm is the formless or that which is beyond birth and death. The spirit cannot be seen, heard, smelled, tasted, or touched and is, therefore, outside the realm of humans.
The human realm is impermanent and relative, forever moving and changing. In some traditions, impermanence is represented as a mandala or samsara. Conversely, the spiritual is unmoving, unchanging, permanent, and absolute. It is variously described as spirit, God, or the divine.
The human realm is sometimes likened to yang, sun, masculine, ego, time, and disorder. The spiritual relates to yin, moon, feminine, egoless, timelessness, and order. While practical and spiritual are opposite forces, they are interconnected, influence one another, and ultimately work together.
For practical purposes, the human realm is about doing, while the spiritual is about being.
The Practical in Daily Life
The human realm, as mentioned, involves all that lives and dies.
It can look like this in our daily lives: we go to work and make money, shop, and pay the bills. We do laundry, wash dishes, and bathe our bodies. We start a business, buy a house, and go for a walk. We write a book, paint, and make a clay pot. We drive on the right side of the road, watch what we eat, and get regular exercise. We drive kids to school, plunge the toilet, and sit in traffic.
The human realm also includes emotions such as fear, anger, and anxiety. Or ideologies like communism, freedom of speech, and the right to assemble. It has judgments like 99% of all buildings built in the past fifty years are ugly, eyeglasses make people sexier, or Mahatma Gandhi was a great leader.
In terms of nature, the human realm includes the weather, insects, plants, animals, trees, oceans, sand, rocks, boulders, mountains, and even the earth itself. It includes any entity or event: business, non-profit, political party, club, organization, rally, protest, and religion. Everything manufactured by humans must also be included: cars, rockets, highways, money, houses, phones, medicine, paper, computers, and books.
Though necessary to keep us alive, the human realm is ultimately dissatisfying.
What the Spiritual Looks Like
The spiritual is the realm of love, meaning, and purpose. It also includes beauty, awe, and wonder. The spiritual is timeless, oneness, primordial stillness, the unborn, the unmanifested. It is the stuff of the gods, heavens, and the infinity of space.
It is that which can be experienced in consciousness and described but not defined by words, which are limited by form. We know spirit when we experience it, but explaining it is impossible. It’s like trying to describe what it feels like to ride a bicycle, witness a shooting star, or stand atop a mountain.
“Spirituality is recognizing and celebrating that we are all inextricably connected by a power greater than all of us and that our connection to that power and to one another is grounded in love and compassion. Practicing spirituality brings a sense of perspective, meaning, and purpose to our lives.” - Brené Brown
The divine can be experienced while listening to classical music or a movie soundtrack. We may feel awe while watching the sunset or standing in a redwood forest. We may be touched deeply by a newborn baby, puppy, or calf. A funeral may cause us to see the brevity and preciousness of all life.
The spiritual realm is innately satisfying and fulfilling.
Seeking Enduring Happiness in the Practical
While living in the human realm, we get rare glimpses of the spiritual, but they are usually insufficient to convince us of its need. When you swim in the water, water is what you know. Our limited perception is reinforced by the belief that the human realm can and will provide for all our needs.
And so we spend our days toiling to achieve and acquire the things we believe will provide enduring happiness: money, fame, accomplishments, and possessions. When we get a new car, we feel excited. When we get a pay raise, we feel proud. When the stock market goes up, we become elated.
But eventually, we lose interest in our car, our employer lays us off, or we quit, and the stock market crashes, leaving us empty, frustrated, and searching for answers. We gain something and are temporarily satisfied until it breaks or we lose it.
The problem is that the happiness we seek depends on things that are, by nature, impermanent. Nothing in the human realm can provide the lasting satisfaction we seek.
So how can we find enduring wellbeing without falling into the cycle of discontent?
The Key Is to Live in Both Realms
Everyone who comes to the spiritual path has, on some level, failed to find the enduring satisfaction and fulfillment they sought in the human realm and are now ready to go deeper.
When I was in grad school, I studied to be an entrepreneur. But I wasn’t sure if money was the right path, so I picked up a book contrasting Taoism with Buddhism. Within the first couple of chapters, spirituality appeared to offer a way to the happiness I sought. Nonetheless, I resumed my studies because I needed to discover the truth.
I was laid off from a Fortune 500 five years later, mentally and emotionally destitute. I had spent my early adulthood seeking lasting happiness where it could not be found: in the practical.
The truth is that our physical, mental, and emotional well-being depends on attending to both realms. They dovetail and support one another in a virtuous loop. Rather than being mutually exclusive, both wings of the bird—human and spiritual—are necessary for living a balanced, sustainable life.
“The coming into manifestation of the world as well as its return to the unmanifested – its expansion and contraction – are two universal movements that we could call the outgoing and the return home.” - Eckhart Tolle
The practical provides the foundation of life, including food, shelter, clothing, and medicine. But living only in the practical will leave us empty inside and spiritually hungry for purpose, meaning, and lasting satisfaction. The spiritual offers essentials such as meaning, purpose, and joy, which nurture and sustain us through the difficulties of daily life. But living only in the spiritual will leave us penniless and forever physically hungry.
One realm sustains life, and the other gives life.
Arc of Life
Human life follows a consistent arc from the spiritual of birth to the practical of adulthood and returning once again to the spirit later in life. Along the way, each of us realizes that enduring peace, joy, and contentment can only be found living in both the human and spiritual realms.
Keep living in both realms,
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