In her recent blogpost, our dear friend and spiritual teacher Elizabeth Krajewski published a truly inspirational post, encapsulating the essence of the householder-devotee lifestyle, which is reminiscent of and echoes the Third Order Secular Franciscans. With her kind permission, we are reprinting a section of Elizabeth’s Jan. 24, 2024 post, opens in a new windowA Hermit in the World. Please click on that link, where it can be read in its entirety. It is part of her ongoing opens in a new windowNotes From The Hermitage blog.
What does it mean to be a hermit and still work, and shop, and visit with friends? For me, it means that the deepest, most meaningful part of my life is that part that is lived here [Ed. note: “here,” meaning her residence, the Wild Goose Hermitage]. As valuable as my work in the world may be, I experience it as a by-product of the prayer, meditation, thinking, reading, writing, and reflection that I engage in here in the Hermitage. In some ways my outward life resembles the classical definition of a sacrament – an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace.
Perhaps it is simply an inversion of emphasis – I’m not a chaplain who lives in this place, I am the contemplative of the Wild Goose Hermitage who goes to the hospital to share what I’ve discovered. And what is discovered in solitary life? Simply that God is the inward reality of human life, every human life, and to carry that awareness out into the world from time to time is the greatest privilege.-Elizabeth Krajewski
In her poetic and thoughtful writing, Elizabeth, who goes by the spiritual name of Amma Beth, perfectly describes the very essence of what it means to be a dedicated householder disciple.
The problem, which Elizabeth masterfully addresses in her post, is how to maintain one’s spiritual bearings both while at home and moving about in the world. One must prioritize their spiritual goals above all other goals and carry their spiritual attitude with them, come what may when interacting with the very secular society in which we live. But it’s easy to lose sight of one’s spiritual goals, because daily life in this country amounts to a 24/7 billboard for commercialism. We worship the wealthy, entertainers, movie stars, sports heroes, and billionaires, all of whom frequently dominate the headlines. Forget that many live what we might characterize as dharmically unprofitable lifestyles; the very fact they are rich and famous and live luxurious lives is enough to capture our attention and make us starstruck.
The great Hindu saint Ramakrishna likened the householder devotee’s life to “fighting from inside a fort.” He juxtaposed a householder’s lifestyle with that of a wandering sadhu (i.e., holy person). Ramakrishna lived in India, and he died in 1886, so in the context of his time and place, his observation was spot on. However, our contemporary American society does not support the lifestyle of the wandering sadhu, which would be impractical and impossible to maintain. In fact, many contemporary sadhus living in America are ensconced in monasteries, which also serve as a kind of fort.
But fighting from inside a fort presents many difficulties for the householder. Unless one is roughly in the 96% net-worth percentile (calculated according to 2023 benchmarks and using metrics from dqydj.com), which amounts to approx. $4.7 million, or above, and which would presumably allow one to afford a servant, a person must perform all household tasks oneself or with one’s family members. Shopping, meal preparations, dishes, laundry, financials, cleaning, upkeep, landscaping, gardening, car maintenance, errands; plus dealing with medical issues, emergencies, and unexpected events, etc., etc. Oh, plus a 40-hour workweek. If you have kids, that’s a full-time responsibility in itself entailing a whole additional set of obligations. These are the never-ending aspects of a householder’s life, even if one is retired. If you can afford a servant, then you might be relieved of a portion of your daily chores. In which event, you might have more time to do more naval gazing than the rest of us.
Or else, become a guru and surround yourself with servants (read: slaves) who will wait on you hand and foot while lapping up your pearls of wisdom. You’ll be sumptuously fed, chauffeured around, and never have to clean toilets, do laundry, or deal with pet messes on the carpet. Hmmm … come to think of it, I just described the lifestyles of the rich and famous …
Still, on a more serious note, if the spiritual teacher is genuine and if they are enlightened or mostly so, then having most of these at-times tedious tasks of daily life taken care of by others serves a very good purpose: the teacher is then freed from the chores and endless toiling of life so they can keep their consciousness on God at all times and engage their minds and hearts without interruption in radiating love and peace into the world.
So, what’s a spiritual aspirant to do? Exactly what Elizabeth Krajewski does. She has set an amazingly simple yet uncompromisingly high bar that any dedicated householder can follow. I encourage all of us to read and re-read her two inspired paragraphs above, and to use her extraordinarily wise guidelines as a valuable guidepost in our own daily spiritual lives.