"Be not conformed to this world" is the most common translation of the second verse in the twelfth chapter of the Apostle Paul's epistle to the Romans, which if you read the footnotes, actually reads, "Be not conformed to this era."
This is one of the great problems many young people face today. In a world mediated by cell phones and social media and cable TV it is difficult to separate ourselves from the era—the latest fashion, political fads, intellectual trends, and talking points. It is difficult for us to find ourselves—our true identity as actual people—independent of this constant influence. From this point of view, life is reduced the adolescent aim of "fitting in."
There's no solitude.For too long we've been inundated with various forms of entertainment. The TV has been our babysitter since early childhood. Now, Facebook babysits us. We do not know how to be alone. We have to be in relationship. This neediness leads us to exploit others. We find emotionally vulnerable people and prey on them. We leach onto them and suck the life out of them, in order to medicate or remedy our own identity crisis.
Initially, we cannot find ourselves in a relationship. We learn to love in solitude. Love grows out of solitude. When we withdraw from the world, not the planet, but this era—the field of entertainment—we return to ourselves. It is in this retreat that we find our Self.
The Self is not a new self. We're not building it, creating it, or even innovating it. We are dying to our old self—the attention seeking, codependent personality that roams the earth to and fro looking for its next prey. But don't let me church it up too much. Darkness precedes the dawn. Self-actualization comes at a cost. There is a painful detoxification process that comes along with our abstinence from entertainment, physical or emotional. This abstinence is the true meaning of solitude. Non-conformity is carried out, not necessarily in geographical isolation, but through inner-solitude. There is no shortcut that enables us to circumvent our loneliness. We are all truly a unique person, which means that deep down we are all alone.
This is what Carl Jung meant when he said, "Neither family nor society, nor position can save him from fate, nor yet the most successful adaptation to his environment." We must all face our fate and our fate is to be our own person, to be fully our self. While Jung is spot on with his words his language does not seem to catch the revolutionary nature of such a journey. In this respect Jesus was much more precise. He said, in Matthew 10, 34 “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household." To say, I have not come to bring peace is to say that spiritual path is not necessarily easy. It can be a heartbreaking. To say that I have brought a sword is to say that the path I offer is one of revolution, not rebellion or conformity to the status quo. Our families are not our enemies in that we must defeat their external presence; it is their internal presence—our adversary is the nagging voice in the back of our minds that is always looking over our shoulder. We must move beyond their internal influence to discover our own voice. But it does not stop there: we must go beyond the voice of our mentors and teachers, our priests and role models and step into the realm of personal responsibility. Each person must struggle against their familial, cultural, and social conditioning to discover their own indwelling fountain of freedom, spontaneity.
It is the absence of solace—a rawness or un-anesthetized state of vulnerability. This is what it means to truly be sad. This is what it means to see through the era and be touched by the world.
Solitude is not only the crucifixion of this small needy self, but the resurrection of our true Self, which is full or in need of nothing. It is a return to Eden or abundance. We realize the richness with which the human condition is endowed. We begin to experience our self overflowing, pouring out into the world. Our life is transformed into a gift. This is where we find love.
Love comes out of the realization that we are not broken and therefore do not need a fix. Only then do we stop trying to take from the world begin to give ourselves to it. Solitude is the essence of spiritual practice.