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Monk in the World Guest Post: Jo-ed Tome

I am delighted to share another beautiful submission to the Monk in the World guest post series. Jo-ed Tome is new member of our Wisdom Council. Read on for his reflection A space where contemplative living can flourish.

I had to sit quietly for several minutes after my conversation with Alex (not her real name). She brought up difficult questions about life and living. She had a lot of worries and fears. She was afraid her life could possibly be meaningless. She could not bear the thought that she might only be making up her purpose in life and that it is possible there is no “grand design”. She feared that perhaps the anonymous commenter in some online forum could be right: there is no heaven. In the middle of the conversation, Alex let out a question that seemed to be at the core of her concerns: “What if there is no God?”

Alex is a 20 year-old Filipino, a member of a young, high-spirited, and dynamic generation in a predominantly Catholic Christian country where spirituality is used almost synonymously with religiosity. Through the years of accompanying young people I am convinced that one of the major contributors to the “spiritual crisis”, as Alex described it, is the belief that one’s spirituality should be limited to what religious traditions teach. Anything outside of it must be curtailed.

Many Filipino youth are searching for something deeper, a more personal connection with the Divine that goes beyond the walls of the church. They desire to explore their spirituality and find meaning in their lives. However, many of them face great challenges in this path. One of which is the fear of being perceived negatively by their family and their church community. Many Filipinos are raised in religious households where questioning one’s faith or beliefs is seen as a sign of disrespect or rebellion. They feel they cannot freely express their doubts or share their evolving beliefs and image of God without facing discouraging reactions from those closest to them. As a result, they tend to repress their “sinful” thoughts and feelings which can lead to deep loneliness and confusion.

Young people like Alex were among my primary inspirations when I started my social media platform, Millennial Tito Monk, a few months ago. As a spiritual director, transpersonal psychology researcher, and self-professed monk in the world, I am moved to try to create a space where people, especially the youth, can learn about and practice a contemplative way of being and doing that is aligned with their unique contexts.

Over the years, I have come to describe contemplative living as being deeply present in the world, inextricably connected with the Sacred, and freely engaged in the flow of Life. This has become my anchor as I create online content and engage with every person that comes my way whether physically or virtually. This has been helpful as I accompany people like Alex who senses a call to connect in a deeply personal way to Something or Someone beyond the self.

Being deeply present in the world means being attuned to the here and now, to what is happening in and around us. Some people tend to be skeptical about practicing presence because they see it as a form of escape. However, in my experience, practicing deep presence encourages me to be more in touch with my realities. Deep presence restores my alignment with my inner self and the world around me. By using my senses, paying attention to my breathing, and opening up to what is arising in me, I make space for my joys and fears and allow the affirmations and questions to enter my consciousness. Practicing deep presence enables spiritual seekers like Alex to offer curiosity a seat at the table instead of driving it away like an unwelcomed stranger. This practice can come in the form of writing down every question, thought, or feeling and allowing them to unfold without directing the course or making any judgments. This may also be done by facing the current realities of one’s family or church community. Practicing presence may lead people like Alex to realize that we tend to behave out of a certain conditioning. Contemplative living creates inner spaciousness that extends to others and to the world.

Being inextricably connected with the Sacred highlights our innate and unbreakable bond to a Higher Power known as God, Spirit, Energy, Reality, Life, Love, and many more. To me, this aspect of contemplative living shifts the attention from the label to the relationship, from the destination to the journey. Regardless of the name we have for It, the strong and intimate connection with the Sacred is what matters most. By becoming aware of this, we can free ourselves from the boxes we try so hard to fit in. We start meeting and welcoming the Sacred in the mountain, in our backyards, at the dining table, in the hospital bed, and even in the darkest and loneliest recesses of our hearts. The likes of Alex can rest in the thought that God is not only found in the church during Sunday mass or worship. Whenever she hears that having questions or beliefs outside her faith tradition is “dangerous”, she can reach deep and find consolation in her sacred connection that transcends membership to any groups or institutions. Contemplative living celebrates deep and intimate connections.

Being freely engaged in the flow of Life speaks of our willingness to take part in how Life is moving in and around us. The presence and connection now invite us to engage—a movement toward conscious actions that ultimately flow through and toward Love. When we freely engage in the flow of Life, we tend to travel lightly through life, holding things with palms wide open. By realizing we are in the same grand flow, the walls that separate “us” from “them” dissolve. Compassion naturally sprouts and enlivens us. This aspect of contemplative living does not guarantee a problem-free life. Instead, being freely engaged in the flow of Life allows us to welcome setbacks and heartaches as inevitable parts of the journey. They break the flow only to open up a new course, a fresh start that continues the flow in another direction. Seekers like Alex can gain a new perspective that by willingly partaking in the flow, she is allowing Life to unfold before her very eyes. The questions judged as “inappropriate” or the thoughts labeled as “sacrilege” are rocks and crevices that shape the course of the river. Contemplative living cultivates openness and willingness to flow with Life.

Alex’s questions and fears still linger in me. As a companion, it is not my place to “fix” anything. What I carry in my heart is this spark of hope that young people like Alex embody the undeniable and ineffable presence of the Sacred in the world. It is my deep joy to witness that and continue to create a space where contemplative living can flourish.

Jo-ed Tome is a Filipino spiritual director, transpersonal psychology researcher, and self-proclaimed monk in the world. He practices and promotes contemplative living through his social media platform, Millennial Tito* Monk. Jo-ed encourages others, especially the youth, to a mindful and compassionate exploration of various spiritual practices that respond to their unique contexts. He strongly believes that the Sacred is within each person as much as It is everywhere and in everything.

Among other practices, Jo-ed leads contemplative climb in mountains, soulful reading of books and other reading materials, and soulful conversations. He also gives retreats and recollections to various groups to help them grapple with questions about life, become witnesses to the dynamic presence of the Sacred in their lives, and connect deeply with their inner selves.

Jo-ed is finishing his MSc in Consciousness, Spirituality and Transpersonal Psychology given by Alef Trust in partnership with Liverpool John Moores University. He has a bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Ateneo de Naga University. He is a member of the Spiritual Directors International and the Psychological Association of the Philippines.

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