Work Sex Money Dharma: Liberation in everyday life

Martin Aylward

Photo by Daniel Mingook Kim

In all wisdom traditions, we find two distinct blueprints of spiritual practice:

The first is an ascetic vision where one renounces the world, leaving home, family and society, subsuming all intentions and activities into the pursuit of a spiritual goal. This renunciation is most especially of 3 key areas, which are considered so powerful, so charged, that the ascetic withdraws from them: Work, Sex, Money.

The second vision is an alchemic one. Here one is immersed in the pulls and pushes of life, and instead or withdrawing from them, you consciously use the potency of those charged areas as a way to explore the habits of mind, the everyday compulsions, contractions and confusions that usually pull you along.

I have great love for the first vision, and a deep respect for that form of practice. Indeed, my own early practice was very much an ascetic one. I didn't ordain as a monk, but I spent some years in Asian monasteries and Himalayan hermitages, my practice defined by intensive meditation practice. When I met my wife and we had children however, all that had to change. I found myself at a crossroads: If I continued in a renunciate vision of dharma practice, mine would clearly be a second-rate version. As a husband, father and householder, I could not leave work, sex and money behind. So I would either end up in an ambivalent, rejecting relationship with them, or I would need a radical shift to a more alchemic, or tantric form of practice. I would need to bring those areas into the very centre of how I met life.

Work, Sex and Money need our attention. Maintaining a livelihood, relationships and material security is foundational to any flourishing life. Work, Sex and Money also compel our attention. Our desires, views and sense of identity show up forcefully in each of these areas, and when we explore them as a practice, we find all kinds of unconscious beliefs and behaviours operating there. Work, Sex and Money are powerful doorways into a deepening understanding of your own patterns, and a growing possibility for living more freely amidst the stuff of everyday life.

I have taught this material — a deep, meditative and relational inquiry into these central areas of life — for the last 10 years, all over the world, and I’m frequently amazed by what can happen in a week as people consider their relationship to these areas in ways they never have before. We particularly explore childhood conditioning, finding out what you picked up unconsciously in your early family life about work, responsibility and vocation; sex, intimacy and loving relationships; money, wealth and security. Using dialogue exercises, or ‘meditation out loud’, we find links between past conditioning and present circumstance, and create shifts in not only how you understand these themes, but more importantly, how you can live them differently.

Exploring these areas of life gives us a fundamental invitation:

Welcome everything 
Explore everything 
Become everything

Dissolve the boundaries of what is and isn’t your spiritual practice. Open your heart and mind to all that arises. See that everything is worthy of your care and attention; there is no wrong experience. No thought you shouldn’t think, no mind-state you shouldn’t have. The more you can include in your consciousness, the less compelled you are to push and pull, act out or repress whatever surges through. Your heart can be as wide as the world. Your awareness can make room for everything. Your practice can be found in every moment, activity and situation. Your life can be fundamentally, radically, free.

Martin Aylward has been resident meditation teacher for 20 years at Moulin de Chaves, a retreat centre he co-founded in south-west France. He gives retreats and teachings worldwide and online, emphasising a practice deeply integrated into contemporary life. He also leads yearlong Mindfulness Teacher trainings in Europe and the USA.

Martin will lead the Work Sex Money Dharma: Liberation in everyday life retreat for London Insight from 13–18th April 2019.