Some interpretations of spiritual traditions focus on asceticism or renunciation, pointing towards isolation in a cave or the total severing of worldly attachments as the apogee of a dedicated practice.

And yet, so many of us are what contemporary Buddhists call “householders.” We have families, dogs, clutter, deadlines, awkward new relationships and marriages that have run their course. For us, the deepest test of our practice does not always come on the yoga mat or meditation cushion, or on retreat away from the rush of the modern pace. It comes when we bring those lessons out into the full mess of life, and see how they shake out. The unpredictable is a gift, testing the integrity of your inner life in the transit between “perfect” conditions and reality. What good does self-work do if it flits away when you open your eyes and meet the gaze of another? Where can you find the equanimity and insight you associate with your favorite asana in a crowded subway?

We can just as easily use yoga or meditation as an escape from the present moment as we can use it to wake up, little by little—the choice is often only visible from within.

This is not a call for perfection. It is a call to step into the fire of practice. You do not have to run away from life to find this illumination: Your life itself gives you the fuel.