There are no mistakes, no missteps. Life’s events only become calamities if we allow them to become so. If you look at challenges as a normal part of life, they can actually be the driving force of change.
So often, when people are faced with adversity, they expect to be able to resolve their issues quickly. Terry explains how practicing patience is critical for the healing process to occur.
Throughout the history of mankind, conflict has existed. Fueled by hatred and animosity, millions of people have been slaughtered. Terry provides an interesting analogy comparing how the trillions of cells within the body work together for the benefit of the whole. We as members of the human race should do the same.
As Jeremy Taylor so eloquently described it: “Meditation is the tongue of the soul and the language of our spirit; our wandering thoughts in prayer are but the neglects of meditation.”
It has been said that as we pray, we are speaking to God. But when we meditate, that is when God speaks to us. Communing with the Source of everything cannot be achieved while immersed in the noise and restlessness of chaotic thoughts. The mind is capable of many levels of activity that span the full gamut, from utter bedlam and hyperactivity to serenity and peace.
Life in its hectic phase is like the river’s rough surface churned up by the wind. Those waves represent the flurry of thoughts, the recurrent worrying thoughts stirred up by the perceived windstorms of life. The incessant nature of these streams of thought, the constant chatter in our minds generally gets us nowhere, imprisoning us in an unending eddy of discontent. If we are not mindful of its trap, we can get caught in its current as it drags us into the abyss of the turmoil that created the thoughts in the first place.
The commotion of the mind is analogous to the turbulent surface of the river. The deeper portion of that same flowing body of water is less chaotic, with movement much less than that found on the surface. The deepest part, the bottom of the river, has a barely perceptible motion to it at all. If you have ever gone scuba diving or been at the bottom of the deep end of a swimming pool, you have likely experienced that calm.
After a fierce storm, once the turbulence has abated, if allowed to do so, the river’s murky water will settle. As the mud gravitates back down, the water’s innate clarity returns. When one is able to quiet the mind by whatever means, it is like looking into those calm waters where one can see with absolute clarity all the way to the bottom.
I have found that meditation takes me to that respite. It provides the channel that allows me to dive deeply into the mind where calmness, peace and serenity prevail. Meditation leads me to space where I can cultivate consciousness in its most pure form.
Life’s accrued experiences add multiple shrouds to our essence. Often these coverings blanket us with baggage that is burdensome, a heavy load that we may find impossible to continue carrying. In order to unload this excess cargo, these layers must be shed, much like peeling off the outer most portion of an onion. As we do so, our essence in its most distilled form is revealed. It has been likened to donning a Halloween mask every day for an entire lifetime. It is not until all of those facades have been removed, peeled away from the pure face that one’s true persona emerges.
I am reminded of an event that occurred back in September of 1977, the beginning of my second year in medical school. The summer had been had been a soggy one for Kansas City as yet another intense storm front headed our way. In less than twenty-four hours, it dumped 12 inches of rain on the soaked city.
Within hours, Brush Creek, normally a mere trickle of a stream, rose twenty-one feet. Flash flooding produced a torrent of raging water smashing into everything in its path. In an instant, underground-parking garages became submerged in the murky, debris-filled water; store front window imploded from the pressure of the waves crashing into them. Chaos abounded!
I was perched on the peak of a stone bridge that arched over the creek, a passive witness to this awesome expression of Mother Nature’s unleashed power. I watched as large trees were easily uprooted. Tossed downstream like matchsticks, I was intrigued at how we tend to underestimate the power of such natural forces. The raging river engulfed everything in its wake. Nineteen people lost their lives in those few minutes of that fateful day, including a young family of four whose car had been swept away like a flimsy particle of dust into the roaring, wild wall of water.
Many times since I have found myself reflecting on that frightening and deadly rampage. I have often contemplated the important metaphor offered that day back in the 70’s.
A bridge over troubled waters…this is what is offered to us.
We consider ourselves fortunate as we lollygag along savoring life, accruing pleasurable experiences here and there. There is no question that smooth sailing can be a marvelous experience. Its enjoyment should be appreciated to the fullest. But at some point, the calm waters of life will become tumultuous and unsettled, occasionally they may rage out of control. Setbacks and obstacles will be encountered. Deep and wide crevasses might appear before us on our previously smooth path. They will threaten safe passage to the other side of the canyon where we think the sun must surely be shining.
We apprehensively peer over the edge of the precipice, perilously looking down at the rapids slicing into the floodwaters. Fearfully we hope against all odds that we don’t lose our footing. We pray that we won’t fall into the abyss of the turbulence below.
As the pressure surges, the waves begin lapping up against us and steadily rise higher and higher grabbing at us, threatening to engulf us. If we can’t escape their clutches, the waves will surely carry us away in the fierce fury, dragging us into the deep darkness of the frigid undercurrent.
It would be nice if we could avoid such turmoil and the suffering and fear generated by it. But sorrow, sadness, disease and loss are all part of life as we know it in the material world. None of us is immune. The challenge is to find the way to navigate through these seemingly difficult experiences. The question becomes how to bridge the divide over such troubled waters. How does one learn from these apparent negative experiences? And are they really negative experiences?
When faced with adversity, it is how we respond to the difficulty that determines who we are. Our life experiences will become calamitous only if we make the conscious decision to make tragedies out of them. We might just as easily choose to view them as opportunities for personal growth. The search for discovering the way across the deep canyons of our journey with all of its inherent difficulties and dangers can become the driving force of change. The more daunting the challenge and the greater the apparent obstacle, the more potential there is for enlightenment.
Rather than lamenting the troubled waters we encounter, we can choose to be grateful for them, as these obstacles in life can be the source of strength that empowers us to rise above the very adversity that appears to obstruct our way. We can embrace these tumultuous times and challenges, accepting them as gifts from the Divine. By being grateful for the raging river that blocks our way, we can use the experience to bridge the gap from turmoil, disappointment, and suffering to a place of understanding, wisdom and insight.
As Sogyal Rinpoche so eloquently put it, “To see through the eyes of the mountain eagle…is to look down on a landscape in which the boundaries that we imagined existed between life and death, shade into each other and dissolve.”
I am the greatest obstacle to finding peace. I often get in my own way. While I’m off looking for peace out there somewhere, I lose sight of it. The Buddha once said: “There is no way to peace. Peace is the way.” It is only our search for it that prevents us from finding it.
Most of us spend a lifetime trying to find peace. Especially in our Western society, we tend to seek gratification through the acquisition of things — bigger houses, nicer cars, and a larger portfolio, thinking that having those will fulfill us and offer us peace.
Allow me to make a distinction here. Being happy and being at peace are not necessarily interchangeable nor are they mutually exclusive. I’ll give you an example. In the midst of the storm in which I currently find myself, there are many moments of sadness, times of great unhappiness. But for the most part, I find myself consistently at peace. This is often a hard concept for many to comprehend. How can one be at peace yet not be happy? Conversely, there are many who are quite happy but not at all at peace.
The following parable offers a marvelous metaphor that can perhaps explain this better than I. There’s the story of a young boy who would wander off by himself into the forest. One day his father’s curiosity couldn’t be contained and he asked his young son what he does when he walks alone in the forest.
His son replied: “Daddy, I go into the forest to find God.”
The father pondered this for a moment and said: “My son, you don’t have to go into the forest to find God . . . he is the same everywhere.”
“He is the same everywhere,” explained the little boy, “but I’m not.”
The message is this story is that in order to find the peace of God, we must direct our search inwardly. From A Course in Miracles: “peace is an attribute within you; you cannot find it outside of you.” The doorway to peace always opens inward. It is the light that you will discover residing at the core of your being that you will use to illuminate the world outside of you.
Living in the world of today with all of its uncertainties, it is easy to see why so many people fall into the depths of despair. Contemplate the magnitude of the worst tragedies, both man-made and natural that have been witnessed on earth. During the holocaust, 11,000,000 people perished; an earthquake in Haiti killed over 300,000; from the Indian Ocean tsunami, 212,000 lives were lost. Famine kills thousands of people across our globe every day; a tidal wave in Bangladesh resulted in 2,000,000 lives lost and the 1918 Spanish Flu Pandemic killed over 50,000,000 people. With today‘s technological advances, we are made aware via global media coverage of each catastrophe, almost instantaneously.
Whether it is the fear of terrorist attacks with weapons of mass destruction, worries about the unsettling power of Mother Nature gone awry as recently demonstrated in the earthquake and resultant tsunami in Japan or simply the fear of the unknown, there is an undeniable deleterious effect on us, and especially on the mental health of our children.
A while back I stopped in a local restaurant for coffee. I smiled as I noticed a father helping his four-year-old son open his “Happy Meal”. I reminisced back to a time years ago when my son, Tyler and I would spend a weekend morning at what we referred to as “men’s club” where Daddy and son would spend quality time together. As I was recalling that marvelous experience, I was suddenly yanked back into a sad reality.
As this father was opening his son’s “Happy Meal”, I realized that the youngster was not paying attention to the meal being placed before him. The big-screen TV in the dining area of the restaurant mesmerized him. CNN was showing the vivid images of bloodied, dead college students being carried from the Virginia Tech classrooms, the tragic aftermath of the bloodbath senselessly inflicted by a crazed young man.
The young boy had a look of horror on his sweet young face. I intently watched his reaction to the video of the mass murderer’s raging diatribe of threats and demented explanations of this horrific crime.
The irony struck me that this was anything but a happy meal! The tragic truth is that in today’s world, very few of us enjoy a happy meal, or a happy day for that matter. As I witnessed that child losing his innocence, it became painfully apparent to me that humankind has also lost much, primarily the loss of balance in our lives.
In today’s world, entire generations of children have grown up in a tragic milieu of hatred and violence. Sadly anger and hostility continue to be cultivated in our children beginning at a very early age. Palestinian children have been taught to hate Israeli children and vice versa. The Hutus and Tutsis in Rwanda have murdered one another over their perceived differences. All of these and the many other conflicts in our world continue to feed the self-perpetuating cycle, which has never, nor ever will serve a constructive purpose.
It should come as no surprise that in a recent study co-authored by Dr. Mark Olfson of Columbia University and New York State Psychiatric Institute, it was found that twenty percent of young Americans had been diagnosed with a personality disorder that interfered with their everyday life. These disorders included obsessive-compulsive tendencies and other anti-social behavior that can lead to violence. This is being born out in the now frequent school shooting rampages we are experiencing. Far too many of our youth are abusing alcohol or drugs attempting to escape their reality. I suspect none of this is unique to our American society.
It is the constant barrage, the incessant exposure to the negative energy percolating through our world that is poisoning the innocent and fertile minds of our children, while adversely affecting adults as well. There is no doubt that immeasurable pain and suffering exists in our world. How we deal with that sadness dictates its effect on us and on the entire cosmos as well.
Each time a catastrophic event occurs, humanity is offered an opportunity to begin anew, to change the thought, to teach our children well. We should expose our children not to the beheadings in Iraq, not to the daily bombings and murders occurring across this world, not to the Caylee Anthony murder updates, not to the constant barrage of horrific scenes our children view in the movies or on television. We must provide our children and thus ourselves with a vastly different paradigm, the path of positive thoughts, which will result in the manifestation of that which we all seek . . . peace.
Our legacy to the next generation, whether it is here in America or in the Middle East, can be to offer a life much different from the one we have all helped to create.
Food for thought: The gift to our children can be the taste of a truly positive life experience. Perhaps it could begin with a “Happy Meal”.
Spirituality and being religious are descriptions often considered to be interchangeable. While many religions consider spirituality to be an integral part of their doctrines and practices, there are overlaps between the two. There are also distinct differences between them as well.
They both involve the search for connection with the Source of everything, be it God, Christ, Buddha, Yahweh, Elohim or Krishna to name but a few. They both strive for a communion or reconnection with the Divine.
Spirituality is experienced as one embarks on his own unique inner path in search of deeper understanding of the truths life has to offer. The path becomes a conduit for inspiration and insight, which leads to an understanding of our experiences while temporarily incarnated in the material plane. The spiritual path leads one to the discovery of his or her unique essence and purpose as it becomes distilled to its most elemental form. Spirituality is the corridor toward the place of higher consciousness, a passageway toward the perfection that is within each of us. It involves meditation, introspection and prayer.
Being religious involves these as well. While religions tend to espouse the acceptance of a metaphysical existence based on a supernatural deity(s), spirituality on the other hand is not attached to any specific religious tradition. As William I. Thompson stated it: “Religion is the form spirituality takes in a civilization.”
Because of the exclusivity of some religious teachings, religion tends to separate us from one another, whereas spirituality tends to bring us closer together. It is important that we realize the potential of learning from everyone despite how different our backgrounds may appear. It doesn’t matter what religion or denomination others have come from nor what belief system they have been taught. It is not the tradition or laws that are meaningful, it is the spiritual essence of their beliefs that is of utmost importance. Our focus must be not on our differences but on what we share in common.
“How is it they live for eons in such harmony—the billions of stars—when most men can barely go a minute without declaring war in their mind against someone they know?
There are wars where no one marches with a flag, though that does not keep casualties from mounting.
Our hearts irrigate this earth. We are fields before each other.
How can we live in harmony? First we need to know we are all madly in love with the same God.”
~St. Thomas Aquinas
While attending a conference of theologians, Thich Nhat Hanh shared his thjouights to words spoken to the assembly by a Christian friend who said: “We are going to hear about the beauties of several traditions, but that does not mean that we are going to make a fruit salad.”
Thich Nhat Hanh’s responded by saying: “Fruit salad can be delicious! I have shared the Eucharist with Father Daniel Berrigan and our worship became possible because of the sufferings we Vietnamese and Americans shared over many years.” He went on to describe the shock experienced by some of the Buddhists in attendance in learning that he had participated in the Eucharist; many of the Christian participants seemed horrified as well. “To me, religious life is…life. I do not see any reason to spend one’s whole life tasting just one kind of fruit. We human beings can be nourished by the best values of many traditions.”
Spiritual truth is what belongs to us all irrespective of our past teachings. It comes to light when and wherever we find ourselves struggling with the profound questions of how we fit into the overall scheme of things and what our purpose is for being here.
In order to reach the core of one’s spiritual self, diversion from the superficial current of the material plane must be achieved by rising above everyday life. It is from that transcendent perch, spiritual awakening will occur. It is analogous to the majestic eagle that soars high above everything, viewing with bird’s-eye clarity the complete understanding of life in its entirety. On occasion the eagle must swoop down rejoining the physical world if only for a short time after which it will soar once again into the heavens of spirituality.