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Tuesday, August 07, 2007

suffering, service, g-o-d...

I want to tell a little bit of my own story vis-a-vis suffering, and spirituality, and service to others, how the one seems naturally to lead to the other, and the other....

as a young person, I grew up in what I laughingly refer to, these days, as the House Of Death (though it wasn't all that funny at the time it was all happening).

both of my parents were quite ill from the time I was really small, and my mother died of leukemia when I was 9 years old. my father had already suffered a heart attack by then, and was working on a couple more, when he remarried a lady who made sure to make my already bruised life a kind of living hell until I left home at 15. I was utterly incapable of staying in a house where someone was trying, if not to kill me (which was partly the case), at the very least to mangle my heart and destroy my spirit.

for many many years, I puzzled and chewed over how tormented my early life was – alternating between depression, rage, confusion, sadness, self-hatred, the gamut of negative emotions surrounding all of the trauma and turbulence I'd been subjected to. I couldn't figure it out, how I'd been so unlucky as to have two parents in frail health, to have survived my mother's death only to be nearly chewed up and spit out by a truly hateful, toxic stepmother.

cruelty on that scale didn't figure into my world view, as a small child and an adolescent, so it was all as baffling as it was degrading, abusing, torturing.

talk about heartbroken! to borrow a phrase from a character in The West Wing, I was "in nine kinds of pain and didn't even know it."

it wasn't until I was well into my 20s that I could even begin to unwind some of the awful twisted knots that passed for my heart, and began to develop some kind of spiritual awareness.

during the early, fledgling days of my first overtly spiritual process, I began to realize, with some kind of dim clarity but a real inner surety, that everything I'd lived through in my youth was necessary, from one angle, to bring me to the kind of clarity, compassion, humility, strength, and insights into the human heart and the nature of suffering that were definitely in the forefront of my personality.

it was a real turning point, to understand that:

1) whatever suffering I'd gone through was not at all random or even, from a karmic perspective, “unfair”, but rather a kind of honing of my being and a profound teaching to my soul

and 2) I hadn't suffered in vain – because I knew what it was like to confront life and death and loss and abuse and a kind of shattering of any illusion of security in this world, I was strangely equipped to be of help to others in a similar position.

as I grew older and more accustomed to the uncomfortableness of 'spiritual' life (in my 20s and into my 30s, I wouldn't even use the word 'god', ever, in conversation or even to myself – I was so angry with the divine for the crappy hand it had dealt me!), I began to recognize that the people in my first spiritual community all had this same attribute in common – they had all been, in one way or another, where I had been and not only had they lived to tell about it, and to lead happy lives, but they were constantly volunteering to help other people, new to recovery and spirituality and so on, out of the same kinds of pits they themselves had once inhabited.

it dawned on me, somewhere along the way, that the spiritual path of self-healing depends on being of service to others.

it's when we're most helpful to others, and most concerned with the well-being of other people, that we completely forget about our own hurts and traumas, depressions and egoisms.

I saw it demonstrated for years, all around me, and towards me, before I even had words to articulate this kind of nobility of spirit, the serviceful way of being in the world that moved my heart (and me to tears) many times in my early, awkward days of spiritual flailing. people who had themselves suffered unspeakable horrors were so incredibly kind to me, a frightened, depressed, timid, awkward young woman! it never ceased to amaze me how generous they were – especially when I heard some of their stories and the traumas they had suffered in earlier times.

I'm really grateful for having been exposed to the divine working through people who have suffered hugely in their lives. it really taught me a lot about the power of service, and surrender, and a kind of humility in the face of incredible suffering – that suffering is also part of the nature of this planet and, as such, part of god's nature as well – and only made me stronger in my conviction to pursue spirituality through my life.

I didn't want to 'get enlightened' or have supernatural experiences, or whatever – I wanted to be able to help other people the way that so many people, ahead of me on a spiritual path, had given me hope, support, inspiration, and unconditional love no matter what I did or said, or didn't do, or didn't say.

since spirituality took me a little deeper into life than the surface layers, and I've had the good fortune to witness supernatural miracles and be exposed to different powerful spiritual experiences, my commitment to being of service to others has only grown.

these days it may take many more forms than I would have imagined, from being a conduit for miraculous healing energy for others, or sharing some divine knowledge that's of real help to another person, or feeding the homeless people on the streets of my home town, or taking care of whoever's in front of me in need…. but the underlying principle is the same.

I think spirituality is a gradual process of awareness needs, kind of like the Hierarchy of Need – first you want it for yourself, to heal yourself or answer some deep inner gnawing questions. then you want to help other people. then you really want to understand the deeper truth of what's happening in this world (and at the unseen levels). once you have that understanding, life HAS to become service - there just is no other way, at the ultimate stages, like with Jesus, or the Buddha.


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