Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People…

& Good Things to Bad People?

Here are some Zen Stories, and one by the Sufi Mulla Nasruddin, that shed some light on what we call good or bad.


We’ll See

There is a Taoist story of an old farmer who had worked his crops for many years. One day his horse ran away. Upon hearing the news, his neighbors came to visit.

zen31

“Such bad luck,” they said sympathetically.

“We’ll see,” the farmer replied.

The next morning the horse returned, bringing with it three other wild horses.

“How wonderful,” the neighbors exclaimed.

“We’ll see,” replied the old man.

The following day, his son tried to ride one of the untamed horses, was thrown, and broke his leg. The neighbors again came to offer their sympathy on his misfortune.

“We’ll see,” answered the farmer.

The day after, military officials came to the village to draft young men into the army. Seeing that the son’s leg was broken, they passed him by. The neighbors congratulated the farmer on how well things had turned out.

“We’ll see” said the farmer.


It Will Pass

meditation

A student went to his meditation teacher and said, “My meditation is horrible! I feel so distracted, or my legs ache, or I’m constantly falling asleep. It’s just horrible!”

“It will pass,” the teacher said matter-of-factly.

A week later, the student came back to his teacher. “My meditation is wonderful! I feel so aware, so peaceful, so alive! It’s just wonderful!’

“It will pass,” the teacher replied matter-of-factly.


Happy Chinaman

Anyone walking about Chinatowns in America will observe statues of a stout fellow carrying a linen sack. Chinese merchants call him Happy Chinaman or Laughing Buddha.

This Hotei lived in the T’ang dynasty. He had no desire to call himself a Zen master or to gather many disciples about him. Instead he walked the streets with a big sack into which he put gifts of fruit, candy or doughnuts. These he would give to children who gathered around him in play. He established a kindergarten of the streets.

Whenever he met a Zen devotee he would extend his hand and say: “Give me one penny.” And if anyone asked him to return to a temple to teach others, again he would reply: “Give me one penny.”

Once as he was about his play-work another Zen master happened along and inquired: “What is the significance of Zen?”
Hotei immediately plopped his sack down on the ground in silent answer.

“Then,” asked the other, “what is the actualization of Zen?”

At once Hotei swung the sack over his shoulder and continued on his way.


Is That So?

…This reminds me of a Zen story. There was a Zen Master who was very pure, very illumined. Near the place where he lived there happened to be a food store. The owner of the food store had a beautiful unmarried daughter. One day she was found with child. Her parents flew into a rage. They wanted to know the father, but she would not give them the name. After repeated scolding and harassment, she gave up and told them it was the Zen Master. The parents believed her. When the child was born they ran to the Zen Master, scolding him with foul tongue, and they left the infant with him. The Zen Master said, “Is that so.” This was his only comment.

Hakuin

He accepted the child. He started nourishing and taking care of the child. By this time his reputation had come to an end, and he was an object of mockery. Days ran into weeks, weeks into months and months into years. But there is something called conscience in our human life, and the young girl was tortured by her conscience. One day she finally disclosed to her parents the name of the child’s real father, a man who worked in a fish market. The parents again flew into a rage. At the same time, sorrow and humiliation tortured the household. They came running to the spiritual Master, begged his pardon, narrated the whole story and then took the child back. His only comment: “Is that so.”

By: Sri Chinmoy 
From:  The Oneness of the Eastern Heart and the Western Mind

Web Source: Yoga of Sri Chinmoy

Note: The Zen Master in this story is believed to be Hakuin.


God’s Will (retold by Mulla Nasruddin)

Sai Baba - Sanjay

When I was no longer needed as a Mulla in the village, I moved to another region and found a convenient place outside a small town, on a hill. The view was fine, and the hill was as thick with thorns and burdock as a peace-loving soul could want.

I was very happy with the thorns, because they discouraged agriculture. In fact, they discouraged just about everything. No one bothered me.

Eventually, however, my beloveds, this changed. After a certain time, the townsfolk became curious. They wondered what I was doing up on that hill, coming down only for a few groceries once in a while, or maybe only to charge my cell phone. No, that was a different time.

Anyway, the people began to come up the hill, through the thorns, until they had made a path. That made it easier for me to get down to the town, which was convenient. It also made it easier for them to get up to me, which was not so convenient.

Somehow, the townsfolk came to view my silence and seclusion as marks of wisdom. And of course, whenever we admire something, we want to possess it. I once saw a small knoll covered with wild blueberries close by a pond. The blueberry plants turned red in the fall, and the glorious color was reflected in the pond. A family from a nearby town loved that blueberry field so much they decided to build a house there. They brought in excavators and heavy equipment, and tore out a large area on the top of the hill. The runoff washed away many of the berries, and they piled building debris on a particularly beautiful patch, so that by the time their house was finished, they wondered where their idyllic little scene had gone.

That was how I was afraid I would be. They would consider my seclusion to be admirable, so they would troop up to share it with me, until none of us was secluded any more. One day, something happened that let me know I could preserve my seclusion in the long run.

A group came to me, much distressed.

“All our roosters have died!” they cried. “What are we to do? We won’t wake up on time in the morning, and we won’t be able to raise broods of chicks to grow more chickens. How will we live?”

Knowing the old saying that not a leaf turns except by the will of Allah, I looked at them for a long time. Finally they demanded an answer.

“God’s will,” I said.

“God’s will?! Is that all you have to say? What good does that do us?” and they stalked down the hill, very dissatisfied. However, my peace didn’t last for long. Up they came again with a fresh calamity.

“All our fires have gone out!” they cried. “What will we do?”

“I suppose it wouldn’t help if I pointed out you have no roosters to cook anyway?” It didn’t help.

“What shall we do? We haven’t a live coal in the village, and the next village is far away.”

I looked at them and shrugged. “God’s will,” I said.

“We thought you’d say that,” they muttered, and stalked off down the hill, very annoyed. They were back sooner than I thought they would be.

“All our dogs have died!” they cried. “What other town is more unfortunate than ours? First our roosters, then our fires, now our dogs! Who will keep away wild animals, who will warn us of thieves?”

“Do you really have so many thieves?” I asked. They admitted nothing had ever been stolen in the town.

“I have only one thing to say, and I know you don’t want to hear it,” I said.

“We know…God’s will. That’s the last time we’ll ever ask YOU for advice,” they said, and stalked off down the hill, very annoyed. I hoped it was true.

But that very night, something occurred which I had been expecting. I didn’t know exactly what to expect, but I expected something. It was a little too much to have roosters, fires and dogs all die, all at once in the whole town. So I sat up and listened. Around midnight, when all was quiet in the town below, I heard the sound of a large number of armed men approaching. I crept to the top of the next hill for a better view. It’s a good thing I’m very stealthy, because their scout crept to the top of the same hill, and we almost bumped into one another. He gave a hand signal, and an army of several hundred men with shields and spears, bows and arrows, and walkie talkies…no that was another time. Anyway, this army poured up the hill and their general gave the signal for silence. He stood listening carefully, looking down at the town. After a little time he spoke.

“Well, men, we have had a good run of it, going from town to town, pillaging and burning, and gathering such treasures as we found.” There was a quiet clatter of spears and shields and shuffling of feet.

“But it looks as if our luck has run out. Where is the smoke from the fires? Where are the dogs barking? It’s almost daylight. Where are the roosters crowing? This village is abandoned. Let us move on.”

So they turned back down the hill, and went on their way. The next day a few villagers came to see me.

“Have you thought of any solutions to our problems?” they asked, “or are you going to say the same thing over and over?”

“You mean, God’s will?” They nodded. “Oh, I still believe it’s God’s will, but I have something to add. No matter how bad you think your problems are, they could always be worse. Be content with what befalls you. It is truly sent from Heaven.”

To this day, they don’t believe me.


What comes to mind after taking in these perspectives?

Bhagavad Gita: Fear not what is not real


“Fear not what is not real, never was and never will be.  What is real, always was and cannot be destroyed.”

The Bhagavad Gita


“In principle and in potential we are immersed in good for we are in the Mind of God. But we have freedom, or volition, to create in our own experience, out of the possibilities of life with which we have been endowed, the prerogative of heaven or hell. So we need to shake ourselves loose from the tyranny of fear and superstition and isolation and the emotional traditions.”

The Spiritual Universe and You

Ernest Holmes


Beginning anew is the key to waking up. If we keep trying to do the same thing over and over again expecting a different result, even we begin to suspect our mental state as a hellish one, while we may not yet grasp who is at cause in the matter. Of course, we are always at cause in our experience and this is a difficult thing to consider when we are going through a rough patch.

If we start anew, we can begin again to directly experience this environment of good that is our natural home. What if all that other stuff we experience is something we have made of the good opportunity that we are given? One of my early Religious Science teachers, Rev. Dr. Dominic Polifrone, used to tell us that “Everyone goes through hell from time to time, but that’s no reason why you should stop and build your house there!” Each of us lives in alternating states of present awareness broken up by intermittent periods of unconsciousness—not all of them deep sleep! The practice of affirmative prayer, and the supportive practices of contemplation, spiritual study, service and mindfulness in our everyday lives begin to lengthen the experience of present awareness, or consciousness, little by little until those around us actually have easier lives as a result of the spiritual transformation that occurs in us. I believe that we know we are doing well when folks around us begin to have improved lives.

Not long ago, I was talking to someone here locally, and the practice of humility came up. I believe a true, deep, and spiritual humility arises in us when we realize that we are truly made of Divine stuff and we begin to tell the truth of who we are, making no more, and no less, of the lives that we are given. The more we allow God to be God in and as us, the more amazing the things that we are able to do with our lives; the more the people around us reap the benefits of what we (You, God & I) have wrought with the opportunity of life itself.

And, of course, we all screw it up from time to time. We get grumpy, impatient, tired or find an infinite number of other ways that we can block our divinity its full expression. You can fill in the blank for yourself here; you know how it looks when you get off track. From time to time we need renewal and self-forgiveness. I urge you to take a few minutes to release all feelings of failure, frustration, denial, or any form of self-rejection and judgment you may have held against yourself. We cannot begin anew and hold any form of grudge against ourselves or another. Picture yourself releasing it as a small boat on the river of life. Allow it to sail away beyond the horizon, forgiven, released and then allow yourself the respite that only such forgiveness can grant. Let it go. Don’t waste time making yourself wrong.

Wake up. All is well!  What you are afraid of is not real.


AUTHOR TAGS:

TIME & SPIRITUAL MATERIALISM

Peace Principles

GLOUCESTERSHIRE OLD SPOTS
There was a hog farmer, Brown we will call him, who year after year won first prize at the county fair with his pigs. His neighbors competed each year, but always lost to Farmer Brown’s hogs. At last the lot of them threw up their hands and went to Brown.
“We give up,” they said. “We won’t compete against you anymore. But please just tell us what it is you do that causes your hogs to win every year.”
“Well,” he said, “okay. The first thing I do is get up every morning at four and get out to the barn early so I can wake ’em gentle. Then I mix up a batch of oats I’ve soured up for a few weeks until they’re just right and mix that in to a careful proportion to the other slops. After their breakfast I walk ’em out to the yard, hose ’em down and give each one a hand drying and a rubdown. While they are out for the day I hose down their place in the barn, put in new hay, and clean the area until it’s good enough I could sleep there. That evening I bring ’em in and give them a special corn mash mix I fix up by hand. I try to spend time with each hog, talking to it, brushing it down. Then I bed the whole bunch of them down and make sure each has a comfortable place. I usually stay awhile and sing them asleep.
“You do that every day?” the other farmers asked.
“Sure.”
They said, “But isn’t that a huge amount of time?”
“Well, boys,” the farmer admitted. “It is.” Then he added, “But what’s time to a hog.”
Hampshire Hog

Someone sent me this story years ago.  I have no idea who wrote it, but I still appreciate the lesson.  Imagine, how often we judge ourselves harshly because the way we have been living our lives hasn’t produced the result we wished to produce, as quickly as we would have liked?

In one of the best spiritual books of the 20th century, Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism by Chogyam Trungpa, he wrote of spanning the gulf between the esoteric tradition of Tibetan Buddhism and the everyday joys, sorrows and questions of spirituality in everyday modern life. In this book, Trungpa focused on the presentation of the spiritual path from the perspective of the role of expectation and promise of reward.

Before I read that book, I was still trying to be a “good girl” and was trying to get living “right” so I would really be worthy of a better life than it seemed the one I was born into had been so far.  Let’s not talk about my being in my early thirties at the time!  Perhaps Buddha would smile on me and suddenly things would be so much better. It wasn’t working for me and I was deeply dissatisfied.

Trungpa wrote about how these expectations obscure our ability to be with life the way it really is, and isn’t.  So long as we have a story about how long it takes to do something, we can use that story to stop ourselves in two ways:  the first being that we block ourselves from experiencing the present moment, and the second, we impede ourselves from moving forward in our lives in the direction of our dreams because we create the idea of difficulty as a burden, as if life should always be easy and challenges have no value.  Where do we get the ideas that we should pit “easy” against “challenging” and one should be of higher value than the other?  What makes a lifetime project of less value than a quick fix?

What if we would simply choose today to live a spiritual life today, and tomorrow we choose again what kind of life we would live, today we don’t have to worry about it and we don’t have to worry about results or spiritual attainments?  Wouldn’t living such a simple life relieve us of the burden of opinion, measurement and self-inflicted suffering?



Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism – Chogyam Trungpa
The now classic Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism is the record of two series of lectures given by Trungpa Rinpoche in 1970-71.

The Spiritual Tourist’s Guide to Casual Spirituality

Buddha Maitreya

 There are a wide variety of ways in which we can be “spiritual tourists.”  I should tell you a little about how I came to this name for this state of spiritual inquiry.  Each of us here has done some traveling, my husband Dan and I have done a good bit by car because we really like the way you can get close to the landscape, open the windows, smell the smells & see the colors.  We like to get a place and stay for a while and find out what a place is like for the people who live there.When I began teaching classes online  years ago, one of my students was a very intelligent, creative woman from the South.  She had worked as a businesswoman and was very successful in her work.  She was able to do the written work of the course very clearly and to express herself somewhat exuberantly and amusingly with her classmates.

Abruptly, she dropped the class and when she did so she sent me a long email in which she admitted that the work was more than she had expected and that she had come to view herself as a “spiritual tourist.”  This distinction in the way she had described her state of spiritual participation came in a very authentic and honest communication and was the beginning of my thinking about this idea.

In any case, each of us can use this reference, this state of being a tourist as a metaphor for how we approach our spirituality.  For instance, there are those who fly above the earth in a jumbo jet. These are the folks who learn intellectually about the “high notes.”  They may know the names of some of the major religions and the geographic places where they originated, but the practices and basic ideas of those spiritual paths are obscured from their view, as if by the cloud of unknowing.

Then there are those who pilot their own small aircraft.  These fly closer to the ground and because they do, they get a much better view, but these are the folks who are still learning facts and the details, but they don’t really try out any of the specific practices or think about what it would mean to apply the ideas in their lives.  While they may have a more detailed view, there is still missing any practice of what one has learned.

There may be a bit of yearning to do so here, but these are still a people who are moving so fast through their lives that they still can’t seem to find the time to slow down, sit down, and go within, where what they have learned in their inquiries might begin to seep in.  The possibilities of going within have not yet been revealed, but there is a sense of intrigue, a sense that one day one not so far off, one will begin to engage on a deeper level.  The choice about when is still open.

Now this metaphor can get extended pretty far so that it includes parasailers, paragliders – you know who I mean, these are the folks who take some kind of motor driven vehicle or boat, and using it’s velocity, fly behind it.  This is a metaphor for those who begin following someone else’s inspiration because they have not yet learned how to generate their own.  These are likely to be the folks who you see on TV following a great evangelist or a guru.  Now I know that this can be an authentic path, and what we are talking about here are those who are looking for someone else to do the work for them.  They don’t yet know that there is a source of Truth inspiration within themselves that is bottomless and rises whenever they call upon it.

And there are those of us who really are driving our cars over the landscape of our spiritual lives.  We see things far off and we see some things close up.  Sometimes we drive right over to the experiences.  Sometimes we drive way too fast and all we see is a blur.  Sometimes we drive with a few people in the car with us and we all report to one another what we see as we go along.  This is pretty much what being in an open spiritual community is like.  We don’t have to do all the work ourselves, we trust that someone in our community will let us in on their experience, and as a result, we will learn from their experience as well as our own.  We serve one another in this form of spiritual tourism.

In all these descriptions there is a sense of aimlessness, a sense of wandering around without a purpose.  What would make the greatest difference in our experience of how our spiritual lives work?

Just about everyone whom I have known who lives a deep and purposeful spiritual life has certain qualities.  These are focus, commitment, a sense of oneself being worth the investment of time and effort, and the knowledge that they were not alone.  All of these are founded on the profound knowledge that all is LOVE and that God is the essence of love.  In New Thought we say that Love is also what we are.  That whatever God is, we are that too.  In How to Speak Religious Science, Dennis Merritt Jones writes:

“He that loveth not, knoweth not God; for God is Love.” Love is the self-givingness of spirit to its creation and is a cosmic force whose sweep is irresistible. Love is the highest vibration in the universe; nothing can withstand its embrace. The opposite of love is fear. In the light and vibration of love, the darkness of fear cannot exist. To know God’s presence is to experience unconditional love. To see the presence of God in others is to love them. Unconditional love is always the answer.”

This passage brings to mind what it would mean to be a tourist on foot, the kind of tourist that the Peace Pilgrim was.  Can we be that courageous?  Can we trust God for each and every part of our experience, for each bite of food that we eat, for the place where we sleep, for the nature of our work each day and for the bounty of our personal spiritual experience?  Could we let go of the trappings of our life as she did in answer to the call of Spirit?  Can we go on foot wherever spirit leads us?  Notice how extreme that might feel?  And yet, each of us has a yearning to go farther, to go deeper, to know God better and there is really only one place where we need go to do so, within ourselves.  So let’s do that today.

So let’s clear off our laps, adopt a good meditation posture now, close our eyes, and for a short bit of time, let us go within and contemplate what kind of spiritual tourism we wish to engage ourselves in at this time in our lives.

Picture yourself flying over the earth in a great jumbo jet.  Notice the great mountain ranges of Spirit, Hinduism, Buddhism and Taoism with their great contemplative and meditative practices.  Will you take a smaller aircraft and fly closer to the ground of being now?  Will you commit yourself to engaging in meditative practice, if for only ten minutes a day listening to the still small voice within?
Will you take that smaller aircraft and flying it over Zen Buddhism now, will you choose mindfulness practice, choosing to be aware moment-by-moment in your life?  Will you now choose to think more deeply before you speak, knowing that your words have creative power?  Will you reverse the path of negative thoughts when they arise, practicing more carefully the affirmation of the deepest desires of your heart so that more often in your day you radiate out the light of love?  Will you affirm now the practice of thinking consciously for the good of all humankind as often as you can, increasing the frequency of such thoughts as you grow in the demonstration of Love for all?
When Jesus said, “Know the truth and the truth shall set you free,” he was simply saying to the degree you know the real truth about yourself, you will then be free and able to direct your own life in wonderful, creative, meaningful ways, simply by understanding that your every thought is creative.

 The practice of Truth is personal to each, and in the long run no one can live our life for us.  To each is given what he needs and the gifts of heaven come to all alike.  How we shall use these gifts is what matters…”          Dr. Ernest Holmes, The Science of Mind

The truth about you is this, “God in you, as you, is you.” God really is all that is. Know this truth and you are free to express your true Self!  Spiritual tourism is not something that we have to be worried about.  It is our self-exploration in action.  It is our self-knowingness and it is up to us how we go about it.

Comments from Open Salon

Hi. There is a lot here to contemplate. I’ll have to re read it
sevveral times. But what I know is that you speak the truth
and you speak from your heart.
It seems the hardest part of being a Spiritual tourist is taking
that first big step of opening up. Once one does that, it’s like
“what was the big deal?”
Thank you!
After reading your blog today, I am sure you are quite able to be open and available to spirit Dakini. Thanks for your kindness & recognition.
Bump to get by the mass postings of SPAM this morning.
Nice to see you. Enjoy the sand.
Susanne–I’d be curious as to your view on something. Whenever I talk to someone versed in one religious tradition—no matter which one—and I ask them about another–they often say thes same thing:
“I only have time to really know one language of relgion.”

Has that been true for you?

And 2nd—what I search for here in what you wrote—is community. I see the relationship between the individual and the higher power (for lack of a better term) but I don’t see it done in community.

To me—I need that community.

Is that here and I missed it? Or is it not here?

Thanks for reading this!

Roger

I don’t agree with those folks who say they only have time for finding only one religious/spiritual expression. I think we should continuously inquire throughout our lives Chicago. I do focus on the mystical tradition because it is virtually impossible to cover all religions with any depth. That should not be an excuse not to inquire. Part of the problem, I think, is that some folks look for there to be a ‘final answer.’ I don’t believe that we can know one while we live. We do the best that we can.

As far as I am concerned, participating in a spiritual community is the best reinforcement we can find, bit it takes a good bit of care to find a community where one fits. Sometimes it takes more than one to meet ones needs. In the case of this post, it is written for the individual, but in my experience, while spirituality is a personal, inside job, spiritual community provides a way to share ones experience, challenge, growth and gives us a self-correcting mechanism. Somebody will set you straight if you know and trust them to do so. But some communities are just ‘attaboy’ generating places for the egos of their leadership. If something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. Intuition is valuable in spiritual experience. My first sermon was about Spiritual Community. I’d be happy to share it with you if you send me a message with your email so I can send it privately.

BEING OF SERVICE: Compassion in Action

“Reputation is what men and women think of us; character is what God and the angels know of us.”     Thomas Paine


I don’t know about others, but I know what it means to have a “reputation.” That’s what we called it in high school when a girl was thought to be sexually active. Never mind if it was true or not. I was one of those girls and I can tell you, it is really weird dealing with the product of empty gossip, or what was described in law school as arguing facts not in evidence. What people say about us often is the result of idle conversation and gossip. Even people who know nothing about you will talk. Whatever “they” might say, it has nothing to do with what we know of ourselves.

BEING OF SERVICE: Compassion in Action

After the death of Thomas Paine in New York City on June 8, 1809 the newspapers read: “He had lived long, did some good and much harm,” which time judged to be an unworthy epitaph. He left a tremendous philosophical legacy, but in his day he was vilified for a few mistakes.

thomas-paine

When we mean to be of service, whether we get a reputation for helpfulness or for failing to help often has nothing to do with what really happens. This is the legacy of many who are of service. You may not be known for what you do — do it anyway!

Garden Path

While there is no need to hide the nature of what we do, as some people want to do for religious reasons,  if we are looking to become “known” through acts of service, we could well ask ourselves, “What service is there really for those being served?”

In any case, we can’t control what others say about us anyway. Finding the true joy of self-expression in service is it’s own end. When we serve we share the opportunity to express what is divine, or best, within us–and with those with whom we share the experience. Nobody else really needs to know. We can’t prove we are good people. It isn’t our purpose and trying to prove how “good” we are only points to our doubts about ourselves.

Remember, it is your own character that is among your riches, for you are divinely made, and no matter what “reputation” you might enjoy — you know in your heart of hearts  is true of you. Enjoy that knowledge and celebrate it in offering your hand in the equation that service represents in our lives. Service is always some part of what is best about living expressing perfectly through, and as, you!

Perhaps someone reading this can share ways that they have been of service that have contributed to their own sense of self in unexpected ways.

She Hit me: Forgiving My Mother

I wrote the original version of this about 20 years ago and have re-edited it a bit.  (I’ve had a few more insights into relationships & forgiveness in the intervening years). I have practiced forgiveness long enough that I have forgiven all the people who hurt me as a child, and myself for the ideas I once held about myself as a result of an abundance of the difficult events I reveal here. What a freedom comes of forgiveness! We don’t have to let those who once hurt us suppress our lives, limit our choices or dim the luminous nature of Love that is borne in each of us and seeks to express as us… 


She Hit me:  Forgiving My Mother

Rev. Dr. Susanne Freeborn


Me and Mom

I changed schools 27 times before I dropped out of high school. That was only 45 days before graduation. This was not because my father was in the military. It was mainly because my mother was single–with 5 children by the time I was in high school. My parents never married. It wasn‘t for want of a proposal by my father that they did not marry. He begged my mother, but she was having none of it because her first husband had deserted her when she was still a teenager, and she was not going to let that happen to her again. It mattered not to her that my father loved her or that they had two children together. She was not going to be hurt again. Then my father killed himself a few years after they had separated, when I was only seven years old. He drove his truck into an enormous Coastal Live Oak tree at 60 miles an hour somewhere near Fresno, California in the great San Joaquin Valley. He left a suicide note they said, I wasn’t allowed to see or hear it.

There is not much point in going too deeply into a description of the pain and suffering of my childhood, just a sketch will do. Remember the Fifties and Sixties? Being a single mother was not common then, nor was it understood, supported and God, there was no respect at all.  We would be called “That woman and all her brats.”   Women didn’t make even close to equal pay, child support was not enforced, nor was it reliably collected by the state even if there was a court order in place. Our family life was a serial travelogue of spots between a rock and a hard place.

We were all bastards. One of my two sisters still doesn’t know her father’s name. None of us had five different sets of school clothes, and making friends was a dangerous business if you knew that you were only going to end up moving away right after you finally made some friends. And leave we did, because we were evicted from our home repeatedly when my mother ran short of cash.  During my sophomore year of high school in the spring, when all the promise seems to be returning to the planet, we had to eat corn meal mush for two months straight because there was nothing else. We were very desperately poor and it was very hard for my mother. She came home exhausted from her job as a cook and beat all of us out of her frustration and anger.

At one time we were taken from her by the state and sent to live with our grandparents after a neighbor saw her beating me with a stick of lathe. A couple of years went by and then they sent us back to her, though nothing had really changed, except what house we lived in. During those years I fell prey to sexual molestation by two of my uncles and a male babysitter. When it was discovered, my grandmother acted as if a nine-year-old girl could actually be provocative to her sons, who were much older than I, one of them in the Navy. She taught me to feel guilty about the inappropriate behaviors directed toward me by men.  She said men only wanted one thing.  I didn’t feel safe in the world unless I was with my Grampa, but I couldn’t always be with him.

I tell you this so that you will understand why I had to come to know forgiveness intimately. Children who have a difficult childhood usually think that they are in some way responsible for what went wrong and we blame our parents for what we perceive as their failures to love, protect and provide for us. We, and our families, are fundamentally wrong in our own eyes. My poor mother was damned from the beginning.  If the circumstances weren’t difficult enough, Freud was let loose on the world prior to her arrival and I was taught to profoundly blame her for everything. However, blaming Mom and my father brought me no peace, and only more suffering and a state of perpetual victimhood.  I loathed being a victim.

I don’t remember exactly what it was that brought the miracle of forgiveness to me. But sometime during college, when I was around 28 years old, I was pursuing Women’s Studies at the University of Maryland and I began to see the culture that my family had lived in a wholly different way. I saw the terrible economic and societal pressures my mother had faced and saw that she had not given up on taking care of us, even though she was alone and without much help. Even if she had to lie to the landlord or creditors, she had always done her best to keep us safe. No matter what. And I began to realize why she had been angry and that in her grief and anger she had hurt us.

I became a little less overwhelmingly angry and disappointed with her and began to forgive her. I began to let her love me the way that she did instead of the way that I expected her to love me like June Cleaver. I began to love and respect her for how she had taken care of us, swallowing her pride, setting aside things that she had been taught, like honesty, so that we would be OK. She didn’t expect much from life, so she didn’t, couldn’t, have great hopes for us in matters of education or future professions. I saw the price she paid. She simply ensured our survival. She thought life was hard and so it was. She really didn’t have much time for being a soft, warm & loving mother.  She was more like Sisyphus, continually rolling our family up a hill, never reaching the top, never being able to relax or to rest.  Love does not always fit others pictures of what it ought to be.  When you live only to survive many things look as if they belong only to others.  Still my mother kept a roof over our heads that had a door to the world.

Realizing this allowed me just enough space to see another possibility for my own life. That I had all the say in the story of my life. My barely blessed mother let in just enough light under the door for me to see another kind of future. My life was very hard when I was young, but it has been one miracle after another since the day I began to forgive my mom.

I had to forgive my mother so many times that it seems like I have made that choice an infinite number of times. Yes our life was hard. Yes, I was horribly, overwhelmingly angry. Yes, I thought for a very long time that it was all her fault. Then I thought it was my fault. Along the way to forgiving Mom, I forgave myself into a life of freedom and joyous self-expression.

My Mom lived with me after having experienced a series of strokes, and I took care of her as tenaciously as she took care of me when I was a child. I kept flowers in her room because she said that “they look like happiness” and because, for me, flowers symbolize the grace of God. A grace that allowed me to see the error of the judgments I made as an innocent child against her and against myself.  Mom died in January 2000.  I am so fortunate that I used my time and my life the way I did prior to her death.  That the wisdom of forgiveness revealed itself to me and I was able to share it with her, I couldn’t be more grateful for the peace that existed between us when she made her transition.

Trike

Questions About God: Einstein on Being of Service

“Strange is our situation here upon earth. Each of us comes for a short visit, not knowing why, yet sometimes seemingly for a divine purpose. From the standpoint of daily life, however, there is one thing we do know: That we are here for the sake of others…for the countless unknown souls with whose fate we are connected by a bond of sympathy. Many times a day, I realize how much my outer and inner life is built upon the labors of people, both living and dead, and how earnestly I must exert myself in order to give in return as much as I have received.”  Albert Einstein

Susanne 2014

Being of service to others takes our focus off of ourselves and looks for how we might be useful where and how we are. When we feel grateful, we naturally want to share ourselves and our good fortune. Being in service only increases our gratitude and joy and our experience of the unity of all life.

When we choose to be of service in the depths of life’s deepest anguish, when we can engage in the deepest alchemy that life has to offer at such times, this is when we know that we have grown in Spirit. “I am alive in Spirit, Spirit is alive in me,” is a chant sung in many New Thought centers written by singer songwriter Melissa Phillippe.  These words point to the same idea that Einstein is pointing out in the quotation above.  We know Grace through these generosities of Spirit that we share.

Times are difficult, and such times are a powerful time to know gratitude for simple things; Love is such a simple thing. Love knows no bounds nor does it require that life or anything within it be different in any way. It allows life’s difficulties to surface to find the divinity hidden within each experience. May we appreciate this divinity in all of life for the hidden gifts within each difficulty.

“Be silent as to services you have rendered, but speak of favors you have received.” Seneca (5 BC – 65 AD)

This modesty of spirit is a matchless empowerment of the heart and a source of deep wisdom.  A single unity underlies all life, now is the best time to explore this unity.

Getting Along

The capacity for getting along with our neighbor depends to a large extent on the capacity for getting along with ourselves. The self-respecting individual will try to be as tolerant of his neighbor’s shortcomings as he is of his own.  Eric Hoffer

shouting match

Sometimes our neighbors look like a shouting beast to us.  I don’t know if we tolerate shortcomings so much as mirror them with one another, revealing something that was hidden and then projecting our understanding on another, to free ourselves from the burden of knowing this uncomfortable truth about ourselves.

Comments

Susanne,

that last paragraph really spoke to me — very nicely worded.

rated

Susanne, I could not agree more. To love others, we must first love ourselves.

Rated
Love the Photo
Greg

Projection is bacially seeing others through the perspective of what we cannot or will not accept about ourselves. Most of the time we are entirely unconscious of the projection and won’t even know what the trait is but “see” it in the “other.” i.e. greedyness, envy, jealosy, self-pity, which we deny in ourselves. One sure test is that you dislike or hate someone who you don’t really know–just “instinctively” reject since our intuitions quickly detect it.

But there are also cases where we can know and see the particular trait in the other person, are not projecting, but still know it is something we have to keep at a distance, since the trait, such as “selfishness” limits the trust we can rightly place in that person.

Also, sometimes, there are cases where there are no projections at all, and we recognize somebody else is a “fraud” or what I call an “emotional felon.” In those cases, it may be necessary to make our distust known so the person is aware that we aren’t going to allow them to take advantage of us. Good fences make good neighbors.

Interesting question to start my day—and LOVE the photo.
I appreciate your coming by to comment, each of you. I like things pithy and quick that make me think about something worthwhile. That something that seemed so to me is for you, and that you said so, well it strikes me right where I live, in a good way. Thanks.

Ben, is correct about fences, or boundaries. It is sometimes important to let people know that we don’t mean to be taken for fools or marks. The idea that we might be projecting is one to keep in a handy pocket for regular employment so that we don’t confuse our own stuff with the likes of those with whom we interact.

Thanks again.

Couldn’t agree more. Great photo.