While I have a deep understanding of certain branches of spirituality—namely, how the principles in Emmet Fox’s THE SERMON ON THE MOUNT (a book that should be read by everyone) has shaped and informed my moral code—I don’t profess to be a guru or a spiritual guide of any kind. There are enough of them out there, particularly in the pocket of Marin where I live. You can walk out the front door and run smack into the next Deepak Chopra. Rumor has it Huston Smith meditates in the park behind our house. People like these do a great job of explaining ways to ease suffering and embrace a rewarding path of spirituality and wholeness.
People like me? We live day by day. Sometimes minute by minute. This is a common occurrence in people who have survived childhoods that were rife with conflict and trauma. We are perpetually in flight-or-fight mode. If the kettle whistles too loudly, we are ready to run, even if our bags are not packed.
And yet I can use my experience to offer others nuggets of advice. Of wisdom gleaned from days spent in isolation and despair.
I was blue this morning. I woke up to silence. The birds that frequent our trees were quiet. The first bad sign. The sky was moody and gray. Second omen. A plane crash-landed at SFO and caught on fire, injuring many—the third indication that the world was coming to an end. (Do you see how an uneasy mind works? Everything is dire; everything is at risk). Loneliness and fear sunk in.
I couldn’t shake it, even as I walked my beloved dog in the woods nearby—an activity that usually succeeds at stamping out my disquiet. Plays performed on dim stages filled my mind, my eyes. They were noir; they bordered on macabre.
What to do? WWEFD? (What would Emmet Fox do?)
Fox emphasizes the notion that we have the power to turn off and shut out negative thoughts. This is not an exercise for the weak-hearted. This is not an exercise I wish I had to practice; sometimes, giving in to depression and anxiety is seductive, if not downright irresistible. It allows you to stagger around, cry, sit, do nothing but feel. And you can blame wasted days, weeks, months, and years on the emotions that intruded, knocked on the door, and locked themselves in.
If you resist the temptation to give in, however, you can achieve a degree of relief. Perhaps even comfort.
So I did like Emmet Fox. I did what spiritual gurus do: I meditated.
I sat on a stool in my kitchen, aware only of the gentle music I put on my iPhone. I breathed. I breathed again. I closed my eyes, blocked out whole thoughts, until I felt a strange return—to something warm, serene, and safe. Something, somewhere, that resembled my mother’s womb.
When doubt crept in, I started again. When distraction wormed its way into my thoughts—the errands I had to run, my evening plans, if my mother knew how much I regretted not sending her a postcard from my travels when she’d specifically asked me to, what I would wear to dinner, if my daughter had remembered to eat breakfast, if my beloved dog would last another year—I told myself I could think about my worries, both big and small, in ten more minutes. And then another ten; another. When I opened my eyes, an hour had slipped by. I was boneless, my mind was relaxed, and while the sky was still gray, a small circle of sunlight shone through the fog.
I had succeeded at wiping away my brain’s clutter and had reunited with a state of natural wellbeing which, as we are told, is part of who we are, regardless of conflict, trauma, mere nuisances.
I still have bills to pay. I still have concrete challenges to address, like everyone else. But I can either choose to let my mind take over with its endless plots and subplots, or I can embrace the practice of meditation to ease my suffering and enable myself to face life with joy and optimism.
Today, I chose the latter.
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