Thursday, November 20, 2008

Spiritual Lessons and Growing from Hardship

Normally I sleep in on Sunday morning. I woke up around 6am this last Sunday and realized that this was the day I should finally get back to the Rogers Park Eckankar center and attend a Worship Service. I hadn't been to one in a long time and not only that, I was supposed to be the manager of the center so I was way overdue for a visit.

I especially wanted to see the remodeling job that had been done, supervised by my old buddy Ellen O'Keefe. Ellen is a great artist and I really wanted to see what she had done with that modest little space.

An amusing thing happened when I looked up and found what the topic was going to be for this particular worship service: Spiritual Lessons and Growing from Hardship. I had to chuckle; I may know a bit about that, I thought, no wonder I need to go.

I had experienced homelessness for the first time a few years ago. I had moved more times in the last few years than I care to count. Been broke? Sure. It is pretty hard to go hungry in America so I never had that problem, but I certainly had my share of what many would consider hardships in the last few years especially.

Experiencing close up the death of my mother and a few years later my wife was no picnic either; all that had happened recently enough that I could relate spiritual lessons learned.

This is how it happens with the ECK (Spirit). You get a nudge and if you're smart you pay attention to it. Trust me, there are times when I would have rolled over and gone back to sleep but fortunately, this wasn't one of them.

The Rogers Park Center is a tiny two room storefront right on the lakefront. Ellen had done a magnificent job transforming the place. As the room filled up, I saw a lot of familiar faces. In fact I knew everyone in the room except for one person. I should add that the average age of the 15 or so people there was in my rough estimation close to 50.

Vicky, the clergy was walking with a cane, Rosy sitting next to me had just had a hip replacement, and just by the age of the group there was no doubt that everyone had stories to tell that could relate to the subject.

So after Vicky made some opening remarks and read some quotes from some ECK books, the topic got opened up for discussion. She had hurt her knee when she was dancing with her students; thus the cane. The first question that was asked was something to the effect; Have you experienced any hardships? What have you learned?

After Vicky asked the question there was this silence. I had to laugh, and so did everyone else. Yes, how much time do you have?

So we talked about how we had dealt with the issues that had been dealt us. Afterwards, I thought about that pregnant silence. Eckists are taught to find the spiritual lessons in their life experiences and the folks in this group were used to doing that. Perhaps it was modesty that kept people from speaking.

Most of the session was spent listening to one very sincere man who was trying to overcome a tobacco addiction. He got lots of good advice from the group which essentially can be summed up thus; It may not be easy but you gotta tough it out and do what you have to do to get through it. Persevere.

He was advised to call upon the Mahanta, which is the Inner Master that works with each individual chela (student) in ECKANKAR and listen to and follow whatever inner instruction he is given. You gotta walk that lonesome valley by yourself, as John Jacob Niles used to plaintively sing. With a little help from your Friend, WahZ..That's the spiritual name of the Master.

People talked about using the "as if" principle and imagining oneself as a non- tobacco user. This guy chewed, he didn't smoke. He gratefully took it all in.

I think the other reason that not much was said by the experienced folks there about their hardships was that they realized that essentially we were all very fortunate. Rosemary who had the hip replacement talked about experiencing discomfort before hand and she got advised that the only way she was going to be able to function normally again was to get this major surgery. She said she had to train like an Olympic athlete just to prepare for the surgery. But she wanted it so she did what she had to do and so she got through it and now she could look forward to gardening again in the spring, playing with her grand kids, etc.

Rosy didn't say it but she knew that she was fortunate to be living in circumstances that allowed her to have the option of having that hip replacement. Everyone living in America has more good karma than they realize.

Seeing the challenges in our life as opportunities for spiritual growth is a powerful perspective to have. It transforms everything.

I mentioned experiencing homelessness. I should also mention that a year later I was living in a million dollar house in Lake Forest. How did that happen? In the first case I was worried about being homeless and after putting so much attention on it, it was inevitable that I experience it.

In the second case, I had a long time fascination with Lake Forest. When I was in the limo biz I spent a lot of time driving its beautiful streets, dropping off and picking up folks there. I put a lot of energy and emotion into wondering what it would be like to live there. Again, the common denominator was attention.

Where attention goes, there energy flows. Or as Dr. Bernard Jensen put it, your attitude is your altitude. Where are you flying?