The number of times I have looked into the eyes of people who have just been diagnosed with something labeled “incurable” is in the hundreds. And then there are the many times I have had conversations with people whose lives have completely bottomed out. When asked by such individuals to explain why God did this or that to them, I used to come to a complete standstill, unable to utter a word of convincing explanation, much less attempt to contrive just the right advice to help them get the outcome they wanted. Lacking anything specific to tell them, I always relied on the old, “You’ve got to have faith that. . . .” Then I would walk away feeling frustrated, because at times those words rolled out of my mouth without any trace of personal energy attached to them. I used to be absolutely drained by people who wanted to speak with me because they were at their breaking points of fear, desperation, sorrow, confusion, or any of the overwhelming challenges of life. I blamed my feeling of depletion after being with them on the depressed quality of their energy. Sometimes this sensation of being energetically consumed by people became so intense that I would experience rapid and negative mood swings along with an implosion of anxiety. I would reach an irritation level that was so uncontrollable that I had to cut people off in mid-sentence and immediately flee – and I really do mean flee – the room. As soon as I got to some place away from people, my energy field would calm down and I would regain my balance.
It took me a while to connect this dot — and it is a tiny but particularly powerful dot for me. Obviously I could credit my exhaustion to standing on the stage and teaching for seven hours, but that really wasn’t the problem. I was having spiritual panic attacks. I was telling people to “have faith” when I didn’t have any myself half the time. I would tell them to pray and “things would work out” – whatever that meant. One evening in yet another hotel room following another such incident, I knew that the only protection I would have when surrounded by people in such need was to believe what I was telling them, especially on the nature of faith.
The problem is that “faith” is merely a word until proven otherwise. You cannot give a person an ounce of your faith like a pint of blood. And as for descriptions of what it is – I give up. What should I tell you? It’s peace, it’s a “knowing”? Knowing what? A sense of well-being? If faith were easily explained in these simple terms, faith crises would cease to exist. Then I remembered the woman I had met so long ago. Marge was the incarnation of faith. Apart from recalling her tiny frame and gentle nature, the vibration of consistent faith that she radiated is what left the imprint on me. That is the only way to use the words, “Have faith” and be able to leave the scene without feeling like a spiritual fraud.
So how does one develop such faith?
Okay – here’s the challenge. Maybe there is nothing in your life that you feel is out of order and perhaps you have come to terms with all of your fears and insecurities. But let’s say you are one of the billions and billions of the rest of us who still experience nighttime tremors about something or someone in your life. Here’s the practice:
- Observe how you pray. Everyone without exception is an agenda-prayer person until he or she consciously recognizes the pattern and takes conscious steps to shift gears. When people tell me that they are agenda-free in their meditation practice, I observe how agendas dominate their “ordinary” life and I know instantly that they are no more agenda-free than the average politician. Humbug. Observe your agendas. What do you pray for and how do you pray? How many times do you have a wish list, special request, or personal agenda? Mind you, there is absolutely nothing, nothing, nothing wrong with having such intentions in mind. The hurdle you have to get over is your need to have your prayers answered exactly the way you want them answered. Agendas are not harmful in your prayers; but the agendas you have for the answers you want reflect your lack of faith.
- Were you in a classroom with me right now with a microphone shoved in your face, you might report that you had no such thoughts rolling around in your head. Examine that agenda as deeply as you can. What are your motives? What is it you want to happen and why? Choose an area of your life where you truly have a desired outcome. How would “getting what you want” be the solution to your situation? How much of that solution favors you over anyone or anything else? Does getting your desired outcome make you feel more secure?
- Here comes the hurdle: release your agenda with a prayer of surrender and unconditional faith. And then immediately observe whether you add a postscript to that prayer. Can you surrender? If not, what are your reasons? What do you fear the most?
- Finally, shift the focus of your prayers. The intention is not to pray for anything at all. Rather, the intention becomes one of praying through your fears. Faith is the ability to pray without an agenda.
- Remind yourself how often you have been afraid before, and how things that seemed problematical yesterday worked out for the best today. Then recount how many times the outcome was absolutely nothing like the way you had anticipated that something would be resolved. The Universe tends to provide outcomes that you had never considered. Keep your attention on those details.
- Take time to pause in your day to “freeze” your thoughts and emotions and observe how often they are generated by stress and fear. Are you living a frightened life? What scares you the most? Being alone (that’s always a biggie), failure, or something else? Then observe how much those fears determine your actions, thoughts, words, and deeds. Again, are you living a frightened life?
- Finally, pray to experience just one second of the power of pure faith. That experience gives bliss a whole new meaning. Pray for one second of bliss. I now realize that Marge was living a fearless life. She remains one of the greatest examples of a complete person, and I think of her when I am in my own times of distress. From a mundane perspective, her life was not easy, but it was uncomplicated because she saw no benefit to indulging thoughts and emotions that did not serve her well-being.
The wisdom of living in the present moment is without a doubt the most comforting companion to surrender and faith that heaven has provided for us. Keep your attention in the present moment and when you find yourself wandering down a dead-end street, freeze that perspective and breathe it away. And then remind yourself of one of the greatest truths of all time: All things can change in an instant, no matter what the challenge.
And on a more personal note, I hope all of you are having a wonderful summer. Regardless of the fact that I have been free of the school calendar for years, I still think of summer as playtime. I hope pleasure is filling up most of the days of these glorious months.