This is part of the Compassion in Action series. If you just found this and are wondering what’s going on, click here for chapter 1.
Chapter 10 – Why do Spiritual People Suffer?
“My barn having burned to the ground, I can now see the moon.” — Mizuta Masahide
Back before I found Baba and learned Kriya, I spent quite a bit of time searching for the path I wanted to follow. I remember a meditation workshop that I attended where the instructor gave an interesting warning, telling us that something bad would happen to us within six months of starting out on a spiritual path. He viewed things in a very good-and-evil sort of framework, and believed that the forces of delusion and ignorance didn’t like people trying to become liberated, and lashed out at them to sabotage their efforts.
I didn’t really buy his theory, and nothing bad happened to me right after that workshop, but the idea of it did get me curious. If you’ve been to any similar workshops on spirituality and meditation, the people there do seem to have gone through quite a bit of suffering. Maybe people at workshops like that are more open than the typical person and more willing to talk about their troubles, or maybe they are seeking something more because of the suffering they’ve been through, but for whatever reason, there does seem to be a correlation. I’ve definitely never had the same observations at any of the countless financial events I’ve attended over the years, that’s for sure. Those people suffer too, no one group holds a monopoly on it, but there doesn’t seem to be the same overabundance of it flying around as there is at spiritual events.
For a long time, I held the belief that if people sincerely practiced, and tried to expand their consciousness through spiritual pursuits, that those endeavors would attract blessings to their lives. And blessed people ought to have an easier time of things. Things should work for them in the material world. They should be like lucky pennies that magically attract other pennies to themselves through the force of their abundant vibrations alone.
In other words, I was in firmly in the “Law of Attraction” camp. You manifest your own reality. Think good thoughts and attract good things. Bad things only happen to people who think bad thoughts.
It’s an attractive theory, but unfortunately, at this point I think it’s completely incorrect. Although I disagree with the reasoning behind my old meditation teacher’s warning, my observations and experiences match his very closely. Spiritual people do suffer, and they seem to suffer more than the common person who only concerns themselves with material possessions and sense pleasures. What’s going on here?
In Hindu mythology, there are many manifestations of God. Lakshmi is the goddess of wealth and abundance. She is so beautiful that just looking at her makes you fall madly in Love. Ganesha is the elephant-headed God, the remover of obstacles. When you have troubles, you pray to Ganesha and he will help you overcome your difficulties. Then there is Shiva, the Destroyer, God of the Yogis, who lives as an ascetic and meditates on mountain tops and cremation grounds. The list goes on and on. However, there is only one deity that grants spiritual liberation, and that is Kali.
Kali is a fierce goddess, and is depicted with dark blue or black skin. She is naked, except for a skirt made of human arms, and a garland of heads. She has many arms, which hold various weapons, and one of them always has a severed head. Her eyes are red, and her tongue lolls out of her mouth. In the mythological legends, she usually ends up going into a blood rage, unable to stop killing.
Visually, it’s a terrible form, fierce and uncompromising. Westerners usually freak out the first time they see it. But beyond those severed heads and bloody sword, she is also the Mother of the Universe, and Master of Time. It is not to Lakshmi, goddess of wealth and fortune, that you turn when you seek Enlightenment, it is to Kali.
Paramahamsa Ramakrishna, who we discussed earlier, used to pray to a statue of Kali. He would wrap his arms around her feet and weep at the pain of being separated from her. When the ashram leaders sent the two prostitutes to “cure” him of his Divine madness, it is Kali who he saw in them. My own guru was also a devotee of Kali, and used to meditate before a statue of her during the decade or so that he spent in seclusion seeking his Realization.
After going through the spiritual experience I discussed in the previous chapter, being able to peek under the veil and get a glimpse of what that state of expanded consciousness feels like, I didn’t want to go back to my regular life. Once you’ve remembered, you don’t want to forget again. After you’ve fallen in Love, the last thing you want is to go back to your old life without that person. So during my meditations, I’d go as deep as I could, to that place where I knew the Divine Lover could hear me, and I asked her to help me move forward. To start breaking through all those barriers and veils that separated me from her.
God is waiting to help us, but won’t interfere unless we ask. And if you ask, sincerely and from your heart, God will respond. You will feel the response immediately, as energy and emotion. A fully complete thought, bound up in a ball of love, will just pop right into your head. That’s what happened in my case. The Divine Mother answered back, a voice in the dark… And then all hell broke loose.
When I was dating Laura, I remember when she first started coming over to my house and getting comfortable with the place. At one point, for whatever reason, she had to do something on my computer, and when she was done, she went and looked at my Yahoo messenger software, found my old girlfriend’s contact information there, and took the liberty of deleting it. I was standing right there at the time, and saw the whole thing. She smiled sweetly and said something to the effect of, I’m your girlfriend now, not her. Focus on me.
If you invite the Divine Mother into your life, and tell her you want to be with her above all else, what is going to happen? She is going to try and come. But there’s a problem because you’ve got lifetimes of crust all over you that gets in the way. All those attachments take up too much space, and block the energy from flowing. All that delusion has brought you to the point when you can’t see her anymore, even though She’s right there in the very page of the book you are looking at. Right here, in front of your nose, at this very moment. So, like your new girlfriend, she’s going to start cleaning out your apartment, and getting rid of those things that don’t serve your relationship.
This is how Kali is completely misunderstood. That skirt of limbs, and that garland of severed heads represents all the egos she has slain. That rage in her eyes is directed at illusion and attachment. She doesn’t want to destroy you, she wants to save you. When you find her, don’t run, but throw yourself at her feet. Love her. Offer that list of labels and attachments that form your self-definition to her, and let her destroy it in her holy rage, to set you, the real You, free at last. You are the sacrifice, and You are also the prize.
Rooting out attachments is not a pleasant business. There’s no way it is going to be a fun process. Attachments are exactly like the word used to describe them – they are attached to you. Like a weed, there are tendrils of both desire and aversion that have wrapped themselves around your heart. It hurts when those weeds get pulled, and the more you resist, the more you suffer.
Pulling up those weeds can be done slowly, over time, or it can be done quickly. It’s like taking off a Band-Aid. Do you want it to just hurt a little, but take a long time to get off, or do you want to just rip it off and be done in one quick motion? When you have lots of weeds of attachments to pull, and a whole bunch of them are ripped up all at once, your world pretty much flips over.
Here’s what happened to me. My business tanked, resulting in me having to lay everyone off, and forcing me to take on a ton of debt. I got underwater on my house, and couldn’t afford the mortgage anymore. Not only did I have to sell it, I had to bring money to closing. The sports car and grand piano didn’t make it either. Laura and I had a miscarriage. Worse than that, we learned that we weren’t going to be able to have any children this life. The IRS showed up with a tax bill larger than what most people make in a year, and I didn’t have any way to pay it. I was the victim of a frivolous lawsuit, which dragged through multiple courts in multiple states. Laura stood up for abuse in her family of origin, which resulted in a family drama of epic proportions. At the height of that drama, her mother had a stroke and died. Then, as if written for TV, one of Laura’s siblings stole her inheritance. And all of it happened right on top of everything else, in a perfectly synchronized pile of woe.
The low point came when we were out walking our dog, Oscar. We were living in a house in the woods, and he was running free. I called him to come, and as he came dashing through the woods, he jumped over a fallen tree and landed wrong, impaling himself on a sharp limb that stuck up like a spike. It went right through him like a spear, puncturing his aorta. He howled and thrashed as he broke the limb off, and found himself in a life and death fight with a piece of wood that was sticking right out of his body.
We got him into the back of the car, where he went into shock. We flew. Let me just pause here and say that if you are dawdling in the left lane and someone gets right up on you in a hurry, please just get out of the way and let them through. There might be a Doberman bleeding out in the back of their car. It’s nothing personal. Slow left lane drivers give me lots of material to work with in general, but in that moment, it reached a whole new level.
Anyway, we got him to the emergency vet, they took him into surgery, and it ended up being an 8-hour ordeal, through the night. We went home, and the vet would call me and give periodic updates over the phone to tell me how things were going. At 2am, he told me that he had managed to remove the piece of wood inside Oscar, which was longer than my whole hand and about as wide around as my thumb, but he couldn’t stop the bleeding. He asked for permission to put Oscar down, and made me repeat my consent to the nurse who was holding the phone up to his ear.
That was the final blow. I went up to my meditation room, and cried in front of my altar. Laura did the same downstairs. That’s when I completely surrendered. I meditated for a few minutes as best I could, and told both God and gurus that I was fine with whatever was going to happen, but that I really loved that dog, and if there was anything they could do to help, now was the time. And then I told the Divine Mother that whatever happened, I still loved her above all else.
About half an hour later, the vet called again, and said he managed to stop the bleeding and that Oscar was going to live. I believed it was a miracle, and so did he. He started calling Oscar his miracle dog.
At this point I stopped being the actor in the drama of my life, and handed all the important things over to the Divine Mother. I had no way to deal with that tax bill, but She could do it. So I gave it to her. Not in some psychological sense, but in the same way you’d hand it over to another person. I did the same thing with the lawsuit, and with business in general. Rather than focusing on the storyline of the drama I was living, I was going to focus on Her.
When you get to that place where you just don’t care anymore, and finally drop your attachments to all of those worldly ideas and objects, things get very easy. I remember walking down to the mailbox one day. I didn’t have anything anymore, at least in terms of the way I used to judge success. No house, no fancy cars, no bank account. Oscar had wiped out the last of the credit cards with his surgery, so no credit either. But I was happy. I had nothing left to give, but I was happier than I could ever remember being before.
I had learned an important lesson: that I was held. You can’t know you’re held unless you have the opportunity to be caught. Otherwise it’s just theoretical. Only when you slip and fall from a great height, but then are caught just before crashing to the ground can you really see it.
And when you turn your eyes from the storyline, and look to the top of that mountain and think of your Lover who is there waiting for you, interesting things happen. The money you need for taxes finds a way to show up in your bank account. It’s not your money though, it’s God’s money, and you are simply there to facilitate the transfer. It passes from one hand to the next, through your account, and into someone else’s. Lawsuits fall away of their own accord. You find resources where none had existed before. And everything is OK after all. The author of the mystery novel figured out how to tie off all the loose ends in a way that you couldn’t see coming. It all works out somehow.
The average person, not concerned with spiritual growth, is free to focus every breath on sense pleasures if that’s what they want. If you want material possessions, you can spend your entire life chasing after them. You can continue that chase in the next life too, and the life after that, trying to fill a bottomless pit of desire with illusions of gold. Countless lives can be spent running in a wheel like a gerbil, chasing after that carrot that never really satisfies. There will be suffering along the way. As long as you’ve got attachments in an impermanent reality, there will be suffering. But the suffering will be of the everyday variety, the same kind that all beings in this realm have to contend with. Maybe you get unlucky every now and then and get dealt a hand of bad cards, but usually you’re not going to be under any kind of microscope if this is where you’re at. You’ll rise and fall with the tide.
But for the person who is seeking spiritual wisdom and trying to change themselves, that person gets special treatment. Your Divine Mother is very accommodating. If you want to play in the dirt, and cover your whole body in mud, she’s totally fine with that. Knock yourself out, kiddo. But when you start crying, and reaching for Her instead, she’s going to come over and give you a bath before anything else. She’s going to put you in the tub, and wash all that grime off of you. You might not enjoy the bath. In your ignorance, you might mistake the bath for a bad thing, and wonder how you have come to be in a flood of such suffering. But do you want to stay in the dirt, or do you want to be with Her?
That’s why spiritual people often seem to find themselves with an extra helping of suffering. It’s because they are trying to evolve, and that requires breaking through their attachments. It’s not a curse, but a blessing. The suffering is there to help you overcome the things that are holding you back, to bring you closer to your divine goal. Learn to love your suffering. It has been sent by your Divine Beloved, so that you can find Her again. It’s the path that points up that mountain.
When I was little, I used to have a dog named Ajax. I’d throw him a treat on the floor, but he usually wouldn’t see it. So then I’d go grab his head and try to point his snout at the treat so he would know it was there. But he would fight me. He’d put all his strength into resisting me turning his head or adjusting his body. No! I’m not moving! You can’t make me! What a stubborn dog…! But then, I’d finally get him in line with the treat, and he’d relax. Oh, there’s a treat there… Thanks! Wouldn’t it have been easier on him if he’d have just let me turn his head gently, rather than having to go through the whole struggle?
Sometimes the most suffering happens when you are fighting against what is ultimately in your own best interests. And who knows what is best for you better than your Divine Lover and Friend, who has been watching and cheering you on in your journey back to her for countless lifetimes? Learn to trust in her judgement, and if there is suffering in your life, try to see beyond the storylines to the underlying attachments in your own mind that are being challenged.