Waking Up

The universe was batting these false starts aside and waiting for me to see that there is a different path for me. When I asked myself where my passion and Bhakti flows, it is in the spiritual practices I’ve adopted in this new life. In other words, I am on a spiritual path and I cannot pretend otherwise.

Aum-a gonna tell you a story now...

This is the second musing in an ongoing series of spiritual essays. Click here for more info or just jump straight to the first missive.

Those who have followed the tale of my life in Kansas City know that a integral part of my life here has been a spiritual reawakening. You might also know that I’ve struggled with finding a niche that both excites me and allows me to not use a credit card to buy groceries. I knew in my heart that the disconnect was not the kismet of the world, it was a misalignment within.

The Fires of Rage

I got incredibly angry on the 7th of July and felt a rage burn in me that I’ve not felt since I was young. On the surface, I was angry about money; deep within, I was enraged by the perceived futility of my quest. Those who know me well will be surprised to hear that I didn’t lose my temper that evening.

Instead, I walked and raged in my head. I name called. I ranted. I sat by a fountain and chanted a mantra to the feminine divine.

An hour before I let the fires of rage consume me, someone said, “There is a lot of emotions running rampant these days and a lot of those emotions are very negative. When negative emotions and powerful charges come up–fear, anger, worry, depression–throw yourself into them. Don’t run. Be with them. Let them consume you. These are not the days to run.”

I took his suggestion to heart and burned up something profound that evening.

108 Memories of my Father

The next night I was listening to a monk from India talk about the path of spirituality being forged by passion and Bhakti (active involvement with the divine) and I was inexplicably struck with the desire to recall 108 (a sacred number in the east) distinct memories of my father. He died in 2002 and I long ago realized that my path to self-understanding goes through my understanding of our relationship. Even though he has ‘shed this mortal coil’, our relationship is in very much in the present.

I had a mala (prayer beads counting 108) with me so I started quietly tick off memories while the group listened to the monk. I had a few rules for myself:

  1. The memories had to be specific to my father; they could not be memories of gatherings in which my father played a part. They were memories of the two of us.
  2. The memories could not be from pictures alone. Pictures allow us to remember events that might have otherwise faded in the mind. If the picture was of a memory that was poignant, though, it would count.

I got to somewhere in the 60s and found myself stuck. 60-someodd memories of my dad? Really? Is that the best I could do?

The next morning I sat down and made myself write until I could count 108 memories; it took almost two hours. I included phone calls (the time he called me in Dublin to say that our golden retriever had died, talking to him on the phone on my wedding day since the leukemia made him too sick to attend) and memories of him after his death (speaking at his funeral as the ‘family representative’, going to his workplace to get his belonging, carrying his remains from the crematorium to the car and putting them in the footwell of the back seat… the first and only time I’ve ever carried my father). I reached 108 and I started to see some patterns emerge.

  1. A lot of memories centered around sickness and death.
  2. I could not recall times independent of arriving or leaving when he gave me a hug or told me he loved me. I could not recall much physical affection at all.
  3. A lot of memories were around conversations, exchanges of ideas, and lessons (turn off the light when you leave the room, use hot water for dishes).

If I could have used all the memories of him sitting in his lazy boy reading–he read a book a day–then I could have come up with 100s of memories. Despite these associations with death, distance, and intellect, I say without hesitation that my dad was a wonderful man, a great father, and ultimately successful at his primary goal in life: the be a good dad and husband. Yet, an activity like that puts a lot into perspective and makes me see how I learned to be controlled, calm, and always somewhat removed in social situations. It also made me realize that I don’t hug people enough.

I include the 108 memories tale because I fully believe that each of us should do it and then sit with the realizations. I also know that diving deep into that process aligned me and clarified me for what happened the next day.

The Realization

The next day I had yet another phone call that led to yet another  ‘hurry up and wait’ answer to my ‘when can we start?’ (aka ‘when will I get some money?’) line of questions. I sat back in my chair and I spent a couple of minutes with the sadness, the bruises to the ego, and the disappointment. I didn’t run, compartmentalize, or otherwise try to control the emotions. I opened my eyes and saw that the few minutes had actually been an hour. Since this is not the first instance of me disconnecting from time, I decided to give the phenomenon a name: I timeslipped.

I got up and went for a walk down by the Missouri River. I chanted more mantras, thought, prayed, and breathed. I sat on a bench and asked the universe why this kept happening. I came up with two clear answers:

  1. I’ve been trying to find paid work that aligns with the ‘old me’: the ‘nonprofit career guy’ and the ‘program development’ guy. This was the easy route (or so I thought) of riding on the fumes of my ‘reputation’. Yet, I’ve been on this intentional journey of self-discovery and realignment, of shedding the cerebral me in favor of the intuitive/ emotional me, and of admitting that I can be a spiritual person without being a freak. Therefore, I was ultimately disinterested in these ‘old me’ opportunities; my heart, my passion, and my Bhakti just isn’t in it. And when you’re not ‘all in’, I think there is an intuitive red flag for all parties (me and the ‘hirers’) that leads to inaction and rejection.
  2. The universe was batting these false starts aside and waiting for me to see that there is a different path for me. When I asked myself where my passion and Bhakti flows, it is in the spiritual practices I’ve adopted in this new life. In other words, I am on a spiritual path and I cannot pretend otherwise.

So I told the universe that I would confess to the world that I am on a spiritual journey. I’m waking up to a reality that is very different than the one I used to perceive. In this reality, there is no more ego to get in the way of living; I am constantly striving to get out of my own way. In this reality, there are no grudges, hurt feelings, and linger angers. How can there be when we are nothing more than a reflection of one another or, to get knee deep in spiritual jargon, infused with the same divine spirit. The true joy in life comes from connectedness and not the intellectualized isolation that we celebrate in the west.

In this reality, the golden rule (‘do unto others as you would have done until you) is not just a Sunday School lesson: done unto others is done unto you. In this reality, love infuses everything, not divisiveness and hate. I realize even as I write this that this reality sounds pretty ‘hippy-dippy’, ‘new agey’, ‘dawning of the age of aquarius’ but it  is nonetheless my reality and I am happy to be finally waking up.


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