Friday, May 2, 2008

Saving the ant

Saving the ant.
OK, my sister makes me sound like a "nut-ball" with the "Mother Theresa--saving the ant" stuff. It's true that I saved the ant...but seriously, have you ever watched an ant colony in one of those little clear plastic boxes made for watching ants? I dare you to do it. You will never think the same way about ants again. They are amazing! It is definitely impressive (to say the least) to watch the organization and intelligence of these amazing minuscule insects. It makes you believe that there is something very BIG and GREAT about our lives...that is not apparent to us...unless we are open to looking...and seeing.

I suppose many of my philosophies about the meaning of life (and the treatment of minuscule creatures) came from my long circuitous route to find a spiritual practice that felt right for me. I had a deep inner question: does life have a purpose or is it governed by chance? If life was like a college degree, my Major in life would be--to have many life experiences. My minor would be--to find the meaning of life. (...Not that I ascribe to astrology...not exactly...more that it is curious that my personality type is very much the depiction of a Sagittarius--the "Archer"--shooting her arrows everywhere as an exploration of life, yet able to hit the bulls-eye with ease..When desired)...moving right along...

As a nurse of 20 plus years, I made it a point to ask two questions to the older population that I had the privilege of caring for. I would ask them: "what is the secret of a long happy marriage?" and, "what is the meaning of life?" You would think that after all these years of asking that question, I could write a book about the answers. The truth is, seems very few people think about these things. I found this puzzling, since it was such a driving force in my own explorations of life. The answers I did receive were few and simple: the meaning of life is making cookies and sending your children off to school...being there when they get home...things like that. The meaning of life to those who had thought about it was simple. It was the day-to-day, moment-to-moment experiences of living.

For those who answered the question: "what is the secret to a long happy marriage", the answers, again, were few and simple. The secret of a long happy marriage is, to never go to bed angry and always do things together. Isn't that interesting?

I recall a period of my life (age 28 through 31) when I was in deep internal pain...a subject I will write about later...I kept asking God or the universe about the meaning of life and my purpose in it. “Existential depression”, I’ve heard it called. I could not understand why a God would put me into a life that was so painful and confusing. I had just completed a 3000 mile trans-continental bicycle trip and had relocated my life from Connecticut to California. It was night time in redwood country in northern California. I was sitting in a hot tub looking up through the towering redwood trees to the stars. It was a clear night but my heart felt heavy.

I had relocated to California as I had heard that nurses were getting paid 75 dollars an hour. I needed to earn money as I had emptied my savings on my trans-continental trip. My plan was to earn lots of money so I could fund a round-the-world bicycle trip. This was part of my exploration of life. It never happened. Back to the hot-tub...

I was sitting in the hot tub, in the middle of a redwood forest, so filled with internal pain that I was barely able to enjoy the wonderful sensation of soaking, and seeing such pristine beauty surrounding me. "God, why am I here---what is my purpose in life--what is life about, anyway?" I leaned my head back and stared up to a night sky filled with glowing stars. The warm waters of the bath seemed to hug me. It was my one comfort during those days. I was pondering this question when a most unusual thing happened. MOST UNUSUAL! It seemed as if one of the stars opened up and a beam of light shot down from the heavens and hit me square in the chest. It seemed to speak the words (although, not audibly) that the meaning of life was...wait...get this...TO HAVE FUN.

Now, I know this story along with my sister's Mother Teresa-ant story may confirm my nuttiness to you. Or worse, it might make me sound like a hedonist. But I swear that this event was a turning point for me and I tell it to you exactly as it happened. Up to this point in my life, I had zero interest in bringing children into a world that was filled with pain and starvation, on the brink of a nuclear destruction. Filled with evil, greed and war. Generally, in such bad shape that it could be time for the second coming of Christ. (Of note: did you know that many religions are also waiting for a second coming of sorts?)

At any rate, It might seem a bit ridiculous that the meaning of life which was revealed to me in such a dramatic way would be "to have fun". But the truth was; having fun was one of the hardest things for me to do. Having fun was the antithesis of the way I lived my life, and it all seemed a bit absurd to me. In my mind, life was serious, life was hard, as much of my life experiences seemed to be this way. I was not brought up in a home that practiced religion of any kind. Our home was a frightening and painful environment. I think this was the birth of my search for something greater in life. Back to why I saved the ant...In my explorations of life and my search for a spiritual practice that seemed suitable for me, I explored, Christianity (and many of its sects), Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Sufism, New-Age Spiritualism, Vedantaism, and probably a few others that I can't recall right now. When I say "I explored", I mean, I immersed myself in the literature, worship services, prayers, communities, and spiritual practices of each religion. I sang in the choirs, I went to prayer group, I attended Bible study, I taught Sunday school, I sat at the feet of the Guru, I read the book of Mormon, I sat Shiva, I read the Koran, I prayed the rosary, I practiced vegetarianism, I meditated, I spoke in tongues, I received Baptism, I practiced Pranyamma, I practiced the yamas and niamas, I received Shakti, I studied yoga, I danced in circles, I read...I prayed..I practiced...I think you get it. I attempted to experientially understand the heart and soul of each spiritual belief and practice.

(FACTOIDS: Sufism is a science whose objective is the reparation of the heart and turning it away from all else but God. Sufism is generally understood by scholars to be the inner or mystical dimension of Islam. Christianity is a religion centered on the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth as presented in the New Testament. Its followers, known as Christians, believe that Jesus is the Son of God and the Messiah (or Christ) prophesied in the Old Testament, the part of their scriptures they have in common with Judaism. To Christians, Jesus Christ is a teacher, the model of a pious life, the revealer of God, the mediator of salvation and the saviour who suffered, died and was resurrected in order to bring about salvation from sin for all. Judaism is among the oldest religious traditions still in practice today. Jewish history and doctrines have influenced other religions such as Christianity, Islam and the Bahá'í Faith. Judaism differs from many religions in that in modern times, central authority is not vested in any single person or group, but in sacred texts, traditions, and learned Rabbis who interpret those texts and laws. Judaism is the religion of the Jewish people, based on principles and ethics embodied in the Hebrew Bible, as further explored and explained in the Talmud. Hindus advocate the practice of ahiṃsā (non-violence) and respect for all life because divinity is believed to permeate all beings, including plants and non-human animals. The term ahiṃsā appears in the Upanishads,and Ahiṃsā is the first of the five Yamas (vows of self-restraint) in Patanjali's Yoga Sutras.In accordance with ahiṃsā, many Hindus embrace vegetarianism to respect higher forms of life. Hinduism is an extremely diverse religion. Although some tenets of the faith are accepted by most Hindus, scholars have found it difficult to identify any doctrines with universal acceptance among all denominations. Prominent themes in Hindu beliefs include Dharma (ethics/duties), Samsāra (The continuing cycle of birth, life, death and rebirth), Karma (action and subsequent reaction in whatever way a Hindu defines the goal of life, there are several methods (yogas) that sages have taught for reaching that goal. A practitioner of yoga is called a yogi. Texts dedicated to Yoga include the Bhagavad Gita, the Yoga Sutras, the Hatha Yoga Pradipika and, as their philosophical and historical basis, the Upanishads. Paths one can follow to achieve the spiritual goal of life (moksha, samadhi, or nirvana) include:
Bhakti Yoga (the path of love and devotion), Karma Yoga (the path of right action), Rāja Yoga (the path of meditation) and Jñāna Yoga (the path of wisdom)

This was not an easy undertaking. It took about 15 years. In the end, I traveled full circle, returning to my starting point…Christianity. It seemed to resonate with my cells. It’s not that I think other practices are wrong, in-fact; I still practice many of them. It just that it was the one practice that I felt a “conversion”…where I literally experienced a "conversion" and my spiritual quest felt answered. For me, the search had ended. Christianity answered many of my existential questioning and I found peace in it.

Back to the ant…one of the spiritual practices that I studied was to treat all life as if it mattered. As if God Himself (Herself) existed in it. It will give one great pause when simply squashing an ant, snuffing out its life. One might actually take a little lost ant and try to help it find its way home. (There is nothing wrong with anthropomorphizing when it gives one greater respect for life)

What does any of this have to do with why I find myself childless at the age of 46, you ask? Well, I think it explains, at least in part, why I am such a late bloomer, delayed in my development. Searching, questioning, and exploring many of life’s issues which others seemed to intuitively understand at much younger ages. Perhaps they had better parenting or home lives. Maybe they were all just smarter or more at peace with life and themselves. In any case, my long search for spirituality and the meaning of life is part of why I find myself in this dilemma; childless, with lots of life experiences and with old eggs.

In the meantime, I’ll make the best of my situation. Does life have a purpose or is it governed by chance...for now it doesn’t matter. As Forrest Gump learns from his “mama”, maybe it’s both. I’m satisfied with that idea. And I’m going to do like the old classic song says…I did it my way. I’m going to have a child (or, at least I’m going to try) and I’m going to have fun while I’m doing it.
My sister says, “”90% of life is simply showing up”. I believe that. I’m showing up to have a child, to start my family…even if I’m told by many that it’s too late because I’m too old…and chances are slim, etc. I’m going to do it my way, and I’m going to do it while having fun.
Well, I've babbled-on long enough. Babble-on-sister.

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