Years ago in Manhattan I enjoyed attending a spiritual meeting where people of varied ethnic backgrounds, professions and ages congregated to remind themselves of the power of the Divine running through their often thorny lives.
One guy—a talented young actor who’d made it big in a Broadway show, and who had then been fired unceremoniously when its sponsor went bankrupt, had been breaking my heart with his stark honesty about the frightening situation into which he’d been hurled: on the strength of the lucrative role he’d just lost, he’d bought an expensive east side condo and married his girlfriend—who, to top it all, was now heavily pregnant.
Success, he confessed miserably, had gone to his head like pink champagne used to: anticipating a large income for an indefinite period of time—Broadway shows can run forever—he and his wife had extravagantly remodeled their new home and taken a slew of expensive mini vacations. Now unemployment and other benefits were barely keeping them afloat; when the baby arrived, things would get worse: if he could not pay his mortgage, he would lose his condo.
The blues had not kept him cowering at home. He’d already begun to audition for other roles—and been rejected time after time, even when it was clear his rivals could not hold a candle to his own thespian skills. Terror would flash across his face at the thought of being forced to move back to his conservative family in the Midwest—just so his girlfriend could have their child minus the stress of living in penury in the Big Apple. Dear God, he begged out loud, give me a break!
Then one day he burst in looking radiant: he’d won his finest role, he announced jubilantly. The casting director, producer, and sponsor—all big names in the glittering Broadway firmament—were in agreement that he was the One for the starring role. The money and perks were amazing and it was likely this show could run for years. This time he intended to use his earnings wisely: first to pay off the mortgage on his condo, then to put aside enough for his child’s education and his eventual retirement. “If I’d gotten any of those other piddly roles I was so desperate for,” he’d concluded with a luminous grin, “I wouldn’t have been free to audition for this one. You see, folks? Rejection is God’s protection.
His words imprinted themselves on my mind in letters of flaming gold. At the time I too was staggering from the aftershocks of a marriage gone bad. I’d lost perhaps half a million dollars and all my moorings in one fell swoop. I had no intention of fighting my ex for my rightful share of our marital assets—mostly because I’d begun to believe strongly in the power of karma to right all wrongs. Nor did I wish to turn revengeful towards a man who’d once done so much for me and whom I’d loved to the best of my then immature capacity. Since my only alternative was to land up as yet another sad-eyed grimy bag lady in Manhattan, I had no choice but to put one timid foot ahead of the other and pray like crazy to survive in that shark-infested and expensive city.
It was during that intense time of both fear and freedom that I began to see clearly that we humans—conditioned as we are by wrong ideals, goals and superficial values—tend to seek gratification, validation and happiness from situations, careers and people intrinsically incapable of leading to the joy, peace and contentment that is our birthright. Fortunately my consistent efforts to get back on my feet—which included therapy, yoga, meditation and hard work at law offices and Wall Street—paid off; soon I was thriving as never before.
My later spiritual trajectory took me from south India to Manhattan to Europe to the Himalayas and finally back to south India. During this insane and near-fatal journey, I had ample occasion to remember the potent words I heard fall from the grateful lips of that Broadway actor.
Despite sparkling times and thrilling adventures, I continued to suffer the death of close ones; lost huge amounts of money; was forced to let go of spiritual friendships and material/emotional comfort zones when I left one city/country for another. What I believed could make me buzz with joy either eluded me or spat rudely in my face. Then the actor’s words would echo through the weary byways of my mind—reminding me that when things don’t go my way, it is with excellent reason. The cosmic eye sees the whole picture while the human eye is blinded by Maya the Enchantress, who runs relative reality and cannot be trusted to reveal the “truth.” If my goal truly was liberation or moksha, then I’d have to surrender my petty desires to Divine will.
Today when friends confide in me their own heart-rending tales of loss, abandonment and betrayal, I offer them solace via the eastern view that I cherish. Often I end with the words “Rejection is God’s protection.” “And if you don’t like the word ‘God’”, I add, a word I agree has been tarnished by those who’ve used it with evil intent and purpose, “simply substitute for it the invisible forces that run the cosmos according to such laws as karma and reincarnation—or whatever else you like. It’s not words that matter but the spirit behind them.”
Recently an old buddy from Manhattan opened her heart to me: a man who’d promised her the moon and stars had gradually revealed himself to be an egocentric, angry, rigid and deceiving man who’d spun a web of lies that had trapped her for years in a dysfunctional and demeaning situation.
She admitted she was no innocent in the relationship: she’d gravitated to him in a time of deep trouble because of her own fears of insecurity; moreover she herself was riddled with egoic flaws. And yet, suffused with gratitude for his powerful material support, she’d fooled herself into believing she was the “special woman” who could brighten the dark corners of his materialistic existence.
Armed with ancient teachings she’d garnered, she’d worked with him through his atheism and stuck loyally by him as he reeled from one major crisis to the next—believing his promise that soon the hard times would be over and that he would then partner her in a common pursuit of spiritual freedom. Other men had approached her during this time but she’d firmly shut the door on every one of them, having faith that—and this despite warning signals that something was terribly wrong with this man— that “everything would work out in the end.”
When it became clear he was not a man of his word, she’d subjected him to the lash of her tongue. She’d pointed out big holes in his lifestyle and warned him that what goes around comes around. Old souls, she’d reminded him, walk their talk. She’d begged him to watch one of the patterns running him—of making wild promises to a woman in the throes of infatuation, then breaking them, in the process ruining delicate minds and hearts and stealing years of another’s precious time on earth.
Being averse to accepting responsibility for his dishonesty, he’d begun to blame her for their troubles—his ego was so fragile, she’d come to believe, that it prevented him from the rigorous business of Self-investigation. I’m sorry, I love you, please forgive me—three magic antidotes to any human relationship if honestly expressed—were absent from his skill-set. She’d gone through hell and back with him, relying on his brilliant mind to eventually open up his heart, hoping he’d make the magical shift into a new consciousness. Besides, through all their personal ups and downs, he’d helped her manifest her greatest dreams—and for this she was immensely grateful. Eventually she’d backed away, experiencing alternating waves of bitterness and relief. She wanted my view on what she’d confided in me and I, of course, obliged.
Rejection is God’s protection, was my first and heartfelt response to her: Consider how fortunate you are to be spared more of the same! Humans transform only when they begin to “see” how twisted they are and to feel remorse. If this man cannot turn the flashlight of investigation upon his own flaws, how will he ever change? Chances are he’ll only get worse.
Moreover, viewed through the eastern lens, all that happens to us is only the result of own past karma; we invite all our experiences from karmic seeds we have planted in this or other lifetimes. Take full personal responsibility for everything that has happened, I urged. Give thanks for how much you’ve grown through this experience. And finally, be grateful that this same man was also immensely generous, kind, loving and protective when you were in a desperate situation.
Be happy too that he loves animals, is kind to his subordinates, and has made a big difference in the world he inhabits by his material generosity. Most of all, be grateful that you are now free to discover completely that you yourself are the source of your own peace and joy. Perhaps it is now time to make that final inward turn? Finally remember that this man too possesses the seed of the Divine within him and is inexorably on the path to moksha.
Plato’s advice to “know oneself” is a cardinal rule for all humans and leads to the melting of dysfunction and to peace. The three steps of self-transformation: 1) awareness 2) acceptance and 3) action; if we deny our dysfunction and that we need to transform the way we think, speak and act, we cannot evolve.
Greetings from the sacred hill Arunachala! It’s a gorgeous morning with misty rain blessing verdant gardens. Vilva trees sacred to Lord Shiva tower over other foliage. Stone statues of deities send healing energy out into this world of mixed darkness and light. May all of us—no matter our dis-eases of body and mind—return to our burning source—which is Existence-Consciousness and Bliss itself.