Note: All the facts regarding this man’s story have been altered to protect his identity. The Twelve Step Program insists on anonymity, and for good reason; however, I personally feel that the stories of many inspire others to begin their own quest for peace and joy.
Years ago in midtown Manhattan I had the terrific opportunity to hear a man—once a big wheel on Wall Street, but who had nearly destroyed himself with cocaine—speak at a 12-Step meeting. His story was dramatic. An attractive and eloquent fellow of upper middle-class origins, he had risen fast in his career and was soon earning the big bucks. He bought a fancy apartment on the upper east side and had a cool live-in fashion model for a girlfriend. He dined at the best restaurants in the Big Apple, jetted around the world on company business, and hobnobbed with the rich and occasionally the famous. Then a so-called friend introduced him to cocaine…and so began his rapid dive into a living hell.
His addiction was so destructive that within a year he’d lost his job, his apartment and his woman. His family, sick of his conning ways, wanted nothing more to do with him. He ended up homeless in Harlem, where he used to cop his drugs. One late evening he found himself sitting on the dirty littered floor of a burnt-out tenement with not even a few bucks on him for a vial of crack, worse still, he had not a shred of self-respect.
Then a mouse darted out of a hole in the grimy wall, grabbed a crumb of food that some other poor addict had dropped on the floor, and darted back into the hole. Watching this he felt a sharp stab of envy – for the mouse! That lucky critter had something to eat and a home, he thought; as for me, I have nada, zilch.
Then he started to cry, great racking sobs that shook him to the core and echoed through that deserted building. He jumped up and began to search the tenement for a way to kill himself. But there was no knife to slice open his veins, nor a rope to hang himself. He thought about going up to the roof to throw himself down, but someone had blocked the entrance to the stairs and he didn’t have the strength to break through the barricade. So he sat down again in his old spot, shut his eyes and prayed intensely for help.
A great clarity came to him then: he knew he had to make a choice. Either he could figure out a better way to die, perhaps to dive into the Hudson at night with his ankles weighted down with rocks, or he could resurrect himself from the ranks of the living dead.
He chose to live. His journey upward was painful, humiliating and difficult. No, he never returned to Wall Street,nor did he want to: That particular bubble had burst forever. Instead he joined the rooms of Narcotics Anonymous, and, with the support of new friends, he remade himself. He found a simple recovery job and began to share an apartment with a other recovering addicts. He attended sober meetings and did a Fourth Step – which encouraged him to take a searching and fearless moral inventory of himself, to make amends wherever possible to all those he had hurt in his downward spiral, and to ask the Divine to bless him with peace. He learned how to calm his body and mind with Tai Chi and began to meditate regularly. Most of all he stayed sober. Once he started to do well again, he found a job as a social worker and began to help those who were as helpless as he had been. And he never forgot that little mouse that had woken him up.
Someone once said to me words I never forgot: that the events of our life can either make us bitter or better. This is true. Many suffer greatly, often through no direct fault of theirs, not counting the karma that we bring into our current lives. Some lose beloved children, mental, physical or emotional health, money, reputation, possessions. Others are betrayed, cheated and vilified for no good reason, sometimes by those closest to them. But no matter what happens, we all have a choice: to grow from our pain or to sink into the living death of despair.
For me the greatest antidote to the angst I was born with has been the path that leads to knowing who I AM beyond body and mind. I began my spiritual journey with the philosophy of hatha yoga, moved on to Zen Buddhism, then dove into Tibetan Buddhism, Sant Math (the Path of the Mystics), dabbled in Sufism and Taoism, then circled back to a path that had always held an incredible appeal to me—Ramana Maharshi’s Direct Path or Self-Investigation.
The Direct Path appears to be simple, and so it is, especially for those who, in their desperation to find an answer to the various and endless pains of living in the mundane world, have plunged into the waters of philosophy and mysticism. In my personal experience I feel all the other paths were like rivers that led me into this ocean of wisdom. In essence, the Direct Path leads us from our finite mini-me self to the immortal and blissful grandeur of the Self that we all are—and this for me is the final answer.
Lead me from ignorance to wisdom
From darkness to light
And from fear of death to knowledge of immortality.