Solace came in the form of hatha yoga, meditation and studying Eastern philosophy. Someone gave me Robert Svoboda’s Aghora—crude, intense, rich. His chapter on karma made one thing crystal clear—that none of us are victims in the big picture. Our experiences are only the result of our own past karma, eons of thinking, speaking and acting in certain ways. Now I felt sure that the half-a-million dollars or more that I’d lost by leaving my marriage was the result of the karmic pendulum swinging back at me. Had I retaliated, as several feminist friends exhorted me to do, I suspected this pendulum would have swung back and knocked me down for the count.
Back to Ananda Ashram: my companion and I waded towards the bookstore through mounds of sparkling snow. I wanted a memento of our trip, so I bought the thinnest book I could find, hoping it was also the least expensive. When I got back to Manhattan, I devoured The Brilliant Function of Pain by Dr. Milton Ward in one fell swoop. Its premise is simple: that pain can be our best friend, for it warns us when we are in danger and forces us to flower into our full potential. Those who cannot feel pain die quickly; imagine you are burning to death and cannot feel a thing! Yes, that book was more than worth its weight in gold, for it also spoke of a little known myth about Shiva, the mesmerizing god of paradox and the Destroyer in the current Indian pantheon. It claims that Shiva lashes souls who have strayed with a psychic whip that unleashes excruciating pain. Why? Because while humans can tolerate high levels of discomfort, we cannot endure agony; lashed by Shiva’s whip, we are forced to spiritually ascend.
I had no illusions about myself; even as a rebellious teen, I had always flirted with both darkness and light. I knew I was composed of two equally powerful selves—hedonist and ascetic. Sometimes the dark side completely took over, throwing its black cloak over me and suffocating me until I longed for extinction. But when I had worked out the angst, light would suffuse my world with fresh radiance. So the concept of Shiva’s whip made perfect sense to me.
I have since confirmed that pain does indeed open the petals of the human heart. If we don’t know what it is to suffer—to be alone for long stretches of time; to lose loved ones in tragic accidents; to be frightened out of our wits and broke in an expensive city; to be dangerously ill and friendless—how can we possibly empathize with others who also suffer? To understand all, as the old saying goes, is to forgive all. Why forgive? Because when we investigate the underlying fabric of reasons why people think, speak and act as they do, we begin to realize that in essence we are no different; that insidious sense of separation begins to dissolve and we become One. Indeed it is when we first comprehend the brilliant function of pain that we can finally move forward, with grace and confidence. (To be continued in the next post).
Greetings from Arunachala, Shiva the Destroyer in the form of a hill of fire and light, who vows to help us clear up the wreckage of our relative lives, so we can rest in the peace and bliss of our immortal Self!