The Best Gift

Living Well

My mom provided me a rich spiritual upbringing. She studied with the Rosicrucian Order, was a member of Unity and the Edgar Cayce Foundation, and regularly had psychics over for séances – while at the same time, she made sure that our family went to traditional church three times a week.

So while I was being steeped in the doctrine that God is the Almighty Father and I’m a sinner, already in need of forgiveness – I was also hearing that we’re not separate from our source who lives within us and that we can easily carry on a personal and experiential relationship with constant two-way communication.

As a young child, I pictured God as an old man with a beard and a pipe – yes, my god smoked – sitting on a cloud, since everyone looked up when they talked about “him.”

At the same time, I had a secret sanctuary in the woods where I went regularly to talk to God inside me, because that seemed like the natural place to seek my origin and cause.

Growing up with so much spiritual diversity was wonderful, and also difficult. It’s easier to simply accept a set of beliefs that others have handed down as fact. And as a teen, I just wanted to be like the other kids at school, so I tried to keep the goofy stuff a secret.

Later, my son said to me, “Mom, I don’t believe what people say about God.” He was questioning the God created by man, the one that humankind has modeled after its own image, the one with the fickle personality and the vengeful temper.

And I said to him, “OK, then I won’t either.” I always want to go where my sons are going, including understanding their beliefs, thoughts and feelings. And to grasp his viewpoint, I had to experience it.

So from that moment, I decided to drop my beliefs about God that had come through what I had read or what I had heard from someone else. I would only accept what I personally experienced.

Eventually, I found my own foothold in mind-body-spirit and interfaith spirituality, where people of all faiths can worship alongside each other. And in my 20s, I found a spiritual teacher – whose work I’ve studied for forty years and compiled into books, including The Wisdom of Solomon.

A favorite of his teachings was the story of the Therapeutae. They were the healers among the Essenes who lived in the Middle East from 2500 years ago. They applied a principle that isn’t being taught in medical schools today. It was the principle of giving a life for a life.

When these Therapeutae healers graduated their training, they were sent to the neighboring towns where people with contagious illnesses were put outside the city walls. They were told to take the first sick person they encountered. So their first challenge was to expose themselves to a communicable disease. Then they brought their patients back to the caves around the Dead Sea, where they cared for them until they recovered or died, never interacting with others and never leaving.

So the Therapeutae principle of healing meant that they gave their lives to their patients – and that by giving life, the patient received liveliness and vitality, and could recover.

Interestingly, patients sometimes recovered on the way to the caves. If a healer were willing to give his or her life, and the patient believed in the probability, what could be accomplished in five, or ten, or fifty years, together in a cave, could also happen in the moment that the decision was made.

The time wasn’t necessary if the requirements of the time had already been given by the healers, through their willingness to give themselves completely. Whether healing took place on the way to the cave, or years later, or not at all, depended on the belief system of the patient, and also the healer.

It’s a good story about loyalty and contribution. How does it apply to modern times? We sometimes see people who’ve dedicated themselves to the life-long care of someone who’s sick or disabled. But what would that level of commitment look like in the average person’s experience?

We can look around and see that the world is filled with pain, anger, fear, disease, sadness, cruelty, crime and war. And we can hold a belief that it’s the norm, that it’s impossible to make a difference, and that self-protection is the only answer.

Or we can choose not to live there.

There’s a force of goodness in the world that’s constantly providing solutions, opening doors, lining up opportunities, resulting in “miracles,” expressing as love. And whenever we deny it, we contribute to the existence of the opposite.

Whenever we condemn people who we don’t even know, or attack our politicians and religious leaders, or criticize our colleagues, or gossip about our neighbors, or belittle our partners, or teach our children that the world is a threatening place – and especially when we devalue ourselves – we block that force of goodness in our lives.

And by locking ourselves away inside our beliefs – by living in fear of life and each other – we contribute to the existence of fear and hate in the world.

When I was in elementary school, my class had to practice nuclear bomb safety once a month. Our teacher made us crouch under our desks, to be prepared in case we were attacked. What did we learn? To be afraid of “the Russians.”

We all have a need to bond with people. We need the emotional, physical and moral support of a group of people who act like family, even if they’re not related to us.

But if we focus on our differences – if we’re afraid of strangers because they think and act differently from us – we’ll isolate ourselves. And our fear-based beliefs and perspectives will prove us right.

In our modern western culture, we encourage independence, sometimes to a fault. Yes, it’s important to be responsible for ourselves – especially our thoughts, words and actions, because no one else is. But responsibility for self includes responsibility for others – like modern-day Therapeutae.

Whatever we do for ourselves, we do for other people and the planet. And we’re alchemists whenever we choose to find something worthwhile in a challenging experience – whenever we turn chaos into gold.

We do it by letting go of negative attitudes. By giving people the benefit of the doubt, no longer focusing on their weaknesses, and instead searching till we find what’s of value. By refusing to focus on how bad life is, and instead remembering that we get what we see and then making a commitment to see what’s working well.

We do it by creating the internal change that we want to see externally. It happens first in our minds, and then in our experiences. And the reward is a more joyous life, which is the best gift to ourselves and to others.

This post is featured on The Huffington Post.

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Author, Blogger, Contributor to Thrive Global, The Good Men Project and HuffPost