Over a period of two years beginning with Thanksgiving 1995, ten guiding principles “dropped” into my mind accompanied by an electric ‘felt’ sense (a feeling I have sometimes that heightens my awareness and powers my body in some way) and a ‘knowing’ that these were absolutely true and very significant to me. I continue to find them a source of inspiration and wisdom and have more or less lived by them ever since. In hindsight, I see them as the answer to a kind of unspoken prayer, a desperate need to make some sense of my life, which at the time was not making much sense to me.
In the 1980s, as an effort to deal with my young son’s serious illness and my corresponding dawning realization that my previous certain worldview (that life was fair and if you were a good person things would go well for you) was crumbling, I had become interested in concepts such as creating your own reality, changing beliefs, the power of positive affirmation, and many others that might be called New Age beliefs. However, I couldn’t seem to create a new reality, and the subtle “blame the victim” message which seemed to be so much a part of the literature seemed to heap a conscious cruelty on top of an already cruel fate.
Then one day in August 1994, I decided as an exercise to record what I knew to be true. I found to my surprise that I could not come up with anything. It was actually an appalling moment. What was I to live by then? I wandered along in a rudderless boat for a time and finally, desperate for answers, in December 1994, I expressed to myself and to (my idea of) God or the Universe a deep intention to grow spiritually.
Over the next year my life as I knew began to fall apart, culminating with a particularly intense six weeks in the fall of 1995, during which time my beloved father died, a friend died, my daughter left home, I started a doctoral program, and my husband of twenty-seven years left me. It was not the first earthquake I had experienced over my lifetime (I was then forty-nine), but it was a dramatic one.
Marianne Williamson, a spokesperson for the Course in Miracles, suggests that when we call God into our lives, we think He’ll come in and make a few adjustments here and tidy up a few things there, but then, one morning, we look out and see a wrecking ball outside our window. God wants us to start from the ground up. “Sometimes people think that calling on God means inviting a force into our lives that will make everything rosy. The truth is, it means inviting everything into our lives that will force us to grow – and growth can be messy” she says (A Return to Love, 35).
At first, the upsetting events of my life took away any ability I had to reflect. Mostly, I just reacted, mostly badly. A friend suggested that I had been “deconstructed.” Another, more encouragingly, said it looked like I was on the verge of a breakthrough.
Finally, as I began to get myself together, some understandings began to develop, and I started to develop a system of beliefs about the universe that were qualitatively different from those I had had before. Instead of beliefs about how one should live and how the world should be (ethical principles, I suppose) these new principles had (as I saw it) more to do with the underlying workings of the universe.
Since then, I have returned to them often, trying to apply them to my cognitive understanding and my behavior, and attempting to integrate them with my sense of both spiritual and ordinary life. They have seemed increasingly important to me and I have a lot of gratitude for their emergence in my life. I don’t pretend to have plumbed their depths or to be fully able to apply them at all times, but they have guided my path.
The first principle came to me when I was visiting my brother in Michigan for my first Thanksgiving alone after the divorce and my father’s death. What I “heard” one night sitting alone in their guest room was:
1. Love Is the Only Transformative Thing
I had a number of situations in my life that I wanted to transform. I had been applying effort, persuasion, strategies, everything I knew how to do and activities that had in the past resulted in some success. I had raised a family, run a home, obtained several degrees. I had done well as a professor, writer, and community leader. I had moved my family from state to state. I had dealt with numerous crises. I knew how to change a tire, paint a room, deal with my finances, and teach a course. But the problems I was facing now were of a different order – and I had to admit that not one of them was transforming, at least not in the manner I had hoped they would. Love didn’t seem like an immediate solution, and I didn’t want to believe that it was the “only” one.
However, I had recently seen the film Dead Man Walking in which Sean Penn’s character (a death row inmate) needed to be loved before any change was possible for him or for others. This movie had affected me deeply. I saw it as an embodiment of the statement that love was the only transformative thing and kept that in the front of my mind and tried to apply it.
But, oh, was that difficult. As I worked with this phrase over the next many years, what happened most was that it became painfully obvious to me just how unloving I was. In all of the issues I faced, I saw myself filled with resentment, desire to control, lack, and fear instead of forgiveness, trust, and an attitude of abundance.
I will come back to this fundamental principle later, but for now I’ll continue with the story. The next principle I “received” only a couple of weeks later was … (In next post)