This Lightning-blasted Tree Reminds Me of God's Power.
“In God we trust” appears on our currency. These words are controversial. They prompt some people to fight for their removal, while others insist that they belong on our money and everywhere else.
I ask: Do we trust God? If so, which one? I’ll explain.
I recently had a flamboyant lesson in paying attention. Paying attention to what I thought and believed–and what I worshiped. And also in paying attention to where I put my feet.
By May 2009, I was a mess. In 2008, I wrote manuscripts for three sci-fi books, got the first book of the Bloodsong Series, Numenon, into print and launched, and charged ahead with marketing activities.
In my spare time, I had major surgery on my ankle. My surgeon fused the foot bone to the leg bone, the only thing possible to fix the arthritis in the joint. (Yes, it hurt. Recovery has been slow.)
I added on-line book marketing to the mix in 2009-and began obsessing about my Amazon sales figures, posting on writers’ and marketers’ blogs, writing four of blogs of my own, and bringing out Kindle editions of my books. And Twittering! It worked: People learned my name. Kindle sales soared.
But I had to keep at it, working hard every day. If I relaxed, I’d fall behind the hordes of authors more dedicated to tweaking the system than me.
* * *
I was ready for a meltdown and knew it. I’m a long time observer of my inner state, or spirit. The first definition of spirit on my computer is “a vital force that characterizes a living being as being alive.” Being alive interests me.
Riding or walking through our Santa Ynez hills is a balm to my soul.
Things weren’t all bad. When my fused ankle healed enough for me to walk, I had resumed (slowly and carefully) a ritual of many years. A circular path meanders around our ranch. I’ve walked that path every day, contemplating the world and the state of my soul. This walk is a form of prayer.
When I’m in good shape inside, I look at the golden hills around me, feel the breezes, and hear the birds’ cheerful calls. My heart opens and a blast of light and love bursts forth. I become a clear lens, open to the will of the unfathomable power that created and sustains the universe.
In this state, I can write words worth reading.
As May 2009 approached, my walks reflected my soul’s condition. Exhausted and trying to keep going, I tottered along, piling through every mental “to do’ list I’d ever made.
Far from being a clear explosion of energy, my heart’s well was like some of the koi ponds I’ve seen: a scummy, turgid hole that no self-respecting fish would enter voluntarily. I swam in a nasty soup created by my thoughts and obsessive actions.
One day, I heard an an inner voice as I walked. It said, “I believe in a shiftless god.”
I stopped on the path and laughed. What a great book title! But that was it: I was worshiping a supreme power that was unreliable, uncaring, and prone to quit when needed It most.
This shiftless god required ceaseless appeasing. I had to slave for every crumb of success, every review, radio appearance, and book sale. Nothing came from the bounty of an all-knowing being that loved me and wished me well.
I was worshiping a “god” reflecting my own state of mind.
* * *
I felt lousy, but knew what to do. I needed to make my way back to the real God, the benevolent Creator of heaven and earth, the fountain of love and mercy that I’ve experienced so often in my life. I also had to put the right Sandy in control of my life. The deepest Sandy, my own true Self.
I knew exactly how to accomplish the transformation: Go to New Mexico. The area around the City of Santa Fe is like spiritual catnip to me. A couple of weeks there, meditating and doing spiritual practice, and I’d be ready to hit Amazon and Twitterland like a linebacker. I’d be able to break the writer’s block that had me completely foiled in my attempts to work on Mogollon, Numenon’s sequel.
NOT. What we think is going to happen and what happens can be very different.
My husband and I headed off to our place near Santa Fe in early May. Unfortunately, I came down with the flu a few days before we left. The symptoms were so bad that I looked up Swine Flu on the Net. My flu lacked the high fever, but had all the other attributes of that nasty porcine virus.
The kidney infection that I got on top of the flu turned my body into a torture chamber.
No one gets a kidney infection and the flu. No one goes on vacation in the condition I was in.
* * *
The flu ran its course and the tons of antibiotics my doctor prescribed did the trick. Days after arriving in New Mexico, I was able to wobble around on my I-thought-healed, fused ankle. I felt better; the Santa Fe magic was working. A smile lit my face.
Until I stepped in the hole.
Actually, it wasn’t a hole; it was a rut. Not a big rut, such as a large truck might make. More of a slight incline from the tire of a small car. A patch of not too level dirt that I stepped on with my bad leg without noticing it.
All I felt was a little crunch on the outside of the fused ankle, not even a sound or a pain. Just a little sensation of doom. Having a bad back, I know all about such sensations. If I had felt that little twinge in my back, I knew I’d be flat on my back in agony for three weeks.
As it was, a purple, cucumber-shaped swelling lodged under the anklebone on each side of my foot. The swelling ran up my leg. When it got to my (previously totally replaced) knee, that joint ballooned, quickly resembling a cantaloupe. Hard, firm, and definitely not ripe, my knee bulged into a form I’d never seen.
All I wanted was my surgeon in Los Angeles, but I knew that I’d never make it through the airports to get to him. I hurt so much that I wasn’t capable of calling his office to ask for advice. I did what I knew he would say, “Rest, ice, keep your ankle above your heart.”
After a week I’d improved enough to call the doctor’s office. “Did you get it X rayed? The bruising sounds like you chipped a bone,” his nurse said.
* * *
I’m spilling all this not as a ploy for sympathy, but to tell you about my life. Physical illness and injury have been a large part of the challenges I’ve faced in this incarnation. Maybe I’m trying to get it all done so I don’t have to go through this stuff again in a future go-round. (This explanation serves if you believe in reincarnation. I’m not sure that I do.)
For whatever reason, I’ve had lots of really rotten physical stuff happen to me. It’s the learning I must process in this life. Your task is undoubtedly different, but I’m sharing “our vacation in Santa Fe” to illustrate the fact that dinner at your mother-in-law’s, or whatever bedevils you, may not be so bad.
The thing about the ankle cucumbers and cantaloupe knee is that they stopped me dead. I’m a work-o-holic. If possible, I would work 24 hours a day. But there I was, flat on my back, unable to move. In too much discomfort to do anything. That included obsessing about Amazon sales.
My experience is that God will do anything necessary to get you to listen. This case pulled out the stops: He/She/It had me powerless.
The meditation retreat portion of our vacation began in earnest.
And it worked.
Hitting bottom is the essence of spiritual healing as I have experienced it. As a burned out young mother and graduate student, a burned out doctoral student, a burned out author, and finally a burned out lady with vegetables for leg joints–all the times in my life I’ve wiped myself out–I found getting to a dead stop is the key to turning around.
This is not fun. One of the things that I realized as I lay with my leg propped up on pillows is that my days of riding horses are probably over. If I could hurt myself as badly as I did stepping on a tiny ridge of dirt, what would happen if my mare got silly going through a gate and whacked my foot into a fence post? What if she fell and landed on my injured leg? Doesn’t require much imagination to figure out the consequences.
I also realized that I probably can’t go to the Gathering, the Native American spiritual retreat that inspired my first book, Stepping off the Edge. The retreat is in Tennessee and I can’t see myself able to negotiate the plane changes of the cross-country flight, picking up a rental car, and finding my way out into the Cherokee National Forest to the retreat grounds. This almost killed me. I spent some time boo-hooing.
Sharing one’s insights with another person is key in healing. I told my husband what I’d realized and he was relieved. I’m a hard dog to make heel, and he was afraid of what might happen to me if I continued my bull-headed ways.
I’m not going to write a book on spiritual practice and how to heal your soul. I already have: Stepping Off the Edge: Learning & Living Spiritual Practice. I recommend this book to you. It’s got every trick I’ve learned earning my two Master’s degrees, my 34 year meditation practice, and lots of personal growth. This book shows you what happens in spiritual healing and how to do it.
After you bottom out, the real God can finally get through. Healing is a matter of listening to what’s presented to you. It may seem trivial as it happens.
For instance, I belong to a book club. The meeting was set for two days after we got back from Santa Fe. By purest happenstance, the book for that month was Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust by Immaculee Ilibagiza. I downloaded it onto by beloved Kindle and began to read. It’s the story of the author’s experience hiding in a 3 foot by 5 foot bathroom with seven other women. They were there for 3 months as rampaging Hutus stalked them just outside.
I feared that the book would be a nightmare of proselytizing and genocide. Forget my fear: This book is a miracle, the finest example of contemporary Christian mysticism I have read. Ilibagiza is Catholic and her faith shines in this book, as well at the living presence of Jesus Christ. She outlines miraculous experiences occurring time after time after time, as she prayed to God for physical as well as spiritual protection. She came out of her ordeal whole and inspired, stepping into a life she loves.
Flat on my back, with no resistance to anything, I cried through the whole thing. Left to Tell’s words kindled the flame of my own spiritual roots. By the time I finished, my soul was blazing. I was in touch with the real God, my Christian roots, and the power of prayer and meditation. My transforming journey began with reading Left to Tell.
Healing is about collapse of what doesn’t work, surrender to a greater reality (God, a Higher Power, Whatever), acceptance of one’s errors and a turning to a new way. That’s pretty well known and straightforward.
What’s not so well know is that healing and spiritual practice is a blast. The hallmark of spirit is bliss. Don’t buy anybody’s words if you can’t feel the bliss behind them.
Also–did you know that the Asian concept of chakras, those invisible energy centers aligned up your spine that spin when you’re inspired, is absolutely true? So is kundalini–the uncoiling spiritual energy that starts at the base of the spine and moves upward, striking the charkas as it goes.
Providing the original and ultimate meaning of “ring my chimes.”
Yep, once I got past the hard stuff like swollen ankles and exhaustion, the good times rolled. Spiritual energy started to flow and my charkas shone and spun in vivid colors. A spiritual seeker can lights, hear bells, and have visions, getting ripped out of his or her mind. This one sure did.
The trip ended up a glorious success. I’m home, feeling no pressure to do anything but write this blog piece. This is first on the agenda, then we’ll see what’s next.
I feel like a giant and very trustworthy hand has reached into my life and changed my direction. I don’t feel any compulsion or worry. I’m not concerned about my book sales. Certainly not Twitter or go on-line.
This will come in time, I’m sure, but I won’t act until told to by the real God, the one you can trust.
Sandy Nathan: "It's about the good times! May they all be good times!"
All the best,
Causes Sandy Nathan Supports
Habitat for Humanity; Prasad