… nothing changes until we see the need to change ourselves …
E. Raymond Rock of Fort Myers, Florida, is a founder and principal teacher at the Southwest Florida Insight Center. His twenty-six years of meditation experience has taken him across four continents, including two stopovers in Thailand where he practiced in the remote northeast forests as an ordained Theravada Buddhist monk. His first book, A Year to Enlightenment (Career Press/New Page Books) is now available at Amazon.Com for pre-orders, and will arrive nationally in major bookstores in the fall of 2006. In addition to this article, E. Raymond Rock is one of the writers of Letter To God on Open Space.
The last time I looked, personal transformation was not on America’s top ten list of achievements. Success, family, happiness, friends, wealth, respect, health, religious beliefs or spirituality, satisfying work – these took priority. Our spiritual institutions follow suit with the most successful and prestigious requiring little of their flock as far as personal introspection is concerned. The prevailing ambiance is one of levity, music and celebration – seldom one of self-inquiry.
Permanent, positive transformations are not common, and usually result from flukes or untoward events of some kind; for example, serious illnesses, near death experiences, trauma, or accidents. These are about the only things we can count on these days to mystically alter our personalities. We try to be good, but it just doesn’t work. For some reason, humanity has always had to be dragged, kicking and screaming, into a true spiritual life.
The positive aspect of these shocks and disasters that transform lives is that our previous fear-driven and obsession-driven existences are replaced by feelings of fearlessness and ease; a fearlessness, for some odd reason, that rarely involves dominance over others. Our new personality, having had its brush with death, now experiences a new bravery that courageously and easily accepts and handles whatever situation it finds itself in. We have been at the threshold of annihilation, and it was okay. Actually, it was extremely peaceful, and now, with the fear of death no longer hanging over our heads, we not only no longer fear death – we don’t fear anything!
The fearful ones, those afraid to face death or even the loss of material things, are the ones who overreact with violence. We seldom find the brave seriously indulging in selfishness; actually, we usually find them helping others in whatever capacity they can. They have simply stopped worrying about themselves in their newfound freedom, and as a result, have gained a greater capacity to see the needs of others.
Those who have had these near death experiences or spiritual occurrences will tell you that although they can’t express or explain what happened, they now find that the world has little to offer compared to that which they have been mysteriously exposed to. If we can believe what these people say, and they are very credible as well as consistent, we might conclude that there is more to life than meets the logical eye.
These transformed individuals have acquired a certain wisdom, a positive understanding that is perhaps not spoken of but ingrained into their new personalities. They believe that what they do in this lifetime will greatly affect their next existence which they now have no doubt is real, and although they attempted to be good and generous before their traumatic events occurred, it was all playacting and not coming directly from their hearts, for the heart is where the bank account is. Now they find that their bank accounts are no longer in a vault, but in a much more secure place.
If the natural compassion and generosity we express during our lifetime, without coercion or premeditation, affect the quality of our afterlife, what can we do to instill within ourselves a thirst to affect a continual personal transformation toward these virtues? How can we resist continuing blindly down roads of worldly accumulations and aspirations that are so subject to loss? Any personal transformation would indeed be a radical change for us, and probably the reason why few make the transition. Without the help of a harrowing event, that is.
What’s at stake is not only our contentment and happiness presently, but possibly later as well, after moving on from this earth. Much is written on this subject, some saying there are many mansions in heaven, and some saying that there are many realms to be reborn in. Either way, eternity is a long time – we might find ourselves in a mansion surrounded by our relatives for eternity! That could be interesting, especially if we can barely stand them during a three-day holiday! But kidding aside, we might want to end, once and for all, the common suffering and conflict we undoubtedly experience on earth.
So the questions come down to these: Will the security of things and relationships really make us happy? Has it made us happy so far, and if so, how long can we count on it to continue to do so? Then, we might ask ourselves, “Is there something greater, and if there is, how can we get in touch with that something greater without waiting for a traumatic event to occur in our life? Is there something we can do proactively in order to come face-to-face with that … something, while still living on this earth?”
And if we were successful in creating a personal transformation in ourselves, might this help change the world?