The Newsletter of the Northwest Branch of the Theosophical Society
May 2008 -- Vol. 11 Issue 3
My thoughts revert to my growing-up years at a mental institution where my father was engineer. We lived in a house within the big hospital grounds. As a child I played there and saw nothing strange in the patients. At the hospital was a very ill man whom I shall call Gosta. Periodically he landed in the violent ward, a terrible place in those days. The inmates resembled animals more than humans, and food and such things were usually pushed under the door on a tin tray.
When Gosta had his better times, he could move freely about the grounds. On one of these occasions, he had a strange vision. The doctors and nurses were used to such -- many patients had visions -- and they paid little attention. But Gosta persistently sought the head physician to tell him about his vision: a voice within told him he would be well within five years and that he must start cultivating the soil and make a garden. Of course, he was allowed to try.
At the edge of the hospital complex there was a fair-sized lot of open ground with heather and shrubs. He was given tools and began his task, following the voice from within. Not too well at first; he kept running into rocks, roots, and other things. By fall of the first year you could distinguish certain paths he had laid out. By the second year these paths had become pleasant little serpentine roads, whence you could admire the wildflowers about. Sometimes both patients and others used these paths. Several months later there were flower beds, a gardern, and strawberries were in bloom.
Days, weeks, months, lengthened into years. The serpentine paths had been paved with a sort of limestone that lighted the way for the stroller. Now and then you saw the visitors of other patients carrying away fruits and vegetables from his garden. Gosta never forgot the voice from within which had led him to undertake this project and which now was helping him to overcome his illness. As his feeling for flowers, plants, and fruits grew, he forgot himself more and more. By the contact with buyers and sellers, he was forced to think independently and to exceed his personal limitation and introspectiveness. His love for plants was bringing him into natural and spontaneous relationships with people.
In the fifth year, a beautiful autumn day, as Gosta was hoeing in his garden, the chief came to see him, greeted him cordially, admired the layout, and said rather thoughtfully yet humbly: "Do you know, Gosta, that you have performed a great work, experienced a miracle?" "You mean this is a miracle? No, no." But the chief went on: "I don't mean your garden, though I appreciate it too. I mean the work you have performed on yourself. It is a marvel of marvels. You are well and can leave and do whatever you like. But I would like to see you place your services at the disposal of our own large garden. You are always welcome here, remember that." The two men shook hands, unconscious of the curious boy who stood eavesdropping nearby.
So that is the end of the tale of a patient who overcame a severe mental handicap. Circumstances of life brought me far away from that hospital, yet the memory is light and pure of a man who was not to be conquered. How fortunate we are who have our common sense, thoughts, and feelings, who can follow our own vocation, trusting our intuition and the human contact that so often is a source of strength. -- Rutger Bergström
Come join us Saturday May 17, from 10 am to 3 pm, at the fifth annual Interfaith Fair sponsored by the Eastside Faith Communities. It will be held this year at the Vedic Cultural Center, 18108 NE 76th Street, Redmond, WA (directions at www.vedicculturalcenter.org). The theme is “Experiencing Peace,” and we hope those attending will discover the many ways in which the wisdom of peace is nurtured in different spiritual traditions, while exploring ways for expressing peace in our lives and in the world. Besides fellowship and conversation, there will be information tables hosted by spiritual and interfaith groups, discussion circles, cultural performances, food and refreshments courtesy of the Vedic Cultural Center, and a speech by Dr. Richard Kirby. Free admission – all are welcome!
"Facing Illness" is our next subject. We will be discussing such questions as: What do we learn from difficult or life-threatening situations that affect us and others? How can we cope constructively with illness and the disruption, limitations, suffering, and loss that sometimes come with it? What qualities, attitudes, and philosophical outlooks are helpful? What is truly important and valuable in life? How do we deal with the possibility or reality of death? What are health and well-being? Come and share your ideas!
Open to the public, unsectarian, non-political, no charge
These subjects are currently being considered for the Monthly Discussion group. As always, those who have a particular topic they would like to have featured are encouraged to contact us.
Tao, Yin, and YangJuly 10: Understanding, Tolerance, Respect
In winter I love to snowshoe up into the highest parts of the mountains. The quiet of the trees in the deep snow is enchanting and climbing on steep slopes is exhilarating. I find true joy and a sense of freedom in these journeys into nature. But early in this winter season I developed tendonitis in both legs. I was told by the doctor to stop all extreme activities for several months, or I may never heal. I know that this is a relatively minor illness compared to others, and that I should feel very lucky. Even so, my reaction was to feel angry and to grieve for what I saw as a great loss.
I could sense that this was the wrong attitude -- to respond to problems with anger and self-pity obviously is a waste of time. It is much better to face illness with courage, optimism and a sense of humor. I learned this recently while observing a family member who was just diagnosed with cancer. He has taken the disease in his stride, tries to laugh and socialize with other patients during the chemo sessions, and is very upbeat about the entire experience. Not only has this positive attitude made it infinitely easier for his family to bear his illness, but I think it will help him in his healing process. But where does one find this courage? I believe that each of us has a divine, spiritual core which is an infinite wellspring of courage, strength and hope. We just need to train ourselves to forget our woes and tap into it.
My reaction to my illness surprised me a little and made me do some further soul-searching. If I truly believe in karma and reincarnation (and I do), if I truly believe that the universe is fair and that the ailments and problems we have are the results of our past actions, then how could I feel sorry for myself? Shouldn't I accept these tribulations as my due? Perhaps it shows a lack of faith that things happen in our lives for good reasons. Also something William Q. Judge said in his article, "Musings on the True Theosophist's Path," pointed to a another part of the answer:
"The way of inward peace is in all things to conform to the pleasure and disposition of the Divine Will. Such as would have all things succeed and come to pass according to their own fancy, are not come to know this way; and therefore lead a harsh and bitter life; always restless and out of humor, without reading the way of peace."
So my negative reaction to illness was partially because I was listening to a personal, selfish will that wants things to be easy, fun and trouble-free. Instead I should have been listening to the Divine Will, a positive creative force in the universe that works for the universal good and is the force behind evolution. It is infinitely wiser than I am. Accepting one's karma with calmness, equanimity and good grace is, I think, part of conforming to the Divine Will.
Like so many, I have asked why this has happened to me and why at this time. I am hoping that if I can understand what brought on this karma, then the suffering will not be in vain. I think that karma and the Divine Will both work together to determine exactly which trials we must go through and when. Karma is the law that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. A simple case is, if you hurt someone, at some point you will be hurt in return. By abusing my body with too strenuous activity, I ended up harming it -- instant karma. But Divine Will has also a hand in that, working with karma, it forces us to experience certain trials in order to make us evolve and become better human beings. Perhaps we need a traumatic experience to help us break out of a bad pattern of thought and behavior we have engaged in too long, or to redirect our lives in a more positive direction. And events this winter strangely enough seemed to bear this out: One of my friends, who has recently overcome an illness, asked if I could teach her how to snowshoe. I know she felt more comfortable asking me at this point in time because she knew she wasn't keeping me from my high-mountain trails. So I started taking her and other beginning snowshoers into the wilderness on easy, flat routes. Thus I was given an opportunity to do something more positive with my abilities, to share my knowledge of the wilderness and to introduce others to a new sport.
As I continue to face this temporary setback, I can already see that I have gained much from this experience. I have had to closely question my deepest and longest held beliefs -- a healthy process. I have learned that if I abuse my body, "God's temple", I will pay the price, and that I should treat it with more respect. I have learned that I should want the right things, and aspire towards spiritual and altruistic rather than selfish goals. So it may well be that this physical incapacity could lead to increased spiritual strength. But it will be up to me to make that actually happen.