Many saints and sages throughout the ages have lived through plagues, wars, poverty, discrimination, and other painful experiences and have used these experiences as a pathway to transformation. We can turn to these wise individuals and learn how to go within, to trust the Divine, to heal our wounds, to forgive, to love and to selflessly serve humanity.
When I was a child I marveled at the stories my Mother would tell me about the saints and wanted to be just like them, but of course I would soon forget and fall short of my own expectations.
Through the years I continue to read and learn from the lives of the spiritual masters. They have taught me so much! I am certainly a 'work in process', as we all are, but what I have learned from them has been extraordinary and I would like to share some of it with you.
Trusting the Divine ~ Faith and Grace; Possibly the biggest lesson for all of us is truly trusting that God loves us and is always there for us. We need to learn to ask for and trust in that Divine intervention. God uses the spiritually adept to teach us, and to intervene for us. One of these special beings is the Divine Mother, or Mary, the Mother of Jesus.
When my son died, I came to realize how much I could turn to Mary for guidance and comfort, and how much I could learn from her. So often when I was in the depth of my pain I would call out to Mary and would feel instant peace. She knew the pain I was experiencing from what she had been through herself.
From the way she raised her son I learned to have patience and faith. She had a much broader concern than most mothers do. The threat of death was always there from the risk of the infant Jesus being killed by Harold all the way to the crucifixion.
Many of us have had difficulty surviving our children's teen years. Again, having raised four teenagers I could relate to Mary. When Mary and Joseph finally found their teenage son in the temple, He had little concern that they had been searching for Him for three days. There weren't even cell phones in those days to help find Him!
Then the ultimate pain a mother has to endure was to watch her son die, especially for a crime He didn't commit. Through Grace and trust in the Divine plan she not only was able to raise Jesus to manhood but has since become the spiritual Mother of all of humanity.
Being Authentic and Present: By staying present in the moment, we are less likely to identify with the mind's content that keeps us stuck in our concepts, judgments, and beliefs, and more likely to be authentic, spontaneous, and open to a deeper intuitive way of being.
John Welwood, in his book, Journey of the Heart, reflects on how often we go unconscious and are not present. "In Western society, we are constantly encouraged to take our minds away from the present. We learn to occupy ourselves desperately; to do several things simultaneously. We feel best when busy, with our minds split off in different directions. Our conversation is carefully edited before it goes out onto the air. It is screened for acceptability. 'How will what I say influence the way others see me?' Such activity is concerned with becoming somebody rather than being someone. We learn to package ourselves, to protect certain kinds of images, rather than simply to be."
In contrast, by being present in the moment, we can feel the stillness that gives birth to the thoughts and sounds in our mind, and the sensations that arise in our body. When we bring conscious awareness to the moment without judgment we are less likely to react to our emotions, project them onto others, or store them in our bodies. We feel more alive! The saints and sages such as St. Anthony of Padue, St. Teresa of Avila, Paramahansa Yogananda, St. Pio of Pietrelcina, Swami Veda Bharati, and many others were able to master this ability.
Learning from our mistakes and those of others: None of us get through life without making a lot of mistakes, some more than others, but the question is can we learn from our mistakes and transform? We all have our dark side but no matter how far into the darkness we go we can learn from the masters that there is always hope.
St. Augustine of Hippo and St. Francis of Assisi were two who in their early years were rather wild and self-absorbed, but due to their mother's prayers and the grace of God they transformed into well known, world-wide spiritual leaders.
One of the most prejudice men in history was St. Paul who went from killing as many Christians as possible, to being one of the most influential people in the Bible. He even ended up dying for his Christian convictions.
Gratitude and Joy: Joy comes from truly being grateful for life and appreciating the beauty of God's creation. Many years ago, after I graduated and was waiting for my nursing license, I worked at a convalescent hospital. So many of the patients there were lonely and depressed, but I noticed one woman who stood out from the rest. I don't even remember her name, but I do remember what she taught me. She was joyful, kind and so pleasant to be around.
What I noticed about her was that she really appreciated all that we did for her. From the depth of her heart she was grateful for all she had, and was full of love for others. Though not formally recognized as spiritually adept, I still think of her as having mastered the art of gratitude and joy.
Spiritual discipline: Discipline comes in many forms. When we are children we learn discipline from our parents and our teachers. As adults we internalize that discipline and use it in most areas of our life. But since our senses are primarily focused on the physical world many forget about spiritual discipline.
To be spiritually adept we need to understand ourselves and be willing to change whatever obstacles prevent us from being true to ourselves and from loving God and all of creation. This takes the discipline to be still, to pray, to contemplate, to meditate and to realize that by the grace of God we can transform.
True Freedom: The saints and sages were free from the dictates of the world. They focused their attention on the Divine, and on becoming the best version of themselves. This is what has enabled them to have the courage to stand up for, and even die for their faith.
Catherine of Siena was an example of this. She writes, "Those who are masters of themselves have become masters of the world. For they neither fear nor care about anything except the things of God, whom they love and serve."
On October 10, 2020 a teen who died of Leukemia at the age of 15 is in the first stages of being canonized a saint. Blessed Carlo Acutis led an exemplary life and died on October 12, 2006. Pope Francis described him as a role model for young people today who are often tempted by the traps of 'self-absorption, isolation and empty pleasure'.
He was a computer whiz who knew how to use technology to communicate his high values and his devotion to his faith. At the age of 11 he used the internet to create a website categorizing all the Eucharistic miracles throughout the world. People knew him for his service to the poor, his joyful kindness, and his deep devotion to Jesus. He was truly an inspiration for the youth of today! *
Humility: To be truly humble is to realize that God comes through us as intuitive wisdom and love, and that we need to be an empty vessel for this flow. This requires total trust in the wisdom, power and love of God. With this realization we have a reverent respect towards ourselves and all creation, and humbly give thanks to God.
This is why saints like St. Anthony of Padua, and St. Pio of Pietrelcina where able to perform so many miracles. They were empty vessels for God to work through, and due to their humility, they knew and acknowledged that it was God who was working through them.
Humility is exemplified by all of the spiritually adept. They see the Divine as so much greater than their egotistic endeavors and they realize that it is the Grace of God that works through them.
Jesus Christ exemplified all the aspects of humility. He showed us how to be an empty vessel for God to work through by coming down to earth as a helpless infant, and by His life, death and resurrection.
Service: John Newton, the person who wrote the song Amazing Grace, which was published in 1779 and is still popular today, was originally a slave trader. When he realized the death and devastation of the slaves that came over from Africa he was repulsed. He was so remorseful that he went into the ministry and served others for the rest of his life.
Mother Teresa served the poor in India with the belief that all of us are God's children. She believed in the dignity of all beings. She said, "The most terrible poverty is loneliness, and the feeling of being unloved. If you judge people, you have no time to love them."
Service, I have learned, is very important to all those who are spiritually adept. From my observation it doesn't come from a place of obligation or judgment, rather it seems to come from a place of joy; a deeper knowing that God is within all of us.
Service came naturally to people like Padre Pio who was able to see through to people's soul and wanted everyone to know God, or like St. Francis who was there for the poor and the sick. He even lived with those who had leprosy which was such a contagious disease that people who had it were outcast. Service seems to be a criteria for being a spiritual Master.
Treating everyone with love and respect including oneself: St. Peter Claver was known for his compassion towards the African Slaves who were brought to America. He considered himself the slave of the slaves. He fought for their rights as human beings, and endured humiliation and resistance from local officials and slave owners.
The suffering that takes place due to prejudice is perhaps the greatest suffering there is. Many Christians, Jews and people of all faiths have died or were tortured due to their convictions. They taught us how to love and respect ourselves and others regardless of how we are treated. Victor Frankl was a neurologist, psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor. He taught us that by finding meaning in life we can rise above the opinions of others and focus on what is important in life.
We also have great models that have lived through the prejudice of today and bring us their wise counsel like Denzel Washington who is not only a great actor and inspirational speaker but a model for respecting oneself. He says, " Don't just aspire to make a living, aspire to make a difference. ...Put God first, everything I have is by the grace of God. ...I can't live my life by what others think of me." Or like Martin Luther King, Jr. who marched for justice. He said, "you only need a heart full of grace, and a soul generated by love".
Forgiveness: Usually there is a process that people go through in order to forgive, though some individuals refuse to forgive and hold on tight to their resentment. St. Augustine of Hippo teaches us how damaging resentment can be to a person in every way; emotionally, psychologically, physically and spiritually. In his classic, The Confessions, he writes, "Resentment is like taking poison and waiting for the other person to die".
Immaculee Ilibagiza, who's family was slaughtered during the Rwanda massacre in 1994, describes in her book, Left to Tell, how she could hear the slaughter of her family and friends for three months while hiding in a small bathroom with seven other women. When it was over, she actually went to the cell of the prisoner who killed her family and forgave him.
Pope John Paul II who was shot in 1981 by Mehmet Ali Agca also sought out his would-be assassinator to forgive him. Both these individuals, as well as so many other spiritually adept individuals, knew the importance of forgiveness.
In my blog on forgiveness, while writing about the process that one goes through in order to forgive, I offer insight into the dynamics of the offender and how it can help us to understand and forgive: "Often a person who has offended or hurt us comes from a place of ignorance; ignorance in the sense of having a different perspective than us, being prejudiced towards us, or perhaps not even knowing that they have caused pain. The crucifixion of Jesus is a prime example of this. He in his infinite wisdom knew that his persecutors were ignorant of the profound purpose of his life and who he was. Jesus was able to see humanity for what it was when he said, "Father forgive them, for they know not what they do." **
This is just some of the wisdom that I have learned from the lives of the spiritually adept. Contemplating on the lives of the saints and sages can truly enhance our lives and help us to live with authenticity and integrity which can make our lives so much more enjoyable.
Love and Peace,
*From forgiveness blog originally published March 12, 2017
Mary Mohs LVN, MA, RYT,