When I was a young thing in my mid-twenties I had a friend named Gert Behanna. I met her after she'd published her spiritual autobiography, The Late Liz. Gert, an authentic character who'd grown up in New York, lived an interesting and privileged life as socialite and wife of one of the original founders of brokerage Merrill Lynch Pierce Fenner & Smith (Smith). When she hit 50 her seemingly beautiful life disintegrated and she became a suicidal alcoholic. Upon recovery she turned her entire life around, transformed into a fiery Christian apologist known far and wide for the riveting speeches recounting her 'come to Jesus' story. A mutual writer friend introduced us and I spent many hours visiting with her about writing the spiritual journey. She said after she published The Late Liz and became a famous and sought after speaker, she loved it when people told her how they admired her and how brave she was to put it all out there for all to see and hear. She loved it not because she thought she was anything special but because it was the opening she'd been waiting for. With an equal measure of challenge and compassion she'd reply, "And you? What about your life, honey, what about your journey? I've put it out there, warts and all, now it's your turn. Let's talk about where you've been, what you've done and what you're going." After a medley of coughs, snorts, shuffles and bewildered looks from the earnest, Gert would just laugh and tell them it was time to get on with it, time to come clean and get right with their own vision of what it means to be on a path to spiritual enlightenment. That Gert, what an unforgettable piece of work she was. She lived the piercing truth that the spiritual path is best walked not by imagining the light, but by making conscious the darkness within.
An End, A Beginning
If you're thinking of writing your own spiritual autobiography, you should know that penning your story isn't the end of the journey to wisdom's edge by any means. It's just a great beginning. It gives perspective. It's the way to come to a point of view, at last, to regard the world. I've come to understand intimately Annie Dillard's warning that to write like this is to "cannibalize your life so that it will never be the same." True. Sorting through the important stages and phases of life is a way to give new meaning to the past by putting things in order. It can define joy, invite gratitude and help you to let go of sorrows held in the heart for way too long. In the end, it opens the door to a more lighthearted present and a more mindful future uncluttered by all that leftover stuff stashed away in the dusty corners and crevices of a life unexamined in terms of a spiritual context. I'm publishing my spiritual autobiography next month and I'll be including more on how to write a spiritual journey. I like the timing...'tis the season to bring light into the dark of winter, to greet a new year with renewed hope and expectation, to move on to the next chapter.
The Next Chapter
I don't know what the future holds for me or for any of us. To be very honest, there are moments when my heart feels so heavy it threatens to break because of the upheavals, losses and despair afoot in the world. But adding another sorrowful litany to what's already out there is not the voice I want to speak with. Instead, I'm offering a challenge to myself and to you, if you're up for it. Without denying the hard realities of these times, how can we live as conscious, creative, mindful and compassionate people every single day so that our small lives will count for what is good and not add to what isn't? That's it. I don't want to save the world, as I did when I was young and idealistic. I don't want to try to save anything, even my own children or grandchildren. I'll offer up my prayers and meditations for them and I trust they are finding their way to wisdom's edge. Just as I am. Just as you are. What I want now is to inhabit, in Huston Smith's words, 'a gracious matrix' where I can practice a conscious aging that acknowledges, honors and shares the beautiful, sacred, and inspirational. I think that will count for a little something. Maybe more than a little. Maybe a lot.