Every now and again, I read something that so
inspires me, I have to share it with others. (Rarely does it occur to
me that others might not find the particular stories or passages that
moved me as inspiring as I do, by the way.)
ago, I realized that whatever this presence is that goes by the name,
“God”, it hardly squeezes its force and volume into any or all
religions. Religions are the social and political end of good
mythologies and that’s about it. The quest for any real truth is found
through leaving the shell of one’s religion and entering into the
spiritual mysteries of all the great religions – or at least a
partnership of one from the west and one from the east. There are other
routes to the truth, of course, but right now I am addressing the path
that specifically moves from religion to spirituality to mystical
consciousness. And given that this path is one of inner illumination,
it is replete with spiritual writings.
through my Kindle one night to check out any new and interesting books,
I spotted one on the work of Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the
Jesuits. He could also be credited as one of the founders of spiritual
direction, because he poured so much effort into articulating
instructions for following the inner life. What caught my eye was the
title of this book, The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything, by James
Martin, S.J. So, I downloaded it into my Kindle…just like that. I
thought I would glance at the book in the morning, but those critters
are so fast and my curiosity is so adrenalin-driven that I just had to
look to see if the book actually arrived (it did) and then I had to
check it out. (I have to say, being the life-long book creature that I
am, Kindle books will never ever replace real books for me. Inevitably
I end up purchasing the books in real book form that I bought through
my Kindle, because I long to hold them in my hands, to flip the pages
back and forth, and to just see the length of the book itself. Who
knows what you buy when you download an electronic book? It could be,
as The Kindly Ones, 1,000 pages! The book goes on and on and on and
on. I have news for you – there is no flipping to the last chapter in a
Kindle…but I digress. Back to my new treasure book.)
though I told myself not to even glance at the book, I couldn’t help
it. This isn’t, by the way, a promo piece for this book. I find books
that capture the spiritual journey simply intoxicating. I rapidly
categorized what the author was saying into “new”, “not-so-new”, “no
big deal”, “brilliant”, and then I came upon one particular story that
left me breathless – absolutely breathless. I read it again and again.
I then stopped reading it and just stared at it, wondering why this
story struck me so deeply. I was actually choked up with tears. I
couldn’t read any further. I marked the page in the book and turned off
the light to go to sleep, but I could not stop thinking about this
The next day I went to see my own spiritual
director and shared the story with him. He got choked up, teary-eyed.
We sat in silence for a few moments and then we discussed how it is
that a man could experience what this man did and then end up doing
what he did. We talked for two hours. Later, my spiritual director
phoned and asked that I bring this book with me the next time I came to
see him, so that he could copy that story to share in one of his own
Monthly subjects for my Salons or
Newsletters are not as easy to come up with as you might think. I
always have in mind the intent to share something with all of you that
will enrich your life in some way. Sharing this particular story
occurred to me, but in what context, I wondered? It requires a bit of
preparation or groundwork in order to appreciate the choice made by
this one man, Walter Cisnek, S.J. And moreover, how would I position
this story, given its historic content, so that it is of significance
to the modern person, who, for the most part, could not relate in the
least to what this Jesuit priest had endured? For how often, really,
do we look at the life of another person and truly draw from that life
the grace of inspiration? Most especially if we see that person as an
extreme individual – a monk, or a priest, or a mystic? These are not
ordinary people as such but people who have chosen to live a certain
way, to expose themselves to the “spiritual elements” in this Universe.
Most of us live more protected lives, hidden from these radical
spiritual elements that seem to test the spiritual stamina of some
individuals who have, by profession, openly proclaimed an alignment to
So before I share the particular story that
so moved me, I want to lay the groundwork a bit. As a teacher, I am
always asked questions at my seminars. A handful of those questions
are what I would call “repeaters”, the types of questions that come up
all the time. These questions fall into the category of the major
mysteries of life: the nature of good and evil, right and wrong, and
the mysterious nature of God.
Many people, for
instance, ask about the paradox of how it is that bad things could
happen to good people. Familiar examples are cited, like the Holocaust
and the more current crisis in Darfur. I have always been frustrated
by such questions, not because people ask them, but because what kind
of answer can be offered that would really make a person say, “Oh,
that’s why there was a Holocaust and six million Jews and five million
other people were murdered. Okay then.”
But one day,
in response to exactly that question, I asked a gentleman this
question, “Have YOU ever hurt someone you love?” He replied in the
affirmative. I then asked if he ever hurt that person deliberately;
that is, did he plan to hurt (in this case) his wife? He said he did,
but then offered an excuse: She had done something to hurt him. He felt
I said that regardless of the rationale
he gave himself, at the end of the day, he deliberately plotted to hurt
someone he loved. I asked him if he agreed with that and he,
hesitatingly, said he did. I then said, “Well, if we could plot to
hurt people we love, is it that difficult to imagine how we human
beings could plot to destroy people we don’t love? In fact, is it all
that difficult to imagine how easily we can be swayed to even want to
destroy people we fear because they have different religions or come
from different cultures? It’s really not that difficult to make that
leap in imagination, as unpleasant a truth as that might be to reflect
The truth is that the grand horror of Darfur or
the Holocaust or other human massacres along with all the
lesser-in-size (but no less evil) tragedies are the result of
individual choices and not one great, big, huge choice made by one
great, big, huge evil giant. Impossible huge evil events rely upon
impossible small evil choices. They work hand in hand. One cannot
exist without the other, and inevitably one generates the other.
is very easy to become frightened and slip into dark and shadow-filled
choices. In fact, it’s effortless. I listen all the time to the way
people connect the dots in their thinking and am astounded by their
lack of facts, details, history, and general knowledge about other
cultures and religions. Such absence of information creates a void
that only fear can fill. But the more tragic consequence of this is
that once people are filled with fear, their humanity begins to
disintegrate. They will find it easier and easier to lose their
capacity to relate to “other people out there” and the instinct (versus
conscious choice) to withdraw into a safety net of “one’s own kind”
will seem like the right and safe thing to do. We are witnessing this
taking place within our own society.
The Soul Part
fear takes over, our grace-driven instincts become repressed. The
more I work in the arena of mystical consciousness, the more I am
convinced that we are driven by the graces in our soul. We have an
inherent need to heal others, to reach out in compassion and kindness
and generosity. And we have an even deeper need to be forgiving, which
is why we battle with forgiveness so much. We aren’t fighting the need
to forgive; we are fighting our pride. Get over the pride factor and
forgiveness comes easy.
The point here is this: You
are far more comfortable in your spiritual skin than in being driven
by fear. You feel far more in harmony with your interior self, your
soul, by having the fortitude to make courageous choices than by
collapsing out of fear and compromising yourself. And you – all of us
– have a profound need to trust that your life is on a path of
purpose, which does not by any means exclude experiences of chaos,
loss, disease, pain, and isolation. The purposeful life might well
require all such experiences because these are essential to a soul’s
journey, as they were for Walter Ciszek, S. J. It is easy to be kind
among kind people, to love those who love us back, and to share our
food while our refrigerator is bursting with leftovers. But the truth
is, in your heart of hearts, generating unimaginable goodness is
exactly what you long to do in life. That’s the true reason that
people are drawn to magical characters and to wizards and fantasies
about power. People want to have goodness defeat evil and they imagine
themselves as part of the good guys defeating the bad.
is unfortunate for that part of us that longs for drama and applause
and recognition to learn again and again that at the end of the day, we
must work with the same tools to generate unimaginable goodness that we
use to generate unimaginable darkness. All we have are the choices we
make, one at a time. And from such choices are created the larger
events of humanity. Our imaginations cannot grasp that one good choice,
one holy choice, one profound choice can make a difference –
especially since we long to see, feel, touch, and note in great detail
the difference we are making. But we are never to be granted such a
vision, lest we be shown the consequence of all the darkness we have
set in motion. Could we live with that? It is better that both ends
of our handiwork are kept from us. It is simply up to each of us to
trust that every choice we make matters.
The Story Of Walter Ciszek, S.J.
Walter Ciszek was born in Philadelphia in 1906. He was ordained a
Jesuit around 1938. What makes his life so surreal is that he ended up
spending twenty-three years in a Soviet prison camp, the gulag, as it
was known. Through the most bizarre and unusual series of
spiritually-driven choices, Ciszek felt compelled to go to the Jesuit
House in Rome after his ordination and study in the Jesuit Russian
program. At the time, the Jesuits were looking for volunteers to enter
into Russia secretly to assess the spirit of the Catholic population
and to be present as priests. He felt called to this mission. Hitler
was more than just on the rise by the late 1930’s and Ciszek was now
being discouraged from heading into Russia. Instead, he opted for
Poland. He was already fluent in Polish, having grown up in a
Polish-speaking American home. Hitler invaded Poland’s western end and
the Russians invaded the eastern end, where Ciszek, now using an
alias, was living. He saw this as an opportunity to enter Russia as a
regular laborer and he took it. Eventually the Soviet authorities came
upon the Jesuit House in Poland, where they found his American
passport. They tortured the head priest into finally revealing that
Ciszek and one other Jesuit had entered into Russia using false
identification papers. Within a few months, both these men were
arrested and their nightmare journey began. Ciszek’s companion priest
died early on, but he went on to experience brutal interrogations,
starvation, and eventually years in Siberia. He was released in 1963,
thanks to the efforts of the U.S. State Department, his sister, and
President John F. Kennedy, who held the Jesuits in high regard.
wrote a book entitled With God in Russia, which, of course, I
immediately downloaded into my Kindle that same night. I had to find
out how a man born in Philadelphia could end up ordained in New York and
then land in a Soviet gulag during the 1940’s, 50’s, and early 60’s.
I have given you a far more complete portrait of his life than is in
The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything because I wanted to just give
you a small background on the torture and torment that this one human
being went through. Knowing this, what left me breathless was the
closing words to his book in which he recounted his twenty-three years
of having been imprisoned under false charges of spying. Instead of
saying something like, “I couldn’t get out of Russia fast enough,” or
“I left with a bitter taste in my mouth for all the wasted years of my
life,” he noted that as his plane took flight, he could see the spirals
of the Kremlin in the distance. And with that image in his view,
“Slowly, carefully, I made the sign of the cross over the land I was
He blessed the hell from which he was being released.
carefully, he blessed the land that had held him prisoner and had
brutalized him for more than two decades. For me, this man was a
modern day John of the Cross, a man who had found a way to love greater
than and through the labyrinth of his own personal sufferings. His
grace and goodness were unimaginable and it struck me with a force as I
read his story late at night. What is that grace that allows a person
to have the courage to make choices so profoundly good that their
consequences live on long after that person has passed away?
we are not going to end up in a Soviet gulag, but what is certain is
that our lives have had and will continue to have situations that
present us with choices – the types of choices that end up making a
difference to us personally and therefore to others. Blessing that
which constitutes the hellish parts of our lives may well be among the
ultimate challenges, but what is the other option? Condemning your own
hell is like adding years on to your own sentence, yes?
the question remains, “How does a person become strong enough to
generate unimaginable goodness even in the midst of great darkness?”
That’s a worthy question, perhaps so much so that it merits a book and
not merely a Salon. A person has to be devoted to scaffolding a sturdy
interior self. Without that, what part of you can you count on when
you need to? So in keeping with the Jesuit theme of spiritual
direction, I am going to offer you the following questions for
reflection with the goal of generating unimaginable goodness in mind.
That is to say, if you were truly honest with yourself, you would
discover that being able to generate goodness no matter what situation
you are in, whether it is one of bliss or hell, is the optimum. The
only thing that can block us from making such choices is the mysteries
of our own nature.
Questions For Self-Examination:
How do I know I trust my own choices?
How can I live a simpler life?
What do I mean by “a good friend” and how can I be a good friend?
What brings me joy and how can I become a container of joy for others?
How do I face my own suffering?
How do I help others carry their pain and suffering?
Am I trustworthy? Where do I have difficulty in maintaining trust?
How do I pray?
How do I express love? How and why does love make me uncomfortable?
What am I waiting to have happen in my life?
What is my definition of unimaginable goodness?
What would I have to choose to allow for unimaginable goodness to occur?
What is required of me to become a vessel for this grace?
are not ordinary questions. They are soul changers. I hope you will
take the time to reflect upon each one and even discuss them with a
close soul companion.
© 2009 Myss.com – Caroline Myss is a New York Times best-selling author whose books include Anatomy of the Spirit, Why People Don’t Heal and How They Can, Sacred Contacts, and Entering the Castle. Defy Gravity: Healing Beyond the Bounds of Reason, will be published by Hay House in October 2009.
Listen to Caroline every week on www.HayHouseRadio.com