Looking back to my first steps on the path to find inner peace, I realize that there was a defining moment in my search to give my life meaning. It was like a flame which illumined an inner landscape that was previously unrecognized. This glimpse became a yearning that started me on my path, a yearning which continues to accompany me as my life unfolds.
This defining moment in my life was a challenge which moved me to search for the Divine within. Up until this point I had not questioned the direction my life was taking me. I was mostly complacent, simply unaware of where I was going and what I based my decisions on. I was going along with what was expected. This defining moment involved a hurricane and a diamond.
I was on a small sailboat, a member of a "crew" of three and the captain headed for the Caribbean. We had set sail from Nantucket Island on a balmy late summer day, but unknown to any of us we were sailing right into a hurricane. Now with so much information available, I wonder how this could have happened. But this was before GPS and the Internet, and it was due to a clear lack of common sense on our part. We watched as the sky darkened, the wind picked up and the waves heightened. The waves grew to such heights the little boat seemed to be alternately pulled up the side of a mountain of water and then hurled down the other side. Hanging on, I looked out at a wall of water and then over a precipice that we went plunging into. The boat was hurled around and it was impossible to even walk. My response was total fear. The boat and all that was in it were completely at the mercy of the wind and water. Then in my mind's eye I saw a diamond, sparkling clear and pure. This vision inspired me for the first time in many years to pray from the very depth of my being. The force of the Divine, the great Unknown, God, the Cosmos: I was at its mercy also. This is a lesson I have not forgotten.
To wake up is not to know where you are going and how to get there. I only knew that I was facing a different reality from the one I had so unquestioningly accepted. This reality had a reach beyond my own self. It did not necessarily exclude all the conditioning I had received as to what I should do with my life; it simply added a new dimension. The direction I had received from my family and culture had generally pointed the way: be a good person and help others, take care of your family and your friends. But I had not looked much beyond my own self. I thought I would find meaning by taking care of myself and those I loved. But something was missing. I had reached all the goals that I had been conditioned to want and expect, but I did not feel satisfied. There seemed to be something so limiting when I confined my life to what was expected of me. I wanted to know not what was expected or what I could get, but what I could offer. The flame had created a clarity within me, illuminating the possibility of finding my true identity, my unique individuality, as part of a greater whole. I was part of something bigger and it was asking something of me.
However, nothing seemed clear at that moment. Even though the wind subsided and the waves became tamer, we still didn't know where the storm had taken us. There was only the sea, endless sea upon which we were adrift. As night began to fall, we saw a signal from a lighthouse. The young navigator counted the flashes, and then became jubilant. It was the Great Point Light! We had been blown back to Nantucket, back to the island from which we had started.
Back to where I had started, but not the same, for the flame had signaled within me. I wanted to know what life was asking of me, what I had to offer. I wanted to know the meaning of my life. Back, but still not knowing the way forward. Nevertheless, the journey had begun. And for me there was no turning back.
At this point, when the call first revealed itself to me, I was actually still in the dark. However, I knew I did not want to remain in the dark. There was something else for me. This was a call which demanded a response. At this time my only response was to start looking. The purity of the diamond, of the spirit within, was yearning to be discovered.
Each step on the spiritual path takes courage, I think, and the first one is no exception. It is always easier to remain complacent and accept what society has to offer. But each one of us has our own individual calling through which we can contribute something unique to humanity. It is something which humanity needs from us, but it is up to us to respond. It can be something simple. Not everyone is a great leader, makes a major scientific discovery, or is renowned for a heroic act. But each one of us contributes to humanity's development by living our lives authentically and growing from life's experiences.
The next step for me was to start looking. So began the stage in which the soul is the Wanderer. At this time I left the fixed path, the path of what was expected and approved. The destination was still unclear, but I was looking. The time had come when I asked the question, "Who am I?" I had not found the answer. I only knew that there must be a meaning for my life that would transcend my personal existence. There was something that I was called to do in life.
Of course it would have been easier to ignore the call. The yearning was not always present in my consciousness. It was something I could forget by seeking diversions of pleasures and comforts. This is how I had previously responded to it.
The difficulty was that I had a yearning, but did not know how to respond. I remember as a child hearing a sermon about the Good Samaritan who gave away his winter coat to a poor person he met on the road. His was a pure act of generosity for he asked for nothing for himself. He gave what was needed without thinking of the consequences to himself. I wanted to be the Good Samaritan, but in my childish mind I took the story literally. I looked for someone to give my winter coat to. However, all the children I knew already had one, so the opportunity never presented itself. But the seed of giving generously had been planted.
When I was an adult, I visited India. There I was confronted with a depth of poverty previously unknown to me. Hundreds of beggars reached out; many hands snuck into my pocket wanting something from me. I wanted to help, but I realized the rupees and dollars I might give would not be enough. Around every corner there were scores more who were hungry and destitute. How could I help?
What most characterized the stage of the Wanderer was the feeling of being incomplete. I had whatever society told me I needed. But I still hadn't found what I was looking for. I still did not know what was being asked of me. I only knew that what I had was not helping me discover the spirit within. I needed direction, for there would be no peace until I found it. I needed to find the lighthouse that flashed my signal: stay away from the dangerous shoals and be no longer adrift in life.
I think we all have a wake-up call. Share in my journey. Take some moments to think about any contact you have had with the spirit within. Refresh that contact and remember what life is asking of you.
This article is the first in the series "The Peace of a Meaningful Life" by Diana Autumn.
Great Point Lighthouse, Nantucket