From Caroline’s 2013 Salon
A person who was obviously in the First World once said to me, “I decided to try to change my life and things only got worse. Why should I keep trying?”
Imagine that you lived in a house that you ceased to take care of as you spiraled deeper and deeper in the First World. As one room after another became more disheveled, you only paid attention to how you were feeling. The more obsessed you became with your interior life, the less concerned you became with your external surroundings. Smells became more foul, carpets more filthy, and washrooms as dingy as a roadside public toilet. But you noticed nothing. One day a friend comes over who cares enough about you to be compassionate and disgusted at the same time. She takes you for a makeover. By the end of the day, you have been refreshed at a spa, made over by experts, outfitted by the best, and spent an hour with a spiritual director. You feel renewed. Life has come back into you.
And then you are dropped back off at your dingy, unclean home. Opening the door, the smells rush up your nose like mustard gas. You can hardly bring yourself to step back into your environment – your life. You scream, “This is horrible. I can’t live here. I can’t clean up all this.” You tell yourself that you were better off not noticing all the trash around you.
What you begin to realize in this precious moment of confrontation between your Light and your Shadow is that you now see the handiwork of your shadow, perhaps for the first time. You are awake now and it is overwhelming, just like the decision to start over is overwhelming. And as so many people have asked me:
Where do I begin?
The 18th century philosopher, William James, wrote in his seminal work, The Varieties of a Religious Experience, that when making a deep commitment to conscious inner transformation, that is – to adapt to the power of the Light within you, “Suffer not one exception.” I must have quoted him a thousand times by now in my life. That language is so stunningly not this century. “Suffer not one exception.” Aside from rather Victorian charm of that simple dictate, James was communicating a lifetime of wisdom.
Adapting to the power of your Light requires – actually demands – that once you make a commitment to a path that you believe will empower you, under no circumstances do you break that commitment. James referred to “suffering not one exception” because he understood human nature, especially when it came to a people adapting to the power of their own inner Light. Rather than waiting for change to come upon you by chance, by ordinary life circumstances, you are deliberating, consciously seeking transformation. Yet, you are uncertain as to what that interior journey will awaken in you. What is the power of your inner Light? In fact, what exactly is your inner Light? And what does it mean to adapt to that power?
A person told me that he woke up one day and knew for whatever reasons that he could no longer do what he was doing for a living. He had been tormented for almost a year by an on-going feeling of conscience that the business he was in was unethical, but he stayed with it. As a research scientist, he felt dedicated to his work and he knew that he needed government grant money to survive. He also knew that the end product was going into weaponry.
Finally, he quit. He actually said, “A light went on inside me. I knew I was doing everything wrong with my life. I wasn’t devoted to science but to harming others. I could not do that for one more day.” He decided to take a break, a retreat, and reconnect with life. That was his first step. He had disconnected from all things living in order to stay unaware of the consequences of his work.
Another person told me that she made the decision to become more conscious of the consequences of her own actions in her life. That, of course, had the effect of making her more aware of the choices she made and the power each choice had not only in her life, but also on the lives of others. She said that this decision drove her mad at first because it seemed there was no end to paying attention to everything she did and said. And then she realized that such is the meaning of becoming “conscious” – there is no end to paying attention to what we do or say. She decided to devote herself to being kind and leave it at that. Her life became much simpler.
Though neither of these examples speaks about two people suffering much, believe me when I tell you that making just one decision that expands the breathing space of your soul and committing to “not one exception” is not easy. But the task is not about discipline. That is secondary to you awakening to the power of your own Light, to realizing, for example, that each decision you make actually sets forces of change in motion. You suffer because you need to pause, to reflect, to think, to move more consciously through the grasslands of your life while adapting to the speed of Light. It’s worth every bit of the effort you put into the decision you make.
- Reflect on one part of you that you truly want to change. This could be anything from deciding you want to initiate daily exercise into your life to daily meditation time to deciding to give up being pessimistic. The choices are endless.
- Spend time considering what it means to “suffer not one exception” and decide if you are prepared for that.
- Begin this journey consciously and silently. This is your journey and no one else’s.
- If it helps you to keep a journal, do so.
- No looking back. Remember you are adapting to a Light you are awakening within yourself. Transitioning from a life of being someone who is a pessimist to someone who sees God in the details of his or her life is a holy transformation. It is a big deal, a game changer. You only move forward.
- I am someone who prays. I rely upon grace to intervene at all times in my life, especially in times of change and personal transitions. I encourage all those open to prayer to make that a constant in your life – and indeed, suffer not one exception when it comes to asking for grace in your life each day.
I hope you enjoyed this Salon.