We go through hell searching for God-the Ultimate Truth. We scavenge through churches, synagogues, study halls, temples, and mosques. We travel abroad, leaning on walls, meditating on mountains, and ceaselessly praying in chapels. We are relentless in encountering The Infinite. Yet, every sincere man knows God eludes him. Not because He isn’t there, but because in the final analysis God dwells in the last place man cares to search- within himself.
I remember as a child before going to sleep, I’d turn the lights off and dash straight for the bed. I’d strain my eyes open, desperately seeking light- that minute of waiting felt like an eternity. I’d initially feel a sense of dread staring into the nothingness of the air, nothing could be seen beyond the opaqueness of the night. In that minute I’d think, “there is nothing, I am nothing.” I was small, consumed by a great void. This terrorized me. But as the minute passed, the darkness faded. Small rays of light dispersed through the room and I’d begin to see. I could see myself. I was put together. I wasn’t so small after all. I could look at my surroundings…my hands, and smile. The wonderful realization about this process was coming to understand later that no matter how dark I had perceived my surroundings to be, the light was always there, waiting for me to grasp it. I just had to hold on and patiently trust it would show up.
On a psychological and emotional level, we lose precious souls because it becomes too dark within. A moment of despair can feel like an eternity where light never comes. We desperately look around. We become restless. We feel small. We say we’re nothing or nothing matters. But the night is only temporary, it was only a reaction to a sudden change we needed to adjust to. The light is coming. It has come. You are awake… you look at yourself. You’re not so small. As a matter of fact, you’re pretty f****** beautiful. You love yourself more, and best of all, you’ve learned to love the night.
In jail food is a high commodity- the currency that defines an inmate’s status. Due to the scarcity and restricted variety, the accessibility of food is based on the level of outside support or cunning ability to persuade or take from others. Food is prisoner’s gold. It is no wonder the the amount of bricks (sandwiches) or dollars in a commissary account greatly impacts the mood and mental health of the inmate. Jail is similar to outside society where power and status are of great value, except in jail, possession and rank is brought to the forefront due to scarcity and deprivation. It was here that I learned deprivation is not necessarily a bad thing. As a matter of fact, it may be beneficial.
One of the greatest lessons I’ve learned was in simply observing an inmate eat an orange. He was given an extra orange for lunch by a correctional officer. He looked at it and held it alternately with both hands. It was the same way a jeweler would handle an expensive gold necklace or a miner would examine a diamond. He smiled, peeled it slowly, separated it into pieces, laid it into a paper napkin, smiled again, and finally began to eat it. There was a level of gratitude in the process that I had never witnessed before. The inmate and his gold, an orange, submerged completely in the moment-something most of take for granted because we become accustomed to always having. And this applies to most things- our friendships, family, love, our possessions, our health, internal and external freedoms, etc. I have to admit, there was a sense of envy as I watched someone appreciate the very little, grasping to the moment, touching every bit of the orange from its outer texture to the sweetness of taste. I couldn’t remember the last time I had appreciated the little things, the many that I had take for granted. Because of deprivation, this inmate was given the gift of gratitude in which he could touch life and experience the moment at its fullest vitality. He was alive and free. “Who are the real prisoners?”, I asked myself. Most of us have plenty and yet most of us never experience a genuine level of gratitude for what we have. We’re taught to write a gratitude list or recite a few affirmations to boost our levels of gratitude but rarely is it suggested to reach out to a life who is far more deprived than we are. This is the best way to acquire gratitude- to learn it from those who have less. Often, it’s those that suffer greatly that touch life the deepest. It’s those who are deprived that can relish and appreciate without reservation when they finally attain something. Watch and learn through them, because if it’s anything that we more fortunate individuals lack, it might just be the greatest commodity of all- Gratitude.
I always thought that statement was pretty tacky, something someone said when they had had no other way of consoling a friend in crisis. In times of difficulty, a few friends used these words and I’d brush them off, reflecting on the corny nature of the statement. As if four words can take away the burden of the presenting problem. I’d think how easy it was for them to say those words, those wasteful words they’d assume had some profound affect and I would snap out of my depression and resume a happy life all because I was “not alone.” But then one day it got pretty dark…so dark that I doubted I’d ever come out of it. Then, I heard the words “you are not alone.” These words became the flickering light in the depths of despair by which I was able to find my way back again.”
If you are hurting and in a dark place, please remember, you are not alone…
“She was 5’1, middle aged, Jewish, slender, soft voice, wise with a peaceful disposition. A 10th grade English teacher but on that day she revealed her true identity. It was on that day that I laid my head over my arms to slump on the desk to escape the meaninglessness of English honors that she convinced me to write a poem. Reluctantly, I wrote a few lines. Glancing over the paper, her eyes widened with genuine astonishment as she whispered “this is really good, you must keep writing.” It was this statement that kindled a fire within me to always believe that I could contribute, that I had a place in the world. This 5’1 10th grade teacher, this real life super hero- with her words moved infinite worlds inside me.”
It is easy to say we love everyone, especially when the mind thinks of the most pleasant and appeasing personalities that surround us. But how quickly are we challenged when encountering the most broken of men-the scoffer, the long faces, the angered souls that recoil at our friendly invitations. I have found that the key to loving even the most ruthless of men who seem incapable of loving, is to be mindful that behind the guise of indifference and hatred lurks a frightened and deeply wounded child in desperate need of healing.
“We addicts only feel alive when we’re either getting high or helping the next guy. There’s no in-betweens about it. I can honestly say I’ve never felt as whole as that one day G_d chose me to embrace her as she yelled frantically, gnawing her way through dirt and pavement. 1 year of sobriety and just receiving the news of her mother passing, it was perfect timing for the both of us. Until that moment I didn’t think there was a soul within me capable of loving when it really mattered. Months later she recalled the event and thanked me for saving her life. Tears flowed from my eyes, unbeknownst to her, it was she who had saved mine.”
Is it really possible to make meaning out of every moment? Some people may say that their lives are characterized by a general sense of design and meaning but to say our daily occurrences and experiences are filled with purpose may seem like a spiritual ideal-an inspirational quote at best. If life contains order and perfect design, why are our daily routines lacking purpose? The problem lies in distorted roles. We have become infatuated with our stance on receiving and have neglected the natural life sustaining approach of bestowal. At every turn of our waking hours we are bombarded by someone or something attempting to sell us a product that will provide gratification. As a result, this has increasingly become our default mode in which our innate drive to give and love altruistically has withered under the illusion of ‘receiving equals fulfillment.’ The obsession to have is a subtle addiction producing apathy and indifference towards others. Many times than not, the cause of depression and anxiety stems from an existential crisis where purpose is lacking and the individual finds no meaning. Once the distorted belief that attaining ‘things’ is broken (switching mindset from receiving to giving) and the individual begins living a life of service in which love, elevation, and healing is bestowed on to others, the meaning of one’s purpose is drastically enhanced.
Sometimes, deciding to “bite one’s tongue” in opposition is the best sacrifice we can offer.
And we clearly see how powerful quarreling and violence can be. Man was created to invade, engage, and seek continuously- not through bloodshed- but through love.