Have you ever asked yourself; what am I looking for? Have you ever laid awake at night in bed and wondered what your life is all about? Have you ever gone to church and sat there and pleaded with God to show you what He wants from you? And, have you ever felt the loneliness of a person who has no idea where they are going, that lost feeling, that confused feeling that leads down a blind path to nowhere? There is a scene in the movie Matrix where Neo opens the car door to leave when he sees a rainy long, dark and lonely dead end alley way and Trinity says to him, “Please Neo, you have to trust me. Why? He asks. Because you have been down there. You know that road. You know exactly where it ends and I know that’s not where you want to be.” I’ve been there and so have many of you. 

Life means choices. Every day we are faced with choices. Some, most are simple choices about daily habits but the choices that really matter are the ones that test us. They are the ones that cause us to face up to our weaknesses, to our cowardness, to our flaws that cause us to hurt others or ourselves. These kinds of choices bring us to cross roads in our life where we must choose between two paths. We must draw from our inner resources to make wise decisions. Sometimes we choose wisely but other times our ability to choose is not there because our rational state is in disarray. In this state of mind, we will choose poorly and we must reap the consequence and rely on divine guidance to help us get out of the mess we find ourselves. Yes, I did say divine because despite what the secular world tries to make us believe, we do live in a sacred universe.

The saying, “Life is a journey not a destination” is attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson. We don’t know if he actually said this but it is a very wise saying to keep constantly in your heart. Emerson did write; “To finish the moment, to find the journey’s end in every step of the road, to live the greatest number of good hours, is wisdom.” In any case life is a journey and to live it well is wisdom. We were never promised an easy, happy life but we are promised a life of toil, hard work and life experience and to quote Bruce Lee; “Do not pray for an easy life, pray for the strength to endure a difficult one.”

Socrates said; “an unexamined life is not worth living.” To ask questions is one thing but to ask the right questions is another matter. The questions we ask and the answers we seek to those questions are the journey. The questions become the signs that point us in a certain direction and the answers become the path that leads us through the dark woods of the unknowns of our life.  Do we have the courage to ask the questions? Do we have the nerve to walk the path to find the answers? Life is the great educator and she can be cruel and hard and she has no favorites but everyone is treated the same. The path we walk through life is our own and no two paths are alike but the challenges encountered are many and we may share these challenges with others. We may share a divorce experience with someone but how that experience played out in each other’s life will be different. Life is called “the school of hard knocks” and it can be severely challenging.

I didn’t ask for the heartbreaks in my life or for my life to change dramatically. But these heartbreaks and miseries made me walk a different path, one that I would have never taken if my life didn’t change. I don’t know the reasons why God allowed this but I have trusted Him and He has taken care of me so far and I trust the He will continue to do so.  Throughout the years I have had wonderful teachers and mentors. I would never trade my experience and my life for another. My life experience has made me who I am. It became my spiritual journey seeking the truth, seeking God.

Finding a good teacher who can teach the essence of living a good and decent life is very important. One sometimes has to take the back roads of life to find these kinds of teachers. They can be found in the most unlikely places. In a martial arts training hall or at the local used book store. They may be found at a coffee house sitting in a corner writing poetry. They may work on the line in a factory next to you or they could be laying in a hospital bed suffering with cancer. Any one of these may seem odd or eccentric or they may have only an eighth-grade education but they have life experience and I can tell you that they are far wiser than any university professor of philosophy will ever be. These are the teachers to seek after if you wish to find direction and purpose for your life. These are the wisdom keepers of life to be lived as it should be. I have found that these kinds of teachers understand the importance of watching a beautiful sunset or gazing up at a full moon in Autumn. They understand the sacredness of meeting friends in a coffee shop sharing a fellowship of true friendship. They appreciate the enjoyment of reading a poem or a classic novel, of listening to a beautiful song or piece of classical music that stirs the soul. They will tell you the joy of smoking a cigar on a beautiful summer evening or the sacredness of a sip of a wine with friends. They will even show you that the face of God can be found in a simple daisy if you only open your mind and heart to see it. These types of teachers appreciate the solitude of aloneness, the cultivation of a quiet life and the importance of the inner life of a person.

Sometimes finding a teacher proves to be very difficult, so what do we do then? Books are the next things to a good teacher. Throughout the 5000 years of human wisdom, many teachers have written done their teachings and knowledge. There have been many spiritual writers throughout the centuries right up to our times that can teach us the essence of living a good and decent life. I have personally found guidance in authors such as J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, St. Augustine, Thomas Merton, Joseph Campbell and John O’Donohue. And what is there to say of life experience? That life experience is sometimes more important than a teacher or a book. Life experience beats us, bends us, pounds us and tempers us in the fires of suffering that we will never get in a classroom. Ideally, we want all three of these teachers but most of the time it is only books and experience that we have and we must be patient for a teacher. There is a saying, “when the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” We must always be alert because we don’t know when a teacher will show up and we don’t want to miss an opportunity.           

“Oh, the beauty of living a life that is filled with happiness and sadness.” My journey through life has been one of joy and sadness, suffering and healing, longing and exile, doubt and amazement and all this enabled me to embrace my human condition. All of us are flawed and we struggle each day but these struggles can lead us to such lasting rewards. Each day is a trial and we know that in our struggles we come closer to our true self in Christ. The main purpose of the life journey is to know ourselves and help as many people as we can along the way. We couldn’t do this if we didn’t experience the good and the bad in our life. It is our failures that awaken us to the mysteries of life, teach us lessons and help us know ourselves. This is the beauty of the journey through life, to experience what life truly is and what it is all about, to refine ourselves and become a man or woman of God in the likeness of Jesus and to partake in His joy. 

Life experience has taught me the basics, the importance of good food and a warm shelter, the benefits of physical work and relaxation, the joy of family and friends and the enjoyment of getting up in the morning to fresh coffee with my wife.   With this, seeking out teachers who can train us in the spiritual life and help us see God in everyday in our surroundings should be what we seek after. Our goal should be to become “active contemplatives”, people who seek God through the activities of daily life.

I am so fortunate for my life experience and that I found teachers who guided me in those years when I lacked direction in my life. I believe it was God who sent them to me, to inspire and direct me in my journey, in my Christian path and in the way I worked out my salvation.

Adapted from A FINGER POINTING TO THE MOONConsiderations on Living as a Lay Monk By John Waligorski

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