For many people, the passion for speed has become an addiction. Our culture and society encourage this addiction; we emphasize doing instead of being, multitasking is considered a desirable skill, and we are generally more focused on quantity instead of quality in all aspects of our lives. Every modern convenience, from cell phones and computers to instant meals and microwave ovens, feeds our addiction to speed and encourages the illusion that we can do more in less time. Because our bodies are so efficient at adapting, we are often not aware of the negative impact that this fast pace of life is having on our being, which is in essence our spiritual nature.
I have always felt a deep connection to St. Francis of Assisi, the Christian saint best known for his love of nature, animals, and the poor. In the early 1980’s I lived in Holy Protection monastery, a Byzantine Eastern-Rite Franciscan monastery. This was where I was professed as a 3rd Order, Secular Franciscan.
Born at Assisi in the year 1182, St. Francis came from a wealthy family. Although he spent his early years enjoying the material benefits of wealth, he soon recognized the shallowness of his lifestyle, and renounced his inherited wealth. He chose instead a simple life of poverty, which allowed him to fully devote himself to God and his calling.
I spend a great deal of time counseling individuals with life threatening illnesses. Understandably, the unknown—the emotional trauma of their unexpected diagnosis, the rounds of invasive medical treatments, and their suddenly uncertain future, frightens many people.
They come to me for advice in how to best approach their illness, knowing that they will receive a leading-edge, holistic protocol that encompasses nutrition, botanical support, information about medical procedures, and lifestyle recommendations. What they generally don’t anticipate receiving is spiritual guidance. In my experience, however, the people who do best are those who deepen in their spiritual practices, and who strengthen their connection to God, however they may conceive him to be within the context of their personal beliefs. For healing to occur at the deepest level of being, I believe that a strong personal connection to God is essential.
When people ask me to name the most powerful medicine I know, many are surprised when I respond, “Love.” In my two-and-a-half decades as a healer, I have observed that love is the greatest of all medicines and is the true essence of all healing.
My work brings me into close relationship with people facing life-threatening illness. It’s not uncommon that upon diagnosis of a serious illness, such as cancer, that people are often struck, as for the first time, with a deep understanding of the preciousness of life. It’s as though the thought of life being taken away is what sparks renewed life. Suddenly, our goals in life change—often radically—and we reevaluate who we are and where we are going. With great clarity, we become certain about who and what is important in our lives, and we know how we want to live out the rest of our days.
Many people naively view the spiritual journey as a means to euphoria, a type of drug-like high, and a magic carpet ride to bliss. However, this is not a realistic expectation. The spiritual journey involves the purification of the unconscious; therefore it is an exercise in letting go of the false self, the programmed self, and the self who is climbing the ladder to false happiness. The spiritual journey is a humbling process, because it requires letting go of the self that we know and identify with. When we step onto the spiritual path, we are called to change how we respond to life circumstances and how we choose to be in every aspect of our lives.
The distractions of life are powerful, and it’s all too easy to be consumed by the tasks, responsibilities, and desires that arise, causing us to stray from our spiritual center. When we embark on a spiritual journey, we need guidance and support to help us stay on course. Contemplative prayer is a simple, accessible means to cultivate the discipline that the spiritual journey requires.