Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?”
In those days,Jesus must have seen many people carrying a wooden cross to be crucified by the Romans.It was a form of capital punishment/execution meant for slaves,criminals and those who created dissension against the Romans.Crucifixion was the most terrible and shameful type of punishment the Romans inflicted upon those they deemed wronged….it caused excruciating physical suffering coupled with mental and emotional anguish.
I can imagine Jesus felt deep compassion as he witnessed those suffering the torments of crucifixion,he must have seen them carrying their crosses to be crucified. Deep down within himself, he had an inkling that he would himself go through the pangs of this type of physical death.As much as he was teaching and propagating love, peace,forgiveness and healing……..he knew that there were those who were jealous, angry, resentful,ignorant,against,taunted and hated him for all the goodness that he taught.Yet he remained steadfast,unafraid and continued to teach what was true and poignant within himself.He was also aware of an impending plot to get rid of him….by people who called themselves religious,people who taught religiosity and scriptures.
His heart must have been filled with the deep ache of sadness and sorrow,witnessing so much wasted and unnecessary suffering,violence,terrorism,hatred,rage and anger brewing around him at the time.We in the here and now of the 21st century are suffering the same predicament,the suffering never ends…….globally and individually!
Jesus knew pain and suffering and the root causes of suffering….therefore his teachings,mostly in parables were only about finding love,peace and forgiveness leading to freedom within ourselves.He had to go out into the desert(for forty days) to be lost,to fast himself of worldly needs,to lose his ego, to purify himself,to face his demons,to be tested in temptions and to triumph over it,he must have encountered so many dark nights of the soul! and finally to find himself,whole and complete his true self,his Divine self and his Oneness with all of creation.
There was a time about 18 years ago,still early on in my spiritual quest for truth and to find an end to my unnecessary sufferings……….I took 10 days off work, locked myself in my simple small apartment with the bare necessities of living,I had no Tv/stereo/internet,I shut off the phone and had some food to give me strength but no cooking.I only had spiritual books as guides.Then I began my self meditative purification retreat……….five days into this retreat…….I could feel my face and body tremble( the purification process,cold turkey in lay man’s term), I felt like I was plunging into hell,I was facing all the fears and isolation,the dark nights of the soul loomed.I was aware I could not escape into doing what I wanted or liked to…..I had to face the fear! It could be easier to escape,I could let myself out,go for a drive or go to a movie or go to the music shop and buy cds or anything else!But all I had was this moment…no running away,I learned to be present to simply watch myself where I am with all that I am going through.By facing situations this way, I learned to not suppress or bury fear and afflictive emotions.
This dark night felt like I was walking on a tightrope, midway,the safety nets were taken away from below me,I had to make it across to the other end alone with no help and no comforts of worldly sort,I felt that even the Divine has left me,there was only darkness and to make it across, I learned courage and trust and faith and strength to be my guide…………
Yes I was thrown into temptations…….the ugly call of luring me to give up all this so called ‘nonsense’of self punishment and go back doing what I used to do and be.It was a terrible struggle within me….fighting to go back to being who I was or push on to change and face the unknown………I had to continuously call upon Divine help for strength and guidance to go through this challenge…….I felt like all my living energy was being utilised for this purpose.
I knew I had made a conscious effort to not want to go back to the old self and unhealthy habitual patterns/living…..I had to die to myself………from then I knew the true meaning of‘death of ego.’I knew what it was like to be imprisoned by my own foolish sufferings….the sufferings I self inflicted upon myself….I learned during these ‘alone in the desert days’ was a time I faced the so called demons of suffering in order to get out of it and know where it all came from….the restless unattended mind! I saw all these while in silent meditation…………………..here I had to learn about renouncing worldly amusements,enjoyments,things,detaching and letting go……..its not about not being able to enjoy again,the people and things of this world but to be able to enjoy people and worldly things with a sense of balance(equanimity) in awareness, not getting caught up in being obssessive,not falling into addictive behaviours and most importantly not hurting oneself or others.
It was truly difficult for me as I did not have a spiritual teacher but the spiritual books I had chosen from the library helped to be of guide on this path.The following days of that self retreat got better as I understood more and more of my own sufferings and as I surrendered to forgiveness in myself and for others and opened up to the wisdom of my heart to see love,peace and joy all reside in there! It was a time of knowing,being in awareness and grace to be with my ownself to open and own up to all the past mistakes/regrets/lies/hurts/inner dark secrets and dissapointments of my own doing…..it was then I claimed responsibility for all actions and reactions done in the past………..and also to have courage and have compassionate understanding to face all forms of consequences in future endeavours………….
10 days felt like 100….but it was not all gloom and doom but wondrous too as I saw my own innate goodness and capacity to love and be loved,I learned how to love people and things without being attached to anything, for attachment is another source of suffering……when people hurt us, we feel emotional pain,when things breakdown or get lost we lose sleep over it,thus we suffer.I saw peace and joy emanating from me and how wonderful and beautiful forgiving power is…….
The transformation process is like how when a snake sheds its skin but first it has to suffer before it enjoys a new body! I learned from this self retreat that in order to end suffering one must undergo intense suffering and to learn to understand and embrace that suffering before letting it all go…………………….
On the 10th day, I hooked the phone back on and the first phone call came from my sister(she did not have any understanding of what I was going thru or had been going thru!),she invited me to go on a day trip to the Sunshine coast BC….it was such a heavenly treat,I felt like a child again,the joy that was filling up my heart was so blissful and fresh……………..as I opened the door to go out after 10 days locked in, peace and tears of joy flooded my being!
And so we come back to what Jesus said to his followers asking them to pick up their crosses,deny themselves and follow him……….the cross which represents pain and suffering that Jesus asks to pick up are our daily,moment to moment sufferings and difficulties,our losses,our dissapointments and hurts,our pains…physical, emotional turmoils and mental anguish….to face them all with courage and to take responsibilities for all our actions/mistakes, in other words, to not look at external factors to point fingers at or inflict blame upon,but to look within ourselves and to do something to end suffering.He speaks of self denial……to put an end to ego-centered neurosis and pursuits,selfish desires and needs,to die to old habits,addictions and unhealthy behaviours.
To follow him means to be willing to surrender to/accept our sufferings and not run away from it,like how he had to face all consequences leading to his death on the cross.To practice self discipline and austere observances of following in the path to love,peace, forgiveness, healing, joy and to share with others that this enlightened path is possible and atttainable.
Jesus did not say to follow or believe in him blindly but to take part in active action of experiencing the pain and suffering of picking up the cross with total understanding and experiencing the joy of healing from it with forgiveness and kindly charitable actions………
His teachings did not include ritualistic rules to practice,nor did he give any religious doctrines and dogmas to follow……….his teaching was one of looking inward to find that kingdom of heaven within oneself in love,forgiveness, peace and joy.
Jesus did not go into the desert to punish himself or run away from the world(during his time)……he chose the desert as it was the closest place where there would be no distraction,a place of solitude,away from the crowd,he could be alone.In Israel,there are lots and lots of desert/barren space/areas………just as in Tibet or India, ascetics would go to the mountains/caves/forests to find themselves and their peace.Jesus went to the desert to lose himself in meditation,reflection and contemplation,ascetic practices,praying,fasting,sacrifices in the harsh conditions of the dry/hot/cold desert….to look deep within himself,to purify himself and finally find/know himself.He took however long he needed to be there to complete this self purification/transformation process……he took forty days as told in the new testament gospels.
Being alone in the desert,Jesus taught about the significance of taking time to quiet ourselves,time to reflect,renew and make changes…to not be afraid of witnessing our inner selves.We can start this moment by doing however little where we are……we can strive to make time in the later part of the night when all are asleep or getting up early on in the morning or any ‘down/break’ time during the day to sit and reflect/breathe in and out/learn to meditate/pray/say mantras,visualise (all in the knowing to end unecessary sufferings and finding peace of mind)a few minutes, no need to be hard on ourselves….always flexible and easy to simply be.By starting out this way, we can learn to be aware and find some comfort to retreat to in difficult moments.Whatever we may be doing,we can practice the awareness of bringing gentleness and kindness towards ourselves and to others…..remembering to always be flexible with ourselves is a factor so we wont ‘break’when things don’t go as we expect or that we don’t expect too much of oursleves and others…………
In dying on the cross,Jesus exemplified his own acceptance of suffering….he showed no resistence or defensiveness nor did he portray any hint of aggressiveness and arrogance/toughness towards his captors….instead according to the gospels, he was humble,like a lamb to the slaughter(remembering, that he was innocent and yet condemned to die like a criminal)………he was in total surrender and submission to whatever his fate destined.
Jesus left all of humanity(not only Catholics and Christians) a beautiful legacy and teaching when he uttered his final words……”forgive them for they do not know what they do!”…………..compassion(love),forgiveness,kindness and joy was all that was left within his being when he finally took his last breath on the cross!
Are we willing to put the swords of anger, hatred, bitterness,selfishness,greed,maliciousness and control down and find that path to healing……………………….?