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Lions Roar : May 2010
SHAMBHALA SUN MAY 2010 36 fallacy of my rejection of other religions. My mother assured me that Aziz was fundamentally okay, despite his horrific cir- cumstances, because of his faith in God. This made me realize that the very fundamentalism I had blamed for violence, en- mity, and ignorance was, in Aziz’s life, a precious gift affording him not only some measure of peace in his solitary cell, but also allowing him to profess nothing but kindness toward my mother and her law partner, citizens of the country that im- prisoned him without charge. I’m certainly not the first person to note the power of faith in oppressive circumstances. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, who was awarded the Nobel Prize for writings which exposed the brutal- ity of the Gulag, turned to Christ to help him preserve his sense of self through eight years in the prison camps. Not only did his belief in God lend him the strength to withstand the deprivation and violence of prison, it also formed the basis of his critique of modern society: “We have forgotten God.” Though Solzhenitsyn was firm in his commitment to Russian Orthodoxy, his admo- nition to “remember God” was not veiled proselytizing. In an interview with Joseph Pearce, he said, “God is endlessly multidi- mensional, so every religion that exists on Earth represents some face, some side of God.” Numerous observers have noted the strength of believers dur- ing the Holocaust. Etty Hillesum, who was killed by the Nazis at the age of twenty-nine, left a collection of diaries and letters that have served as a spiritual guide for people of all faiths. She often wrote of the vital importance of having a rich inner life in trying times. For Hillesum, nurturing one’s inner life meant engaging in meditation, prayer, and Bible study, which brought her closer to “the deepest and best in me, which I call God.” No doubt it was this religious practice that allowed her to write, during her first months in the squalor and cruelty of the Westerbork con- centration camp, “And yet life in its unfathomable depths is so wonderfully good.” I identify much more readily with Hillesum’s conception of God as “the deepest and best in me” than I do with Solzhenitsyn’s or Aziz’s God. But in a situation as nightmarish as a concentra- tion camp or indefinite imprisonment, does it really matter what one’s personal conception of God entails, so long as that God allows one to maintain an appreciation of the world as a whole, despite its specific horrors? This gift of gratitude for being alive, come what may, is cer- tainly applicable to situations that are far less extreme than those of Solzhenitsyn, Aziz, or Hillesum. Both of my grand- parents’ lives, for instance, have presented their fair share of difficulties. Throughout their childhoods they experienced the hard labor and deprivations of poverty, the deaths of siblings, and parents too preoccupied with putting food on the table to offer much affection. Too poor to pursue their respective dreams of being a teacher and a veterinarian, they ran a dry- cleaning business. I once heard my grandmother say, “When I look back on my life, I don’t know how I would have done it if it hadn’t been for Jesus.” ➢ page 75 “One of the best books ever written about practicing spirituality on the job.” —Spirituality and Health “Reading Michael Carroll’s book and attending his weekend retreat earlier this year turned around my attitude at the office, prepared me well for several looming crises at work, and practically saved my life.” — Robert Birkenes, U.S. Diplomat, Baghdad To learn more about the author, visit his website at www.awakeatwork.net by Michael Carroll Awakening Your Natural Management Skills through Mindfulness Meditation 35 Practical Buddhist Principles for Discovering Clarity and Balance in the Midst of Work’s Chaos $14.95 paperback $18.95 paperback Awake at Work The Mindful Leader $14.95 paperback www.shambhala.com