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Lions Roar : July 2016
was determined to protect him against the reality of suffering, and the prince grew up within the walls of the palace with every luxury one can imagine. Around the age of twenty-nine, Sid- dhartha began to feel dissatisfied with his princely life and deep feelings of unhappiness began to grow. He longed to explore the world and convinced his reluctant father to let him leave the pal- ace on an outing. This gave the gods and spirits the opportunity to arrange a series of signs that would help Siddhartha wake up and see the truth of life. These signs have become known as the four heavenly messengers, and they changed the course of his life. The first messenger that he encoun- tered was a very old man, covered in wrinkles, bent over, and barely able to walk down the road. His father had only allowed young and beautiful servants in the palace, so this was an unfamiliar sight. Siddhartha now realized that his youth would someday end and he too would grow old. The second heavenly messenger the prince encountered was a very sick man. He was covered in bloody sores, lying in pain on the floor of a mud hut. Because his father had forbidden sick people from entering the palace, the prince had no experience of illness and disease. Now he realized that he and all others would eventually become sick, and his heart was filled with compassion. The third heavenly messenger was a large funeral procession. A corpse, wrapped in cloth, was being carried to the charnel grounds to be cremated. Siddhartha stayed at the charnel grounds for hours watching the body slowly burn and disappear, and he realized that death awaits us all. As Siddhartha continued traveling along the road, he saw the final mes- senger: a radiant monk dressed in very simple robes, carrying a small bag and a bowl. The sight of this peaceful monk awakened the deepest yearning Siddhar- tha had ever known. Following the call to awaken of these four heavenly messen- gers, he rode his horse to edge of a beau- tiful forest and, on the banks of a river, ordained himself. IF WE REALLY LISTEN, we can hear that life is trying to get our atten- tion as well and wake us up. This call to wake up happens when our lives are no longer satisfying, when we have lost interest in all the things that once made us so happy. The call speaks to us in questions: Who am I? What is my purpose? What am I doing with my life? This internal dialogue can be frightening, even over- whelming. As we look for answers, we are forced to question the very foundation of everything that we hold on to—our rela- tionships, religious views, politics, career choices, and even our social status. As this process of self-discovery moves toward greater understanding, a radical shift starts to happen. Sometimes our inner questioning takes us to exotic envi- ronments or new communities. We may be drawn to things that are unfamiliar, taboo, or even dangerous. In our attempts to discover our deepest truth, we may begin dancing, singing, exploring our sex- uality, or following a new spiritual path. This process is often misunderstood in our culture. It is labeled a midlife cri- sis, Saturn’s Return, or even a nervous breakdown. The powerful call to awaken can be shocking and confusing to people who are accustomed to seeing us behave in our old predictable ways. It may seem that we have gone temporarily crazy— and we may feel crazy at times. This is when we must be willing to take a leap of faith—to trust our inner voice and over- come doubt. To trust what is emerging and bow to the wisdom of the ancestors. During these times of awakening, things appear in our lives to sustain us. When we say yes to the call to wake up, the people, situations, and opportuni- ties we need to move forward present themselves naturally and at the perfect moment. We might find refuge in a spir- itual teacher or set of teachings. We may be guided to go on a vision quest or visit holy sites that hold power and meaning for us. We may have visions, dreams, or even experiences of non-ordinary states of consciousness. All of these can signal that something important is happening. IN1997, I HAD a complete emotional breakdown. I didn’t realize at the time that it was part of the call to awaken. It started with a book left accidentally on my dining room table by a family member. It was a beautiful book about the path of meditation written by a Hindu teacher. It reminded me of my life purpose and awoke my passion to live a spiritually based life. A few months later I moved in with my new boyfriend, even though we’d only known each other for a short time. We lived in a tiny, rundown house in the worst neighborhood in East Oakland. It was definitely “the hood,” and everyone seemed to be in a bad mood. Even our dog was grumpy all the time. We had a pretty bad relationship and argued constantly over everything. To make matters worse, we both had tele- marketing jobs aggressively talking peo- ple into buying expensive timeshares they didn’t need and often couldn’t afford. I had got myself thousands of dollars in debt and was being hounded by creditors night and day. I became very depressed and angry about the weird direction my life had taken. I was living with a man who made me absolutely miserable and every day I went to a job that I hated. My emotions were becoming more and more erratic. I couldn’t seem to stop crying and I was overwhelmed by anxiety and a sense of desperation. I began to smoke a lot of mar- ijuana to numb the pain, but drugs and alcohol were only a temporary solution. Then one day it happened—everything started falling apart. I was fired from my job for calling in sick. I decided to end my tortured relationship and my car was about to be repossessed. I lay on the couch eating cookies, praying to God for help, LION’S ROAR | JULY 2016 48