Saturday, March 06, 2004

Martha the Monk? 

This morning, while working on my home office computer with the television on now and then for ADD relief, I saw that the verdict in Martha Stewart's trial was about to be announced.   All the networks were buzzing with anticipation, pundits lining up to explain all the details and likely results of what we were about to discover -- would she be found innocent or guilty?

This whole question of guilt or innocence has been a challenge for me since I contemplated decades ago and realized that these terms are quite relative and of course that we are all mixtures of guilt and innocence in a sense.   Therefore, who is without sin enough to throw the first stone?   This is why I wrote to my local Jury board several years ago, and explained that, as a spiritual philosopher and author, I just don't believe it is my place to serve on a jury.   I do believe that each person should offer some benefit and service to their community, and in fact, when I wrote that letter, was in the middle of producing, directing, scripting and editing a powerful video documentary about San Diego's welfare program success. Nevertheless, my job is to look at the deeper layers of surface events, and to view life with a certain equality consciousness that does not deny having opinions about the rightness or wrongness of certain actions, but nevertheless also requires me to always strive to remember the spiritual view of life, where everyone does the best that they can with what they have, where events have a grand and divine purpose in this play of life experience, and where, but for the Grace of God, go I.   In this role, I don't feel it my place to officially declare someone to be guilty and in need of punishment. At the same time, I do appreciate the need for societies to have certain rules and ways of maintaining order, so it is not that I am against the justice system in the United States - which works about as well as any other manmade societal structures.   Anyway, because of all this, the only time I really delve deeply into contemplating guilt or innocence in a case is when that case becomes a darling of the media and is piped into my little house with all sorts of enticing debates and revelations.

This morning, after hearing that this new verdict was imminent, I wanted to offer a blessing for Martha. I turned my attention within and began to formulate a prayerful intention for her.   Now, the obvious way to go was to offer a prayer that Martha would be found innocent.   However, as soon as my mind started down that route, it quickly encountered another, more spiritual and long-term view of her soul's journey through life.   Who was to say that being found innocent would be better for Martha in the long run than being found guilty and perhaps even having to serve time in a federal penitentiary?   In fact, many who understand the nature of behavior, habits, and karma consider it a blessing if their missteps and erroneous actions are met with a response that will guide them to not continue on a spiral of that kind of mistaken action. It's like how you drive more carefully after being pulled over for speeding, which may save you from a fate much worse than a speeding ticket in the future. When our goal is to perform right actions in our journey of life, any "speeding ticket" feedback we receive after stepping off that path may still smart, but is also honored as a gift of guidance.

My desire to offer the right kind of blessing to Martha with her big verdict about to be read also opened up a contemplation into her life -- of which I've seen and read bits and pieces in various televised biographies and other media presentations.   What I see is a tremendously talented and ambitious woman who has achieved more than she even probably ever imagined possible -- a creative billionaire who works hard, lives in the lap of luxury, and appears to carry herself with great contentment and grace.   Yet, fame and celebrity are double-edged swords, and we've also seen signs of extreme unhappiness behind that stoic smile - such as in the character portrayed by Cybil Shepard in the television biopic, "the Martha Stewart Story," with fits of screaming, yelling, and tantrums behind the scenes.   Garden workers have reported behaviors by Martha that are obvious indications that all may not have been so happy in Marthaland. When people are happy, they don't fly off the handle and attack others -- either physically or with words.

This morning's contemplation on how to offer a prayerful blessing to Martha on the brink of her verdict, brought me to consider the possibility that even what would appear to be the worst of outer circumstances - being found guilty and sentenced to time in prison - just might possibly be the best blessing this woman could have.   Isn't it often the challenges of life that break through our layers of arrogance, pride, anger, and discontent?   Also, having lived a fairly austere monastic life for ten years during my twenties, I learned what kinds of benefits can come from not just elegant Martha Stewart Living, but from simple living. I realized long ago that the worst kind of unhappiness is the kind that comes from being overly spoiled, yet still discontent with all that you have.   When is way too much not enough?   When does a small amount of money in the face of having hundreds of millions become too important to let go, even with prior knowledge that the stock will be going down?   There is the image of a millionaire having her hand cut off while reaching into the garbage disposal to retrieve a dropped penny. Discontent can create the strangest, most illogical forms of greed, and this is what we see in Martha's current situation and the actions that got her there.  

What is the best remedy for a whirlwind, non-stop, busy, spoiled, demanding, and perhaps somewhat unhappy life?   Many spiritual sages would agree that the most effective step someone in this position could take would be to embark on a time of solitude and spiritual retreat, away from all the worldly distractions - some time alone to delve deeply into her own soul and rediscover what was there before the fame and fortune, and will be there long after everything of this world is dissolved back from whence it came.   Sages call this the eternal soul, the Atman, and coax us to look within ourselves to find this amazing greatness right within ourselves.   The world is likened to a storm-tossed ocean.   Solitude allows the waves to settle so we can see all the worlds that exist within the waters of who and what we really are.

Even though a prison cell doesn't look like a very pleasant place to live, it does have a similar flavor to the kinds of rooms, sometimes also called cells, where monastics live a simple life of silence and prayer (think Whoopi Goldberg's convent cell in the movie Sister Act).   Although I do have compassion for whatever suffering Martha Stewart may be going through with these recent events, I also hope that she'll be able to break through that suffering and find the many blessings of solitude during however many months she is given to serve in a small cell. This hope comes from personal experience -- I've gone through my own set of challenges that came years after I'd left ten years of monastic life and entered the whirlwind world of Hollywood, where I was editing and producing many television shows, documentaries, music videos, and feature films.   I describe the experience of discovering the blessing of solitude hidden beneath these challenges in a chapter from my recent book, Secrets of Spiritual Happiness.   You can read about this experience, along with its introductory chapter on "Arrange Your Priorities," here.  

With these contemplations, I came to the conclusion that my prayer for Martha's verdict must be for the outcome that will be most beneficial to her soul, and that she find the grace in whatever this conscious, God-filled Universe brings to her for her own greater spiritual growth. In fact, if Martha chooses to make this experience "a good thing," just as she might take dead leaves and turn them into a beautiful centerpiece, then we might even end up with a much happier Martha Stewart in the long run.   May it be so.

Watch this clip about the Martha Stewart verdict and the funny newsreporting at the scene from the Daily Show in their segment called "Illegally Blonde": (it comes on after a 30 second ad for Comedy Central).

Click HERE to listen to a verse by the spiritual sage Kabir. This verse, Ghunghata Ka, is track 15 of the Spirituality For Dummies CD, and the translation and transliteration are:  

You will meet God, you will meet your Beloved. Remove the veil, and you will meet your Beloved. The Lord dwells in every single heart, so never speak bitterly to anyone. Then you will meet your Beloved.

Rama milega, shyama milega
Ghunghata ka pata khola re, mana, ghunghata ka pata khol
Ghata ghata men vo saee ramataa
Katuka vachana mata bola re
Ghunghata ka pata khola re, mana, ghunghata ka pata khol