This novel memoir is a work of autobiographical fiction. My spiritual quest was reas, but I have woven the text of my spiritual journey into an imaginary story.
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“WHAT WOULD I SAY TODAY IF I WERE TO DIE TOMORROW? was inspired by the tragedy that terrorized America on September 11, 2001, “says author Stocco. “Realizing how vulnerable we really are, I was moved by the tragedy to tell the story of my spiritual quest for the answer to the meaning and purpose of life.”
The Seeker's Dilemma
"What would I say today if I were to die tomorrow?" I heard myself saying, and I sprang to life like a startled rabbit from my prone position on the couch.
That thought leaped into my mind as I was perusing my monthly QPB book club selections and came across the title of a book written by Ruth Picardie, BEFORE I SAY GOODBYE.
This is a true story of one woman's recollections and observations in the final year of her cancer stricken life, and in one sudden burst of creative awareness my life flashed before my eyes, and I knew what I had to do.
The first thing that I would say today if I were to die tomorrow would be this: We live more than one life, and it is foolish to deny this simple truth; and the second thing that I would say is that self-deception is our greatest threat to personal growth, happiness, and wholeness.
I became a seeker at a very early age. Fortunately, unlike so many unresolved seekers, I found myself; and what I have to say were I to die tomorrow comes from who I am today, and who I am right now is what my quest was all about.
I met a professional woman in her mid forties not too long ago who is stuck in her journey through life. She is definitely a seeker, and freely admits it; but to the chagrin of her overweight good-times husband who never tires of saying, "I hate it when she gets philosophical."
I went to university as an adult student (I was in my mid twenties) to study philosophy because my search led me to the doorsteps of the "lovers of wisdom". But in the second semester of my third year I abruptly left university because my search pointed me into the very heart of life itself.
Two years before I went to university I was living in Annecy, France. One night I went for a walk in the snow. I found a dead cat in the middle of the street. I picked it up and placed it on the curb. I was so lonely I was terrified.
When I got home to my one room apartment I sat at my desk and wrote the following words which, thirty-three years later, tell the tale of my journey through life ---
"Steadfast and courageous is he, who having overcome woe and grief remains alone and undaunted. Alone I say for to be otherwise would hardly seem possible, for one must bear one's conscience alone. He must fight the battle and he must win the battle, odds or no odds. He must win to establish the equilibrial tranquility of body and soul, and sooner or later he will erupt as a volcano of unlimited confidence which will purpose his life thereafter. And having given birth to such magnificence he will no longer be alone alone, but alone in society; and he will see the mirror of his puerile grief in the eyes of his fellow man."
When I looked into the eyes of my fellow seeker I saw her desperate need for resolution, and I smiled. "You're at a crossroads, Cheryl," I said, to her surprise. "You have a choice to make, and it terrifies you."
"How do you know that?" she asked.
"I just do," I said, and smiled again. I didn't smile out of pride. I had been there, at the same crossroads, and I knew how terrifying it was. I smiled because I cared for her plight, and I told her so: "If I have any wisdom to offer you from my own search, it's this: you don't have to give up your life to find yourself. That's a Christian myth that need not possess your soul. Believe me Cheryl, you can find yourself right here, in your present circumstances."
I knew that the only way to reach Cheryl was to talk to her Soul to Soul, completely bypassing her professional personality which I knew would only get in our way.
"I'd love to go to Africa and do missionary work," she replied, deliberately keeping my words at bay.
Cheryl was a general practitioner whose recent move to St. Jude and thriving new practice at the St. Jude clinic afforded her the good life; and her quandary was that she was convinced that to find herself she had to deny herself.
"I've never made so much money in my entire life," she explained herself to me. "I feel guilty."
"And to expiate your guilt you feel you have to go to Africa and do missionary work?"
"Something like that," she said, with a look of regret in her dark brown eyes for having been found out.
But she had opened that door. She wanted to have a private conversation with me. Everyone else was in the pool or by the open fire enjoying the late summer evening.
Opportunities like this didn't come very often in a seeker's life, and I regretted never having one; so I availed myself to her ---
"You can have your cake and eat it too, Cheryl," I said, directly addressing her spiritual quandary. "Jesus Christ even tells us that. Be in the world but not of it, he tells us. But the problem is that few people know how to do this."
Cheryl looked at me, her doctor's eyes trying desperately to bore into my soul; but they couldn't.
"How do you do that?" she asked.
"Discipline," I said, and laughed. "What keeps us slaves to life are the five passions of the mind -- lust, anger, greed, vanity, and undue attachment to things. Aristotle said it best, Cheryl: moderation in all things."
But it was obvious by the frown on her face that she didn't see the humor of her own quandary. She didn't want to hear that. She wanted a cure to her spiritual malaise that she could live with. She wanted another prognosis.
"There has to be more to life than this," she replied, her voice pleading with me. "I understand what you mean by moderation, and I agree with you. But after moderation, then what? What Oriano? That's my dilemma."
"Cheryl, I hate to ask you this because I would think you are beyond the point of answering this question; but do you believe in God and the afterlife?"
"I don't know. I honestly don't know."
"Then you're not as far in your search as I thought you were. I'm sorry I took liberties with you. God is a given, Cheryl. And so is the afterlife. But even so," I quickly added, the thought springing to mind, "it doesn't matter if you believe in God or not to find yourself. I studied Sartre at university. He was an atheist, but his existentialism helped me more in my search than most spiritual paths. The trick is to be true to yourself. But that, as Shakespeare would say, is the rub that makes calamity of so great a fortune!"
I chuckled again. Cheryl couldn't quite grasp my sense of humor, and looked at me inquisitively.
It was easy for me to be aloof. I had been bought with a price. I had died to my life to find my life; but Cheryl was deathly afraid to look at the price tag that came with this purchase. She was, I was forced to admit, not serious enough about her search; and like so many seekers who set their hand to the plow, she kept looking back.
"The flies are getting pesky out here. Why don't we go inside and continue this?" she said, and stood up.
"Sure," I replied.
The walk inside gave her time to think. She didn't want to let me go now that she had me, and she had to ferret out of me what it was about me that intrigued her. Cathy and I had her and her husband Philip over for dinner one evening, along with Cathy's nurse practitioner sister and new husband-to-be who had befriended Philip at the St. Jude General Hospital before moving to a new job in the city; and during the course of the evening Cheryl formed an impression of me that would not go away.
From the moment our eyes met when Cheryl and I shook hands I was given a glimpse into her troubled soul, and on the deepest level possible we connected; but this connection mystified her because it forced the child in her to speak with me and not the respected family doctor who was used to giving advice and being deferred to.
"Oriano seems so calm. So powerful. So centered," Cheryl told Cathy over coffee at the hospital the following day. "He's so sure of himself. "I've never met anyone quite like him before. He makes me feel like a kid ---"
Cathy laughed. "Oriano DiFelice is one of a kind, that's for sure! He has that effect on me too, Cheryl!"
Relieved that she wasn't alone in her feelings about me, Cheryl smiled. "Can I ask you something, Cathy? I know it's personal, and I don't blame you if you don't answer me; but I'd like to know what his secret is."
"Secret?" Cathy asked.
"Yes. I'd like to know what makes him so centered."
"Oh. That's simple. Oriano has his priorities in order, and he never changes them."
"Priorities?" Cheryl said, her mind quickly processing the information. "Then what's his first priority? That's what I'd like to know."
"The spiritual life," Cathy replied, and smiled.
"The spiritual life?" Cheryl repeated, expecting something far more mysterious. "What kind of spiritual life?"
Cathy, whose sense of humour is not unlike mine now, appreciating irony more each day, broke into a gentle laugh. "There's only one kind," she replied. "And if you want to know the truth Cheryl, that's how I live my life too. And I wouldn't have it any other way."
Cheryl frowned. Her heart heard what Cathy said, but her mind resisted. "I guess that's what makes your relationship work so well, you both share the same beliefs."
And that was Cheryl's quandary: she had outgrown her marriage to Philip. He was a hedonist, she was a seeker; and the two simply didn't mix. That explained the tragic look in her eyes, and which I had to address ---
"It takes a lot of courage to find your true self, Cheryl," I said, a minute or two after settling into the soft sofa chair in the upper floor of their country house. "But the irony is that few people find this courage until they hit bottom, and you're a long way from there yet."
Having said that, I wanted to chuckle; but my better judgement kept my chuckle locked inside. Instead I gave her a warm sympathetic smile.
"Do you think so?" she asked, dumfounded by my comment.
"Yes," I calmly replied.
"How do you know that? How do you know that I haven't hit bottom? And why does one have to hit bottom before they can find themselves? I don't understand where you're coming from Oriano. I honestly don't."
Cheryl's skeptical professional side came out fighting. She could not let me into her soul so easily. I hadn't earned that privilege yet. But I had no time for protocol. I heard her inner child's desperate cry for help, and I was there for her. That's what it meant to be who I was.
"You're a family doctor, Cheryl. You have a history of diagnosing the body, don't you?" I said, deliberately changing tactics by addressing her professional personality.
"Yes, of course. I've done it for nine years up north before moving here, and to some extent I did it as a paramedic in Toronto for ten years before I went back to medical school. Are you saying that you can diagnose my soul like I diagnose a patient's body, is that what you're saying?"
I laughed. "Something like that."
"And you're sure of yourself?"
"In this case, yes."
"Well I'd like a second opinion," Cheryl said, in all seriousness. But her comment made me laugh, I couldn't help myself. I looked into her troubled eyes and said, "Where are you going to get a second opinion in St. Jude, Cheryl?"
Cheryl, whom I deliberately refused to address as "Doctor," or simply "Doc," saw the humour and laughed too. "I guess I can't, can I? There aren't many people here who are interested in this sort of thing, are there?"
"On the contrary, Cheryl; there are plenty of people in St. Jude interested in this sort of thing. But not unlike yourself, they think they have to give up what they have to find answers to their troubled souls. That's why Thoreau said that `the mass of men live lives of quiet desperation and go to their grave with the song still in them.'"
Cheryl's eyes popped wide open. She had asked Cathy at work one day if I had any books on Henry David Thoreau and Cathy brought her my collection, which she was still reading.
"Thoreau said that?" she asked, her curiosity now more piqued than ever.
"Yes, he did. And believe me, Cheryl; that describes most people I know. Not on the surface though. They hide it quite well to get along in life. But I'm a housepainter by vocation, and I get to see people in the privacy of their own homes; and what I've seen these past twenty-five years confirms Thoreau's observation. And to tell you the truth, it's sad because there's always a way out. Always."
"That's why we're having this conversation, isn't it? I think you know the way out, don't you?"
I laughed a deep, hearty laugh. "Of course I do. Have you ever read Plato's Dialogues, Cheryl?"
"No. But I should, shouldn't I?" Cheryl said, in a girlish, pleading voice.
I smiled at the sound of her inner child's voice coming out of her confident family practitioner's mouth. "If you're serious about finding yourself, you should. But you don't have to, Cheryl. In fact you don't have to read anyone; not even Thoreau. Just be honest with yourself. And have the courage to live your own life. That's all it takes."
"That's all!" Cheryl exclaimed. "If you only knew how difficult that can be some days!"
"Not just some days, Cheryl; every day. If you want to know my secret, I'll tell you. Life itself is the Way. I know that you're under the impression that I'm a member of this New Age religion of the Light and Sound of God that you're leery about because you think it might be some kind of spiritual cult; but the true seeker looks everywhere, Cheryl. You never know where the scent will take you. That's what I mean by having the courage to live your own life. You have to do what your heart tells you to do, not your mind. That's the essence of Thoreau's philosophy -- the courage to live your own life. It's not which spiritual path you're on that's going to nurture your inner child, it's having the courage to listen to what your heart tells you to do. Let me tell you something about myself, Cheryl. At one point in my search I came to a dead end. I came to many dead ends in my search, but this one devastated me. I had absolutely nowhere to turn, so I forged my own path. I did something so foolish that now that I think about it I wince at my own presumption. But desperate circumstances call for desperate measures, and that's what I did. I was so lost that I simply didn't know where to turn. I had gone to university to study philosophy because that's where I thought I would get my answers; but the tide of philosophy washed me out to sea and I was drowning fast. That's why I dropped out. But I had found Gurdjieff at university, and his teaching gave me something to rest my feet on. But even so, I came to another dead end in my desperate search; and so I turned to God. Have you ever heard the expression `let go and let God'?"
"Yes," Cheryl said, her eyes devouring my every word.
"Well that's what I did. I lived my life for a period of time making some of the most difficult decisions of my life on the toss of a coin. Heads I do, tails I don't. I literally let go and let God with each toss of the coin. That's how desperate I was to find myself. Can you imagine, making life-altering decisions at the toss of a coin? What kind of a fool would do that? I'll tell you what kind of fool. The kind who is serious about finding himself, that's who. I was a serious seeker, Cheryl. I was no self-deceiving dilettante."
I stopped talking, letting my words sink in. Cheryl wanted to know about my life, and I freely offered her one of the most private experiences of my search; and by the look in her eyes I could see that it threw her off. She waited for me to continue, but I didn't. I sat back and waited.
It took a minute or two before she said anything. Then she smiled and said, "I knew you were different. From the moment we met I felt it. But you said something about your secret. I didn't quite get that. What did you say again?"
I smiled, then laughed. Finally, her professional side was giving way to her inner child. "You think I have some kind of secret that will solve your dilemma, don't you?"
"I'd like to believe that," she replied, her voice mixed with a curious blend of her inner child and doctor self.
"Well I'll give it to you then. My secret is this: Life is the Way. Not Christianity. Not Judaism. Not Buddhism. Not Islam. Not Hinduism. Not Taoism. Not philosophy. Not Falun Gong. Not Eckankar. Not metaphysics. Not science. Not art. Not psychology. Life itself is the Way. And the Way is right here, right now. You and I talking, that's the Way. We are in the moment, and the moment is your salvation. But are you here, in the moment? That's the question. You see Cheryl, the journey to one's true self isn't a journey from teaching to teaching; it's a shift in consciousness from your false self to your real self. And all these spiritual teachings do is give us a helping hand. Work out our own salvation with fear and trembling, said St. Paul. But what do you think he meant by that if not this shift in consciousness? Christ's whole teaching is about making this shift in personal consciousness. But who understands that? Certainly not Christians!"
I laughed. Cheryl just stared at me, dumbfounded. I had unexpectedly addressed all of her concerns about me, and it overwhelmed her. She continued to stare.
"Well," I said, breaking the silence, "does that answer your question about what my secret is?"
"I don't ever want to be that desperate," Cheryl, to her own surprise, replied. It was the most personal thing she had said all evening.
Just then her husband came up the stairs. He was wondering what we were up to. He was dripping wet and had a towel wrapped around his enormous, hairy waist.
"Everything okay here?"
"Yeah, fine," I replied. His wife didn't say anything.
"Can I get you guys anything?"
"Not for me, thank you."
"No," she curtly replied, her voice revealing that she didn't really want to be bothered right now.
"Okay, good. I'm going back to the party then."
No one said anything. Philip went down the stairs and I looked into Cheryl's eyes, and said: "He doesn't like this philosophical side of your personality, does he?"
"No. He thinks I'm too serious. If he had his way we'd have dinner parties every night. But there has to be more to life than this. Don't you think so?"
"Are you asking me what the purpose of life is?"
"I guess I am," Cheryl said, now completely abandoning the easy skepticism of her science trained medical self.
"You trust my judgement enough to ask me this question?"
I asked, smiling at Cheryl's newfound freedom.
"As a matter of fact, I do. Like I told Cathy, I don't think I've met anyone like you before. I can't put my finger on it, but there's more to you than meets the eye."
"Would you like me to tell you what that is?" I said, with a twinkle in my eye.
"Yes, please do," Cheryl said, with anticipation.
"How many people do you know who can say that they have found their true self? How many people do you know who can even make the distinction between their true self and their false self? Between their human self and their spiritual self? Their inner self and their outer self? Not many people Cheryl, if any at all. That's what makes me different."
"I sense that," Cheryl smiled. "That's why I'm grateful for this conversation. But I have to ask you something. Does one have to be as desperate as you were to find their true self? Because I can't see myself being that desperate. I just can't. I don't ever want to be that desperate."
"Life is different for everyone. It's the same path, but according to our own individual karma. I had to go the route of desperation because that's where my karma took me. Maybe your karma won't take you there. This is what makes life so interesting. The Sufis have a saying that there are as many paths to God as there are souls of man. What they mean by that is that each person must find his own way for his inner child to grow. I found my own way, and so can you."
"How?" Cheryl excitedly asked.
"By making the shift in consciousness from your little human self to your spiritual self. Do you want to know what I mean by this?"
"I don't see this distinction you make. I see one self, not two. I and my soul are one and the same," Cheryl replied, with a look of genuine perplexion.
"If you were one and the same you wouldn't be suffering this spiritual malaise. You'd be much more resolved. No, Cheryl; you're troubled because you're in conflict with yourself. And by that I mean that your human self is keeping your spiritual self trapped inside. Read Plato's Phaedo. Socrates talks about the soul being trapped by the body. And he tells us how to free soul from the body. But I won't go into his philosophy here. If you're truly interested you'll read Plato and find out for yourself. Suffice to say now that we do have two selves, and unless one begins with this fundamental premise about his or her life one won't ever find their way out of their cave of spiritual ignorance. Call our human self ego, if you will; but it is separate from our spiritual self. Soul is our true self, Cheryl; and becoming spiritually self-realized is the fundamental purpose of life."
"Do you really think so?"
"I know so."
"How can you be so certain?"
"Experience. That's the ultimate litmus test."
"You could be wrong."
"How do you know?"
"Cheryl, there is only self-initiation into the mysteries of life. If you want to know what I know you have to make the effort. And effort costs. That's what this whole conversation is about, isn't it? You're looking for a shortcut. But there isn't any shortcut. You have to pay the price. And the price is your own karma. But I can tell you one thing that no one else can tell you, and that is this: there is a hard way to resolve our karma, and there is an easy way ---"
"I don't understand what you mean by karma. I know what karma means, but what do you mean by resolving karma?" Cheryl asked, with a look of wonder on her face.
"Karma is our fate. Karma is our history. Karma is our personal script. A smoker is a smoker is a smoker, and unless he quits smoking his life is ruled by his smoking. That's his karma. Karma has incredible power over us. But it is not absolute. We have free will, and with free will we can change our fate. That's what I mean by resolving our karma. It's our karma that keeps us fettered to spiritual ignorance; and unless we make decisions that create a special kind of karma that liberates Soul we will never get off the wheel of the eternal return --- reincarnation, if you will."
"I was wondering when you were going to bring up the subject of reincarnation. You believe in it then?"
I laughed. I knew how serious Cheryl's question was, but I just couldn't help myself.
"Cheryl, I discovered reincarnation in Plato's Dialogues when I was fifteen years old; that was the source of my conflict. I was born a Roman Catholic, but I had an inquisitive mind; and my Catholic faith could not resolve my dilemma. The idea of reincarnation fascinated me so much that it possessed my soul; and so I set out to find out why. And what I found out Cheryl --- well, let's just say that what I found out about karma, reincarnation, and Christianity is material enough for three novels. Yes, I believe in reincarnation."
Cheryl pursed her lips, then stood up. "I'm going to get us another drink. Don't go away."
I knew she needed time to think. I could see it in her eyes. Finally she had someone she could talk to, ask her most troubling questions, and it excited her despite her fear of hearing what she might not want to hear.
I sat back and rested my eyes and reflected on our conversation. Cheryl was hurting, and she knew that I knew she was hurting, that's what further mystified her about me; and she had to draw me out. And just to make sure, she brought up a new bottle of red wine.
She filled my glass then hers, rested the bottle on the coffee table, and held up her glass: "Here's to --- what?"
"To getting the answers your looking for," I said, and laughed. "To resolving your dilemma."
"I'll drink to that!" Cheryl burst out.
I took a sip of my wine, smiled, and said: "But do you know what your dilemma really is?"
"Yes, I do. I don't know what I want to do with my life. I'm very happy in my new practice Oriano. I love healing people. But I'm making so goddamn much money I feel guilty. I just don't think it's right. I honestly don't ---"
I broke out. I couldn't believe what I was hearing. She was genuinely admitting to something that I intuitively knew so many professions today suffered from -- the repressed guilt of being overpaid for what they do. But Doctor Cheryl Boneparte, unlike most highly paid professionals, suffered from an over-sensitive conscience; and that I understood.
"But I'll bet your husband just loves your new position here in St. Jude," I said, just to be mischievous.
"Oh, I'll say! He thinks we've found the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow here! He thinks we should build a new retirement home on our forty acres. And he wants us to winter in Arizona when we retire. He's got it all planned out for us; but I don't know what I want to do with the rest of my life. And that, Oriano, is my dilemma!"
"It goes a little deeper than that," I said, and smiled.
"But we'll get to that when and if we get to it. Suffice it now for us to address your dilemma as you see it."
"No. Tell me what you think my dilemma is."
"Are you sure you want to know?"
"Yes. I do," Cheryl said, and took a large drink of her wine. Then another and emptied it. She refilled her glass.
While Cheryl fortified her courage, I thought about telling her or not telling her; and I chose not to. "I'm afraid I can't tell you tonight, Cheryl. Maybe another time. Let's address your dilemma from a more lofty perspective. Where do you stand on reincarnation?"
"No. I want to know what you think my dilemma is," she insisted, staring me straight in the eye.
But I couldn't tell her. It was too much truth for her to take in one evening. When I lived Gurdjieff's teaching he talked about one's "chief feature," and revealing one's blind spot before one was ready to be told often did more harm than good; so I chose not to tell her.
"It'll come out in the course of our conversation," I replied. "Just pay attention to everything we talk about tonight. I guarantee you Cheryl that it will come out if you truly need to know."
Cheryl took in my words. Then she said, "You intrigue me, Oriano. No, that's not the word. You mystify me. That's the word. Why won't you tell me?"
"The Way never discloses Itself before Its time," I replied, and chuckled. "The Way is revealed to the seeker only on a need-to-know basis. That's been my experience, Cheryl; and I would be foolish to go against it."
"I don't know what you're talking about," she replied, with a mixed look of disappointment and wonder in her inebriated but focused eyes. "What do you mean by the Way?"
"Life is the Way," I said. "And we are living it right here right now. I found the Way, Cheryl; and I'm an initiate of the Way because I found my real self. Let me explain what I mean by this lest you get more confused.
"Once a person finds his true self he or she is initiated into the mysteries of the Way; and one of these mysteries is the ability to see where a seeker is at on his or her journey through life. And I see you at a crossroads, as I told you earlier. So your dilemma for the moment is choosing the right road to take. But that's your choice. And all I'm doing now is helping you to make the right choice -- which is what my purpose in life is all about."
"I beg your pardon?" Cheryl said, springing to life.
"My purpose in life, Cheryl. It's my purpose to help seekers find their way out of Plato's cave," I replied, and broke into a mirthful chuckle.
"You've lost me," Cheryl said, and took a gulp of wine.
"Why? It's not complicated. Would you admit that you're at a crossroads? You just told me that you don't know what you want to do with the rest of your life; is that not being at a crossroads in your life?"
"Well, that's your dilemma for the moment then. And that's what we should concentrate on."
"Alright smarty-pants, what should I do then?"
The wine had loosened Cheryl's tongue and released her inner child. I smiled, took a sip of my own wine, and said: "What does your heart tell you to do?"
"Take a year off and do missionary work."
"Then do it," I said.
"I don't know if I can. My husband ---"
Cheryl stopped in mid sentence. She didn't want to go there, and I respected that. But I had to pursue it. No one else would force her to confront herself.
"Cheryl," I said, in that calm, centered, powerful way that she believed me to be the first night we met, "Whose life is it, anyway?"
"Mine. But I am married, and I do love my husband. It's just that we don't see eye to eye on this. He doesn't understand why I have to be so serious about life. Do you want to know what his philosophy is?"
"You don't have to tell me. It's obvious."
"What? Tell me, what do you think it is?"
"Philip is afraid of dying. That's why he wants to get as much pleasure out of life as he can. He's a hedonist, Cheryl. But that's okay. It's his choice. Your choice is to find out if there's more to life than having a good time, and I can respect that. I'll tell you something about myself. I was in my early twenties when I decided to sell out my pool hall and vending machine business. I was walking home late one night after closing down my pool hall and I stopped in front of the Catholic Church. I looked up at the cross on the steeple and at the stars in the clear sky, and I said: `Dear God, do you want me to stay in this town and amass a worldly fortune; or do you want me to leave and amass a fortune of a different kind?' I laboured over that decision, Cheryl. It tortured me. But in my heart I knew what I had to do; and so I sold my business and went to France. It costs, Cheryl. It costs to be true to yourself. I'm not saying that you should abandon your husband to do missionary work. You have to work that out for yourself. What I am saying is that the first decisions that we make on our search are the most difficult decisions. But they do get easier the further along we get on the Way; and that I can promise you."
"What was the most difficult decision you ever had to make?" Cheryl asked, in a daring voice.
"My God, I've made so damn many difficult decisions in my life that I'm suffering from decision paralysis now! I kid you not Cheryl, some days I just want to go and hide from the world. If Wordsworth thought that the world was too much with him back then, he'd go nuts today. I can't tell you, Cheryl; I honestly don't know ---"
"Give me one difficult decision then."
"Why do you want to know?"
"I just do. It would make me feel better knowing what kind of decision you had to make to find yourself."
"Fair enough. Okay, let me think....I've got one. It has to do with my relationship with Cathy. We fell in love, but she was married. We've been together in past lives, that's what attracted us to each other; but I didn't want her to leave her husband for the wrong reasons. So I told her to try to save her marriage if she could, and she did try; but her husband didn't think they had a problem and Cathy finally had to leave. Believe me, Cheryl; it was hard waiting. But I did not want Cathy in my life for the wrong reasons."
Cheryl was all ears. I knew that Philip had left his wife and family for her, so my difficult decision had a relevance that she might not want to hear; but I knew that it would have deep meaning for her. She leaned over, and with the most serious look on her face all evening said: "Are you telling me that you were willing to give up your love for Cathy if she could make her marriage work?"
"Then you have more balls than anyone I know!”
"As a matter of fact, I have three balls!"
"What? You're joking, right?"
"No. Well, I am and I'm not. I asked the Dream Master one night why I'm so forthright, and he gave me my answer by letting me have a dream in which I had three testicles. But I'm getting much too esoteric for you, Cheryl. Suffice to say that I do have balls when it comes to making the real tough decisions; and the reason for that is because I built up a history of making difficult decisions. Like I said, it gets easier the more true you are to yourself."
Cheryl was completely mystified now. Her face was blank, and her eyes revealed that peculiar blend of simultaneous sobriety and drunkenness; but she didn't want to give it up just yet. She wanted to know more. But not about herself. She wanted to know more about me ---
"How did you come to believe in reincarnation?" she asked. "What convinced you?"
"More to the point, do you believe in reincarnation?"
"I'm not sure. I'd like to believe that we have another chance at life; but I don't know. I just don't know. Have you read Edgar Cayce?"
"Yes. I read him a long time ago. In my twenties."
"I read him too. Primarily his health readings which fascinated me. But I don't know what to think. Do you believe what he said about reincarnation?"
"In a word, yes. I do have some reservations about some of the information he revealed through his trances, but on the whole I believe Cayce tells it as it is."
"What reservations?" Cheryl asked.
I knew she was going to ask that, and I regretted admitting my reservations; but I chose not to tell her. I did not want to go there. Cheryl wasn't ready yet for that kind of knowledge. And she wouldn't be ready until she set her hand to the plow in earnest.
"It's neither here nor there, Cheryl," I replied. "The important thing is this: belief in reincarnation comes with experience; it doesn't come with intellectual or scientific proof. There is all kinds of convincing proof out there, but unless one is karmically ready to believe in reincarnation, one won't. It's as simple as that."
"I don't follow you. Either reincarnation exists, or it doesn't. And if it does exist, then somebody should prove it; but no one has, have they?"
The irony was too much to bear, and I laughed. "We are proof, Cheryl. You and I are living proof of reincarnation. We wouldn't be here if reincarnation weren't a fact of life. But you'll never know this until you start making the shift in consciousness that I'm talking about. Only then will the Spiritual Laws of Life reveal themselves to you."
"But I want proof, Oriano. That's not too much to ask, is it?" Cheryl said, missing my point entirely.
But I shouldn't have been surprised. Everyone misses this point when it's made. They hear but they don't hear, and I decided to address the point instead ---
"You're listening, Cheryl; but you don't hear what I'm saying. Let me try another approach. Wouldn't it be foolish if you tried to explain a complicated medical condition to a ten year old patient?"
"Not necessarily," Cheryl replied, to my surprise. "It's amazing what they can understand. It all depends on how you tell them ---"
"Fair enough. The point I'm making though is that until a person is capable of understanding, they won't; so the critical question here is this: what makes a person capable of understanding the Laws of Life?"
"And by Laws of Life you mean reincarnation?"
"I understand what karma and reincarnation are, but I'm not sure I believe in them. That's my point. What proof do you have that they even exist?"
"You're right, I haven't made my point have I? Well I'll get right to it, then. It's all a matter of consciousness. To believe and to know are two entirely different creatures. We have a consciousness of belief, and we have a consciousness of knowing; and the two aren't the same. So it follows that if you want to know the Laws of Life you have to realize this consciousness of knowing; and that can only happen when you make the shift in personal consciousness that living the Way is all about. Capisce?"
Cheryl looked at me like I had just spoken in tongues. She picked up her glass and downed it. Leaning over to refill it, she said: "Come again?"
"Belief and knowing are two different creatures. Just because someone believes in something doesn't make it so. For example, millions of people believe in the Virgin Birth; but that doesn't necessarily make it so, does it?"
"Not really. So you're saying that....What are you saying? I still don't follow you," Cheryl said, now feeling the effect of all the wine she was drinking.
"Follow the logic, Cheryl. If believing in something doesn't necessarily make it so, then not believing in something doesn't necessarily make it not so either. Like the atheist who chooses not to believe in God. Just because he doesn't believe that God exists doesn't mean God doesn't exist; he just doesn't know, right?"
"I follow that. But I still don't see your point?"
"My point is that there is a world of difference between belief and the consciousness of knowing. For example, the English philosopher Alfred Ayre didn't believe in God and the afterlife; but he had a near death experience in which he went through the tunnel of white light and he talked with a Divine Being. This experience rattled him. He was in a quandary for a while because his experience on the other side forced him to rethink his beliefs; but guess what he did, Cheryl? You won't believe what he did ---"
"He chose to deny his experience and remain an atheist," I said, and laughed. "Can you imagine that?"
Cheryl didn't know what to say. She just looked at me, trying desperately to process all this information.
I continued to chuckle at the irony. "Self-deception, Cheryl; that's man's greatest threat to wholeness! If you'll excuse me, I have to use your washroom. Where is it?"
"Down the hall, first door on your left," she said, and I got up and went to the washroom. When I returned Cheryl jumped right back in ---
"Near death experiences aren't real scientific proof of life after death. They could be brain experiences, couldn't they? I've read of experiments done by a professor at Laurentian University that simulate the same kind of experiences as near death experiences, so they don't really prove anything, do they?" Cheryl said, challenging me.
I knew who she was referring to, a Doctor Michael Persinger; but I had grown tired of him and all the James Randis of this world ---
"Cheryl, I have neither the desire nor the patience to prove to you nor anybody else in the existence of the afterlife, or God, or spiritual phenomena because I have better things to do with my energies. Suffice to say that when the seeker is ready the proof will be forthcoming. I know this for a fact, but I can't prove it to you because there is only self-initiation into these mysteries of life. You can take me at my word, or doubt me; it's entirely up to you."
"But isn't the onus on you to prove that God does exists and that there is an afterlife? Don't you think it only fair that you prove to me what you believe? I'm looking for answers, and you say you have them ---"
"Hold on a minute. I didn't say I had the answers you're looking for. The answers I have are for me alone, not you nor anybody else. They may be the answers you're looking for, but my telling you won't mean anything to you because these answers come with a price; and that's the whole point of this conversation Cheryl. You tell me that you're a seeker, well prove it to me. What have you done to find the answers you're looking for besides reading a book now and then? Have you explored any new spiritual teachings lately? Have you tried meditation? Yoga? Zen? Have you tried the HU chant that Cathy gave you? Have you, Cheryl?"
Dumbfounded by the confrontation, Cheryl didn't reply for a good minute or two. She just sat there, staring at me.
"Well," I insisted, "did you try the HU chant?"
"I don't know."
"So you want the answers just handed to you then?"
"I don't know. Maybe."
"Life doesn't work like that, Cheryl. You should know that. You only get out of life what you put into it, and if you don't put any effort into living the Way, the Way will not disclose Itself to you. It's as simple as that."
"And by Way, you mean ---?"
"Despite what I said about life being the Way, there are specific paths to spiritual self-realization. They won't necessarily get you all the way to your true self, but they will lead you to the path that will. That's what living the Way is all about. When I speak of life being the Way I am speaking of everything, the whole ball of wax. I think the question you have to ask yourself is this: who am I kidding? I'm sorry for being so blunt, Cheryl; but I do have an extra testicle."
The look on Cheryl's face changed, from one of rapt curiosity to one of humiliation. She had been found out, and she didn't like it because it hurt to be seen.
She swallowed, then forced herself to look me in the eye and say, "Maybe you're right. Maybe I'm just fooling myself. I don't know. I just don't know anything anymore."
Cathy and Philip came up the stairs, wet and laughing. "What's going on up here?" Cathy said, still laughing.
"So what are you guys up to, still talking philosophy?" Philip asked, and feigned a cheerful laugh.
"Actually Phil, we're almost done," I replied. "I think we've covered all the ground we can cover for one evening."
"Well come and join everyone at the pool then."
"I think I'll go sit by the fire," I said.
"Are you coming Cheryl?" Cathy asked.
"Yeah, I could use a good swim about now," she said. "I just want to finish our conversation before I come down. You don't mind, do you Oriano?"
"Not at all," I said, and sat back down.
Cathy and Philip returned to the pool and Cheryl poured herself some more wine. She looked at me, and with as much sobriety as she could muster said: "Do you think I'm fooling myself? Is that what you really think?"
"I think you're overwhelmed. I think you're labouring under too much of the good life," I said, deliberately glancing at her wine glass. "I think you have to get out from under and get some quality time for yourself. Do some hiking or something, Cheryl. We've got some great hiking trails in this area. I assure you, there's nothing like the solitude of a good hike in nature to clear the muddled mind."
"Funny you should mention that. Doctor Jay just asked me the other day if I wanted to go for a hike Sunday with a group from the Thunder Bay Hiker's Club. We're supposed to go to a place called Eaglehead Mountain. Have you heard of it?"
"I've been there," I said, and smiled.
"I hear it's just beautiful," Cheryl said.
"It's magnificent. Good. You should go then. That's just what you need, Cheryl. I think I'll go sit by the fire now."
"Can I ask you one more thing?"
"Do you think we should build this new house?"
"I don't know what for. Appearances? You've got all the comfort the two of you could possibly want right here, so why put yourself through all that anxiety at this time in your life? But then, it's not my life is it?"
"It's not mine either," Cheryl said, surprising herself with her own candour. "To be honest with you, I'm not comfortable with this whole idea. It's Philip's dream, not mine. I don't want a new house, Oriano; I want a new life ---"
As serious as she was, I couldn't help myself and broke out. When I stopped laughing I looked at Cheryl, who had a surprised look on her face, and said: "Go hiking, Cheryl; that's where you might find your answers."
"What do you mean?" she asked, her eyes begging me for the secret that had eluded her all evening.
I felt sorry for her, and my heart reached out. "If you're a true seeker Cheryl you will never know where your search will take you. Who knows, you might just come across two paths in the woods one day. And you might just choose the path less traveled by. And if you do Cheryl, I can promise you that it will make all the difference in the world for you," I replied, and chuckling to myself went out to the open fire and sat by myself under the vast, starlit sky.