Last month I took my 3 year old daughter Caitlin on a 5 day backpacking trip in Yosemite with our friend’s 3rd and 4th grade class. While we were there, I had enough challenges to qualify, in my mind, as a karmic bomb. For those of you saying already “What were you thinking?!”, part of the reason we went was to give my wife an opportunity to take a seclusion at home.
I’ll spare you the gruesome details of 4 soiled pants the first day as we hiked in, but needless to say, by the afternoon my frustration level was incredibly high. To top it off, we missed the turn and ended up at the wrong lake, putting us literally at our wit’s end, and had to continue hiking longer than anticipated. Thankfully we finally arrived with fortuitous help from one of the others.
The next 2 days were much better, filled with glorious hiking, but on the 4th day, I discovered that my tri-metal bangle was missing – it must have been stripped off my arm on one of the many times that I took my backpack off, and could be anywhere at all in the Cathedral Lakes area. This was quite a blow, as they are quite expensive to replace, and offer great protection and strength to those that wear them.
That evening we all had dinner on an incredible vista, and I was able to raise my energy enough to lead the children in singing. It was an incredible experience. Afterwards, I was walking back down to my camp praying to Yogananda about my bangle when I was swarmed by some yellowjackets and was stung in the neck. Incredibly frustrated, I turned around to head back up to get some help, when they stung me yet again.
Why? O God, why? Back in our tent I began to despair more deeply, imagining every sound outside to be a bear ready to rip open our tent. I decided to meditate, and to try to get to the bottom of whatever was going on.
Sometimes in life there are things that happen that we truly cannot explain, and that come to us for karmic reasons, good or bad. I remembered an Ananda minister that was hit by a karmic bomb, and how beautifully he handled it. I expected him to be quite miserable about his seemingly unfair circumstances, but he continued to live his life in the same uplifted manner. I decided that I would try to do the same.
The next day was my birthday, and I did not want to waste it in being miserable and frustrated. I just wanted my devotion back without this downward spiraling despair. I counted my blessings that Caitlin was having a wonderful week, and had done some serious rock climbing without any injury. She was alive and thriving, and who knows how karma works – perhaps something immediate was mitigated, or perhaps it was just the biggest week of tests in my life.
In meditation I gave all these events up to God, and then inwardly faced my greatest fears, bringing me to a sort of ground zero of my life. That was the week of Fanny Mae and AIG, so there was much economic foreboding in my mental background. I decided that no matter what happens, I could still love God, and that was the most important thing of my life. No matter what tests come, I am inwardly resolving to cling to devotion, to serving God and Master in all that I do.
We had a wonderful hike out, and I was even able to laugh as we passed all the spots where Caitlin needed changing on the way up. I clung to the rebirth of my devotion as a life line, and would not have found this new depth without going through those trials.
News of my loss spread, and last week at choir rehearsal, I was presented with money from a large group of people that was more than half the cost of a new bangle. I was overwhelmed. How can I thank all of you enough? I felt that this was my personal karma to overcome by myself, but as me dear friend reminded me, “We all help each other with all our karmas!” What an incredible blessing it is to live in spiritual community.
The question of karma is always fascinating, and I can truly say from experience now that everything – everything – can make us stronger so that we may continue the search for God with more depth, with more devotion, and with more determination.