By RUSS MASON, M.S.
Special to the Saipan Tribune
Long ago, Mohandas Gandhi wrote, “Everything we do is futile, but we must do it anyway.” In writing the following essay, I realize that it is likely to prove futile. That is, positive change is unlikely to come from anyone reading this and, as a result, change their spiritual outlook. Or, more importantly, to seek to influence others. This is difficult. Indeed, there is nothing more difficult than to develop a spiritual insight and then to trust it.
When I say that the CNMI is spiritually challenged, it is evident with anyone who has the eyes to see clearly. It is easy to blame the current troubles at CHC, CUC, the Retirement Fund, and other institutions merely on a lack of funds. On the surface, that is true. But these decaying institutions are merely symptoms of a larger problem: our islands are spiritually challenged.
When I refer to spirituality, I am not talking about religion.
A religion, simply put, is a community of people who share similar beliefs about God, morality, rituals, holidays, and so on. But being observant and going to church each Sunday does not imply a spiritual connection. An individual is capable of being religious without being spiritual. The reverse is also true: a spiritual person may or may not be a member of a religious faith.
Where the waters become muddy is that many assume a person is spiritual if they attend church or make other demonstrations of faith on a regular basis. But frankly, religion has little to do with it.
Understanding spirituality is fairly simple. Imagine a line, from left to right. On the left is the Ego; on the right is Spirit, and the ability to trust in Spirit, or God. Those on the Egoic left are very much “in and of the world.” Their egos tell them they are smart, clever, handsome, and are deserving of All Good Things. These people have little interest in engendering a spiritual connection; they have money, often power, and life is good-on the surface. They may practice a religion, not fully believing it. They go to church to make sure they are seen by others, not to truly ask forgiveness or to give thanks or to otherwise humble themselves before a Spirit greater than their own.
Those who are ego-driven go through life with blinders on. They do not see the little miracles, or other manifestations of Grace, which happen all the time to each of us. Most do not know how to look for them, and probably would be skeptical if something was pointed out. And yet I can point to numerous incidents in my life that suggest that there is a greater force than my own ego working on my behalf. I am not special, but some years ago I did develop the ability to “see” what was going on in my life. Nothing much was required of me except to do two things: notice what had occurred and to give thanks.
One day in 1990 I walked across Central Park in New York City. I was heading home. As I got to Central Park West, I thought of my friend Lee and went a block uptown out of my way since I knew he lived around there. As I got to the corner of Columbus, there was Lee, standing in front of his building. “Wow,” I said, “I was just thinking of you-what a coincidence!” Lee smiled and nodded. Then he said, “Well, coincidences are God's way of remaining anonymous.” The more I began to notice coincidences, or things just “turning up” in my life, the more I could see the manifestations of Grace. And if I ever became dubious about this process I would ask myself, “What are the odds of this happening?”
A few months ago, Young Lee, the KSPN reporter, was talking with a member of the government who had decided to withdraw all of his money from the Retirement Fund. “What about the other people?” asked Ms. Lee. “I don't care about them! I only care about me!”
It is all too easy to judge people like that, but judging the man's response only gives credence to the Egoic worldview; that somehow we are morally superior by not being so obviously greedy. However, if this man were living in spirit, he would not need to withdraw every penny of his money, and he certainly would not give a response like that.
The fact is that blessings come like rain on parched earth if one is able to create and maintain a spiritual practice. As my friend implied, noticing coincidences is a good first step. They happen all the time, to all of us, but few notice. Or they are dismissed as “coincidences.” But the real spiritual meat of this process is that, over time, one sees the working of spirit in one's daily life. And, as I said before, only two things are necessary-to notice and to give thanks.
If we consider for a moment, no institution truly exists except on paper. Whether it is the administration or the Senate or the CHC board, it is made up of human beings who are divine aspects of God, or Spirit. It is always a collection of individuals that make up our institutions, whether it is government, a bank, or a baseball team.
But what has taken its toll over the decades in the CNMI are the manifestations of ego that permeate our institutions. So long as these individuals think they are more informed than God, or Spirit, they will fail to succeed. To correct this requires a couple of things. First, a true spiritual sense of serving others and trusting the spirit to back them up. If the person is sincere in his thanksgiving, Spirit will always shower more Grace on the person. Giving thanks, even for a much-needed parking space, is a step in the right direction.
In the 1940's there was a popular song that contained the lyric, “When I'm worried and I can't sleep, I count my blessings instead of sheep. And I fall asleep, counting my blessings.” In the real sense of things, giving thanks for the good things that happens to us ensures that they will continue. This is often called Living in the Light. Living in the Ego is, in effect, Living in the Dark, and those who live in the dark can depend on a future of struggle, shortfalls, and heartbreak. That's what we have in the CNMI today. But the good news is that all of these challenges can be changed for the better. Institutions cannot be changed unless the people within them find their respective spiritual connections.
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For the better part of a decade, Russ Mason wrote for a medical journal Alternative & Complementary Therapies. His principal assignment was to interview a physician, or other health care practitioner, about new and important treatments, as well as diet and nutrition. Prior to that, he worked at NBC in New York for 16 years, often as a writer for their television programs.