Since I was very little I learned, I was trained, and trained myself to be independent. This was the lesson I heard or received from two very independent parents. A very successful self-made Father and strong willed Mother. As a small child obviously this had limits. I needed to be fed, and clothed, and changed, and all the other things small children need. It was when I entered adolescents that my training began.
I was born into a middle-class blue collar working family, whose Mother was the sole caretaker of me and my siblings, and whose Father was the sole provider. When I and my siblings were very young my Father worked three jobs. It wasn’t until around my tenth or eleventh birthday that had changed. My Father had “climbed the ladder” and now was able to provide for his family with one salary and a growing income sourced in his new start-up business. It was around that same time my Father decided that it was time for me to learn what “hard work” meant. It was also around that same time that I realized that “my feelings” in the matter did “not matter”. He was going to make “a man” out of me and teach me how to make it in “the real world”. My twin and I went to work for my father, after school, and me on the weekends. We worked long hours and were expected also to do our schoolwork, attend classes, and get the best grades possible. For the next four years or so my only relationships were adults, people I came to know and learn from being employed at my Father’s place of business.
By my teenage years I had learned much about business, about hard work, about being your own person. Now don’t get me wrong, these lessons in themself have served me well, but there was one other lesson I had learned. That was, “not to ask” for help or anything else for that matter. If you wanted or “needed” something, it was up to you to make that happen. Along with this lesson I learned for the most part, but not entirely, to ignore my feelings. Especially the sad ones or the ones sourced in not getting what you needed. “Being a Man” meant finding and making your own way and, never, never, expecting help to come from anywhere except, maybe God and that was conditional. At least then I thought so.
It wouldn’t be until my early adult years and up through my mid-years when I was learning who I really was and coming into my own person, that I would begin to see the need to challenge some of these childhood lessons. Yet as I grew and, discovered I had a gift for helping others grow, one lesson, has always stuck with me and proved difficult to relearn, until recently. It would be this lesson that my own survival would require me to learn.
Nearly two years ago I was first diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. I had undergone extensive chemo-therapy, radiation, and major surgery. Eventually I was told I was in “remission”. It would be only several months later I would be told that the cancer was still in my body and had metastasized. It was during my time in the hospital, even though I am confident that I had inklings of it throughout my life, that the “one lesson” I hadn’t learned fully yet, and the one lesson which would be necessary if I were ever going to survive was, “To ask for what I needed.” “Real men don’t ask, they go get it themselves.” I can recall on a number of occasions lying in the hospital bed feeling in pain or uncomfortable thinking, “The nurses are really busy around this time. I can deal with this until someone comes in.” “There are other people on this floor much more sicker than I am, I’ll wait.” The bottom line was then and still to some degree, I did not now how to ask for help, and worse, at least, I felt that whatever it was “I needed” others needs were more important.
All of my adult life I have believed that it is “my job,” “my mission,” to help others, and any concerns for what I might need was secondary. This was my childhood lesson. Yet when we “ask” we participate in a cosmic design. We complete the circle of interconnection and interdependence. Both the one who asks, as well as the one who gives, receives. “Asking” is relational and nurtures our true-natures. Each of us are “relational” by nature. The Universe is a “Community”. “Community is the spirit, the guiding light, whereby people come together to fulfill a purpose, to help others fulfill their purpose, and to take care of one another.” We belong to one-another, we need each other, and every time we reach out and ask for help we reinforce and nurture the “Spirit” which runs through all life.
It was time for me to finish the lesson, and relearn what I needed to. I am happy to report that with the help of first, yes, the cancer, and my blessed Community of Monks, and Students, and Members, Supporters, and Friends, I am attending class regularly and learning what I need to learn. I could not do this without “my teachers”.
Living with cancer everyday provides a lot of time for reflection, contemplation, and meditation. I have given a great deal of reflection about my life’s mission which began for me decades ago, and how my own lessons have always informed the teachings I have shared. Recently one of my fellow Monks and dearest Friend said to me, “Roshi, your message has always been the same, taught by you in a thousand different ways.” Today that message has truly crystalized and proven to be more important than ever.
Each and everyone of us are integrated interdependent parts of a whole called by us Life. Everyone, and I mean everyone, without exception; everyone’s life matters, has meaning and purpose. I have long believed that each of our individual births have never been random acts of some kind of chemical or biological effect, at least not alone. That each of us, without exception, are born on the very second; the very minute; the very hour; the very week; the very month, and the very year we were meant to be born. With us we brought what was “needed in the world”. Yet the very sad circumstance which follows is that most of us never deliver what we brought because, we never learn that our lives matter, and that our lives have purpose. So, some of us never learn to “ask for help,” or “for what we need”. And, when we don’t, all life suffers.
You matter, you were born for a purpose. Your life has meaning. The meaning of your life was defined at birth. The meaning of your life is to live your life authentically. To be the person who was born. Not anyone else. Especially not anyone defined by others. “You” were already defined and, for some great mystery while you were defined, “You” are a work in progress becoming more and more who You were meant to be. Not just for yourself, but the whole World. The work in progress is never over. The purpose of your life, having been born, is to bring your unique authenticity to the work of benefitting the world. So, you need to “take care of yourself” to be able to meet this Divine and ever needed challenge. So, “Ask” for what you need! Don’t wait for cancer or some other threatening experience to show up. Ask! When you do, as I have discovered, an infinite supply of what you need, call it Love, Family, Friendship, Community, will be provided you. Because, we might forget who we are, but that Great Mystery called by us by many Names, never forgets, and is always ready and willing to give.
Thank you to everyone who have convinced me that my asking matters. Without whose love, good thoughts, prayers, and support, I could not meet this challenge and complete my life’s mission.
I truly, truly, love you,