Beautiful Storm: Finding the hidden remedies in our troubled selves
San Emeterio’s story began in Cuba, the island where he was born and raised, and which he resolved to leave as a young man in 1972. He did so by swimming seven miles through the Caribbean on a moonless night, risking the possibility of encountering sharks or drowning, to come ashore in the American naval base at Guantanamo Bay. The Americans welcomed and naturalized him, and six months later, once he was settled in Puerto Rico, he contacted his fiancée back in Cuba as planned, to arrange for her to join him. But by then she had changed her mind about leaving her home and didn’t come after all. He was knocked back, but he picked himself up and began what was to become a successful life as an entrepreneur. In time, he fell in love again and started his first family.
Twenty years on, with his business now grown into a chain of stores, he had become an ever more driven and ambitious man, determined always to see his business get even larger. But along with the chain of stores, his stress and anxiety had also grown. Then one day in midlife, with four kids and an insatiable hunger for ever greater wealth and security, he hit a wall. His wife suddenly left him. She had found another man . . . who just happened to be a divorce lawyer.
In the ensuing divorce San Emeterio lost the wife he still loved, custody of his children, and his business. He turned to drink, and, as he put it, became both suicidal and homicidal. Then one day, hungover and in a pit of despair, it struck him that there had to be another way of looking at what had happened to his life. He must somehow be able to find something good in it. He began what he called an “existential enquiry.” Through reading and meditation he came to the conclusion that his “neurons had needed a shake-up,” and he set out to discover why. Thus his troubles impelled him on a quest to find something positive commensurate with the scale of his losses.
He read avidly and widely in books of wisdom and spiritual guidance, apprenticing himself to various broad-minded Catholic counselors and immersing himself in the works of little-known church mystics. In the end he found what he was looking for: a lasting peace in the midst of a worldly life of work and a complex web of relationships. Since then, his magnetic personality and gently wise writings had won him friends around the world.
That bright day after the storm in San Juan, I spoke with Juan about my own life, and he listened with the patience of a priest. He probed me, and I began to sense that I had been missing something important. At the time, I was busy, confused, often unhappy, and nearly always at least mildly worried about the precarious career I had chosen as a writer. Some years earlier, I had turned to Zen meditation, partly because it seemed to make no demands on a rationalist’s belief system, but also because I could take my angst to the Zen cushion and generally get up feeling better.
But beyond that, although I had attended retreats in different centers over the years, so far Zen hadn’t led me to resolve my fundamental spiritual longings. Often it felt like just another item on my list of duties (or of worries): why wasn’t I meditating more, or making better progress? On top of that, I knew I still hadn’t truly committed to it, and that felt like a failure of courage, of fortitude, of conviction on my part—one more thing with which to lash myself.
By Henry Shukman, originally published in Tricycle Magazine, Spring 2014 Issue
Image: Beautiful Stormy Sky, by wetaft, CC0 Public Domain, at Pixabay.com