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In elementary school, I wonder how many of us thought; when I grow up I want to be a spiritual teacher, however being a spiritual teacher is like any other calling. All kinds of people with unlikely backgrounds and talents find themselves occupying that role. Two of my favorite spiritual teachers are best known for their day jobs, actually their night jobs, or should I say their nightclub work. Lenny Bruce and Bill Hicks both knew they were serving a greater purpose than merely transforming stand-up comedy into a revolutionary commentary and new way of perceiving reality. They knew they were spiritual teachers, and they were both forthcoming about stating that fact. Lenny and Bill both firmly took their stand among the ranks of those who dared to speak the Truth in the face of popular opinion and in direct opposition to a mob mentality of ignorance.
Like all good Spiritual teachers, Lenny got right up in our faces, forcing us to look at our own self-created bad faith and self-imposed limitations. Eastern Spiritual traditions encourage us to look at the charges that we have created with our own minds, with our own perceptions. Then they urge us to end the bondage that we alone have put into motion. We created the charges; only we can resolve these charges. Lenny is the greatest American Spiritual teacher of this tradition. He exposed the charges that we have projected onto words and then, with humor and wit, implored us to end that tyranny.
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It all started when I was in my mid twenties, with a small pain in the abdomen. Little did I know how this little pain would force me to make big changes in my life. The pain seemed concentrated in three points around the right ovary. It became most acute when I would bend over. The mystery pains gradually grew until they were bothering me all the time, regardless of posture or position. I did what most people would do when seeking to address something health related: I made an appointment with my doctor. He was a better listener than most doctors and took the time to do a physical examination. While examining the pelvis, he found that merely touching that area was enough to produce pain, so we agree to proceed with non-invasive testing. That started off simple enough: leaving bodily fluid in a cup, taking a blood sample, or an ultra sound test. (For you guys, it would be the equivalent of “turn your head and cough”.) Everything we tried was inconclusive.
Over the course of a year, the pain spread down the right leg and across the lower back. I pretty much just dragged my right leg around. My abdomen slowly swelled until there was a constant state of discomforting distention. My skin turned a pasty shade of gray with tiny bumps, the greatest concentration being on my back. I looked like a cross between Quasimodo and a heroin addict. Looking back on it now, I can understand that my skin looked this way because it was the only organ still detoxifying my entire body. I lived with a hot water bottle stuffed down my pants. It was the only thing I could do to help alleviate the non-stop pain that plagued the lower body. Due to my declining condition, my doctor suggested we try exploratory surgery. The best way to know what was going on would be to look directly into the body. The way I felt, I agreed.
My doctor and I discussed best and worst possible scenarios so that I would be prepared. The worst case would be that they might have to start removing organs. We still suspected if there was a problem, (if you could have seen me, that would have been a no-brainer) it would be centered on the reproduction organs. I was perfectly fine living without some or all of my reproductive organs… I didn’t need them to live. But I only had one heart or liver, and those I did need.
I clearly remember the moment I regained consciousness in the recovery room. My doctor would not make eye contact with me, and I was thinking, “This can’t be good.” He said, “I have some good news and some bad news. I’ll start with the good news. We did not take anything out; you still have all your organs.” “Great!” I was thinking, “What could possibly be the bad news?” “The bad news is that every organ from your stomach to your colon is in crisis.” He then took a quarter out of his pocket. “Your liver and small intestine are the worst. I could flip this quarter to determine which organ will shut down first, but most likely you are going to die from either the liver or small intestine shutting down, and I do not know why.”
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