Years ago I read all the books written by my favorite spiritual teacher. But the inner peace she described eluded me. I listened to her lectures online, but there was still chaos in my life. Parenting two young children was overwhelming me, and I often felt I wasn’t a good enough mother. If only I could talk to the teacher in person, I thought. So I wrote to her as a journalist requesting an interview, leaving out that I was also a pilgrim seeking wisdom. To my surprise she invited me to her home for a conversation. I flew across the country and arrived on her doorstep, where her teenager let me in and then stomped upstairs. Overhead I heard loud footsteps, angry voices, a slamming door. The teacher came down looking flustered. She apologized, but there was no need. To see her in a new light, as an exasperated mom, showed me that she was not as different from me as I had imagined.
I had assumed my teacher was free from the turmoil I couldn’t seem to escape. Now that I knew she struggled, too, maybe I could stop being so hard on myself. As The Sun reminds us, other people are often more complex than we imagine. We may have preconceived notions about a preacher or a soldier or an inmate, but when they reveal themselves in their writing, our hearts respond.
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Life gets interesting — and at times uncomfortable — when people challenge our assumptions. Readers often tell us that something they read in The Sun made them sad or unsettled. We understand; the magazine affects us, too. But we see this as a strength and an opportunity. Our culture offers countless ways to anesthetize ourselves against intense emotions. There is a product for whatever ails you, but you won’t find an ad for it in The Sun, because we don’t want any distractions from the writing. We invite readers to turn toward feelings rather than away from them.
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That day in my spiritual teacher’s living room, I placed the recorder between us and checked twice to ensure it was on. Then I asked the questions I had carefully prepared. But all these years later I don’t remember a single one; nor do I recall her answers. The ideas and insights she shared have vanished like a dream. All I can remember is the way my heart went out to her when she came down the stairs, and our eyes met, and I recognized myself in her expression. For a moment I forgot who was the student and who was the teacher. Neither of us was wiser or better, and neither of us was alone in our suffering.
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