Taken from The Oak Tree in the Garden (Journal of the Hidden Valley Zen Center)

By Eric Klovig, Ph.D., is an experienced Buddhist teacher of Vipassana. He generously shares his personal story below:

Nearly 30 years ago I brought great mental and physical suffering into my first three-month-long meditation retreat. There would be many more three-monthers over the years, but for a while that fall it looked as if there would not even be one. Even though Ihad plenty of good external support at that retreat, I was suffering so much that I felt I would have to leave. That prospect brought desperation; I didn't know where else to turn.

Then one afternoon, as I walked outdoors in solitary wlaking meditation trying to hold this desperation, a thought came seemingly from nowhere and struck deeper into my psyche than anything had ever done before: If it takes a million lifetimes, I will free this heart from its suffering! Almost 30 years later I remember precisely where I walked when this thought came. Because it set so deep, I knew immediately that the outcome would be inevitable: This heart will be free! There has never been a doubt about the matter since. An unshakable resolve had set itself, one that supported me to stay at that retreat, and also to face many more difficulties in practice and in the rest of my life.

Years later that purpose widened. I took the bodhisattva vows of Mahayana Buddhism, even though they were not part of my own Buddhist tradition. Since then I have tried to amke my last thought before I sleep, and my first thought after waking, these words: For as long as space and time endure, I will abide to relieve the suffering of living beings. For me the question of purpose has been settled forever. This, my only real purpose, is the true north star that guides everything in my life.

Do you sense the forceful strength of such purpose? It can support you through the challenges of spiritual practice. It can also support you through the grave challenges of mental illness, and indeed can change for the better your relationship with illness. For example, unshakable purpose likes this acts as a direct antodote to the futility, despair, and sense of meaninglessness that depression hawks as false truth. It also cuts through the solopsistic self-absorption that comes as baggage with all mental illnesses.

Recently, in the midst of a bad bout of PTSD, I watched a movie that depicted grievous human suffering. As the credits rolled, I thought, "My task is to relieve the suffering of living beings. So let's get on with it! Remembering and renewing my purpose propelled me out of self-absorbed PTSD pain into service again.

Tomorrow, "Clear Mind, Open Heart..."

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