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Spirit Stories: In Your Own Words

The Wheel and the Lamp: The Light in Reincarnation

By: Elizabeth Napp

It happened first in a dream. I was a servant called Rangoon and I served a very advanced monk. One day, the monk led me to a barn. Inside the barn was the most beautiful cow, peaceful and still. But when the monk approached the cow, the animal began to bellow and kick and the monk fled in fright. Standing alone, I was perfectly still; gazing into the cow’s eyes. The cow quieted and returned to a peaceful and still state. It was at that moment that I awoke. The dream seemed to startle me into understanding the Buddha's words, “Therefore, be ye lamps unto yourselves.” It seemed that these were indeed the Buddha’s most difficult words; for to be a lamp unto yourself is to work out your own salvation. But of course, karma is like that. Indeed, in karma and reincarnation, we ultimately must work out our own salvation. We ultimately must be accountable for all of our actions – all of them.

In my case, I have no illusions. I have known for quite some time what it is that I must work out in this lifetime. I don’t mean to sound arrogant or guru-like. But I had a very clear reincarnation memory not long after that dream. It was a beautiful day and I was walking on the loveliest plot of land that the Rockefellers had given to New York State as a preserve. Today, that preserve requires a fee to enter and is lovingly landscaped with beautifully maintained trails. When I had my reincarnation memory, it was a more rugged and perhaps more natural place; the kind of place where you could park your car and walk for miles without seeing another human soul. It was kind of wild back then like a primeval forest and quite spectacular. Anyway, I was walking up a hill, when I had a clear impression of myself as a rather dour preacher, kind of looking like that farmer in that Grant Wood painting. I was dressed in a dour black suit and practically thumping a Bible on my thigh. It was a rather shocking moment on many levels. First, I am of Mediterranean descent, often mistaken for Brazilian or Indian, ethnically ambiguous, a bit mysterious looking, and there isn’t nary a Baptist or Methodist in my entire family tree – oh, and I am a woman and a feminist to boot. So, this dour-looking preacher was about as far removed from me as a person could get.

In addition to the obvious physical disparity, I am incredibly eclectic in my personal tastes and practice Buddhist insight meditation, Transcendental Meditation, have had a mikvah, and could say the Mass in Latin if I had to; not to mention my love of the T’ang poet, Li Po, Mahatma Gandhi and many things Indian, and a sheer devotion to the Tibetan bodhisattva, Tara. In fact, as I mentioned earlier, I teach – literally live and breathe – world history. So, who was this dour preacher and why was I distinctly remembering him. It was then that I knew that this moment was a karmic lesson; it was a window into seeing deeply into my life’s mission – to be relaxed, to be tolerant, to be compassionate, and to keep an open mind. Now, of course, we all need to be these things. As Buddha said, “Teach this triple truth to all: A generous heart, kind speech, and a life of service and compassion are the things which renew humanity.” And please don’t get me wrong. This dour preacher was only one lof my lifetimes but it was a lifetime that accumulated a lot of intense karma that must still be worked out.

But before you begin to think too poorly of me, I must mention that I also know my most recent lifetime prior to this incarnation. You see, I was born in 1965 which was quite frankly a really groovy year to be born. And I know with absolute certainty that I was this cool young man named Michael with a beard and all. And I know that I died young and tragically and that Michael specifically picked this incarnation to work out the karma of the preacher. He intentionally wanted me to be feel all the ambiguity of not quite fitting neatly into a box to prevent me from clinging to righteousness and rigidity like the preacher did. And while in many ways I have been working out my karma positively, if I am honest I must admit that sometimes I do get preachy and seem to think I know what’s best for everyone and indeed how everything should be done. But Michael was a soft and gentle soul and he sacrificed his young life to work out most of the preacher’s karma in order to make the journey a little easier on me.

Anyway, at this point, you are either with me or you think that I must have a great imagination. But I would encourage you to get in touch with your past incarnations to find out what your karmic journey is. If we can figure out what the karmic journey is than we can be a light in our reincarnation and make the way easier for those who follow in our steps and whom we are intimately connected to. In Hinduism, it is said that the world is illusion; that we must really try to wake up from the dream and our supposed dramas. I think of George Harrison and his warning to beware of Maya, to beware of illusion. And yet while we are in the illusion, we need to look deeply into the reflecting waters and see where we have been in order to get where we need to be going – to the light, to enlightenment, to the One. May all sentient beings be free from suffering!

Elizabeth Napp

Mt. Kisco, NY

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