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While the saying goes that “God works in mysterious ways,” sometimes Mystical assistance is quite obvious.
The idea of protective forces is not unique to Christianity. While they aren’t exactly the same thing as guardian angels, in Buddhism we have the concept of shoten zenjin. The protective forces of the Universe aren’t always invisible and bridging the spirit world to help us. These forces manifest in various ways—including in the love and behavior of living flesh-and-blood people in our lives. Their desire to help us—to rescue us if need be—is shoten zenjin.
Long before I became Buddhist and understood this concept, my dearest friends, Cristina and Housein, became my shoten zenjin. This was in 2008 when, after being jobless for several months during the recession, I ran out of money and had to move out of my apartment within the month.
“I’ve started over again so many times I’ve lost count,” Housein told me. Thinking about all of his and Cristina’s ups and downs—including growing up in South America, traversing countries and continents as students and Baha’i pioneers, and moving almost every year while in Michigan—how they handled these situations was always an inspiration to me. In contrast, I tended to get bent out of shape and complain when the unexpected or inconvenient happened.
I realize now that this tendency of mine is exactly why my karma attracted Cristina and Housein to help teach me how to let go enough to overcome my fears about not being able to take care of myself.
They reminded me that this was a great opportunity to get rid of unnecessary extras and re-align my priorities. And then I realized that this process wouldn’t even have to be nearly as difficult as I’d thought when Cristina said to me, “You can always stay with us.”
She and Housein were planning to relocate to New York within a few months, and they offered me their spare bedroom until they moved. As I was once again awed by the selfless support and caring of my two dear friends, I wondered: Could this be the sign I was praying for? The sign that I wouldn’t have to go all the way to rock bottom before I could recover my sense of security? It had to be, because Cristina had just addressed my biggest fear: being homeless.
I pondered what an important but undervalued trait detachment is. It’s one of the most valuable concepts I had internalized from my spiritual practice, in which materialism is seen as a vice instead of a measure of personal success. I decided to value my emotional and physical well-being over the things I had acquired to “show for” that well-being.
That realization gave me the strength I needed to decide it wasn’t worth it to hold onto what I’d been clinging so desperately to: living on my own, my media collection, my lackluster neighborhood, my stagnant comfort zone. I accepted Cristina’s and Housein's offer, and began sorting my things into what I'd keep and what I wouldn't. It was refreshing to discover I could get rid of two-thirds of what I owned and not miss it later. Getting rid of those unnecessaries was symbolic of the cleansing I was doing to my psyche and my soul at the same time.
One night after filling my car with a load of things to take to the second-hand store for donation, I stood in the parking lot of my apartment complex and gazed up at the clear star-studded mid-March sky. I felt a calm wash over me as I stood there in the cold pondering those points of light, and I had an epiphany. Nothing earth-shaking, but it occurred to me that I hadn’t failed—my situation had failed me. And the Universe, through the help of my friends and a reaffirmation of the practical everyday aspects of our faith, was giving me a new one. Simple as that, really.