My spiritual journey

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My spiritual journey (so far)

This article may actually have little place in a collection of consumer finance articles. Yet I included it here simply because an insight into the author’s stance may help in evaluating the usefulness of the advice.

by Tony Novak, CPA, MBA, MT
, revised 11/30/2011

Childhood in a traditional Catholic community was so natural and comfortable. I took comfort in our strong household and holiday traditions, first communion, Stations of the Cross, being confirmed “Frances”. I did not question any of my religious beliefs until the sixth grade when I hit puberty and began to think about sexual issues. I realized for the first time that my inner spirit was not in sync with what our priest was teaching. At that age, I had no idea of the spiritual journey that would unfold ahead.

I became aware of physical differences by the 4th grade. I was a strong farm boy encouraged by dad to develop my strength through backyard gymnastics and boxing with my brother. One October morning I got into a fight with the school bully. (He eventually became an “enforcer” for the roofers union and I heard that he was arrested and imprisoned on some very serious charges, possibly even murder). On this day he pushed me too far, knocking me over unprovoked with a kick just to assert his domination while I was bent over tying my shoes. I was two years younger and at least a third smaller in size than he was, but I had little trouble physically humiliating him by blocking his punches, lifting and tackling him and pinning him to the ground in the middle of the playground. I kneeled on his hands on the pavement to make him cry out and give up. The whole thing probably took 15 seconds, but it was clear at that moment that I had some physical ability that would keep me protected. That was the last time I was in a physical fight, but that knowledge remained with me even at age 41 when as national master’s champion, I was making a challenge for the U.S. world team position through open (20’s) division competition. I was known as a brutal, even dirty competitor. I hit hard and often – constantly pushing the limits of what was “legal” under wrestling rules. While I adapted a position as a pacifist in life (a position learned as a young teenager in Young Life, popular artists and the war protestors), I know that I can literally rip limbs off in combat. This inner capacity for focused physical rage has always terrified me, yet it never surfaced in an inappropriate time. Even in the most explosive physical state, I remain mentally calm and focused. I consider it a God-given gift; one that I credit for my sports success and college scholarship.

Awareness of spiritual strengths came more slowly. My father instilled a strongly independent nature. “You can be anything you want to be” and “don’t follow the crowd”, “make a difference” and “give until it hurts” were the strongest messages I heard. (It took me years to examine and modify these to more effective positions later in life). I do not remember what influence my mother had on my psychic development but my observations of her daily life convinced me she was an exceptional person. While never 100% healthy and having 5 kids to care for, she found time to paint, read, write, talk to her friends (sometimes for long times while I waited impatiently), baked all our bread, rolls and cookies, canned vegetables, made clothing, crafts, decorated the house, gardened, and helped with the animals. All this on top of normal jobs of a mother of 5. I notice that my day-to-day activities now resemble her schedule then. I seem to take pride in “doing it all”, especially in the daily mix of artistic and intellectual pursuits with culinary and household tasks.

My first intense spiritual moment came after mom died. I was 12 in 6th grade. After taking a few days off for the funeral, I vividly recall being back in the locker room (actually it was the boiler room at our Catholic school where we hung our clothes on the pipes or piled them on the floor). It was tough enough being the smallest guy and in 6th grade in the midst of a team for 7th and 8th graders. I was shy and had fewer social skills than the kids who grew up in suburban neighborhoods. I was quiet, and avoided conflict and teasing by working hard, setting good work habits and respecting the older, louder and stronger guys. The day I returned after the funeral, the guys were talking about me while we changed. The talk was not compassionate, nor disrespectful, but just talking as kids do. The fact was that until then, they barely recognized my existence. I knew I had a distinction. I resolved to prove my worthiness. I was in complete communication and agreement with God at that moment. I still remember the goose bumps and the lump in my throat that almost choked me standing there alone after they wandered off. I was on the proverbial “mission” and became a physical powerhouse. I worked hard, took no crap from anybody, made coaches turn heads and within a year (at public school in 7th grade) had proved to be one of the toughest younger kids in junior high wrestling. I set a number of school records over the next two years and used this sports success to catapult my self-image and social standing. Clearly I found a way to channel adolescent energy and emotion in the classic sense that school sports are intended.

Strong Christian influences throughout school helped me keep God in the foreground. I read the Bible daily in high school, but backed off going to Church whenever I could get away with it.

My first serious girlfriend and eventual first wife became the center of my life by age 17. She came from a strong Catholic background but had no resistance to an active sex life. We screwed like rabbits every day and every opportunity we could – that was our primary common interest and passtime. I thought we were soul mates but in reality we were not even grown-ups. She kept her Catholicism in a separate box from the rest of our lives. I realized she faced some inner conflict in her life, but had no idea of the potential impact of this until years later.

By college, I had put away my Bible on the shelf with the intention of exploring new paths for personal growth. I developed a love of creative writing. I wrote art, music and culinary reviews, experimented with writing erotica and fell in love with James Mitchner’s explanation of the development of religion in The Source.

Early in business I associated with a conservative Christian group. This helped my business, but I still have negative feelings about the way this stunted my personal growth. I recall that when I wanted to move from Doylestown to New Hope for new life possibilities, a few of the guys intervened to prevent me from entering this “den of sin”. In retrospect, I see that I was actively seeking artistic and personal self-expression even though I did not identify it at that time and in fact would not have made the “top 10 list” of my life priorities.

Being with my second wife was a spiritual chiller. We did not communicate at all on these issues. One time she was in extreme level of pain from bad toothache and I tried to pray with her, not knowing what else to do at the moment. It was a disaster. I never approached the topic again.

When our kids were young, I studied the Jewish belief system as part of my volunteer position as Interfaith couples discussion group at our synagogue where my wife served as a board member. I was proud of our community activity and that we were in the center of social circles. The Jewish belief systems I read about made sense to me – far more so than Catholic positions – so I converted. It did not occur to me until much later that I knew few Jews who were even familiar with the core beliefs that attracted me to Judaism, let alone Jews who were actually living this ideal. A series of disappointing dating experiences with Jewish women led me to resist and repress my attraction to Judaism.

I am thrilled to find spiritually strong people within the folk music community. I first became aware of this as a young teenager, but I did not have the opportunity to explore this until my marital separation in 1999. It was necessary for my to actually meet many of these musicians in person to satisfy myself that they were real. I do not know the belief systems of most musicians, but the skill with which they communicate the issues closest to their soul makes me think they has strong spiritual grounding. I have learned so much from musicians, especially those who have physically crossed my life path. A conversation with John Flynn about parenting, a letter from Michael Cooney, goofing around with Mike Agranoff, flirting with the women in Full Frontal Folk, and just being in the proximity of Ritchie Havens have all touched me deeply. I could go on and on. The important thing to recognize is that I respect a musician’s ability to be in touch with and to express positions of great significance. I benefit enormously. I expect recorded music, live concerts and festivals will remain an important part of my life.

By far the greatest impact on my spiritual life was the woman I met at age 42. When we first met, she told me she was deeply spiritual but at the time I did not know what she meant. I was just strongly attracted to her. I was fascinated by her and benefited enormously by her ability to see things that I could not. From my perspective, she seemed to me to have super-natural powers. She often shared things that I did not understand at the time, but came back to me six to twelve months later in another learning situation. Dozens of times I found myself saying, “Now I get it, it’s just like she said”. It turned out to be no coincidence that the strongest spiritual influence came into my life at the moment when I was at my lowest point in the final stages of my divorce. We realized that we were not meant to be life partners, but the influence continues. The incorporation of eastern philosophy into my life, yoga, meditation, a writing career, the push to resolve my lingering fears, my physical transformation from a performance-driven athlete to a healthy stance for the long term are all a direct result of her influence.

The hardest thing for me to deal with – and my greatest fear about my relationship with God – is that my spiritual focus is dependent on my success in other areas of life. In a sense, this is an issue of which comes first, the chicken or the egg. Of course, a solid spiritual life enhances success in all areas of life while a broken relationship with God leads to broken relationships and unnecessary struggles in other areas. But the converse is also true. My relationship with God is stronger when I have peace of mind, time, money, when I have strong friends and a great sex life, when I am getting recognition for my successes in business, sports and other areas. I wish it was not so. I am terrified about “going back”. Sometimes I even have nightmares about losing my kids, feeling isolated and without support, being celibate not by choice, being broke, etc. I tell myself this is silly because I will never go back. But another voice reminds me it was not so long ago, and I am not immune to the spiraling illness and depression that characterized my last separation from core values. In a sense, I still do not fully trust myself on my own. I fear that my spiritual position will strain and suffer if my life situation changes. That realization makes me feel shallow, even a hypocrite. I can take the age-old position and pray “God give me strength” but honestly, I hate to even think about this human weakness within me. I fear a return of my failures and how easily it could happen.

As I write this, I am at a spiritual high point in my life. I am so grateful that I take the time to read, reflect and meditate on my life almost every day. I find God in meditation, in yoga, through the voices of musicians, daily reflections and, increasingly, in my relationships. Not coincidently, I am doing amazingly well in all other areas of life. My relationships transcend to a striking level of communication and love. I am fully self-expressive –more so than ever before in my life. My business and income are growing, I am at peace with everyone in my life and am exploring new non-traditional relationships and personal freedoms that I never even thought possible. I am powerfully living my mantra “an ambassador of the Golden Rule and a host to the power of possibility”.

I pray that I can continue to make a difference every day in the lives of people and that the values I learn will continue to find a place in my writing. I am blessed.

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