Lisa Jones has been a journalist for twenty-six years. She has written about the environment, food, and the Miss Navajo Beauty Pageant for publications like the New York Times magazine, Smithsonian, and High Country News. She lives in Colorado with her husband and cat. Broken: A Love Story, the story of her friendship with quadriplegic Northern Arapaho horse gentler and traditional healer Stanford Addison, is her first book. Her website is www.lisajoneswrites.com.
Q. What advice would you give someone just starting his or her spiritual path?
A: A woman at one of my readings said, “How do I find a shaman?” My feeling was, “Don’t look in the brightly lit places. Keep your mind open when you are in the more shadowy, less privileged spots. The world is full of wisdom and I don’t think it is in the brightly lit places. What worked for me was letting pain have its way with me and following my heart. If you let pain have its way with you, your heart opens. Nature abhors a vacuum. I never want to sound like I know what other people should do because I don’t. Maybe the “win friends and influence people” folks are right. I don’t know. I have never been to their seminars. When Stan happened to me, it was like being hit with a bludgeon. It was not, “Hmm, should I try this out?” Sometimes things hit you pretty hard, and then you know it’s right. Or at least it’s the next step. When I see things like The Secret, I have to ask, “Who funded that book—the Republican Party (joking)? We are just a bunch of dying animals.
When I first went to the Buddhist meditation center, there was a community of twenty-five people living there. Someone said, “Why are you here?” I replied, “Oh, I left my job and got dumped by my fiancé. I’ll never have a husband. My life is over.” He said, “Oh yeah, that’s why everyone comes.” I said, “Really, that’s fantastic!” He said, “People come through the door suffering. They don’t come because everything is great.” However, it does feel like some people aren’t in pain at all, like my brother-in-law Jamie. We joke about it saying, “Then, there’s Jamie’s pain body. Ha ha, he doesn’t have one!”
Q. Anything else?
A: There is so much to be learned from Stanford’s example. He is a wonderful model of what it means to be a spiritual leader. Stanford had every possible thing taken from him, short of his life. He was a gorgeous, strong horseman, a womanizer, and a karate expert who played guitar in a band. You can’t imagine a more vibrant, sexy young guy. Then, at age twenty, he was struck down in a car accident and couldn’t move anything. He had his head screwed into a board. The subsequent health consequences of being quadriplegic are horrendous. Just to be Native American is hard enough, but Stanford’s had everything taken from him. It’s biblical what happened to him. In the hospital, they gave him hormones to treat his spinal cord injury, which caused him to break out in boils. To address that, they gave him more medicine that caused his teeth to fall out. It was a cascading effect of “we are going to take it all from you.”
Think about Jesus Christ. He was crucified for only a day or two. Stan has been in this unreliable body for thirty years now—and he’s still pretty calm, happy, and comfortable with himself. He devotes every waking minute to serving people. Just being near that is like, “Whoa!” It’s sincere. He takes phone calls all night long from people in terrible situations.
Stanford’s story is one of ego death. He does not aggrandize, narcotize, or serve his own ego in any way. He is just trying to help. His modeling this opened possibilities for me. I was so conditioned and so quasi-successful that I couldn’t imagine serving any god other than the god of achievement. He is one of the best people I have ever met and he has lost everything. He doesn’t piss and moan about it. He did for a while. He even tried to kill himself. Now his life is about showing that there’s a way to be without all the stuff—without even a body that functions. His body functions just to keep his spirit alive, but it doesn’t function for anything else.
I’m not saying everyone who has lost things is great because some people who have experienced loss are really bitter and scary and won’t teach you anything. But you’d be surprised by the teachers you can find in the less privileged places.
For the rest of the interview, please check out the book, Seek The Lover Within: Lessons from 50 Spiritual Leaders.