The last time I looked, personal transformation was not on America’s top ten list of achievements. Success, family, happiness, friends, wealth, respect, health, religious beliefs or spirituality, satisfying work — these took priority. Our spiritual institutions follow suit with the most successful and prestigious requiring little of their flock as far as personal introspection is concerned. The prevailing ambiance is one of levity, music and celebration — seldom one of self-inquiry.

Permanent, positive transformations are not common. If they occur at all, they usually result from flukes or untoward events of some kind, for example, a serious illnesses, near death experiences, trauma, or accidents. These are what mystically alter our personalities. We try to be a spiritual being, but it just doesn’t work. For some reason, humanity has always had to be dragged, kicking and screaming, into a true spiritual life.

The positive aspect of these tranforming shocks and disasters is that our previous fear and obsession driven existences are replaced by feelings of fearlessness and ease; a fearlessness, for some odd reason, that rarely involves dominance over others. Our new personality, having had its brush with death, now experiences a new bravery that courageously and easily accepts and handles whatever situation it finds itself in. We have been at the threshold of annihilation, and it was okay; actually, it was extremely peaceful. Now, with the fear of death no longer hanging over our heads, we no longer fear death, butmore than that; we don’t fear anything!

The fearful ones, those afraid to face death, or even the loss of material things, are the ones who overreact with violence. We seldom find the brave seriously indulging in selfishness; actually, we usually find them helping others in whatever capacity they can. They have simply stopped worrying about themselves in their newfound freedom, and as a result have gained a greater capacity to see the needs of others.

Those who have had these near death experiences or spiritual occurrences will tell you that although they can’t express or explain what happened, they now find that the world has little to offer compared to that which they have been mysteriously exposed to. If we can believe what these people say, and they are very credible, as well as consistent, we might conclude that there is more to life than meets the logical eye.

These transformed individuals have acquired a certain wisdom, a positive understanding that is perhaps not spoken but ingrained into their new personalities. They believe that what they do in this lifetime will greatly affect their next existence, which they now have no doubt is real, and although they attempted to be spiritual and generous before their traumatic event, it was all playacting and not from their hearts. The heart is where the bank account is, and now they find that their bank accounts are no longer in a vault, but in a much more secure place.

If it is trye that the natural compassion and generosity we express during our lifetime (without coercion or premeditation), affects the quality of our afterlife, what can we do to instill within ourselves a thirst to affect a continual personal transformation toward these virtues? How can we resist continuing blindly down roads of worldly accumulations and aspirations that are so subject to loss?

Any personal transformation would indeed be a radical change for us, and probably the reason why few make the transition -- without the help of a harrowing event, that is.

What’s at stake is not only our contentment and happiness in this lifetime, but possibly later as well after moving on from this earth. Much is written on this subject with some saying that there are many mansions in heaven, and some saying that there are many realms in which to be reborn. Either way, eternity is a long time — we might find ourselves in a mansion surrounded by our relatives for eternity! That could be interesting, especially if we can barely stand them during a three-day holiday! But kidding aside, we might want to end, once and for all, the common suffering and conflict we undoubtedly experience on earth.

So the questions come down to these: Although the security of things and relationships keep us happy, how long can we count on thses to continue to do so? Things change when we least expect them to change, and there are many dangers in the world. Then we might ask ourselves, “Is there something greater, and if there is, how can we get in touch with that something greater without waiting for a traumatic event to occur in our life? Is there something we can do proactively in order to come face-to-face with that something, while still living on this earth?”

Author's Bio: 

E. Raymond Rock is cofounder and principal teacher at the Southwest Florida Insight Center in Fort Myers Florida. His 28 years of meditation experience has taken him across four continents, including two stopovers in Thailand where he practiced in the remote northeast forests as an ordained Theravada Buddhist monk. He has practiced with Ajahn Chah, Ajahn Maha Boowa, Ajahn Sumedho, Ajahn Tui, Bhante Gunaratana, Roshi Kennett, Seung Sahn Sunim, Trungpa Rinpoche, the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts, and the Zen Center in San Francisco. His new book, A Year to Enlightenment (Career Press/New Page Books), is available at major bookstores and on-line.