As a child in the Catholic church, I didn’t resonate with much except when there was talk about the saints like St Francis, St. Teresa, John of the Cross. I wondered how they had gained this “special awareness.” Why them? And did you really have to suffer so much to be awakened?
They all had stories of suffering: St. Francis gave up wealth, family, societal approval but learned to communicate with birds and other animals; St. Teresa spoke of the mystical transverberation she had experienced through physical and spiritual pain. I remember the story of St. John getting jailed by other priests and experiencing “God consciousness” (whatever that was) after torture and imprisonment.
The common thread was they all were gifted with abilities like healing, truth telling or communicating with animals after going through their trials.
Seeking spiritual enlightenment
I left this religion but carried this concept of “miracles,” and the possibility that people could awaken and have remarkable abilities through a mixture of suffering and “grace,” (whatever that was).
I read later that some saints could “bilocate,” or be in two places at once in order to appear to people. This sounded like a myth, though, and I hadn’t ever seen one.
At one point, I did have an invisible friend who I could feel by my side, and though I didn’t consciously see him, he was a comforting presence. I felt him walk right next to me for two years but I never saw him in the physical.
Later in life, I joined a spiritual group where they spoke about these adepts that were very old but retained physical bodies. How was that possible? If so, then I wanted to meet one of them in the flesh. I wanted to understand if that was possible.
An unexpected encounter
I was on my way to Orlando to a large spiritual seminar one weekend. Before I left, I wrote in my journal, “I want to meet a spiritual adept.”
Friday and Saturday came and went and I went to the Sunday morning portion of the seminar. I looked for the adept I expected to see. Nothing. I packed my bags, forgot about my wish, and left to wander around Winter Park, FL before my flight back home.
I stopped in Starbucks to get a cup of coffee and came outside to sit at a table. I cannot remember if he was already there or if he rolled up in his wheelchair. The moment of seeing him is foggy. I found myself at a small round table talking with this man in a wheelchair with a full dark brown beard and a round straw hat he wore for the sun. His eyes sparkled and he could have been about 50. He was joyful and spoke about simple things, but there was a power to his words—not animated, but striking. It wasn’t long into the conversation when I realized I needed to pay close attention to all he said and did. He appeared homeless but maybe he just didn’t fit in. There was something in the air around him or around us.
“I drink 33 cups of water each day,” he told me and laughed. I smiled. He seemed to be looking at me but beyond me too, or beyond this body. I didn’t say much at first, but wondered at the amount of water. That was a lot.
I guess my furrowed brow and exhaustion were evidence of my dissatisfaction in life.
“You will get paid for your art someday,” he told me and smiled. He read my life’s disappointments and frustrations, and in one sentence gave me a renewed curiosity about my future.
He pulled off his hat and put it on the table. He blushed when I looked down at it. “I made this hat, pulled it out of the garbage and attached the string myself,” he chuckled. I looked down at it but it looked professionally made and it was spotless.
I could see his dark brown beard more clearly. His appearance was meticulous and clean. If he was homeless, he was groomed, clean and worldly. He spoke with a slight accent but I couldn’t place it. At one point he was talking about a woman he loved and Oxford, Mississippi and I saw a tear roll down his face. He had a far-away look but was also extremely present.
I was so smug in my spiritual group at that time. I thought the members of my group knew the most esoteric truths and I was sure he must know about the group. I asked him if he had heard of eckankar. I sensed he might be one of these adepts from my religion who could bilocate to help people. But all he said was “It’s an intellectual path, right?”
At the time, I thought that was weird. I now know he was saying that that path was limited because it was mental instead of alive and spiritual. And now I realize that anybody who is “enlightened,” anyone who is truly awakened in the heart, doesn’t belong to any one group. They help anyone who needs it or asks for it or can accept the help. They are there for everyone and all of life.
As if Jesus and Buddha are only able to love people of one religion!
I thanked him for talking to me. I got up to go to the restroom and something weird happened. I remember I got up, pushed my chair in, and two steps later, I turned to see him go, but he had rolled his wheelchair through chairs! I watched in confusion—I know I had seen many chairs blocking his wheelchair but suddenly he was on the sidewalk riding away. He yelled to me on his way out and to others sitting there, “Be kind to my friend!” No one looked around at him after he called into the crowd. Did they not hear him? Or did they ignore what appeared to be a homeless man in the wheelchair?
I stood there and watched him go. I couldn’t figure how he moved so easily through physical objects like chairs and over curbs. I waved as he disappeared behind the corner.
I didn’t know who or what kind of an adept he was. He was both simple but otherworldly. No one else interacted with him or paid any attention. Perhaps a homeless man in a wheelchair was not visible to most people who were looking for bright shiny objects.
The mystery of Padre Pio
A week after meeting the man in the wheelchair, I went to the dentist’s office back in my home in Northern Virginia. I opened a reader’s digest in the waiting room and out popped a loose photo of a man in a beard with the name “Padre Pio” underneath it. I gasped. It looked just like the man I spoke to at the coffee shop. Was this Padre Pio? I had never even heard of him. But I looked him up and learned he was a Catholic saint who had performed “healing miracles.” However, he had died in the 1960s.
A few weeks later, I was in a bed and breakfast during a trip I took. As I walked down the hall to go to the restroom, there on the wall, was a huge picture of Padre Pio. Twice in a very short time. It was clear to me anyway, that I had met Padre Pio. He did speak with some accent; was it a remnant of his Italian background?
Why would this person who was deceased a long time ago trouble himself to sit next to me at Starbucks? I had begged the universe to meet a master, but Padre Pio? And I had never heard of him until meeting him.
He had definitely tried to tell me some things about the group I was in, to drink more water and to keep working “at my art.”
It had also blurred the lines for me between what I had thought was possible for humans and what was going on with this process of awakening. Were we all destined for some sort of spiritual awakening? The group I had joined had promised that, but you had to wait for the organization to give it to you. As if it had nothing to do with our own actions, experiences or soul’s purpose! I had become passive in that group, waiting for someone else to tell me I was progressing spiritually. Eventually, I left.
Be the spiritual trailblazer
This meeting with Padre Pio happened years ago, but I learned that I needed to look carefully at those with a pure heart and pure intention. That this physical world is malleable. That there were beings that could transcend time and space. That maybe if we look at more than just the shiny objects, the emotionally bombastic, or the intellectually clever, we will see what is really going on in the realms beyond this physical one.
Maybe these spiritual trailblazers are living among us. Maybe you are one of them: the teenager who envisions and fights for a greener planet, the man who starts a business to rid the world of plastics, the animal communicator working at the level of a St Francis without the sainthood.
What is next for mankind and the spiritual evolution? What will you try? How will you challenge your heart to expand consciousness even if means you are not the next bright shiny object?
These trailblazers of the past showed us the remarkable healing and transformations that are possible from the human heart. I appreciate their journeys. But we don’t need to sit by and passively applaud their good works. We all have a unique spark that we need to ignite to show ourselves and others the way to a better world. No more waiting around for some saint to save us. Be that saint.
Perhaps that was the real message from Padre Pio.