My Spiritual Mentor: Dr. Sue Rubin

My spiritual mentor, Dr. Sue Rubin

My spiritual mentor, the wonderful and effervescent Sue Rubin – Dr. Sue Rubin – of Truth Tidbits (her website and a nod to the most remarkable stories of people she meets at Starbucks and the lessons to be taken from these encounters, now shared on Facebook) has just turned 89. She is a beautiful soul, still going strong. As I look at her in this recent video, the thought “ageless, timeless” comes to mind.

Our Sue (as they say in the UK, where ‘home’ is when I am not in Saudi or Canada) is as she always was: curious, vibrant, wise, a master storyteller, respectful of all faiths, compassionate, uplifting, glamorous, dignified, down to earth, self-disciplined (to an unbelievable degree), generous with her time and so much more. People flock to her for good reason. She is, for me, the most amazing orator on faith that I have ever listened to repeatedly over any period of time. And she has only gotten better over the years. I truly believe that Sue is one of the greatest and most understated spiritual leaders alive in the world today.

The Lady Deserves Another Award

I know it’s a big world, but…if she were online more, if her talks like the one above were out there for the world to see on YouTube, I believe my beloved friend and spiritual mother Dr. Sue Rubin would be a viral sensation. A doctorate was bestowed upon her by Religious Science International years after I left Canada, no doubt for the quality of her teaching and the impact she has on every spiritual community she finds herself a part of. There must be hundreds if not thousands of recordings out there of her brilliant talks. But where are they?

It’s only because she hasn’t authored a book or made maximum use of social media with the help of a team like Sharon Salzburg’s, I figure, that Sue isn’t as widely known as her peers like Dr. Wayne Dyer (she brought him in to talk to her L.A. congregation) and others like Eckhart Tolle in the world of New Thought or Pema Chodron of the Shambhala Buddhist tradition. Sue’s equivalent in other fields would be Brené Brown or Elizabeth Gilbert, both women who live their lives connected to their deepest convictions. She is as moving as they and would find the same global audience hungry for healing, I’m convinced, if more people only heard what she has to say.

So, if there were a Golden Globe Award for top spiritual leaders (hey, I’m a drama teacher…my mind is gonna go there), Sue would get my vote and I am certain she would have the vote of many others for all she does to inspire. What she has to say is so universal, relevant and poignant, and it comes straight from her heart. She might say it comes through her, through her God-like best self which, really, to her is the God essence…the essence of Spirit with a capital ‘S’ intertwined and embedded in the nature of everything, including you and me – whether or not you see it or believe it. So, if it were up to me, I would give Sue Rubin the People’s Choice Award for Best Spiritual Leader. She’s a star. (Oprah‘s ‘Submission Portal’ is open for suggestions…Oprah, are you listening?)

My Personal Relationship With Sue

Personally, Sue is deeply embedded in my heart and mind. She has long been a female role model and strong, loving mentor. I met her when I was 19. We’re 30 years along now. I became someone, she said, who connected her to the Middle East in ways that surprised and enlightened her. This reciprocity is good. I wrote about my experiences in Saudi, Egypt, Jordan, Oman, UAE, Lebanon, Syria and later Qatar, sometimes asking for guidance on how to think…which prompted Sue to say it was I who made her think. This was ten years before Syria spiraled into the state it’s in today (when Al Qaeda was invading Saudi compounds; now it’s ISIL/Da’esh who plan the attacks) and other things were going on…ie. Iraq War no. 2 and the witch hunt for Saddam.

Finally I came to understand at some point that Sue and I are equals on a different path, somewhere in our respective journeys. Sue Rubin is my teacher and I am hers just as many of my friends, students and others are my teachers and I am theirs. But without a doubt, Sue will always remain, for me, the person I think of for that spiritual fortification when nothing else makes sense. Over time, she has trained me well, taught and reminded me to meditate, reminded me to fill my mind with alternative (and more positive) narratives (which is not the same as denying the truth) when life is hard…and shown compassion in the hardest of moments, reminding me to have faith.

What Sue Has Taught Me About Faith

Now, I believe one actually has to be taught how to have faith. It is not something we are born with. Nor is trust. Erik Erickson confirmed this: babies develop trust or mistrust depending on what the adults do or don’t do for them in the first 18 months of development. Infants need to be provided for, or they grow to be distrustful. Concerning faith, I did not grow up in a religious family. Nor did I grow up in a non-religious one. I left home not knowing what I believed, and while I’m thankful for the lack of indoctrination and the right to choose for myself, that spiritual groundlessness has dogged me much of my adult life, particularly in the face of death. Loss twigs off a deep sadness for me.

On the contrary, deeply committed to faith, and aligned with principles born of a positive spiritual philosophy, Sue has taught me there is another way to digest the manic ‘realities’ of life…for our experiences can teeter up and down, as we know. During just about every existential crisis I have ever had, Sue has kindly – sometimes gently or with blunt honesty – reminded me that it is not right to grasp at life. For example, I was suffering the ending of a professional relationship I wished had not ended and was mired in pain. Sue reminded me people have the right to go. Imagine. Of course. She has also promoted the idea that faith works best when coupled with action. If you cannot change a painful circumstance, do what the Buddhists and Muslims do: surrender. Let go (of the attachment or the bone/dogged belief you hold). As we say in literature and theatre: ‘suspend disbelief’. Choose to buy in to the power of your thoughts, for they are, indeed, powerful.

Then? Rise up. Get in the now. Align with something meaningful. Do not get lost in the negative spin. As they say in cognitive behavior therapy, the past evokes regret, the future anxiety. Get present. At 89, Sue puts herself out there in the world because she is compelled to remind us and herself, no doubt, that we are one with something much bigger: the whole. Whether you identify with that something as ‘life’ or call it by name…Lord, God, Allah, Jesus, Buddha, Spirit, Ram, Universe, The Divine or Creator…it does not matter. We are all beings having a shared experience on one planet, destined to sort out the differences we encounter in life together. There is a universal something that unifies us all, despite the mania that looks like division and violence. If nothing else, this should remind us of the universal call and responsibility to step into a greater way of being, to make a difference where and how we can. Our actual survival depends upon it.

The Prompt of Time and the Role of Suffering

I turn 50 next month and Sue will be 90 next year. The fact that we do not live (at least in this life) forever is not lost on me. I found myself suddenly missing Sue and wanting to reconnect. It’s been a year and a half. The internet provides a bit of comfort when it is not possible to call or meet in person. It was the middle of the night in California. I looked online to see what I could find.

In addition to the video above, which is quintessentially Sue Rubin, I came across an archived newspaper article that reminded me: we have all suffered, even Sue, and this suffering is the inspiration that must push us to do better. Born March 1, 1928 into a Jewish family, Sue had one brother who, I learned, was killed during the Second World War. According to this L.A. Life article in the Daily News (Los Angeles, CA), when the family was at Temple, they received the news and gave up religion.

It was a fact I cannot verify and did not know. In the three decades I have known Sue, I have never heard her publicly talk about this or any other deeply private pain. Oh, sure, she would tell some of those stories that you do when you’re speaking in a public forum, and she could be funny, and heartwarming. On the rare occasion, she could move you to tears, too. But what she has always exemplified is the absolute conviction that thoughts are the sanctuary within which you find your healing. Change your thoughts, change your experience. Heal your pain because you choose to work on your thoughts.

A Near Death Experience May Bring You Closer to God

I’ve read about this phenomenon of people (wobbly on faith or God, or downright skeptical) in crisis who started to cry out for God. I never thought that would be me. In January of this year, I was at the gym for 15 minutes when a familiar itch and rash began to get out of control. In five minutes, I was lying on my front patio waiting for my neighbor to run for the gate guard to get the compound manager to call the ambulance…and the ambulance seemed to take forever. There was nothing more anyone could do until they got me to hospital for a hydrocortisone shot. I thought I was going to suffocate to death. It was a particularly bad allergy attack that went anaphylactic, constricting my throat. It had never happened before. Apparently, allergies get worse with time. What?!

I found myself starved of oxygen. My lungs were closing in. Freaking out physically and emotionally, I suddenly realized minutes into this that there was nothing more I could do. I gave up the fight (in my mind). I could not breathe and (in my mind) began to talk to God. “Calm down, just calm down,” I told myself as everything went black all around me. The conversation with that mysterious presence I have long struggled to sort out in my mind began, “God, this is it, isn’t it? This is the end. I should just relax as I am going to slip away now. I may as well stop worrying about this, right?” The struggle to survive was innate but the truth in that moment was I was on the verge of dying. And there I was, talking to God.

Someone later asked me if I felt a sense of peace in that moment. No. But I got the futility of the fight. Perhaps that is more important. Over the past decade I have worked to eradicate this approach to living and find other ways to manage difficulty. This drama on the patio reminded me: stop fighting.

A Saudi friend once said to me, “Just live your life.” What she meant was: stop worrying about everything. Live and enjoy what there is to enjoy.

“The alternative could be worse,” a British child protection worker I know said once in response to aging. Indeed. The cessation of aging is death.

Realizations and Waking Up: Making Life Better

As you can see, I made it through, and the events of the past year have prompted me to wake up and take some things more seriously in life – health, relationships, life purpose, dreams, down time, communing with nature and art. I am clear about the need to switch off from every toxic force that causes distress. Externally, this includes American politics and British politics, mostly. Internally, this means guarding my thoughts. Because emotional and mental distress causes physical distress, and fundamentally it is known that stress can shorten your life and steal the pleasure of it.

On Brexit and the Trump Administration: 

Specifically I have decided that Brexit and Trump will have their ‘run’ and this, too, shall pass. I refuse to indulge in my normal past-time, watching global news, except in small bursts. I am not American and do not live in America. These laws do not directly affect me. Lawmakers, government leaders, overseers of all kinds and my American friends are engaged in the real work that must be done now. I support them and keep an eye on the larger movements, but know that fundamentally…this is not in my hands. It is not the work I am meant to do. I am being called to something else. Of course, it is to write and teach drama to students who would otherwise be deprived of the work I do. That work is: consciousness raising. I can also do more for people like the refugees in my own neighbourhoods (I go between three countries) than I can watching the news and fretting endlessly. I can volunteer in suicide prevention as I do in the UK. I can be a better friend and member of my family…and the list goes on. Think global, act local.

On ISIL/ISIS/Da’esh…Danger:

I have come to conclude that we live perpetually in fear. Sue has made a statement about this fear (on Facebook):

Fear is insidious, fear is contagious, fear reflects our darkest dreads & most harrowing nightmares. Fear is imagining far beyond the worst-case scenario. Fear becomes anger, anger becomes irrational, isolates & looks for a target for its terror. The awakened ones have always offered a spiritually designed alternative. It’s called a mature love, evolved kindness, radical compassion. And the good news is, it’s who we essentially are. When I commit to waking up & staying up, I find ways to serve Spirit by helping others. Divine guidance & intuition point me to the ways of personally contributing to forging a new path founded on inclusion & transcendence. God Is/I Am!

I believe it is essential to go on with life, much as a Saudi friend of mine has said ‘Live your life’. In other words, live it to the fullest. One cannot be a traveller and succumb to fear of the world. You would never go anywhere. I try my best to embrace life in a simple way…without fear. I embrace the present moment and cherish it over the future. Yet I act wisely to bring my future goals to fruition (home ownership! this traveller needs a home). If I can help in a larger way, I do (ie. I am trying to line up volunteer work in ‘counselling and drama therapy’ with refugees in Jordan along the border with Syria this summer). If fear arises, I deal with it directly and immediately and reduce ‘fear-mongering’ in my mind. May this mindset reverberate with others. It can only increase my happiness quotient, for sure.

The Mission and Its Drivers

So, I’m on a mission to share the stories that people want to hear about my travelled life, and to open my heart to some new encounters and connections as I continue the journey and learn what there is to learn. It is something Sue as my friend and spiritual mentor has reminded me of time and again. I am a writer and teacher. So, she said, I should be writing and teaching! Okay. I’m more comfortable than ever in this role.

I am also on a mission to restore my mind and body to optimal health after a rather brutal 2016 of what felt like a tsunami of crises particularly tied to issues of death and midlife/aging…three friends died (stroke, suicide, cancer…the tragedy was palpable for everyone involved)…and the stress of a move overseas (which is always major), the workload of my new job (wonderful as it is) and the adjustment to loneliness in the desert (I chose it) and what that means for me. These experiences pushed me around a bit last year.

January and my little flirtation with death offered a perfect starting point from which to begin living differently. So, I’ve been prioritizing, and have lost 24 lbs in less than 2 months by eating well, ending the unconscious, mindless binge that goes on when I am overtired, overstressed and overworked.

My mission remains to prioritize, put first things first and to live better. It is to align, more closely than ever, to that which I know to be true about myself. Funny how you can forget. I am an artist at heart. I am a songwriter, yes, but actually at the heart of that…I am a writer. My passion is self expression, reflection and life with its great many dimensions. I love the story. So, I will never forget that moment…before I came to Saudi Arabia again in 2015, over a conversation by telephone when I called from England…when Sue said, “You are a spiritual teacher. Write those stories.” The imperative sits in me always.

Gratitude for This One Reminder: Thought Is the Ultimate Creative Force

As I hold my wonderful friend and teacher Sue in mind, and know that she must feel this somehow over the distance, I celebrate the fact that Sue has reminded me for 30 years: this is the fundamental creative life force that runs through us: thought.

We all have power. It may be doled out in unequal fashion, but Viktor Frankl who wrote Man’s Search for Meaning pointed out that in concentration camps under the harshest of conditions, no one can steal your mind if you refuse them. This is has been proven. People are capable of enduring great hardships, and overcoming great difficulties. This could help us have a little more faith in faith. Our thoughts truly have a great power.

In Closing 

Sue – my dear friend and long-time spiritual mentor – is deeply embedded in my heart and every so often, usually once a year, she rises to my consciousness and there’s a strong pull to connect. Over this many years, however, I’ve come to learn and know that we are connected, always, in our hearts. That is maturity. She has taught me that we are one and the same, connected by this great force of life that she calls God, that I accept in my heart and am still reconciling in my mind.

I have written this piece in honor of her 89th birthday and send this out into the universe with love, in hopes that many others will learn about the incredible wisdom and example set by this amazing woman – Dr. Sue Rubin – who has the most remarkable stories and examples to share on how to live your life with hope and stay connected to what is truly important…that potent, powerful, all loving, creative universal spirit within oneself.

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