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Last week I went camping with my daughter at a festival I used to attend.  It was bittersweet.  I had a good time, but mostly I was profoundly aware of how different I am now than from when I used to attend (over five years).  I think I mostly went as a sanity check…  I find myself growing more conservative every year, and even more so when I had my daughter.  This festival is centered around feminism and women’s spirituality.  I think I wanted to go to check to make sure that my current leanings were not the result of some sort of brainwashing in my environment.  Presumably if this was so, my “vacation” would have me feeling different… more liberated perhaps.  And that isn’t what happened.  I went and found myself thinking “You really believe that?  I remember thinking the same way you do… and now I don’t.”  So, in some ways the trip was edifying.  Its like, okay, I can cross that off my list of places I still need to explore – this is not the direction for me at this time.  And its okay that I’ve changed.

I don’t think the above explanation will make sense to anyone reading this blog, and that’s okay.  Its sort of like, 10 years ago when I was contemplating my exit from Judaism I took a trip to Israel as a sanity check.  I went on the trip to see if I would feel anything in “the Holy Land” — to see if any latent Jewish spirituality would be stirred — to see if there was anything there for me to explore.  And I felt nothing.  nothing.  So I knew it was okay for me to give up my Jewish religious identity and move on fully.

So, the same thing happened for me last week.  And now I feel like I can more on more fully and embrace my new directions.  I felt like I got some clarity.

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reading

I just started reading two books – The Case for Faith by Lee Strobel and The Case for God by Karen Armstrong.  The Case for Faith is easy reading and seems to have some interesting soundbites from various philosophers and theologians.

The Case for God is something else altogether.  Karen Armstrong isn’t presenting a case for the existence of God, but for the validity and value of religion in the human experience.  She presents a detailed long view of religion throughout human history which really puts our current theological debates in perspective.  I am only a chapter or two in and so far it is blowing my mind.  It really didn’t occur to me that thinking of religion as “believing in a set doctrine” is a recent interpretation, rooted in our scientific/logical cultural values.  Throughout most of human history religion was about practices, rituals, and mythology.  Armstrong suggests that the benefit of religion/faith comes from these elements.  Rituals and myth help us with meaning making.  Rituals and practice give us, through discipline, the experience of the transcendent.

Again, I’ve only just started reading but this book is changing how I am thinking about my spiritual journey.  It is reinforcing some of my thoughts about how looking at doctrine alone is inadequate and that practice is the heart of faith.  It is making me rethink the importance of myths.

 

It is a joke that I am going to be counseling people in just over a month when my internship starts.  Readers – if you ever see a counselor, don’t assume he or she has his or her shit together.  I clearly do not.  I am so confused about spiritual matters.  I had a big existential panic attack this evening.  Its horrible when it hits and then embarrassing after it passes.

My husband thinks that I will feel better once I get back to work (teaching) next month and start my internship.  Being home without adult company and gainful employment is hard on most people.  I suspect he is correct.  That said, I really need to settle on a direction for the next few years and stop these intellectual dives down various rabbit holes… they aren’t productive… they aren’t helping.  My husband says that as humans there are some things we cannot know and we have to trust that we fit into a bigger picture — he says that it doesn’t make sense that our peace or salvation would have to rely on intellectually solving some riddle or figuring out the “right” path.  He argues that there must be many ways and that its just a matter of picking a way that speaks to you.  As an agnostic (who in many ways has deeper faith than I do) he leans pretty Hindu in his Universalist worldview.

So then we return again to the religious drawing board… and we start going down the list of religions we’ve considered… and weigh what we liked and didn’t like, what is available, what is accessible to Westerners, what emphasizes meditation, or prayer, or service, or study, and what our tendencies and strengths are.  And I still suspect we are looking at this all wrong because its still “me me me” and I know that isn’t helping.

But I’ll just put it out there:  I want a spirituality that is authentic and has depth, but is also positive and affirming – not gloomy or fear-based (and yet also not superficial or “too happy/not real”).  My ideal religion/spiritual path would include prayer/group prayer, singing/music, reading/reflecting, listening to sermons or Dharma talks, and an emphasis on spiritual practice / moral discipline in daily life.

For now I need to stop weighing and considering.  Its not that there isn’t a place for intellect and reasoning as part of a spiritual journey… but in my case it clearly needs to be tempered with greater humility and faith because I am getting nowhere.

I picked this up at the library (in audio book format) while I was looking for books on CD to bring on my trip (another camping vacation coming up!).  I started listening to it today and am enthralled.  It is wonderful!  I am looking forward to hearing the rest and also borrowing John Bunyan’s autobiography: Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners.  Since I am currently in the throes of my own existential/spiritual crisis I think reading about his crisis 350+ years ago will be very interesting.

I keep thinking about Gautama Buddha in the Kalama Sutra addressing the confused villagers who had heard too many wandering mystics/gurus and didn’t know who to listen to or follow.  I can relate.  People interpret this sutra in very different ways, but my take is that you have to start with what is clearly right – do those things, and observe the fruits in your life – from those fruits will come other convictions other “right ways.”  In such a way, one is guided continually both by one’s own judgment and the unfolding path.  Buddha doesn’t say “pick this one” or “use your intellect” or “use divination” etc etc – practice is what is needed.  We cannot know truth without allowing ourselves to change through living a changed life.

It’s been a couple of weeks … here is what is going on now.

I am 100% clear that I need God in my life.

My husband and I have had numerous discussions about where we are heading individually and as a family.  He still feels like Buddhism has been very helpful to him and he’s not ready to jump ship.  I have been encouraging him to read Theravada Buddhist literature (because Zen isn’t doing it for him) and gave him some links to Theravada Buddhist temples in our area but I don’t know that he’ll actually visit any.  That’s okay.  I understand that he has to walk his path on his own, just as I walk my own path.

But I’ve also told him I need his help and support on my spiritual journey.  I feel self-conscious sometimes wanting to talk about God because I know he is an agnostic.  I want to do family prayer or grace before meals – he feels put on the spot – so we’re working on a compromise where I would lead prayer (so he’s not on the spot) but he will help me remember and hold an intentional space.

I was all set to visit a liberal Mennonite church nearby last Sunday and then my daughter had a raging fever and I stayed home to nurse her.  So she was sick and then I was sick… but finally we’re both better.  So then I was planning to visit the church this Sunday but last night I was online and found some recent sermons online at the church’s website and decided I didn’t want to visit after all.  The sermon talked about scripture but also brought in politics… a lot.  And I just cannot attend a church where politics (even — or maybe especially liberal peace politics) are a major topic of discussion.  I don’t have a good explanation for this – but these sort of sermons sound to me like “you have to be an activist to fit in here and to be a good person and to do God’s will” and I just disagree.  Don’t get me wrong, I am glad there are activists in the world – we all owe them a debt of gratitude for the work they do in the world.  Political activism just is not my work.  And it doesn’t have to be.  Unfortunately, I’ve had a number of bad experiences with Activists who feel that it has to be everyone’s work… or else you are wrong/bad/stupid/evil/an oppressor.  But for me, I have to focus my energy on what I can immediately control (my own life and how I treat the people around me) or else focus on accepting what I can’t control and what is in God’s hands.  A woman online I know described this as the difference between an Activist orientation and a Quietist orientation.  I have the latter.   (and I’ve rewritten this paragraph like 4 times now to try to make it less offensive, but it may still offend some, and if so, I’m really sorry.)

So instead I decided to put myself out there… and attend an Amish-Mennonite / Beachy Amish mission church I had learned about online several months ago.  I was scared to go because its in a really bad part of town and I didn’t know what the people would be like, and I knew it was very small and of course it doesn’t have a website or anything like that… but I went, and it was really nice.  It was very small, maybe 10-12 people there, some of whom were children.  The people were very friendly though and I loved the a capella singing (which was done sitting and without all that stand-up/sit down business that feels artificial to me) and the simple sermon.  There was a Sunday school portion and a second sermon which was really long – and these parts were less compelling… but in general I felt really comfortable there.  The people were down-to-earth.  Women were in plain dress.  Everyone there spoke with great love and faith in God.  It was inspiring.  I also liked that there was space during the service for people to pray out loud together and to reflect upon the sermons.  After the service I talked to several of the women there and felt comfortable to share parts of my story and to explain why I was there.  They were very supportive.

My thoughts are still in a jumble about my experiences this morning.  Here are some things I want to say…  I really don’t understand what this is all about.  I keep feeling myself drawn to conservative Christian churches.  This is odd for me on so many levels.  I am (and always have been) politically and socially liberal.  I am (still) not a Christian (yet?).  I think of Jesus as a great prophet and teacher but a savior?  These ideas are still foreign to me.  I am not the sort of person who interprets things literally, for me, most things must be taken in context.  I know these things… and yet, I still find myself drawn to the idea of a simple faith and a simple life.  I want to rely on God.  I want freedom from the things that keep me running in circles – my doubts and fears, my intellectual compulsion to “figure everything out” and accompanying frustration when this is fruitless, and I want to believe that God is with us in every moment and that He has a plan.

I feel naive writing this… its not that I want to put my head in the sand and cultivate an immature or unreasoned faith.  It’s that I know what doubt and disconnection is like and I know it doesn’t lead to greater compassion and love for me.  So there is a part of me, that is growing stronger by the day, that is thinking “well, f*** it.  Even if I don’t believe it (yet), maybe I should just go with it, because what do I know anyway, and clearly what I’m doing now isn’t getting me anywhere.”

And, that’s what happened with my involvement with that Buddhist group – which ended up not being such a great group, however, they inadvertently helped me find my way back to faith in God… so maybe that wasn’t such a bad thing after all.  Maybe God knows what he’s doing here, even if I don’t.

And God bless my husband… who is still supportive… even though he doesn’t get it.  He has strong faith in his own way.

From Tenpel at this site (see the reply to the 3rd comment posted July 6, 12:27pm).  What he writes speaks directly to my experience of feeling that I have partaken of poisoned spiritual food and my struggles to now sort out what is nourishing and good from what sickens the spirit.  Learning to trust again is also a challenge.

I think what NKT has to offer is still somewhat spiritual food, but it is poisoned. Hungry dogs will greed for food like spiritual hungry Westerners greed for easy digestible spiritual food and NKT claims to offer it. When a hungry dog eats food it has the relief of the suffering of hunger (for a while and greeds for more food when it is hungry again) but if the food is poisoned the more the dog eats the more he also gets sick, then the dog has two effects: alleviation of suffering by eating food + an increase of bodily suffering due to the poison in the food. It is similar in NKT. But most people get confused when the signs of the poison appear in the mind, and NKT is telling them, it were “a purification process” or put the blame on them claiming that they would not practice purely or hard enough or that they lack merit etc and then they are encouraged to work harder for the NKT center… just recognize these patterns.

What NKT has accomplished is a type of spiritual materialism, the good intentions got lost on the way but they were there in the beginning and sometimes they glow up for a while but sooner or later they get lost, compassion got lost due to pride and feelings of self-importance.

Now leaving NKT is a hard job, and it could be helpful to have an analysis which is close to reality in order to be able to recover well. The problem I see with respect to continue with the Dharma is to extract the correct teachings given in NKT from the distorted ones and to see how NKT has defiled the own mind with feelings of superiority, pride, lack of compassion, feelings of guilt, fear etc. More over there is the damage (as portrayed above) how hard it is to rely again on others after this devastating experiences where one was mainly exploited and allowed others to exploit oneself. This legacy needs a lot of time and is hard to overcome, and, I think, this post NKT-burden must be faced if one wants to recover fully. But of course facing things needs time and also much compassion, acceptance and love for oneself—and good support from good friends.

Also on this site, I appreciate Ratikala’s comments on the necessity of a firm Hinayana foundation:

[What] I’m suggesting is if in doubt go back to Buddha’s original teachings, go back to hinayana teachings , the highs that come from mahayana ideals are dangerous unless there is a firm foundation ‘hinayana’!!! nobody at n.k.t. told you that because nobody knew, I am telling you because I found that it works, I am only suggesting that you try it, if you find it useful then adopt it, if its not not to your liking its ok, leave it !

 

I think the main reason why I am exploring non-Buddhist paths at the moment is because they are further removed from my experiences and thus don’t bring up or activate tainted understanding/misunderstandings.  I need a little space to have a fresh spirituality.  I do believe I will come back around to what was healthy in the Dharma teachings, but I need to do so from an entirely different perspective in order to claim them as my own.

I’ve been visiting my mother in my hometown for the last several days.  It is good to be here – I am getting a much needed period of rest and renewal as my mother is helping considerably with my daughter.  The best thing about my trip thus far has been reconnecting with two friends – one relatively new who reminds me of my unencumbered college and graduate school days, and one a lifelong friend and kindred spirit.

I am learning some things on my trip.  My childhood friend is reminding me yet again about the importance of faith.  She is encouraging of me and inspiring to me.  She is my daughter’s Godmother because I admire her dedication to faith.  She recently left the Catholic Church and has joined a United Church of Christ congregation.  She is fired up about it and her pastor.  I asked if I could attend services with her tomorrow morning and she was elated to share her church with me.  She even suggested that I might talk to her pastor if I am interested.  I’m really looking forward to the service and to see how it feels to me.

Since talking with this friend on Wednesday I have been praying consistently before bed.  She inspired me to return to this practice and it feels very good and natural right now.  At the moment I am headcovering while praying (and will tomorrow for church) but not the rest of the time.

With my newer friend I am cutting loose a little.  I let my mother babysit and went to a party she threw.  I had a great time and really liked her friends.  It reminded me a great deal of my former life – those days I thought I was missing because my life is currently consumed by Mommyhood… and I found that although it was fun to unwind and be irresponsible for a few hours, I was happy to return to my settled life.  I do not regret anything about my life.  I love my husband and I love my daughter.  It was a great blessing for me to have this opportunity to be reminded about how much I have and how little I would desire to trade my life for another.

My daughter has been blossoming during her time here and is starting to comprehend language and play interactive games.  She has been a joy to observe.  I was feeling a bit disconnected from her before the trip and now I feel close again.

I am understanding that what I need is more balance in my life.  I need to be Mommy and also a person alone.  My marriage needs times when we are a couple alone.  I have let my interests fall too much to the wayside.  I don’t know the solution yet, but when I return home I intend to pay attention to finding balance in my life and life-roles.

Unfortunately being here around so many old friends and acquaintances (and my mother) I have indulged in a fair amount of gossip that I am not proud of and regret.  I do not want to be this person.  Tomorrow I am going to endeavor to practice mindfulness and right speech.  Tomorrow I intend to refrain from gossip and judgmental speech.  One day may seem like a small goal, but I need to start small.  This may be a hard one for me.