Last year I read Eat Pray Love for my book club and it was a reminder to me of what I’ve been neglecting in my life. Elizabeth Gilbert set out on a year-long trek to find herself through pleasure and prayer. She spent several weeks at the Ashram of her Guru in India, and as I read I wondered to myself, “Where can I find myself a guru?” not really knowing that I’d found one long ago in Pema Chödrön.
I can’t really say how I happened upon her book Finding the Places That Scare You, but I remember checking it out from the library and studying it intently at a time when I was feeling particularly lost. I fell so in love with the words, ideals and philosophies that I couldn’t bring myself to return it, instead renewing it as often as possible before having to take it back and then check it out again. I finally wised up and bought a copy of my own to highlight and mark and scribble and carry around for those moments I needed a voice of clarity. After that first book, I started in on When Things Fall Apart. I began learning what it meant to be present in a moment of a particular feeling, in those times of discomfort when we so eagerly scramble to be anywhere but in the presence of emotional pain. I began to live closer to the idea that when a painful moment touches me, I need to sit with it, to recognize it, touch it, feel it completely before it will dissolve and I am able to move on. This one simple principle has helped me through some of the most challenging moments of my life, like when Janie won’t get off me. It’s a central tenet in the practice of lojong – using suffering to build up compassion and connect with humanity.
Janie finally read Chödrön’s book Start Where You Are last year and something clicked for her. She’s long been a student of Taoism, but she managed to connect with Buddhism. Her interest renewed mine at a time where I was starting to feel the pull of spirituality that I’d sort of pushed to the side. I feel as if I’ve now reached a point where I can use some clarity, where I need to regain my focus and renew my sense of compassion.
In the spring of 2008, I took a five week Introduction to Buddhist Meditation class. I’ve never had a meditation teacher and, honestly, have never seriously meditated other than some half-hearted attempts to calm myself that resulted in taking a short nap on the couch. Our first class was on some basic tenets of Buddhist meditation along with some demonstration of different sitting positions. We each struggled to find the best, most comfortable position we could before practicing in a few guided sessions. After the class ended, it was easy to fall back into my old rhythm which was not inclusive of taking time and space for myself, to reconnect with my mind, spirit and the world.
What is interesting about starting National Blog Posting Month is that it has given me some free time that I hadn’t necessarily allowed myself before; that I was convinced I didn’t have to spend. It’s funny what’s there when you look for it, rather than brush off the idea without a second thought. It is so easy to say we’re too busy, we have too many obligations or the dog is running down the hall with cat shit in his mouth and that’s all I have the time for now, for dry-heaving while trying to extract it from his clenched jaws. Janie is taking part in National Novel Writing Month which has given her the same quiet time to reconnect with something she loves, with something she had not allowed herself the time to do because things are always “too busy.” Janie has been especially busy trying to ply Carson with peanut butter flavored liquid Prozac that she can smell coming from two rooms away. It is not easy to extract a 17 pound cat from inside a pull-out couch.
I’m going to spend the next several months working hard on allowing myself time to do things I love, like writing, reading, photographing things and taking off Janie’s top. You may notice that I write more about my feelings, but let’s hope not because seriously, what a downer. What I most hope for, however, is that I give myself the time and space to consider my place here and how to be a better person, the kind of person who doesn’t spend the drive home from work screaming “cocksucker!” at every person who holds me up at an intersection to make a left-hand turn when there is an abundance of oncoming traffic. It just makes me so mad even to think about it!
Spirituality has always been a big idea for me, something I’ve been hugely interested in. Partially because I can’t seem to shake the guilt and horror of a Catholic upbringing and also because I want to understand humanity and the universe and our collective purpose. I joke a lot about religion and God and that there Bible, and sometimes I write vicious screeds about Armageddon, but beneath all the sarcasm and vitriol and sass is a lonely little girl trying to understand; trying to find someone who will tell her that it’s not as pointless as it seems. I have found myself really upset with evangelicals and fundamentalists who take religion, specifically Christianity, and turn it into something so hateful and ugly that it becomes, to me and so many others, what organized religion is all about and it is so off-putting. I want to spend more of my time looking past those few people, pushing my way through a small crowd of haters to get to the central ideas of Christianity and other world religions. I want to explore the idea that at the core of all religions and philosophies lie the same basic beliefs and ideals that are good and healthy and accessible to everyone. I want to unravel the mystery and explore the idea of faith and spirituality. My basic question is whether we can learn that, when all is said and done, we are the same people reaching for the same things: for compassion, understanding and love.
How do I experience God? You know, that in Buddhism we do not believe in God or disbelieve in God. We keep it as an open question. So I don’t use the word god much. I’m not at all even slightly offended by the word god. And I know it means a lot of different things to different people. So if I had to have a definition it would be that open space of mind that allows for ultimate possibilities. And doesn’t narrow down into a security based or fear based view where my way has to have precedence.
I love this idea, the thought that there is no belief of disbelief. I spend many moments wondering “is there or isn’t there?” without ever really knowing one way or the other. The thought that I can neither believe or disbelieve is a comfortable place for me to settle my mind. It’s hard when society often times is so black and white in its beliefs – that there is or isn’t, it’s either mine or yours, male or female. There is never room for the gray areas when, in reality, it is all gray. This is what I love about Buddhism and why I keep coming back to it time and time again – that it allows for the possibility of other things. There are never any real absolutes and we can let our hearts lead us. That’s what I intend to start doing – exploring my heart and letting it lead me. At the very least, it should allow for less moments of uncontrollable rage when another asshole motherfucker “accidentally” kicks my dog at Petco.