The last few years have been an inward journey for me.
Prior to that, spiritually speaking, and for a good part of my life, I thought truth was found outside of me, in religion, doctrine, history, philosophy, politics, books (one in particular) etc. And while there is definitely, without a doubt, some truth there, there is definitely, without a doubt, falsehood there as well. A lot, to say the least….
For a season it worked for me. My life was build around principles that helped me “modify behavior” as to find redemption, salvation and be a better person in general and all rooted in the best, sincere intentions and desire for deep intimacy with my Creator. It was also rooted in a community that supported and upheld those intentions.
The “slate” was wiped clean when it all fell apart just a few years back. Honestly, it needed to fall and fall it did.
When life is rather normal, or as normal as it can be for a western, privileged American, these behavior modification doctrines (religious training), consistently and faithfully applied, are fairly effective for living, mostly, a moral, decent and ethical life. There was a season in my life when this served me. I thought this approach would also be effective in the raising of my children as well. I wanted the best for them (still do) so I got them out the door for weekly indoctrination faithfully about twice a week on average at one point. I entertained the thinking that it was a kind of “vaccination” against bad decisions and painful consequences that could make their lives less than happy or even miserable as mine had been previously. I had come from the other side of the equation prior to my religious conversion and had lived the “wild, hedonistic life” and knew what kind of consequence that introduces. I had a deep understanding of what it means to “pay the piper” so to speak as a result of my destructive choices. So, wanting to prevent the outcome I had experienced, I did what I thought would work and I did it out of deep love and yes, unconscious fear masquerading as love, for my children. It is a mystery how emotions can betray us to relabel our intentions but I guess that is the function of the ever elusive ego.
So, as life does, it had many lessons for me. My journey left the narrative of what could be repaired by good solid doctrine and prayer and took on characteristics that were beyond the “scope of treatment”. The “good doctors” shrugged their shoulders and walked away. That was meant to be. I suppose if the boat had never rocked I’d still be on it. And while being “on the boat” is certainly easier and more comfortable, it wasn’t the right path for me. So, the “rocking” and eventual capsizing of that “boat” that took place, in hindsight, is accepted with deep gratitude. The suffering that produced has by far been the best teacher I ever had….until I found the process of seeking the genuine One. Suffering will be our teacher until we learn not to need him. Or maybe suffering is a her? I don’t know. But I digress…
To sum up my journey, thus far, I have learned that indeed the Kingdom is within and that is the only place it can be found. We are the temple, period. It certainly wasn’t anywhere else. That I believe without a shadow of a doubt. I actually tested the hell out of the other theory (an outward kingdom/temple) and found it to be severely lacking.
And thus began my inward journey….the only frontier not explored, at least very deeply. So hold your breath, we are going down…..
I began meditating. That wasn’t easy. The first realization I had was that I was not in charge of my thoughts. My thoughts were in charge of me! No wonder I was such a basket case. So up a long hill I trudged learning to quiet, calm and make peace with the “panicky, neurotic monkey” residing in my head. I finally developed a consistent meditation practice and that is when life finally stood still enough for me to catch my breath and experience real peace, probably for the first time since I was a small child. With my mind more ordered, my emotions much more tame and my perceptions widened about the world around me I feel like my compassion, forgiveness, understanding and love towards my fellow man is finally becoming genuine. I see more clearly. I understand that unhealthy attachment, to anything or anyone, is not love and love, for me, has a brand new, clean pure hue. I don’t know that I understood what love was before but I am learning what it is now. Without being overly dramatic, love, real love, is truly a beautiful and holy thing.
I have much to learn about this journey and I do feel like I can find good “slices” of information from sources that have been at it a lot longer than I. As I don’t accept a label, I feel no threat in seeking that information from those sources, but with no intention of commitment towards a particular religion, philosophy or doctrine. I am a pretty unlikely candidate for conversion to anything. Nothing is contagious unless I receive it and I have been there done that and have the t-shirt. My “indoctrinated fear” of what is under every rock has left me. I feel fairly confident that I can discern truth, as I have something inside me, that being my Conscience, that when carefully paid attention to, is pretty accurate in identifying the (pardon me) bullshit. Living the rigors of years religious abuse, disappointment and neglect educated me throughly in that regard. So I seek out unconventional sources, that while they might not embrace all that I believe, have had success in certain areas and that I can learn from. I feel like everyone has something to teach me. EVERYONE. And I feel like NO ONE has all the answers. We all just see in part. Scientifically, around 3% to be accurate. That isn’t much folks. So when you think, as we all do, that you have unearthed some great truth, ponder that for a moment. For me, it is pretty humbling.
Today I came back from a weekend trip to a monastery of the Catholic sort. I weekly attend a class on meditation of the Buddhist sort. I am not a Catholic, never have been, nor am I afraid of becoming one. Nor am I a Buddhist or concerned that might be contagious either. I just feel like there are things to be learned. There are things they both do right and things they both do wrong, in my opionion. At the monastery I didn’t participate in the group retreat with the Catholics. Instead I committed to a weekend of silence, meditation, reading and my artwork sequestered away by myself except for some interaction with my dear friend who is on a similar journey. The Catholics had no problem with us although a few of them regarded us with a bit of suspicion which was quite humorous to us to be honest. None the less they were very respectful and content to let us be and did.
So I came home and thought I’d write about my stay and what that was about for me. The monks live a simple life free from vanity, property, mass electronics and noise. There is merit in such a life. I found them to be truly admirable. Without vanity there is more concern for your fellow man as you are much less obsessed with yourself. We live in a society that is self obsessed. There is one particular monk that acts as a physician for the men that live there. He sees them through trials, illness and ultimately death and feels it is an honor to do so. He is humble, doesn’t own a mercedes or belong to a country club. No pharmaceutical reps visit him. The men work the property, make their own food and food for the poor and down trodden. They rise at 3:45 in the morning and everything shuts down around 8:00 in the evening. They take just one day of rest. There is much to learn from their way of life. I won’t be becoming a nun but I can certainly implement some of those things into my own way of living. (definitely not the 3:45 thing, that won’t be happening, 😉 )There are things about the religion they practice that do not resonate with my spirit but plenty of things about their way of life that does.
In my silence there I became very cognizant of my judgement and resentment towards the institution of religion and of religious people. I was made aware of my unhealed pain in regard to the disappointment I have felt in them both. Then I was reminded of my own mistakes and short comings and how I have let people down as well. Truly anything filtered through the limited understanding and perception of the human mind has a likely possibility of being harmful and frequently is. In religion this happens in more of a macro fashion, than individually, as history and current events testify to. I think if the people that hurt me knew better they would have done better. But, they didn’t. It is time to let that go now. For me my stay at the monastery ended my battle with religion. It also ended my judgement of it. It washed clean the hurt and pain religion has caused me. In my silence I became very aware of my own brokenness and the brokenness of others. People function at the level of consciousness they posses and everyone’s journey is different. We all break in different places and in different ways. The Japanese have a tradition of repairing broken things with gold making them more valuable repaired then they were when they were in their original condition. I guess maybe I am finally being repaired and I see the capacity in every human being to be healed as well. I see goodness and worth in the broken pieces like I never have before. I have to say I went away loving those people, truly, and what I learned from them. I won’t be joining their religion but we all belong to a club known as humanity. Silence and quieting the mind has a wonderful way of putting things in perspective and revealing the big picture and the interconnectedness of it all and all of us.
When we were children there was no separateness until someone informed us of it. We were all family. We were all one. I think that is what we are supposed to be. Maybe that is what “be like a little child” means”? I know that there are people that don’t agree with me and that is OK. I respect that and I love you too. After my visit at the monastery I know a little more about that now. To my teachers, all of you, I bow in deep humility to you and what you have taught me.