Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Where spiritual paths converge

These past several years have certainly involved a lot of major life changes, many not so fun and a lot of living in a sort of survivalist mode. I believe that when these things occur we naturally look to the heavens for some sort of spiritual guidance because when all material things we are comforted by fall away we have nothing left to turn to. Maybe this is a blessing in disguise. It shows us how when we do have the material comforts that they either cause more complicated problems or we just aren't grateful for them anyway. Now that doesn't mean I have turned away from all material comforts, haha. That is so much easier said than done my friends. I can at least see where such wordly dependences lead though.

So where am I going with all of this? Well, first let me give a brief history of my own spiritual paths in this adult life. I spent  my pre childbearing years as a self proclaimed pagan/hardcore feminist sort in earth based traditions. To be as brief as possible, after having children running around doing things like love spells or rituals for prosperity seemed a bit silly in the face of more important life complexities so for years this sort of fell by the wayside. Dozens and dozens of pagan/wiccan books along with tarot cards just sat on the bookshelf collecting dust. I called myself pagan friendly. Things went this way for years and when our life was turned upside down by the layoff/dramatic downsizing of living standards I was seeking once more when I found the local Buddhist center. I was at a point in my life where I had reached a dead end in terms of being content with earthly pleasures like food, drink, and material things and I had in fact realized that these things cause all sorts of problems, problems I still grapple with on a daily basis. Eastern zen/buddhism really got to the heart of these matters and we had a dear monk teacher at our center. They even had a kids' dharma class so the whole family could go simultaneously. Then of course we had to leave Florida.

I had high hopes for Buddhist centers out west. After all, I came from the south and this part of the country was full of free thinkers, right? Finding a sangha (Buddhist community) wasn't as easy as I thought it would be. On our travels I visited some places that left me feeling empty. Lay people would give teachings which seemed to me only to appeal to those living the western 9-5 corporate life. Where were the monastics? Once we settled into Taos I  quickly discovered that the meditation centers here only had hours catering to the same 9-5 folks and of course no kids' classes. With Riki working nights and no babysitter there is no way I could expect my kids to sit zazen for an hour in silence. I started finding that western Buddhism wasn't fitting in with my expectations at all. At best it appeared to be watered down. It seemed that taking $1000 retreats was the best way to contact great teachers or to go on some pilgrimage to India to sit at the feet of gurus. This is sort of like the rich boy syndrome of all the 1960's bohemians and celebrities who flocked to India after finding that wealth was not the way to enlightenment. Well, since I'm not a rich boy or girl for that matter, where the heck do I fit in?

So I found myself recently drawn to Eastern Orthodox Christianity. We have been studying Old Testament this year for Ellery's curriculum and I saw how he has absolutely thrived on these stories, even more than when we studied Siddhartha last year. I've been listening to a lot of Rudolf Steiner's lectures about a more esoteric form of Christianity and things started to click in my head, how he talked about the evolution of world religions from Atlantis to Zarathustra to Buddhism to Judaism, and a culmination at the crucifixion. I started visiting a local Orthodox chapel and was enthralled by the divine liturgy service. It was as if all of my paths had converged at once. The ritual aspect with the smell of frankincense, the beeswax candles, and beautiful icons reminded me of my pagan years. The emphasis on eastern tradition and ascetics/saints reminded me fondly of my Buddhist studies, and the talk the priest did on the particular saint for that day reminded me of our waldorf homeschooling studies. It all clicked and there it was.

I've been super hesitant to talk about this. It seems now that I have purposefully moved away from the conservative south to hippie land that I am now a leper for even mere mention of Christianity. My friends, I have been there. I have spent years with very anti Christian baggage because I grew up believing that this religion meant that I should hate everybody who was different. Now I believe this is a hugely vast misinterpretation of the ancient Christian traditions because humanity has a difficult time grasping something that is ultimately, well, otherwordly. At any rate I have found waldorf education itself to be a crucial part of my healing process and seeking out different ideas about spiritual traditions I already had fixed ideas about.

So for the first time ever I started the practice of Great Lent this week. It will be forty days of fasting which is essentially a vegan diet. Once again I see how all of the great ancient religions of the east have used fasting as a way of spiritual discipline so it is something that automatically feels meaningful. You know, I've been feeling a bit like an outcast lately over all of this which shouldn't be anything new really. I've always joked about how I was too normal for the weird people and too weird for the normal people. That never changes. Well, yesterday I went next door to our sweet neighbors to unload my leftover dairy so I wouldn't be tempted and told them this was for Lent. Samara was curious and asked if I was raised in this and I just laughed and told her this was absolutely new for me. Then she complimented my cross necklace and talked about how inspired she was herself by orthodox services....finally, somebody who didn't have baggage and could at least respect this path. That is really all I am seeking these days but even that seems hard to find. Even Riki is being as supportive as he can but understandably troubled as well as bewildered by this whole transition, being a full fledged atheist that he is.

The light in this story I believe would be Ellery. This is a child who has grown up with no religious baggage. He has never been to church, read a bible, or been told to believe in any particular religion. Nothing has been taught as dogma. He has been to pagan bonfires, meditated at Buddhist centers, and now he has his own icon corner with prayer book. He went to his first liturgy last week and he was just in absolute awe. He had never been to church or seen anything like it. He is able to come to all of this with a sort of innocence many of us never had growing up because of the way things seemed forced or told to us in a finger pointing way. For that, my friends, I am truly blessed, and inspired to see where this journey takes us.


Bon vivant said...

Very interesting story. I was raised in Southern Baptist churches which were dry/dull/religious. Became very excited after finding a militantly evangelistic, fundamental, baptistic sect which was a virtual cult. Left that when we saw the cracks in the mortar and coincidentally became Reformed. That's when my world upside downed. LOVED the liturgy, chanting, psalm singing, balls, dances, festivals and . . . well sangha. Was excommunicated a few years ago for basically asking the wrong questions (concerning the canon) and it was a year or so prior that I noticed a parallel btwn Christian teachings and buddhism proper. Now, a few years later have now been increasingly impressed with buddha's teaching but cannot find a source of philosophy alone, minus the idolatry of Siddhartha. I visited an Eastern Orthodox church a couple of years ago with my children because I missed the life so, and loved most of the experience but couldn't stomach the iconography. After reading a book last month about the rediscovery of buddhism's heyday by the europeans in India I realized, yes, all the religions are, likely related.


Little House On The Mesa said...

Neil, I also had a fairly southern baptist upbringing and found it very dry. Your story is very interesting as well. I'm sorry to hear you were excommunicated for asking questions. Those are the sort of things that turn off myself and so many other friends to organized religion. However, I've decided as I get older not to throw the baby out with the bathwater so to speak.

Just curious what your issue exactly is with iconography, if you are comfortable sharing. I know I find many of the icons to be very beautiful and inspiring.

Nicole said...

Hi, I am so happy to have come across your blog and to have read your story. My husband and I were chrismated in the Orthodox church last January, after a journey of a couple of years. Many blessings to you!

Jason said...

Very interesting. I am happy for you. I am an atheist, and as you know that is a very lonely path. I often envy those with faith, and have tried the same paths in your article and am back to square one. Good luck, I too find that the Orthodox folks are probably the best of the Christian bunch.