A Spiritual Transition (Crisis)

15 May

I don’t know if it’s a transition, a phase, a shift, or a spiritual crisis! Maybe all of the above! But things have definitely changed dramatically for me over the last year.  In retrospect the change was not so sudden, it was slowly bubbling under the surface for many many years, and finally reached a full boil.

I don’t even know where to begin.

I had always been extremely drawn to the Buddha’s teachings, from the first time I saw them at eight years old.  Every time I would hear the teachings, I would just have a feeling of coming home, of resonating with Truth.  It was love at first sight!  But somehow I was never able to connect to the community.  Even after being extremely involved at the Buddhist centers where I’ve gone for 15 years, it always felt like something was missing, and like I didn’t quite fit in.  Basically I felt like there was no community to connect with or fit into!  I have many friends from the centers, who I adore as individuals, but somehow, as a group, it doesn’t work for me.  People at my center tend to arrive, meditate, and leave.  Even though there are over 500 members (maybe because there are over 500 members!), there is very little socializing.  And I definitely had a hard time figuring out how to involve my children.  I thought to myself, Where are the celebrations?  Where is the community service?  How would we come together to help each other out when in need?  I made many attempts to create community while I was there, but it always felt like an uphill battle, and a battle that I didn’t want to be fighting, a battle I eventually gave up on and lost.

The final straw came last year when I learned that the Buddhist family retreat my children and I have been attending for the last 8 years is being cancelled, forever.  The board decided that being a center designed for silent retreats, they could no longer accommodate the additional planning, workload, and disruption, that the family retreat brought.  The retreat had been ongoing for more than 35 years.  This was devastating for me.  I had really invested in raising my children in this practice, and this was the only spiritual community they had.  I felt like my children were being kicked out the community.  I felt horrible for having raised my kids in a community where they were no longer wanted.  They are too old to start something new, they would never accept even if I could find something.  My mama bear instinct came out, and it really pissed me off.  I thought, Fuck you.  You don’t want us?  Well, guess what, we don’t want you either.  I’m done.

I’m trying to be diplomatic, but truth is, I’m sick of it.  Twenty plus years of practice, and I’m fed up.  I know I have benefited IMMENSELY from the practice, and I actually continue to go on retreat with my teachers who I still love, so I’m trying not to throw the baby out with the bathwater, as they say.  But I’m tired of the pretense, I’m tired of the underlying, unspoken assumption that things need to be quiet, neat, orderly, and perfect in order for us to “practice”.  I’m tired of the belief that having children is a hindrance to the practice.  This is after all a monastic practice that has been passed on for millennia by the celibate monks. Even the Buddha himself abandoned his wife and newborn son to start this path.

What I am trying to reconcile, is the Buddhist truth that attachment to desire leads to suffering, and the truth that I am living a life that involves attachments, to children, friends, and lovers, and even more “menial” attachments, such as to my car and house.  I don’t want to give up my attachment to my children, if that comes with suffering, I’ll take it!!  And I have to admit I want a nice house and a working car.  That’s the life I’ve chosen, I’m not a nun!! I see too many people using meditation and retreats to numb themselves out of feeling.  It becomes a spiritual bypass.  An escape.  I believe our practice should enable to function better *in* the world, not make us feel we need to escape from it.

I’ve come to see the Buddhist tradition as a turning away from life, retreating.  I want to be fully immersed in life.  I want a spiritual practice that embraces the noise, the messiness, and the chaos of life. I don’t want to put out the flame of desire, I want to feel the pain and the joy of it.  I couldn’t say it any better than this:

You are the Essence of the Essence,
The intoxication of Love.
I long to sing Your Praises
but stand mute
with the agony of wishing in my heart !

~ Rumi

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