I am going through a term student program at my sangha and our first retreat was a week ago. Those of us attending had to prepare a presentation about ourselves. In preparation for this presentation we were to write three outlines: A historical outline, A karmic outline, and a spiritual outline. The exercise was interesting. It was fascinating to see what bubbled to the surface. I thought I would share my spiritual outline on my blog.
I was born into a Catholic family. I did all of the Catholic things: I received communion at the appropriate age, I went to catechism classes, we went to church every Sunday, and I can even still to this day recite the Nicene Creed by heart. I had a pleasant experience as a Catholic. I was interested in God and prayed often. For me praying was “talking to god.” I started this habit early in life and it continued throughout most of my life, up until fairly recently. *
I became a born-again christian when I was 22. I had a very powerful conversion experience and I was very “gung ho” about following Christ. I read the entire Bible. I would spend hours studying the Bible and praying in tongues. I am actually really glad I had this experience because it was probably the only way I would ever read the Bible and I am glad that I read it.
This experience led me to a Pentecostal church which was not a good experience for me. I think this church might have even been a cult. I left that church when I went to University and slowly drifted away from Christianity. It took a long time to “cleanse my brain” from the brainwashing that occurred from that experience. A lot of fear was planted in my at that time. I remember the day when I actually questioned the divinity of Christ and I didn’t feel fear. That was an incredibly good day.
When I got to the place where I was able to question Christ’s divinity I explored other religions and was drawn to Buddhism. I have been reading about Buddhism for a number of years but have been a bit shy about jumping in with both feet. I think this is because of my experience with Christianity. I might always be a little gun shy because of that experience.
Buddhism resonates with me. It allows me to look at other beliefs without guilt. I am a seeker, I have always been a seeker and I will always be one. Buddhism supports this aspect of myself and I love that.
*At this point in my life I don’t believe in God. I guess technically I am an atheist, though I am still very spiritual. Can you be a spiritual atheist? I do believe in something inexplicable that connects all beings together. If that is God, then ok. I believe in whatever that is.
When I was a teenager I worked at Baskin and Robbins. Like any minimum wage job, it was thankless, despite being surrounded by all of the ice cream I could ever want to eat.
One night as we getting ready to close a woman came into the shop. She was pregnant and she wanted an ice cream sundae. We were out of hot fudge. I had to tell this pregnant lady that we were out of hot fudge. I told her and she flipped out. She couldn’t believe a Baskin and Robbins was out of hot fudge. But we were. I couldn’t change this fact. I couldn’t magically make hot fudge appear out of nowhere. I was not the Jesus of Baskin and Robbins. So I had to just keep telling her that we were out of hot fudge and she kept becoming disappointed and angry with me. She couldn’t accept the situation. She left feeling very disappointed and I felt horrible for denying a pregnant lady her hot fudge sundae.
About a month ago I stumbled upon an article about “Highly Sensitive People.” The article resonated with me , hard. My entire life I have been told that I am “too sensitive.” I can’t tell you how many times I have heard this. So I have grown up my entire life thinking that something was wrong with me and I have spent a lot of my life trying to fix this “too sensitive” thing to absolutely no avail. I can’t tell you how relieved I was to stumble on this article and see that being “highly sensitive” is actually a personality trait.
I picked up the book and read it and can recommend it. Some things I learned about myself (most of this stuff I already knew but the book confirmed that this is part of the HSP personality type):
It is OK to be “too sensitive.” In fact it isn’t good or bad. It just is. Those of us who are very sensitive are the poets, artists, spiritual ones, etc. We are highly intuitive and tend to be very creative.
I notice everything. This is something that the book confirmed about myself (among many other things). I pick up on everything around me. It is both good and bad. The problem I have with this -and that I am working on, is attaching stories to all of the things I pick up on. I am learning to let go of the story line and just let things unfold without my brain giving its input. For example, I might sense something is wrong – like someone around me is giving off a nervous energy. My initial reaction to this weird nervous energy might be to assume this has to do with me in some way (they don’t like me, they are annoyed with me, etc). I am learning to put space between the feeling and the thought.
As I mentioned above, I am sensitive to the energy of people. When I am sitting on the Reference Desk at the library I can literally feel the bad mood of a person, or even a family, while they are in the area. Sometimes it is just a chaotic energy that I feel. Sometimes it is a very calming energy. Sometimes, if it is a draining, chaotic kind of energy, I am completely exhausted by the end of the day. I need to have some time to myself to recharge.
I feel ALL OF THE FEELINGS. Again, this can be really, really great, and really, really awful. There is rarely an in- between state. I cherish those rare occasions when I feel that state in-between THIS IS FUCKING AWESOME and this. fucking. sucks. Though those THIS IS FUCKING AWESOME feelings are pretty fucking awesome. I highly recommend this book if you are sensitive as well, or if any of this resonates with you. The website is really good too. It helped me to see that I am not a weirdo, that this is normal and there are lots of people like me out there.
I don’t remember what the impetus was, but I found myself today doing a Google search for “Big Spiders in the Bay Area.” The first result is this website from Berkeley which informs us of spiders most frequently encountered in the Bay Area. Looking at these photos makes me feel a fear that I can’t fully describe in words. It is a fear that I feel deep inside me, at the core of my being. The kind of fear that makes me physically react with nausea.
My spider research today was prompted by a memory from when I was a nanny living in Menlo Park. I was in the sitting room hanging out with the little girl I took care of when I saw a creature hanging out in one of her Lego structures. It was a creature that I couldn’t pinpoint because I’d never seen anything like it. I guess it was a giant spider – that is the only way to describe it. It wasn’t a tarantula though because it wasn’t fuzzy. It had a shiny surface. It was horrific and large and it scared the shit out of both of us. I decided that I didn’t know what to do with it so the best course of action would be to ignore it and hope that it would go away. We left the room and played somewhere else and it, in fact, went away and I never saw it again. But in the back of my mind I wondered where it went and if I would encounter it again. I also wondered if I imagined the whole thing because I have never seen anything like it again.
I had a conversation with the parents of the little girl about it and they encountered one of these “things” as well – in the same room. The mom said that the thing tried to run away from her and she had to stab it several times with a pen to kill it (!!!) but it didn’t die, it ran away. The father encountered it later and killed it by putting it in the garbage disposal. Hearing about the demise of this creature kind of horrified me, as scary as it was to encounter it myself. It’s presence scared me, yes. But did it deserve to die such a terrible death? I’m sure it didn’t!
I have never seen one of these things again, and when I asked around about it I never got any answers either. Nobody I knew in the Bay Area had ever seen anything like the thing I described.
Something (I can’t remember what) prompted me to remember this and search Google to see if I could figure out what this thing was. And I did. I’m pretty sure it was a Calisoga longitarsus, otherwise known as a False Tarantula. I know it by looking at the picture. I will never forget what it looked like.
Things for me, lately, have been overwhelming. I am going through some stress and, unfortunately, I don’t do stress very well. I have recently learned that I am a Highly Sensitive Person. Actually, this is something that I’ve known about myself all of my life, I am just finding out that there is a name for it. And that I’m not alone (which is great!). But more on this in another blog post. What I want to talk about today is happiness.
I am finding myself lately trying to fit into that box that society calls “normal.” Frankly, I am not really sure what that is. In my head I think it is being happy. Society says that we should be happy. That if we aren’t happy something is wrong with us. I find myself falling easily into this thought groove. Then someone or something comes along and reminds me that happiness isn’t the be all and end all.
There is something very freeing about this thought. I don’t have to always be happy. Wow. That takes a load off. There is a lot of pressure and work in being happy all of the time.
I think for me the best thing is to focus on what is right in front of me at any given moment. I can do that. Sometimes, anything beyond the given moment can be overwhelming. Today is one of those days. Today I need to just focus on what is right in front of me.
I find that when I do that I can be content. Content is good. In many ways I think I’d rather be content than happy.