I am a seeker

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.

 

  1. 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. *

    Me on my first communion
    This is me at my First Communion, featuring a very interesting light leak.
  2. 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.

  3. 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.

My favorite moment from yesterday

My dear friend lost her zen teacher last week, suddenly of a heart attack. Not only is this a great loss for her (which in and of itself makes my heart break for her) this is a great loss to my sangha. He was the co-abbot of Dharma Rain Zen Center, which is the “mother ship” so to speak. Our little sangha falls under the Dharma Rain umbrella. We owe them a huge debt of gratitude for this, and in turn, we owe Kyogen a huge debt of gratitude. His leadership has set the stage for us, and has allowed us to be what we are.  I have never met him but I feel like he is a part of me because of his teachings.

Last night at our sitting group we had a beautiful memorial for him. This was the first time I participated in a Zen Buddhist memorial service. It started with zazen and about 10 minutes before we were done with zazen one of our teachers quietly made an announcement about the ceremony.

When I am sitting in the zendo I pick a seat that faces a window and has a beautiful view of Mt. Hood. Generally, when sitting in zazen you are supposed to face a blank wall so you don’t have any distractions. But I do allow myself this one luxury sometimes. I guess because I am still so new at this.  I will marvel at the view for a few minutes but then my gaze goes down to the carpet a few feet in front of me (like it’s supposed to).

When our teacher was introducing the ceremony she talked a little bit about Kyogen and how he has been so important for our sangha. As she was talking my gaze went from the floor to the view because something caught my eye. It was light that had caught my eye. Until that moment it had been a gray and dark, rainy day. I couldn’t even see the mountain from where I sat. But at that moment when I looked up there was the most glorious beam of light shining down on the foothills in front of the mountain. I kind of couldn’t believe what I was seeing. It gave me chills and I wanted to grab my friend who was sitting next to me and point out the window but felt that it would be inappropriate to do so. So I sat  silently in awe as I watched  the clouds light up with the sun.

It was a beautiful moment that filled my heart with hope and love.

Tell me everything you know about ice cream

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.

You can stand under my umbrella

I don’t know about you but the news from the past week and a half has really gotten to me. The day Robin Williams committed suicide seems to have started a downward spiral of terrible news all over the world. I am  disturbed by all of it.

I am especially saddened by the death of Robin Williams. The sadness has crept up on me slowly. When I see videos of him and stories about him it breaks my heart all over again. I grew up with him and his crazy sense of humor. I see these videos of him being funny and, like others, I am shocked that this person decided to end his own life.

Suicide is a very touchy subject for me. It has affected my life in many ways. When the subject comes up in the news it stirs up thoughts of my own struggles with depression.

In an odd turn of events, I was called upon this week to attend a Mental Health First Aid training workshop.  I was a little hesitant to go because I was personally feeling a little fragile, but I went anyway. It was really good training, though very intense. I went away from it feeling good about helping someone through a mental health crisis should the need arise. It also helped me realize that I am not alone in my struggles, which helps me feel better.

During this past week and a half one of the things that has come up (and was completely validated when I took this class) is the idea that we need to reach out to others who are suffering. It is a hard thing to do. I admit to not doing it as often as I should. I would even go as far as to say it is a very brave thing to do.

When a person is in a deep depression they are incapable of helping themselves. Much of the advice I have heard on social media about this is something like, “If you are depressed, don’t be afraid to reach out to others.” Unfortunately, this is very hard to do. Sometimes it is impossible. When a person is in that place of darkness it can be hard to find the way out. It becomes very important for others to  help them by leading the way out.

A Polish proverb came up over and over again about a month ago in very disparate places. It was very odd and made me wonder if the Universe was trying to tell me something. The proverb is:

Not my circus. Not my monkeys.

when I first saw it I embraced the idea. I tend to easily get sucked into other people’s drama and it affects me in negative ways, at times. However, after giving it some thought I have to really disagree with it.  I realized that we are all in this together. We are rowing the same boat. If you are suffering, I am suffering too. Your suffering is my suffering. So it benefits me to reach out and help.

I am so very grateful to those of you (you know who you are) who have helped me through some of those darker times. Thank you very much.