Spiritual Maturity: A Journey from Woo-Woo to Wisdom February 17, 2022 10:45
If you prefer to listen to this article, please click here for the link.
A few days ago, a friend of mine had posted a picture of the book Ask and It Is Given on Facebook. She had recently read it, and it resonated for her.
I don’t respond often to posts, but I felt the need to “chime in” with this one, in a compassionate way. I wasn’t mean-spirited or rude. I wasn’t judgmental or unkind. In fact, I admitted to my friend that I had read this book, too, years ago.
I had even purchased tapes (yes, tapes) of Abraham-Hicks conversations. I also listened to various Hay House Radio programs back in the day. I was totally on board and sucked into the “vortex” of woo-woo.
I had read The Secret, and I had watched the video, I’m embarrassed to admit, on more than one occasion.
During this time in my life (early 2000’s), I was attending psychic fairs, I read a lot of “self help” books (many by Hay House authors), I had angel and archetype card decks lying around the house. I was frequently shuffling decks and pulling cards for guidance or validation for something or other.
During this time, I consulted psychics, numerologists, astrologists—For an entire year, I participated in a “meditation” group that met weekly at a local rock and crystal shop.
I had immersed myself in a new age “spiritual” world, and, at the time, it resonated—or, at least, I thought so.
At the time, I was also very vulnerable. Jim’s father had passed away, we moved to a new home in a new town, we had invited Jim’s mom to live with us, my daughter was very young and just starting school, I had recently finished graduate school, and I was teaching full time. My life was very busy, stressful, and chaotic at this time. I didn’t have time or energy for deep thoughts.
Instead, I took solace in pseudoscience. It was easy to access, and I didn’t have to think too much. Most of the “guidance” I received from psychics was vague and general (which is typical). I liked the atmosphere of the rock shop with the sounds of ambient music, the tinkling of wind chimes, creaking wooden floors, and the ever present scent of incense—and all the shelves lined with new age spiritual books about spirit guides, animal totems, dream interpretation, channeled conversations from the spirit realm, near death experiences, and angels. All of this was very soothing, calming, and validating to me.
I felt safe here. I took refuge in the supernatural and the hokey. I made friends and felt connected to others who felt comforted by these things, too.
I was satisfied, satiated, and numb in this vacuous world of manifesting good vibes, generating energetic frequencies, and clutching shiny stones.
Even though I cringe writing about this now, this world was a necessary escape hatch for me at the time. I don’t regret the friends I met here or visiting this place. It was what I needed. It helped me manage my overly busy life. Yes, what it had to offer was superficial, contrived, and rife with sugar-coated magical thinking, but I loved it.
When I read my friend’s recent post and book review of Ask and It Is Given, it made me cringe a bit in embarrassment at first, but it also made me realize how far I have come since then.
Slowly, slowly over time I began to drift away from seeking comfort in vapid guidance on glossy cards and reading books that offered “There, there, Honey” reassurances but did little to empower me, enrich my life, or encourage me to contemplate deeply or take meaningful action.
Looking back, I was very gullible, naïve, and desperate for validation outside of myself. Reading these books taught me to look at myself, but in a very self-centered way. These sources never had anything specific or concrete to offer, and they also didn’t suggest being of meaningful service to others, which is critical for authentic spiritual growth.
These books, recordings, and tchotchkes were mind-numbing escapes from my mind-numbingly busy life. They were like a Styrofoam life raft in very dark and turbulent waters. At the very least, they kept me afloat.
Like all things, nothing is permanent. As my life changed, my interests also shifted. My life settled, and I started to crave more substance, more meaning, and more depth.
I also became aware of controversies associated with some of the Hay House authors as well as the publishing company itself, and critical thinking helped to break the spell for me. I became more mindful, picky, and discerning about the books I read. I selected authors who valued ethics, cultural diversity, inclusivity—and teachers who didn’t manipulate, lie, berate, or bamboozle their students.
I became hungry for practices that encouraged me to look at myself, but not to attach, grasp, or cling. I was drawn to practices that were simple, but also meaningful—practices that invited generosity, compassion, and kindness toward others. I was hungry for significant connections and interconnection.
Fortunately, this led me to seek out books, teachings, and teachers who would push me to be better, rather than lull me into a spiritual la-la land.
So, what am I up to now?
Currently, I’m reading books that feed my mind, that appeal to my need for spiritual connection, that inspire my personal practice, and that encourage me to be of meaningful service to others.
For example, over the last few years I have participated in three Retreats from Afar through Sravasti Abbey in Washington state, where Venerable Thubten Chodron is the abbess.
These programs include daily meditation sessions and weekly transcripts of amazing Dharma teachings that inspire me to continue to learn and practice. These Buddhist teachings are informative, specific, relevant, and Thubten Chodron always includes examples and analogies that Westerners can relate to and appreciate in her teachings.
I like practicing on my own at home, but there’s also the option to practice on Zoom or a livestream video, which is a wonderful option. This year’s retreat focuses on Medicine Buddha.
The Sravasti Abbey website includes a vast library of teachings (both in written and video format) that are free and available to the public.
In addition, Thubten Chodron has collaborated with His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, on a series of Buddhist books called The Library of Wisdom and Compassion (Simon and Schuster). Currently, six volumes have been published, and two more are slated for publication later this year. These books contain detailed, accessible Buddhist teachings, meditations, and commentaries. They are profound treasures of wisdom and meaning.
During the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, I joined an online book club. We met once a month to discuss the book Radical Dharma: Talking Race, Love, and Liberation, which included essays by angel Kyodo Williams, Lama Rod Owens, and Jasmine Syedullah. This book was engaging, real, contemporary, and controversial, and our group had excellent, and sometimes animated, discussions about systemic racism, privilege, and injustice--and how Dharma can be a vehicle for positive, meaningful change.
A few months later, this group gathered again (virtually) to discuss Lama Rod Owens’ Love and Rage: The Path of Liberation through Anger. Again, this book was compelling, personal, and timely. Our group had meaningful discussions—and I really appreciated how Lama Rod shared so many specific details about his own personal practice in this book.
Currently, our little virtual book club is now reading and discussing Everyday Zen by Charlotte Joko Beck, and we are enjoying the discussions that this wonderful treasure has inspired as well.
I also like Roshi Joan Halifax (Abbot, Head Teacher, and Founder of Upaya Zen Center in Santa Fe, New Mexico). Her book, Standing at the Edge: Finding Freedom Where Fear and Courage Meet is excellent as well.
Believe it or not, I don’t just read Buddhist texts. I’m a big fan of Brené Brown (Rising Strong, Braving the Wilderness, Daring Greatly), Stephen Nachmanovitch (The Art of Is: Improvising as a Way of Life), and Martha Beck (Finding Your Own North Star, Steering By Starlight, and The Way of Integrity: Finding the Path to Your True Self), to name just a few.
I also have a few favorite podcasts that are engaging as well. They are rich with specific, relevant information, and they foster critical thinking. My favorites are The Mind and Life Podcast, IndoctriNation with Rachel Bernstein, and Conspirituality Podcast.
All of these teachers are helping me keep it together, that’s for sure :).
Twenty years ago, I didn’t really have a personal practice to speak of, but I was certainly searching for one. The angel cards and Hay House hokum were stepping stones and gateways to a much more compelling and authentic way of thinking.
My gullibility, naiveté, and exhaustion may have led me into a vortex of “woo woo” for a time, but, ultimately, this new age pseudoscience sparked my curiosity and my deep need for meaning and connection. They led me to discover authentic, ethical, inclusive, and diverse teachers and powerful sources of wisdom.
I don’t know where my practice will lead me twenty years from now, but I am continuing to learn, grow, and enjoy this journey—not only for myself, but for the benefit of others as well.
My hope is that my curiosity continues to lead me even farther, that my practice continues to deepen, my heart and mind continue to open, and my capacity for wisdom and compassion continues to grow.
I wish the same for all of you as well. Honor your journey—all the parts—even the bumps and unexpected detours. They led you to where you are now, and they’ve given you the courage, critical thinking, and patience to continue on your path, wherever it may lead.
In many ways, we are what we read, but we can always choose to close the books that no longer benefit us and find new ones that do.
Resolve and Dissolve: Setting Intentions and Managing Changes in 2017 January 2, 2017 20:02
Yep--it's that time of year again. It's the start of a new year, which brings change, new beginnings, and the hope of a brighter future. The ball drops, fireworks bloom in the night sky, champagne, kisses--the works.
Most changes occur slowly, which is good. It makes them easier to process. However, managing change--even small ones--can seem daunting at first. I like setting intentions at the start of a new year. It's not unlike embarking on a mantra practice, or designing a mala. The following tips help me stay clear and focused, and they help me navigate my way through change in order to grow.
*Don't Focus on the Whole...Focus on the Individual Pieces
Managing fresh starts and new patterns requires patience, practice, and time. At first, the project, goal, or intention may seem overwhelming. When I'm designing a mala, for instance, I arrange the beads one at a time. When the layout is complete, and the stringing begins, all that matters is this bead, this loop, this knot. One, by one, until the design is complete. It's that simple. I don't worry about how many beads I can string in an hour--or when I'll be finished. Focusing on the individual pieces is like appreciating each step on a journey rather than fixating on arriving at the destination. Focusing on what's right in front of me keeps me rooted in the present, and it allows me to enjoy and appreciate the adventure, no matter how long it takes, or if it's completed at all.
* Offer a Dedication
Purpose helps to add meaning to any task, even mundane ones. Usually, I practice japa in the evening. I'm more relaxed, and I generally have more time to devote to the practice. Sometimes, however, I wait too long--I'm tired, impatient, and just want it to be over, so I can go to bed. Chanting a mantra just to recite it 108 times is a waste of time and energy. Offering a dedication to the practice adds sincerity, significance, and motivation. For example, before I practice, I hold my mala in my hands and offer an intention--that my students will do well on their final exams--or, I dedicate my practice to a friend who is dealing with the loss of a parent--or to a friend who is giving birth to her first child. I may offer peace and healing to strangers who are suffering in a city halfway around the world. By doing this, I'm not just practicing for myself--I'm practicing to benefit others as well. Big or small, offering a dedication can bolster motivation and infuse any resolution with purpose and meaning.
* Seek a Fresh Perspective
I like variety, I like having options, and a change of scenery can do wonders for a resolution or intention that's reached a plateau or grown a little stale. Sometimes I like to work on a mala at the kitchen table. I like the lighting and the view from the window. Sometimes, I prefer to work upstairs (we have more channel options on the TV), so I can string beads and watch a movie. (One of my favorite designs was an Unakite mala that I strung while watching the Bollywood classic, Bride and Prejudice :). If the weather's nice, I can work outside at the patio table and listen to birds, cicadas, children laughing in the neighbor's yard. A change of setting can offer much needed inspiration, a change in perspective, or a boost in creativity.
I'm not sure where 2017 will lead, but my intention is to continue to learn,grow, and navigate the changes and surprises that this year will undoubtedly bring by continuing my japa practice, and to enjoy creating beautiful malas for others. Happy New Year, everyone! Enjoy this year's journey.
Enduring the Knots....Celebrating the Beads December 5, 2015 17:35
A mala is a metaphor for life in our universe. Every bead represents a truth or principle, and over time, the beads absorb the energy of our focus and attention. We create the life we live by infusing each moment with our thoughts, attitudes, and beliefs.
The Thread: "Sutra" is the Sanskrit word for thread or line that holds things together. The thread or cord running through the mala holds and supports the beads. Consequently, it represents the Creative Force that supports or sustains every part and every being in the universe.
The Beads: The 108 beads collectively represent the universe itself, but individually, they represent the beautiful aspects of life--the good times--beautiful sunsets, grandchildren, hot chai on a rainy day, loyal and supportive friends.These beads are arranged on a never-ending circle, creating a circuit of positive energy that drives life forward into hope and gratitude.
The Knots: The knots between the beads make the mala stronger; however, they also represent life's challenges--a flat tire, an uncertain medical diagnosis, the loss of a job or a loved one. These knots fall between the smoother, more beautiful aspects of life. They also signify the Divine link present among all beings in the universe. Though challenging, these knots remind us that all aspects of life are connected and supported in the universal sutra of life.
The Guru (or Meru) Bead: "Guru" means teacher, and "Meru" means mountain in Sanskrit. The guru or meru bead is often the 109th bead that is connected to the tassel, and it represents the state of transcendental consciousness, the central goal of meditation practice. In order to reach this supreme state of understanding, one must be brave and courageous enough to stay the course--perhaps completing many cycles, many repetitions along the sutra of life--encountering both blessings and challenges along the way.
The Tassel: On a mala, the tassel is an extension of the string or sutra that binds the garland together. It represents our connection to the Divine and the interconnectedness of all beings. It is a reminder of oneness and unity--that we are all connected--and regardless of the challenges that we face or the rewards that we reap, we're all really traveling together, and we have something beautiful to look forward to at the end of our journey.