Spiritual Maturity: A Journey from Woo-Woo to Wisdom February 17, 2022 10:45
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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.
Taking Action and Responsibility for Your Own Practice April 30, 2021 10:52
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When I was a very young kid, my family moved into an apartment complex on the far east side of Indianapolis. Braeburn Village was a brand new complex in 1970, and we were one of its earliest tenants.
I was very curious and playful as a kid (as most kids are), and I would sometimes peer into the windows of the first floor apartments to see how other families lived. I was curious about what they were doing, how they spent their time, and, most importantly, what they were having for dinner.
Often, the windows revealed dark, empty kitchens, but since then, I have always been curious about how other people lived their lives. It was important for me to feel like I belonged.... and that I fit in.
I have long since abandoned peering into my neighbors' kitchen windows :), but this need to fit in, to feel connected and understood... well, that still lingers.
Even now, I can be easily influenced (and overly curious) about what others do--to the point that I question my own judgement and whether the way I choose to do things is OK. This tendency can be a blessing... and a curse.
Comparing myself to others, and then changing or adapting in order to accommodate can be unnecessary. It often hinders learning for me and can lead to great frustration and confusion. At other times, it can enhance the learning process, accentuate curiosity and play, and lead to discovery and more creative and innovative ways of doing things.
I've been studying the Tibetan language for a little more than a year. Because of COVID, my lessons have been online. I've been working with a wonderful teacher, who is originally from Lhasa, and one other student.
We've been using a textbook that is fairly advanced and not really ideal for new language learners, so from the very beginning, the weekly lessons were challenging. As we progressed more deeply into the text, the lessons became even more overwhelming and stressful for me.
I didn't think much about it at first since everything was new in the beginning. I expected some degree of confusion. Confusion, after all, is an important aspect of the learning process, and it can often be a motivator for discovery. However, as we made our way through the chapters, my confusion and frustration escalated, rather than subsided. The information in the text was daunting to me, and it lacked clear explanations and adequate exercises for practice.
Unfortunately, my need to fit in, belong, and stay caught up pushed me to continue. It would take me hours to complete the short, weekly exercises, and, worst of all, nothing was sticking. I wasn't retaining the information from week to week. This drinking-from-a-firehose technique of learning was NOT working for me, and it was crushing my curiosity, playfulness, and motivation to learn this beautiful language.
My fellow classmate, however, LOVES this book. He enjoys sifting through mounds of information and was even pushing to move even faster through the text.
My need to keep up and my tendency to accommodate others hit a wall in the middle of Chapter 5. I reached out to two friends for additional resource suggestions. One is a professor of Tibetan Studies; the other is a translator for a Tibetan lama in Canada. Both recommended additional texts that might be helpful for me.
I also reached out to my Tibetan teacher and asked if she could work with me individually. She agreed that the book we were using was too advanced (for both me and my fellow student) and agreed to work with me on another day of the week.
By taking action and responsibility for my own learning, I have a renewed sense of commitment, curiosity, and motivation. I'm honoring what works for me, and I'm looking forward to slowing down and focusing on just a couple of concepts at a time--and taking more time to practice, play, and explore with those concepts before adding additional information.
In this case, "keeping up" was NOT helping; it was actually hindering my progress. It was also sabotaging my motivation and mental health.
The new books my friends recommended have arrived this week. I'm looking forward to diving in and exploring them on my own terms and in my own way. I'm also looking forward to the one-on-one sessions with my teacher soon.
Sometimes, however, examining a subject from a different perspective can be inspiring--and can even ENHANCE one's practice.
Recently, I've joined an online book group. We are reading Lama Rod Owens' Love and Rage: The Path of Liberation through Anger.
We meet twice a month and discuss a few chapters at a time.
Last week, we discussed Chapter 4, which includes detailed descriptions of several personal meditation practices that Lama Rod incorporates regularly in his own practice.
I appreciated that he took the time to carefully outline and explain each step of each practice.
He explained each part of the practices by including examples, and he also followed up each with a brief outline. Lama Rod carefully explained at least a dozen specific practices in this chapter.
I found these detailed descriptions to be extremely useful, and I even had time to explore and play with a couple of them before we had our most recent book club meeting. His explanations have enhanced my own personal meditation practice.
Ironically, during our online discussion, a few members of the group found this chapter to be daunting and overwhelming: "TMI for one chapter."
They wondered if Lama Rod could have mentioned one practice at at time--maybe dedicating one chapter to each practice rather than cramming all twelve into one chapter.
This made me think of my online Tibetan class, and my classmate who loved the TMI text--but my frustration with it.
Although, compared to the Tibetan text, Chapter 4 in Lama Rod's book was nothing in terms of being too confusing or overwhelming :) !
I didn't feel compelled to try ALL of the practices, and the ones he outlined weren't linear. In other words, I didn't have to practice the first one before experimenting with the second one, etc.
I read through the chapter, picked a couple to explore, and enjoyed the practices as a result.
I may not need to take the time to explore the remaining practices. I took what I needed and moved on.
Learning has always been an important part of my life, and everyone learns in a different way. Trying to fit into someone else's learning style or educational paradigm is NOT a good thing.
Learning to honor my OWN path and to follow what fascinates and nourishes me has been a lifelong journey, too, just as honoring what fascinates and nourishes others--giving them the space to explore their own path is just as valuable and important.
At this point, I'm back on track. I'm curious, playful, and motivated about continuing to learn Tibetan in a way that resonates with me. I'm also fascinated about bringing fresh awareness into my personal meditation practice by learning more about what works for Lama Rod and the other members of my book club group.
Peering into my neighbors' kitchen windows when I was a kid has been a helpful and humorous metaphor for gauging if it's appropriate to follow along with others, abdicating my own viewpoint (and power) in the process. However, that's not always the best approach. Learning to observe, listen, and trust myself, to take responsibility and action for what fosters and nourishes my own curiosity has been an even more powerful life lesson.
This process turns the kitchen window metaphor around for me, and it involves paying closer attention to what's happening in my own "kitchen," appreciating that it, too, has value, worth, and the potential to nourish. Viewing the world through this lens (or window) allows me to acknowledge and appreciate my own perspective, and it also allows me to observe what's happening in the outer world while simultaneously maintaining a sense of connection, belonging, and understanding.
While you're here, I invite you to check out the current Middle Moon Malas online collection. Several new designs have been added to the online shop. These one-of-a-kind designs are made with love and care, and they're intended to enhance your meditation, movement, and wellness practices.