My Spiritual Journey (OR: How I Got to be a Tibetan Zen Buddhist)

(Initially written August of 2005)

The story of my spiritual journey would have to begin in Baltimore with Jim and Polly Foote, my mother’s parents.  They were both very devout in the practice of their beliefs, faithfully attending services each week and always doing volunteer work in various capacities over the years. Their lives reflected deep spiritual faith and they certainly influenced my mother, who in turn has influenced me.

Religious faith has been an inherent part of my life, from my earliest memories.  Throughout my childhood, we moved with appalling regularity—even after Dad got out of the Army.  Each time we moved, my mother found a church for us to attend.  One of my earliest memories of going to church is Sunday school at 4 years old—where I got my first kiss from Jimmy Gardner.  Even then I was not paying attention to the Bible stories!

We moved overseas for the first time in 1966.  Over the next ten years, my mother met the challenge of finding an English-speaking church time and time again.  This is probably when she developed her fondness for Southern Fried Fundamentalist Christianity…I mean the Southern Baptist church.  I even answered the altar call to “come to Christ and redemption” at the tender young age of 7.  I remember having to swim out of the Baptismal pool because I wasn’t tall enough to reach the bottom and walk out.

We lived all over the world, giving me at least a passing acquaintance with other religions.  We lived in Viet Nam and Thailand where I was introduced to Buddhism and then in Iran with an introduction to Islam.  When Mom couldn’t find a Baptist church, we attended other Protestant denominations so I saw some variety within Christianity.  But no matter where we lived or what the sign said, there was never a question about it: Sunday morning was for going to church, period.

By the time I was a teenager, I didn’t pay too much attention to the minister’s words, preferring to giggle and whisper with my friends.  I was at service each week like clockwork, but I was there for socializing—not spiritual growth.  When I joined the military and left home, I barely attended church.  It wasn’t until after marriage and having children that my husband and I felt a need to practice some kind of religion.  We began attending Mass while living in Germany and continued after moving back to the States.  I even converted to Catholicism, in part to unite the family in common beliefs.  And so we were the good little Catholic family doing the good little Catholic thing.  I figured I was a decent Christian, but…

I knew even as I became Catholic that the Pope and I had different views on a great many things.  I never toed the party line on the subject of transmutation, sainthood, abortion or birth control.  I realized that Catholic dogma dictated male leadership while the Catholic reality was women doing the Church’s work because of the shortage of priests.  I saw people doing what they wanted and then getting “wiped clean” by confession.  Everything I believed about Christianity said that we would “live like Christ”.  I did not see that happening with other people’s lives and I knew that it was not happening for me.  I had too many doubts and this kept me from the spiritual satisfaction that should have come with my religious devotion.

As I got older, trying to repress the questions or just ignoring them did not work.  It didn’t help when my kids began to ask questions for which the only answer I had was the pat phrase “Because that’s what we believe”.  Especially since I wasn’t so sure about what I believed any more.  It got even harder as my religious beliefs in marriage “until death do you part” began to make death look like a good thing.  It took a therapist to point out to me that I needed to decide which death I was talking about: the death of my marriage, my personality, our love.  That was a moment of enlightenment for me.  I could end the marriage without having to physically die and I could still be a good Christian.  I went through the infamous mid-life crisis at the same time as the divorce.  I had come to a point in my life where I was questioning everything, not only God.  “Who am I?” was the biggest one I asked.  I did not have a clue about me.  I couldn’t connect with myself and I certainly didn’t have time to try to connect with God.  My entire world shattered and that included all religious beliefs.

I moved out of the family house to live on my own for the first time in my life.  I had the children but there were no other adults in this house to influence my actions.  The thrill of making the decisions was rapidly replaced with the terror of knowing that I was solely responsible for whatever happened to all three of us.  I began to be overwhelmed by the monkey mind.  The voices in my head would not shut up.  I couldn’t find peace.  I was like the Red Queen, running as fast as I could to stay in one place.  I wasn’t sure that I wanted to be there.  I didn’t know where I was going.  Chaos is not a happy place.  It seemed that my religion had failed me just when I needed it most.  I felt guilty about not staying married and I was angry that my marriage was not what I thought it was supposed to be.  After a year of this chaos and struggling, I was given a reprieve when my friend invited me to come live with her in VA and make a new life.

My housemates were both Pagans.  I had known that my friend was not a Christian and while this had been troubling me, I needed to be out of NY more than I could muster indignant righteous Christian rage at her.  Once I got my life in better order, I began asking questions about their beliefs.  If I knew their path, I could show them how wrong it was.  I have no idea why I wanted to do this because I already had serious doubts about my own beliefs.  They tried to answer me but eventually just handed me a stack of books about Paganism to read.

It was like coming home.  Even as I read things for the very first time, I knew that this was right, this was true.  It resounded within my soul at such a deep level that I could not ignore what I was learning.  I found answers to my questions.  I began to meditate and the chaos dissolved.  As I continued reading and learning about Pagan beliefs, I had to be very honest about defining my spiritual truths.  There were so many concepts in these books that resonated for me that I slowly came to realize that I am not a Christian and that Pagan concepts of spirituality better describe what I actually believe.  I was not converted, I did not “see the light”, and I was not “saved” from anything.

Once I was able to accurately articulate what I believed, I was surprised to realize that I have believed these things all of my life.  The major difference is in how I express them.  As a Christian, I labored with the idea that we are made in God’s image yet filled with sin.  How can we be made to be like God, how can we be His beloved children and yet be so foul?  Being Pagan has opened my eyes to the sacredness of everything that is around me.  I believe that we are all sparks of the Divine and therefore are truly created from God and in God’s image.  I find it very easy to respect other people because they are a part of me, we are from the same Divine source…and I would not hurt myself.  I have found a way to “love one another” that was never possible when I was a Christian.

My path continues to take me to new places.  I would have described myself as Pagan/Wiccan as recently as six months ago but now I feel that Buddhism is a better explanation of my beliefs.  So I continue to seek the truth while checking to make sure that what I held as truth before still is true now.  As a Christian, the only truth I had was what I was told to believe and what came out of the Bible.  Yet I never thought the Bible was the literal Word of God, written on some cosmic word processor and handed down to mankind so it has not been hard to step away from the requirement of blind adherence to a place where I can find my own truths.

So what does this part of my spiritual journey look like?  I have found both Paganism and Unitarian Universalism, or they found me.  I think that the UU’s Seven Principles pretty well describe my own principles about life.  I have discovered that I am here to minister to others, to ask the questions that they need to hear while answering for themselves.

I have found a path that lets me worship each and every day, gives me the chance to mark the holy and the sacred in all that is around me by merely existing.  I have a Tarot card that says, “If you did not exist, there would be a place in the Universe that was empty, where you should have been and God would miss you.”  I like that idea.  I have let go of my former limited and limiting beliefs to be handed something much larger and I am filled with the wonder of the Universe and a peaceful joy that pervades every aspect of my being.  I see the sacred all around me and I rejoice at being able to share it with you.  Will you come and walk with me?
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(Update: I continue to follow Buddhism, leaning into the Tibetan/Zen style and using Zen and “zazen” meditations as part of my daily practice.  Even with the fibromyalgia, I try to live moment by moment, honoring the sacred and generally doing what I can to fulfill my own sacred potential.  I am still asking questions, still testing my truths and still letting go of what does not resonate for me.  I am gaining strength (mentally, physically AND spiritually) to return to the joyous task of ministering to others.  There has been nothing that has occurred in the past 7 years since I originally wrote this that would make me change my mind and return to Christianity because their truths have not changed…and still do not resonate for me, do not answer my questions.

I hope that you have found this interesting, and perhaps it has asked some questions for you, got you thinking about your own spiritual journey.  Even if we are not following exactly the same path, as the saying goes, “There are many paths but only one destination” so perhaps we can walk along side of each other and share the journey?

Namaste!

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