One my big priorities right now is deepening my spirituality, and in all honestly, it’s been the hardest to implement. I’m following a less traditional path, so I feel to some extent that I’m having to create a new way, without as much guidance as I would prefer!
I’ve only really talked about my spiritual journey with some close friends, but recently, I have felt an opening forming. I’ve ended up having several conversations about where I’m at, spiritually speaking, and friends have encouraged me to share more about it. When I take an outside viewpoint, I guess my path has been a bit unique. I forget sometimes how special my experiences have been and how much there is to be shared.
In recent years, I didn’t feel comfortable openly talking about my viewpoint. I honestly didn’t think people would understand. I thought they would go too quickly to judgement and not hear me out. But like I said, I now feel an opening and the time feels right to soften.
So where am I at?
For most of my college years, I largely neglected the religious side of things. This continued through the beginning of my relationship with Rob and on into marriage. He was a solid atheist and I was in the “I don’t know, agnostic I guess?” category. That was fine until we moved to Norfolk, Virginia after Rob had finished his first tour on the submarine. In Virginia we were able to relax and find a new normal – focusing on health, finding friends, and having fun again. But there was something missing.
I noticed for both of us, that we would get “in our heads” too much. We had become unbalanced. We fed our knowledge so much and neglected the spiritual so much, that things felt empty, no matter how much we learned. We began to seek out ways to bring some spirituality back into our lives.
But how does an atheist and an “I don’t know, agnostic” find a community? It’s actually quite hard!!
After hours of google searches, I found two things of interest. One, a meditation group, and two, this “church” called Unitarian Universalism. I was intrigued and told Rob about them.
We started going to the weekly meditation sessions and attending the Unitarian services. It was a really good balance for us. The Unitarian services provided a community and helped bring our intellectual sides inline with action and service.
The meditation sessions ended up being half meditation and half intro to Buddhist philosophy. We were cool with that because it was very interesting. It was a viewpoint so direct and clear, and very different from how we viewed things at the time.
The instructor didn’t shy away from the hard stuff and actually, willingly dove into it with questions and curiosity. In one of the first sessions, we discussed the second Buddhist principle in the Lamrim, which is impermanence and death. This was the start of my walk on the Buddhist path. The teacher directly said:
Everything changes. Nothing remains the same. You will age and look different. Your relationships will change. You can’t guarantee that something that is working today, will work tomorrow. You will die. Everyone you know will die including your family and children. Let’s sit with that for a moment and let the truth of that reality really sink in.
Holy sh*t. It was a serious truth bomb he dropped on us. I did sit with that reality and something really started to change in me. It started first with the loosening of my grip on Rob. I had grown so attached to him, that I had lost my own sense of worth and couldn’t imagine life without him. He had become everything to me. That is a very unhealthy place to be – and it was an incredible weight to put on another person.
I started to loosen my grip on him. I started to find myself again as a whole being. Not missing someone or needing someone to fill a gap. I was enough as I was.
Strangely enough, this switch in my perspective made an enormous change in our relationship – in a very positive way. My letting go was a huge relief to Rob. He could breathe again. My letting go actually allowed for our relationship to grow so much closer and stronger than it ever could have when I was holding on so tightly. It’s hard to explain, but it actually brought us to a whole new level of closeness and connection.
That’s what made me start to get really intrigued with Buddhism. What else was there to learn??
We continued to go to that weekly meditation class until it started to turn from the philosophy of Buddhism to the religion of Tibetan Buddhism (a discussion for another time). We weren’t ready yet for the culturally based religious aspects of Tibetan Buddhism.
Between the Unitarian church and the meditation sessions, our spirituality was budding and blossoming again and we started to feel more and more alive.
Hence, this is why when we had the opportunity to take a gap year, we took it. The first thing we wanted to do during our year off? We wanted to dive into meditation. We wanted to attend one of those silent retreats. We asked around and we heard that the place to go was the Tushita Institute in Northern India. Okay then, India it was.
I’ve talked a bit in the past about our experience at Tushita where we did a 10-day silent retreat. That retreat continued to solidify for us that Buddhism was the well we wanted to draw from.
Once we arrived back to The States, we had a period of long reflection before rejoining “the real world.” I decided that Buddhism made the most sense to me and felt a strong push to continue investigating and implementing the teachings.
Rob and I have taken refuge and we are figuring out how to be Buddhists in America. It’s a challenge! Once regular life started again (enter – medical school for Rob), it was really hard to incorporate what we had learned on a daily basis, to grow our practice from the foundation we received, and the hardest, to find a community.
There are not many communities that offer what I want that is within a reasonable distance. I essentially want to go to a Buddhist Church, where we not only study the teachings and train our minds, but where the format is more similar to a traditional Western service, there is a community for children, and the songs sung in English.
The reason I haven’t openly talked about this before is that there are a lot of misconceptions about Buddhism in the Western world. The vocabulary and meaning associated with Buddhist ideas are often confused or watered down. People use terms like Buddha, meditation, enlightenment, mindfulness, and attachment to mean all sorts of things. Real Buddhism can be a hard thing to connect with and unravel. You need a good teacher – who understands where you come from culturally, spiritually, and psychologically. That is a very hard thing to find!
I received incredible, one-of-a-kind instruction at Tushita and I am devoted to not only continuing to learn and deepen my practice in Buddhism, but also find a way to incorporate the lessons in daily life – in every action and interaction – and also present the teachings to our children.
I’m still figuring out how to do this. I brainstorm everyday and feel like I’m slowly moving toward figuring something out. The actions I’m starting with are to meditate daily, even if it’s for 5 minutes. I’ve found more teachers online and go to their Facebook pages and blogs more instead of just mindlessly sifting through my social media feeds. I find little reminders that I put in my phone, or print out and post in our house.
I’ve also actually joined a Christian-based women’s group specifically for medical spouses as a way to not only connect with a spiritual community, but to help encourage me on my own faith journey. We meet weekly, so it forces me to make it the priority I want it to be. I am absolutely loving it and am so grateful that this community of Christian women have openly accepted me.
I think for everyone, they have to find the path that benefits them the most and find a community that will support them. For all those out there not really interested in a spiritual path, I encourage you to keep searching and questioning. It was a huge turning point in our lives when we started to stretch that part of ourselves again. It can be frustrating, but also incredibly rewarding, because you never know what you’re going to find – or discover about yourself and the world we live in.
Many blessings! xoxoxo