I begin by pulling wild weeds and raking fallen leaves. I whisk a winter’s-full of caked loam from stone steps. The dirt provides my manicure and the sun warms and massages my stiff back. A deep breath, the first in many months, hands me softly-scented sweet air. My mind shifts. I step back from task complete, into stillness and contentment.
I have thought about religion and spirituality since I was a teenager. I’ve studied many belief systems, Buddhism most ardently, but none align with what I know to be true about nature and physics and the world. All belief systems asked me to suspend my other beliefs, in one way or another, from what I know, scientifically, to be true. I never know what box to check on my online dating profile – agnostic, atheist, other or that cryptic “spiritual but not religious”.
I believe in a higher order, but I don’t believe in a higher power. There is no god looking down upon us, with interest in each life, deciding our fate for us. I do, however, believe there is something much greater than “us” that we, as humans, have yet to understand. There is enough in our experiences here in our world to evoke awe. Look at us, look at our bodies – look at our circulatory system, look at our world and it’s shifting tectonic plates and variety of life, look at quantum physics and all that we still don’t understand, look at our universe and its potential for sustaining other life forms, and the fact that it may be expanding ad infinitum– or perhaps not at all. Is it all chaos or is it absolute and complete order? This is where my beliefs sit.
I cannot understand someone who prays over a deathly sick child and makes the justification that if he lives, then god must have heard the prayers and, if he dies, it was god’s will. Why, then, pray in the first place? It would all be god’s will, regardless of what happens. Do prayers work? Does focused intention work? There is research that says,“yes”, but perhaps that is part of the higher order and not higher power – that we can send positive, healing thoughts and energy towards someone or something that needs it. We don’t know the answer – I certainly don’t claim to know. We have yet to understand.
Is there life after death? I would be lying if I said that I knew – you would be lying if you said you knew FOR SURE. You can have very strong beliefs, but you will not KNOW until your time comes. We DO know that energy never dissipates so I’m hopeful that there is something else – either more or less than we have here, but do I imagine myself, with wings perhaps, sitting in absolute bliss at the feet of god? Well, that is just a fairy tale, in my eyes – a way to soothe our worried minds about what is to come after this short life.
Him: I also hate [being] an artist and musician, because everything is so precious to us. I’ve seen Buddhist monks work on a sand mandala for 24 hours straight and then pour it into the ocean.
Me: Those darn Buddhists and their non-attachment. I used to call myself an ersatz Buddhist – until I realized just how difficult that really is. I’ll admit it – If I worked 24 hours bent over a sand mandala, I’d have to take photo – maybe even parade it around the room a few times – before I could dump it in the ocean. That’s an etch-a-sketch on a monumental level.
Him: I’d say that nurturing a dish in the kitchen, and then consuming it, is as close to pouring an un-photographed etch-a-sketch into the ocean as you can get.
“You are not a beautiful and unique snowflake” – Fightclub, 1999
What do you believe? I’m asked that question often about my spirituality, especially since I live in a very Christian part of the country. My beliefs and I are not easily labeled or explained – we defy a simple categorization. Often, though, I don’t want to get into a protracted dialog with some mooncalf about my very personal theories and convictions. Consequently, I began classifying myself as “essentially subscribing to the Buddhist theory, although not a practicing Buddhist”. I agreed with general Buddhist ideas and believed this was as overarching theory that would encompass a good portion of my beliefs – simply put; it was an easy answer to a difficult question.
Recently, I began studying Buddhism more ardently and realized that I cannot continue to proclaim that I subscribe to Buddhist thought. Buddhism possesses some powerful, truthful tenets – and I still have a high respect for Buddhism and Buddhist thought, but the ideas of reincarnation, non-dualism, non-suffering and non-attachment do not settle well with me (You’re probably wondering at this point what’s left).
Nondualism, in particular, has caused me much consternation. My understanding of nondualism (My beloved Buddhists out there – please correct me if I’m wrong) is that it can be viewed as the understanding or belief that dualism is illusory. Some examples of dualisms include self/other, mind/body, male/female, good/evil, active/passive. Most of these items on this list can be viewed as “two sides of the same coin” or two extremes on one continuum. Mind and body are absolutely the same. We cannot have good without evil. I practice a blend of activity and passivity every time I step on my yoga mat. However, I have difficulty accepting there is no difference between “self” and “other”. Are we interconnected? Absolutely! Is there an interconnectedness between all energy in the universe? Yes! Does that mean that “self” and “other” are the same? I don’t think so. Why would we be created and blossom so differently if no individuality really exists? It doesn’t make sense to be given this very human, individualistic body and mind if our goal is to transcend it. What other creation in nature is as individual as a human being? Snowflakes. A snowflake is part of the snow, but does a snowflake try to become like every other snowflake? Try to hide its particular pattern? No. A snowflake is a completely distinctive, not-another-like-it-in-the-world expression of the snow. Both are real – both have value. A snowflake is not the snow. We too, as humans, should be our own individual expression of humanity and the pulse of life. I don’t taste, smell, see or experience the world like anyone else. I believe we should value, express and exalt our uniqueness – not suppress it.
In A New Earth, Eckhart Tolle writes:
“Almost every woman has her share in the collective female pain-body, which tends to become activated particularly just prior to the time of menstruation. At that time many women become overwhelmed by intense negative emotion.”
In the book, Tolle appears to be adhering to basic Buddhist philosophy and re-working it so that he may claim it as his own. He then goes on, as in the above passage, to take a random gathering of facts and combine them together as “proof” of his theories. He’s pandering to the female reader; saying, it’s not your fault that you get emotional – it’s your Ego. It aggravates me that he can take a natural female function, like our period, and turn it into an expression of the Ego. During our period, women have chemical fluctuations which causes some (not “many”, Eckhart, “some”) women to have intense emotions. His comment seems as uneducated as the guy who says “I can’t trust anything that bleeds for a week and doesn’t die”.
Tolle goes on to say:
“Although women have egos…the ego can take root and grow more easily in the male form than in the female. This is because women are less mind-identified than men. They are more in touch with the inner body and the intelligence of the organism where the intuitive faculties originate…If the balance between male and female energies had not been destroyed on our planet, the ego’s growth would have been greatly curtailed. We would not have declared war on nature, and we would not be so completely alienated from our Being.”
Is Tolle asking us to revert our thinking back to the Mars/Venus days? Some women may be less mind-identified than men – some may be more in touch with their bodies, but to imply that ALL women are this way is to categorize and alienate women from the collective. Instead of separating women out as being more evolved or having less of an ego, our goal should be to equally balance the yin (female) and yang (male) in all humans. I would love to think that if women ran the world we would have a healthy planet, no wars, and a holistic approach to our Being. However, I don’t think that’s necessarily true. It takes a yin/yang balance of each individual and the world in general to ensure a healthy planet, worldwide compassion and a well-balanced Being.