My earliest memories connected with anything spiritual involve my dad, which is completely ironic because he is a self-proclaimed atheist who belongs–as he says–to “the Church of God the Utterly Indifferent.” One day, when I was young enough to be held in his arms, I remember talking with him about God, insisting that I knew what God looked like, even after he repeatedly said that no one knows what God looks like. We were in my Mom-Mom’s old house on Wilson Avenue in Parkville. A devout Catholic, she had depictions of Mary and Christ in several strategic places around her house.
“There,” I said, pointing to a picture of Christ hanging on the wall, “That’s God.”
“No,” my Dad corrected, “That isn’t God. That’s Jesus.” I was disappointed. I could have sworn that this sweet looking dude on the wall with the kind eyes was God. Not God?? Really?
Another memory involves my Dad showing me a newspaper article about a yogi who meditated for ten days straight, neither eating, nor drinking, nor sleeping, nor using the bathroom the whole time. The man in the picture was in full lotus pose, eyes closed, and his expression was serene. I was mesmerized. How could he suspend the recurring needs of the body for this inordinate length of time? This guy knows something I don’t know, I said to myself, I wonder what it is.
Growing up with an atheist dad and a mother with quiet spiritual leanings, I was given lots of space to decide on my own what to think or believe about the great Beyond. I yearned to explore the realm of spirit, but lacked a guiding hand that could point me in the direction of getting my questions answered. And yet, is that true? Because, aren’t we always guided, whether we know it or not?
I remember being interested in ghosts and ESP (telepathy, clairvoyance) as an elementary schooler. In the fourth grade I checked out every book in the school library that had any mention of ghosts or special powers. Stories about past lives intrigued me. I wanted to learn how to cultivate my mental powers to read others’ thoughts and transmit my own thoughts wordlessly.
My twin sister and I read a book about channeling in the seventh grade: Opening to Channel, by Sanaya Roman and Duane Packer. We wanted to learn how to connect with spirit guides who would transmit information to us beyond our present understanding, that we might grow and evolve and transcend our challenges. And we had plenty of challenges in the seventh grade. Painfully thin, tall, straight A students, twins–we were the target of a great deal of ridicule on a daily basis. What sets us apart makes us vulnerable. Many an afternoon, after stepping off of the school bus, the first thing I would do would be to burst into tears. We wanted to find answers. We wanted to transcend our suffering. Sitting together in stillness and listening for guidance proved to be helpful. The guidance that came through was always kind, loving, compassionate–never vengeful. I remember being surprised that there wasn’t the slightest hint of meanness, no suggestions on how to get back at those who were harassing us. There were invitations to consider how our peers might have arrived at such a state to say the things they did, and we were offered the thought that these experiences might be serving us in some way. Radical acceptance, and the promise that eventually it would all become more clear.
My aunt gave me a book called Meditation by Eknath Easwaran when I was in high school. I began a fairly regular meditation practice that lasted until my freshman year of college. I thought meditating would be too weird in a small dorm room with a roommate, so I axed the practice and didn’t return to it for many years. Looking back, I wish I would’ve stayed with my practice; I think it would’ve given me a much more stable foundation on which to build an understanding of myself and my behaviors in this world. Of course, what use is it to wish for the past to be different? My past led me to this moment, here, now. It was the time spent not meditating that helped me to fully appreciate the return to my practice when I was ready.
I kept my first diary in second grade. I remember starting another when I was in fifth grade, and it was eighth grade before all of the pages of that second diary were full. I remember turning to my diary in my middle school years when things were tough and I wanted clarity, wanted to vent, to grieve, to explore. Weeks, months even, would pass in between entries; my writing was spotty, emotionally raw, my handwriting was slanted and a bit messy.
My real writing practice began in my sophomore year of high school with a three week journal project assigned by a beloved English teacher. I found writing so enjoyable, cathartic, and satisfying during those three weeks that I decided to keep going after the assignment was over. Thus began my decades long love affair with journal writing, an affair that continues today. Nowhere have I experienced more spiritual growth than in the pages of my journals. Nowhere have I felt safer, clearer, and at ease. Nowhere have I felt more like my Self.
As I approach the second of the twelve steps this month, as I work on coming to believe that a power greater than myself can restore me to sanity, it is only natural for me to do some exploring in my journal. Magic happens when I touch pen to paper, especially if that pen is a fountain pen and the ink is flowing fast and fresh and unsmearing (I’m a lefty).
Perhaps if I give myself some unstructured writing time about this idea of “coming to believe,” some unexpected wisdom might flow forth. I might be surprised. Maybe I can overcome the doubt, the voice of the father who told me that I don’t know what God looks like. Maybe I can sidestep my awe of the yogi who knows more than I do and bring my focus back to the self who knows exactly what it needs to know. Maybe I can sit in stillness, and listen to words of wisdom coming from somewhere beyond the little self that is afraid of losing control, afraid of change.
The most important element here is my own receptivity, my willingness to be with what is, to open to awareness beyond my daily recurring thoughts. I look forward to what can happen in such an open, curious innocent place. Time to meditate now.