My latest spiritual journey started when I read The Alchemist by Paolo Coehlo: a short, eminently readable novel with an epic sweep that included the Soul of the World.
Then two girl friends of mine independently mentioned a guy named Eckhart Tolle. I found his ideas about being in the present moment fascinating and doable. I began to create some distance from my inner turmoil. I didn’t feel so attached to the thoughts and emotions that were driving me nuts. I had less desperation to either figure everything out or permanently flee from it all.
I was also using Bach flower remedies, a whole slew of them, and they worked. I began to regain my equilibrium; not that a lot of people noticed, for I am normally calm and composed, with a kind, if detached, exterior. My turmoil is all internal and rarely inflicted upon others – just myself.
I read Eckart Tolle’s books and watched his videos. I started reading Buddhist authors: some from the East but Westerners too. I found much of what they said foreign to my experience as an American Christian (Baptist, agnostic, evangelical and traditional Catholic): specifically, the idea that we don’t have souls that survive physical death, and the related notion that everything is impermanent. What I related to was the idea that human suffering is caused by attachments to impermanent things: people, places, institutions, and so on.
Although parts of Buddhism were foreign to my ears and counter-intuitive, I kept reading and practicing being in the moment. That often seemed impossible. Yet I began noticing when I started going off on negative emotional riffs, and identifying the thoughts that accompanied the emotions and fueled them. Slowly I started separating my emotions from the story lines accompanying them. I had frozen the emotions in place in an attempt to control them or bury them. Now I turned to face them and welcome them home.
Then I dropped by my bank. Inside the main door there is a change machine. I didn’t come to the bank to cash in my pennies, so I don’t know why I went by the change machine, which was to the side of the entrance. But I did, and I noticed a coin in the slot. I picked it up and looked at it. I’d never seen anything like it before. On one side it said “India 2009”, on the other side there was a hand with thumb upraised and the words “1 Rupee.” It was so lightweight I figured it was a carnival coin or something. I looked up the image online and discovered that what I had found was an authentic rupee, a coin of India, the birthplace of Buddhism.
What were the chances that I would for no reason look at the coin machine,, and that on this particular morning there would be an Indian coin in the slot? I was reminded of the boy in The Alchemist, who occasionally got signs and omens either confirming his direction or guiding his feet.
I am not suggestible. I am a pragmatic American. I like what works. My exploration of Eastern thought and philosophy is working for me. People tell me I’m more relaxed, calmer, and more patient. They are right; I notice it too. I still lose my temper – in traffic and with my children. But I notice when it happens and I don’t blame others; I own my feelings. Recently I discovered Pema Chodron, an American Buddhist nun, whose books are precise, uncompromising, yet very encouraging. It turns out there is a Zen Center less than 10 miles from my house. I dropped by last week and ended up meditating with four other newcomers.
Five years ago a chain of events occurred with traumatic results for my family. A family member disrupted our family in a most dramatic and traumatic way, and none of us have been the same since. Our family was built on Roman Catholicism, and I often prayed very fervently to live and die a Catholic – and I meant this prayer with every cell in my body. But when my family was legally and (it seems) permanently torn asunder it was as if a switch went off. The faith I was so fervent about for so many years didn’t seem to matter any more. It was no help for my new life, and the new struggles my family had. Nobody could have taken my faith away from me, but much to my surprise it was I who let it go without even a sob.
So my life has changed. Everything that seemed permanent and stable has proven to be impermanent and passing. I don’t have a rosary hanging from my rear view mirror anymore, but I do have a rupee in my pocket.