This all started with Choose to be Happy. Or, if I were to be completely honest, this whole “spiritual quest” started with my mother’s library. As a child, I grew up around the I Ching, A Course in Miracles, the Kabbalah, Conversations with God, and various Buddhist texts. It seemed that my mother was exceptionally curious about organized religion, and their individual philosophies and/or ideologies. At some point in her life, likely when I was small and way too young to understand, she pieced together bits and pieces of each one and created her own personal system of beliefs.
I admit, I rolled my eyes. I couldn’t help it. I just didn’t get the point. Never did I imagine being bitten by the same curiosity bug nearly two decades later. Over the past year, I’ve read more “spiritual” texts than I did during my entire Catholic high school career – a feat I’m still amazed by! After Choose to be Happy, I tried Deepak Chopra’s The Book of Secrets, Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now, and Marianne Williamson’s A Return to Love. And, for the first time in my life, I’ve actually started to read a few passages of A Course in Miracles. I tell myself that this is all benign curiosity, but I can feel a significant difference in my spiritual health, more than I ever expected.
When I tell people that I was baptized in first grade, they are mildly shocked. Usually this is something that occurs when you’re a newborn, correct? But my mother wanted me to choose on my own. If I wanted to go to public school, that was okay, but it was important to her that I go in with open eyes, even as a six year old. As it turned out, I didn’t want to leave my friends, who all went to Catholic school, so I decided to get baptized. But, from that point on, I always navigated the teachings of my Catholic curriculum with at least one raised eyebrow.
Religion is such a strange part of modern life. We sign up and commit on paper, but don’t really understand those implications. However, the beauty is knowing that we can always change our minds if we hear and/or see something that doesn’t jive with our internal guidance system. We have the ability to say ‘yes,’ ‘maybe’ or ‘no way, never again!’ Or, my personal favourite, ‘it’s all a bunch of hooey!’. Believe me, my reactions have fluctuated between all four sentiments and, eventually, settled into a non-denominational spiritual curiosity. That’s where my mind rests today, January 27, 2013, but I remain open to new thoughts and ideas.
Which brings us to Dancing with Life by Phillip Moffitt, subtitled “Buddhist insights for finding meaning and joy in the face of suffering.” After reading A Return to Love by Marianne Williamson, I needed something a little less… Christian. Williamson is an incredible writer and speaker, but some deeper part of me gets agitated by the vocabulary. Buddhism, on the other hand, is significantly more accessible, and Moffitt’s language, for whatever reason, clicked well with my brain. He articulated everything with simple, actionable wisdom. Dancing with Life is an extremely comprehensive examination of the Four Noble Truths and their corresponding Twelve Insights, and speaks directly to our ability as human beings to live mindfully.
Over the years, I’ve discovered that achieving one’s external goals doesn’t provide the same… satisfaction that one expects. In particular, I’ve struggled with the “When I haves” on many occasions, and fighting the present moment, resisting what is right now. It sounds so superfluous and harmless an activity – wishing for more – but something strange happens: the moments of our lives evaporate and we have no clue where they went! How many times have you woken up on a Friday morning, only to discover you have no clear memory of Monday through Thursday? We simply zone out. Even if we allowed ourselves to truly tap into our everyday frustrations, that would be better than nothing at all.
I don’t think I could choose my “favourite” Noble Truth, but I can specify which parts of this text were especially insightful. For the new edition of Dancing with Life, Moffitt included a new chapter entitled “The Suffering of Ambivalence and Ambiguity,” which adds incredible clarity to the book, and its purpose, as a whole. One paragraph in particular stood out to me:
If aversion is the underlying reason for your ambivalence, you don’t want to pay some price, take some risk, or endure some unpleasantness in order to make a decision and move on in your life. Therefore, even if you want to say yes, it is neutralized by your aversion. When this happens repeatedly, the mind becomes conditioned not to open to the feelings of yes, which brings frustration. Oftentimes this means you give up your enthusiasm or vital energy in that part of your life.
The scary thing about Buddhism is that it’s unbelievably logical and practical. It’s littered with common sense, nuggets of wisdom that we just know are true, without having to ask for proof.
- Do you feel that your religion “on paper” provides any valuable wisdom?
- Do religious texts make you uncomfortable? Why do you think that is?
- When you hear the word “God” and “Jesus,” do you feel skeptical?
- Do you think our intellectual selves are at odds with our spiritual selves? I’d love to hear your thoughts!!