So writing this blog makes me think. Not that everything doesn’t make me think. But specifically, writing this makes me think about religion and spirituality. (As do the books piled up next to my bed. Usually those books are young adult fantasy novels, but for the last month it’s been all-Buddhism, all-the-time.)
So, this week I thought about my first communion, because of course that was my first spiritual rite of passage. (I don’t remember my first confession. Or I remember vaguely being very nervous and then getting a rote response…which was better than what my brother got. I think the priest told him he better shape up or he’d go to hell.) (I am refraining from going off about that.)
Anyhow, my first communion was mostly eventful for all the whispered little-girl conversation with Maureen Patton about what the host would taste like. A lot of anxiety about what it was made of and did it really turn into someone’s body, which would be really gross, and what happened if you couldn’t get yourself to swallow it. Or if you dropped it! And then, afterward, “Oh, my God, it tastes like soap!” “Mine’s stuck to the roof of my mouth!” We ducked behind the pew in front of us to compare notes and I’m sure some nun was glaring somewhere. Not to mention our mothers, to whom we were a complete embarrassment… and a disappointment. We were clearly not headed into religious life.
The next rite of passage was Confirmation. Mine was notable for two things–I couldn’t get the name I wanted, and my mother’s determined efforts to get me into reality since I believed I would speak in tongues immediately upon being confirmed. I wanted the name Christian, spelled exactly like that, and was very upset that they kept giving me Kristen. No gender-bending in Catholic confirmation names, apparently. I was VERY upset. Imagine me younger. Much younger. With less restraint. I know, less restraint is hard to imagine, but I have actually learned some in the intervening years.
Then there was the speaking in tongues thing. Like, how did my mother figure out I had decided I was getting that gift? I can’t have been stupid enough to tell her. And I know for sure I didn’t tell her I was hoping for Spanish and French, since I thought those would be cool tongues to get. Anyhow, she kept telling me it wasn’t going to happen, and the more she told me it wasn’t the more determined I became that it WOULD, and then it turned out the Monsignor who baptized me was coming to our church to do the confirmation, so she also told him. She didn’t leave anything out. She told him about my obsession with the name Christian. He said, “Good for her. There aren’t too many of those around.”
Needless to say, I didn’t get to speak in tongues, or you’d have heard about it. I had to go live in Spain for that to happen. But the day after I was confirmed, I did knock the chalice out of the monsignor’s hands, so he had to catch it and then try to get all the hosts to fall back into it, which was certainly eventful, as communions go. I didn’t do it on purpose either.
Next rite of passage: reading Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead and becoming an atheist at 17, while still attending Catholic high school. I had a progressive nun for religion, so I won the religion prize that year. She said atheists think more deeply about God than unquestioning believers. But this rite of passage was really IT for me. I had more mystical experiences once I became an atheist than ever before. Utter transcendence. So I won’t go into that in detail here, because I want to talk about NOW. The ultimate present. Or, Buddhism again.
Last night I was reading One Breath at a Time, which is a book that marries the ethics of the 12 steps with Buddhist practice. It’s all excellent, but as I was reading I started to think about my own spirituality. Not religion, not religious experience, not reading Buddhism. But what is me. My spirituality. And you know, in all the Buddhist reading, I haven’t found my deepest spiritual experience. I’ve been meditating on and off for over twenty years without reading about Buddhism–meditating was a fringe effort until now. What I have done is listened. If you asked me if I prayed, if I meditated, I would say that mostly I just listened. Of course, it’s not listening in the simple sense of listening to another person. It’s sensing as well…listening with your body, with your cells, with the life in you. Listening for the beat of all things, listening for that sense of knowing that calls you into wakefulness. I haven’t been watching my breath or saying lovingkindness. I’ve been listening. I’ve been paying attention to something I can’t see or explain. If I have to put words on it, I’ll say this–I think there are energy currents that run through all things. You can’t see them, but you can feel them–whether they are dark or light, whether they are the current that is meant for you. You can listen for them in other people, or in silence, or in events…there is no place, no time, that they cannot be heard. My practice has been listening, and waiting to know, and finding the current, and surrendering to it and then having one adventure or another. It is the best kind of joy. I’m just learning the next thing to learn and listening. Or, of course, not listening and making myself miserable, and the fact that I know I’m not listening makes it even worse.
Perhaps Buddhism isn’t mystical enough for listening. Not that it matters. Nothing on this earth except my own screwedupness will keep me from listening.
Here is the question I’m listening to right now: why is it that I started out to write a blog about film and ended up writing about spirituality instead? It’s not just that I’m being endlessly self-indulgent (which I am). It’s not just that the film pushes all these questions to the forefront (which it does.) It’s that the film is only part of what I’m listening for. I’m listening more for the next change, the next thing, the next call. I’m stopping when I can, because I want to be sure I really am listening, I am creating time to listen. The film, not the film, Buddhism, not Buddhism, I want to hear. Clearly. It feels so necessary to be clear right here, right now.
Of course, perhaps the thing I am always listening for is me. Because I do want to hear the life in me, its own peculiar beautiful song. More than anything, I want that.