“I meet the woman of my dreams and she’s a Buddhist?!?”
Happy Valentine’s Day indeed. The man who spoke these words to me five years ago was actually born on February 14th. We were on our first veryofficialnicerestaurant date. We were very drawn to each other. To say that we had chemistry is serious understatement. To say that I should have just punted when he said the above is serious rationality. But, that is like saying we should all live perfectly balanced lives, spiritually unfolding like elegant slow-motion blossoms drenched in dewy sunlight while mystical didgeridoo music envelops us. Meanwhile, back in my actual life…
He had just casually draped his arm around me. Our bodies were so pas de deux. We were as entwined as the faded but happy red string wrapped three times around my left wrist. He asked if that were a Kabbalah thing.
“No,” I began brightly and excitedly. “I got that string in India last January, when I went to a Kalachakra teaching led by the Dalai Lama!” I continued, explaining that almost one year to the day after the beginning of my separation and divorce I had jumped at the chance to take a serious pilgrimage. I admitted that I hadn’t been entirely sure what a Kalachakra teaching was before I left, and still had a hard time explaining it now, but that after a brief communication with a prominent Buddhist scholar and teacher, I was invited to join his tour, and that I had spent so many years saying Not Yet or Who Me or Someday and that I just said Yes before I knew anything else.
I was so happy about everything unfolding in my heart and in my life. That included the man sitting so close to me. He then asked if I were a Buddhist. I had spent the five prior years tentatively saying I was a Baby Buddhist, or maybe a Buddhist, or tending to Buddhism. At that moment, I just said Yes. The Presbyterian sitting so close to me said what I have already quoted. And, I hate to admit that, instead of remaining grounded and secure irrespective of the outcome, I began backpedaling, grasping around for that mystical “common ground” and basically getting That Old-Time Nervous instead of trusting my new-found calm. So much for our spiritual paths unfurling straight and ever forward before us.
I began explaining to him that in Buddhist thinking, one can be both a Buddhist and a Christian at the same time, that Buddhism does not negate faith traditions, that it isn’t even a revelatory or faith tradition anyway, but instead a spiritual practice, a metaphysical inquiry. But, before I could summon up the courage to declare that I was nevertheless not a Christian, he cleared his throat loudly and flagged down a waiter.
We still dated, but uncomfortably so, for three months. During that time, I felt drawn to visit an Episcopal priest I met through my girls’ school. I cried and cried in his office, but not about the Presbyterian. I was confronting, one more time and yet again, fear. Fear of profound separation. A fear that my religious upbringing had taught can only be alleviated by adherence to one path, one Way. This way was not the way for me, and my new way had been blossoming so beautifully of late, but now with my heart aching for love and being rattled by the same, the old fears of abandoning that path were rattling me as well. This priest graciously witnessed my suffering while pushing nothing. Even as I realized that I was going to him to finally and fully declare that the path he followed was no longer mine, he remained open-hearted, even encouraging. He will always stand as a model of true love for me.
I did say goodbye to the Presbyterian. I hope to keep up with the Episcopalian. And, I consider both relationships such a gift. I see now how lucky I was to have had my coalescing beliefs so squarely challenged, and right where it really hurts. Where we ache for connection. When we grasp for connection without being very clear and very honest about what needs to be at the root of all of our connections, we suffer. These relationships made me clear my throat and declare for all to hear that a new and still unfolding and not entirely straight path was to be my way toward truly feeling connected to and integrated with divine love, and that divine love was what I must reflect—and be true to—before I could ever hope to sustain any human connection.
Having to get intimate with my own conception of and experience with divinity, even at the risk and reality of standing separate and (seemingly) alone, felt like jumping off of a cosmic cliff. But, the sky didn’t fall, nor did I. My new wings kicked in. They are little and a little crooked, but they sustain me. Even as I get blown off course. Even as I get back on.
When I first began writing this blog, the words “mucky origami” popped into my head. I was staring at the wonderful logo a wonderful friend had just designed for me (see it, at the top?). I was laughing about how it looks somewhat like an origami bird and how, as crafty as I am, the one craft that drives me a bit bonkers is origami. So perfect! So perfectly folded, one way and one way only! So reverently repetitive. So carefully done once, and then just done. I looked again at my lopsided symbol for aspiring to fly and thought, “That’s my kind of origami!”
A little short in the wingspan. Slightly askew. Apt to unfold (see another one, below?). Looking like I keep mucking with it, folding and unfolding it over and over again… and it ain’t over yet. Yes. Mucky Origami.That’s how all life, spiritual and otherwise, truly unfolds. We are forever making and re-making and sometimes un-making and re-inventing our own wings and our own paths. Most of the time we look like pudgy crooked fledglings barely picking up airspeed. So what? It’s kind of cute, actually. It is also divinity in action.
Saint Catherine of Siena declared, “All the way to heaven is heaven.” I assume she also took note of the fact that it is a very mucky trajectory, even as it is the only way to go.