Sunday, October 23, 2011

Monkey Brains, I: Outing Myself.

This being my birthday weekend, (56!! I'll look really old in 30 years) it seemed time to begin a new segment for the blog.

This will be a true web journal--a record of my experience as a person who regularly does mindfulness meditation.  (Visceral reaction here:  That sentence rings a bit PC--as if I'd dropped into conversation the phrase a "person of color" instead of "Asian" or "Black"; or, as someone I once knew who was involved in Social Concerns with the Episcopal Church used to insist ad nauseum, those infected with HIV should be called "persons with AIDS."  Despite the intention to cloak the people in question with verbal dignity, these attempts have a sterile whiff.  "Persons" has a vaguely bio-lab feel.)  But I digress.  The truth is, I'm trying hard not to identify myself as a Buddhist.  This despite the fact that I now have what my daughter describes as "a pagan shrine" in my meditation room, aka my son's former bedroom.  (Yes, he still has a room all to himself when he's home. The attic garret. Get over it.)  (Do I sound defensive?  In this family, obtaining the privilege of a room all to MYSELF WAS NOT EASY. But that's another story.)

It made the Cape Cod nights less stark
So this month, I bought a Buddha statue.  (Buddha? Zat you?) I was in Cape Cod recently on family business, and I saw it in a shop and it was beautiful and it wasn't ridiculously expensive.

But I don't know if I'm a Buddhist or not. (Helen: Is that honest?)  I go to regular meditation sessions at Springboard Studio in Mt. Airy (the Granola capital of Philadelphia), and I meet regularly for, like, these talks with their main teacher of Buddhism, Brian Arnell, who has a heart the size of the ancient continent Pangaea.  Springboard is a "secular" Buddhist organization, which as far as I can tell, means that it's okay to go just for the mutual support and to learn to meditate, and Brian makes a distinction between "religious" Buddhists and otherwise Buddhists, which is them, but I can't remember now what it is. Brian is very smart.

The truth is that I was an evangelical Christian for so long--about 30 years, give or take-- (Yes, I was a Quaker child, but then some horrible stuff happened and the church rescued me)  that partly because of  what evangelical Christians describe as "the fear of man" (i.e. wanting other people to like you a lot, even if you haven't actually seen them in like ten years) I am afraid to publicly identify myself (on the WWW! (But does anyone actually read this blog?)) as anything other than an evangelical Christian. Which is sort of ridiculous, considering the "pagan shrine" I have going upstairs.

There's another reason I don't identify myself as a Buddhist.  I'm not sure what being one actually is.

But here's the thing. One incredibly relieving aspect of the whole Buddhist thing is permission to look at what's true in any given moment and to make room for its existence, however putrid or self-indulgent or pathetic.   You don't judge it.  You don't resolve to overcome it, or vow to establish righteousness in its place, (so help me God).  You don't beat yourself up.  Well, duh, you do. But you notice that, too.  And you make room for: Okay, well, I've spent the last twenty minutes beating myself up, and now my chest hurts and I might be having a coronary. That's kind of interesting. And you give yourself a break for noticing how hard it is to give yourself a break.

So the truth is, I am frankly weirded out to think of what all the Christians I was interknit with for so long would think of what I've turned in to.  CONFESSION: The truth is, I used to pray that what has happened to me would not happen to me. I have broken out of the corral: that is, the Jesus thing is no longer my sole reference point.  Anyone who has never been an evangelical will be like, Okay, so what's the big deal here?  And anyone who has/is/ever will be an evangelical, world without end, will get it in an instant and start praying for my return to the fold.  Or leave me up the Will of God, depending.

Okay, so now that's out of the way. Stay tuned as I claw my way to Enlightenment.  Oh, and, also I'm going to talk about spiritual aspects of writing and interview people who are both meditators and writers.  First up: Jess Row, who is currently featured Best American Short Stories, 2011. More about him next week.


Anonymous said...

May your path be filled with light, whatever paths you choose to tread. :) Thanks for sharing, as always.

HelenQP said...

Thank you!! Right now the light is easy to see. Not always. But friends make a big, big difference!

Joanna said...

Oh, my dear dear friend. I still love you and so does God. God, in my mind, is open to whatever way we will find Him. He loves the Buddhists, as well as the Hindus, and ALL people whether they call themselves Christians or not. It is not up to anyone to tell you whether you are right or wrong, or whether you will go to heaven or not. That is God's area. I used to be judgmental like that but I am not God and do not want to be. So love ya always.
And by the way, you are only 55.

HelenQP said...

Big, mad hugs, Jojo! Thanks so much. I'm glad I felt free to write this way.

And yes, you are the second person to point out my mistake. I'm so terrible with numbers that somehow in the last year I got my age mixed up. Now it feels as though a year has been added to my life! Woo hoo!

Catherine Stine said...

I'm loving your Buddhist leadings. The great thing about Buddhism in America is that you can totally customize it to your taste. It's a freeform kinda deal. Buddha and Jesus would probably have been great friends.
I have a shrine in my house and it's full of lots of non-Buddhist baubles. I tend to put dried flowers in Buddha's lap. He looks pretty that way.

Helen W. Mallon said...

I'm trying to be ironic about the fact that I have this shrine thing going. It's just a pretty statue.


The Quaker ancestors are spinning in their graves.