Over the years I have oscillated back and forth on a spiritual continuum. After much contemplation I have come to the conclusion that I am spiritual person, but not religious. My spiritual journey began at the age of ten, when my mother gave me a red leather journal with Khalil Gibran sayings on the top of each page. "Write down your feelings," she told me, in an effort to help me cope with the recent death of my grandmother.
In addition to the fact that I was already a budding writer, Gibran's words of wisdom resonated with me at a deep level. Sayings like, "To understand the heart and mind of a person, look not at what he has already achieved, but what he aspires to," inspired me to think about my life and what I wanted to do with it. Gibran's many wise words also gave me something to grasp onto as I navigated through the pain and searched for reasons why my grandmother might have taken her life. My journal provided solace and empowered me. It became my confidant and best friend as I grappled for ways to help me come to grips with my loss.
After her death, I also looked for solace in our traditional Passover rituals, initiated by my father, a holocaust survivor. But, they just confused me. I loved my dad and would have done anything to make him happy, but looking back I am baffled by the situation. Not only did I not understand Hebrew, I did not even understand what the prayers meant in English. Nothing was ever explained to me. As an only child of working immigrant parents I was taught to take things at face value.
During my early college years in upstate New York, I continued to search for meaning and signed up for an introductory course in transcendental meditation (TM) with Mahareshi Mahesh Yogi. The first meeting was held in an old two-story mansion. After being greeted by two young smiling women with ponytails and a sparkle in their eyes, I was escorted into the dining room where chairs were lined up in church-like fashion. When all of the seats were occupied, Maharishi gave an introduction into the practice of TM. Afterwards, one of his assistants shared with me my supposedly personal mantra. I was told to meditate every morning for twenty minutes. I returned home excited about my new skill and wondered if I would end up with the same twinkle in my eyes.
Everyone copes differently with loss and tragedy. Some turn to drugs, alcohol, food, gambling, love and even sex. For me, my addiction is writing -- I just cannot seem to get enough of it. As I am also drawn to the concept of love as my higher power, I believe in the importance of compassion. This has lead me to study the tenets of Buddhism which was reinforced when I saw His Holiness the Dalai Lama in 2008 in my hometown. His affect on me as an adult was similar to Gibran's affect on me as a young child. I was drawn into and moved by his powerful words. According to Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism, by Buddhist scolar, Choghyam Trungpa, "cutting through the spiritual paths is the process of cutting through our confusion, of uncovering the awakened state of the mind." In doing away with this confusion, we become enlightened. This enlightenment can lead to empowerment and reaching our full potential. His Holiness Dalai Lama spoke a lot about enlightenment and goodness. Reflecting on this now, I feel as if I have circled back to my youth, mainly because many Buddhist beliefs are similar to those of the Jewish tradition, instilled in me by my father. Only now, the concepts and practices are in a language I can understand.
For example, the common sense reminder of the importance of goodness. Other compassionate characteristics offered by The Dalai Lama include: be kind to others, whether your beliefs are similar or not; cultivate a habit of inner discipline; when our hearts are filled with love, there is no room for suspicion; one of the most beautiful aspects of being human is being able to smile; our attitude is critical for inner peace; negative thoughts and emotions obstruct our basic aspirations for happiness; and compassion belongs in every sphere of activity.
Losing my grandmother and the other sad moments in my life have made me appreciate the good times. I now welcome compassion and the fine art of living. Although Buddhism has many facets, the basic tenets of caring for and acting out of concern for others, regardless of our religious traditions unites people, rather than divides. This idea is so important during these tenuous and challenging times as we all search and struggle for some global meaning and sense of internal and external peace.