I was never a spiritual seeker. I thought meditation was for weak people with nothing else going on in their lives. I didn’t get the whole religion thing. Church services used to bore me to death and my Sunday school teacher was not a good role model.
For a brief moment I wanted to be a nun, but that had more to do with Julie Andrews than a higher calling.
Then one day, after dropping out of college and pondering what to do with the rest of my life, I decided to visit my friend in California. Fun!
I knew she lived at a Buddhist centre, but I was assured that everyone there was very nice and very normal. No one would try to convert me or shun me for being a non-believer.
That sounded positively refreshing. I was starting to really look forward to my California adventure.
I packed my bags and off I went. On the second day there, after recovering from my jet-lag, I met my friend’s teacher and my life fell apart.
Fell apart, or fell into place, depends on how you look at it. By simply being near him I felt that all of my questions were being answered. These were questions I didn’t even know I had, but something about his presence brought out a whole different side of me. I could sense that he knew something important, and I wanted to know what that was.
During that summer I went from being a strictly academic person to someone who got up at 5am in the morning to pray. I went from being goal-driven and future oriented to focusing on my breath and bringing my mind back to the present.
I still wore mascara and shaved my legs, but in addition I also had a mala and a meditation shawl. I took to this new way of life like a duck to water. I was in my element. I had found what I was looking for, without ever seeking for it.
I guess that is what one would call faith. I had faith in the teachings, faith in the Guru, faith in this community, faith in myself as a practitioner. I did of course question what was happening to me, after all, this was not how I had envisioned my vacation to turn out. But there was no escaping it, Buddhism was rapidly becoming an important part of my life.
After that summer I went back home and tidied up my loose ends. I said my goodbyes and moved across the world so I could study with my teacher.
If all of these changes were a shock to me, my friends and family were absolutely flabbergasted. ‘This is so random, so out of the blue! What are you telling us?’ From an academic, financial, and career standpoint it was an absolute suicide, but there was no holding me back. I had found my calling.
I stayed there for 10 years. Then I hit a wall and felt an increasing urge to go back into the world again. Shangri La had become stagnant, it was time to leave.
Retreating from the world had been emotional but straight forward, returning was a whole different animal. I knew I wanted to be there, but to do what exactly?
Slowly, slowly life took on some vague resemblance of normality again. I just kept telling myself one day at a time, trust your instincts, go with your intuition.
When I left my teacher had given me a big bear-hug and said, ‘Remember, follow the love.’
I’m finally at a place in my life where I feel I have a good balance between my religious self and my worldly self. The two sides now walk hand in hand and are the best of friends. There are no contradictions, only harmony.
I had gone from one extreme to the other, now I’m settling into a happy place in the middle.
I know that this dance takes on a different shape and form for everybody, there is no one size fits all when it comes to religion and spirituality.
Personally I just know I was growing weary of having an either/or existence. I don’t want to retreat from the world and take a life-long vow of silence. On the other hand, I have no desire of being a Wall Street shark or a member of the Kardashian clan either.
I just want to be me, whatever that might be. It’s a life-long journey, I have no idea how any of this will ever pan out. I like that it’s unpredictable though, not to mention surprising. I don’t mind walking down an unknown path. Whenever I feel a bit lost or confused I just tell myself, ‘Follow the love’.
Then I keep going.