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Through the Looking Glass, Part the Second

For the first part of this story, check out my guest post on The Pagan Princesses where I talk about my first brush with the divine, from the perspective of five years after.

Godess Durga painting

Durga, Mother of the Universe

In recent years, with the advent of my marriage and the birth of my child, it seemed as if I had backslid in my spiritual development. I stopped meditating regularly, and just kind of coasted on the faith of what I had experienced before. But during my pregnancy, and when I was suffering from postpartum depression I felt profoundly isolated and alone; I felt abandoned. I still thought God was there, but it was as if It couldn’t reach me, or I couldn’t hear It.

Now I am again at a crossroads in my life. Stress and questions about my identity have driven me back to meditating, back to actively seeking. Five years have passed since my spiritual awakening, and while I still have faith that what I experienced was authentic, that sense of being connected to the source of being has faded leaving only memories and occasional flashes of insight.

As I rediscover and reconstruct my faith, it is clear to me our experience of the Eternal changes as our lives change. When I had my awakening I was unmarried, childless, and between careers. There was a lot of room for God to slip in and make Itself known to me. The Buddhist practice of non-attachment also seemed to make a great deal of sense when my life was in this in-between place.

Now I am a mother, and am totally, inexorably, tethered to this world and this life by my child. Accepting impermanence is so much harder when there is someone in the world whose existence is so crucial to me. When I first started meditating again, I couldn’t understand why it was so difficult. Why was it so hard to let go of my attachments for a little while and just breathe? It is because there is someone in my life whose breath is more important to me than my own. To get a little Pagan on you, I have passed from the Maiden phase of my life into the Mother phase, which I believe is by its nature profoundly attached. In Buddhism, non-attachment means accepting things like sickness and death. As a mother I find that pretty much impossible. I cling; I worry. I entered this phase relatively late, with a strong sense of identity — which motherhood blew to bits. What is the tradeoff for losing my ability to detach? Love. Mind-bending, terrifying, overwhelming love. The ability to love with a ferocity and depth and selflessness I did not have before becoming a mother. And I think that accepting my love, rather than my fear, is the path I need to follow to reconnect with my Spirit.

As I revisit the teachings that resonated with me before, I am also exploring the polytheistic aspects of Hinduism. The Hindu religion is incredibly diverse and varied. Sri Ramakrishna, a Hindu prophet or “Avatar” from the late 19th century was the father of modern Vedanta. He was one of those people with a direct line to God, which made him a little crazy. He was able to reach the divine through almost any path. He could meditate on Kali, or Christ, or Krishna, or just on the breath itself, and ecstatically merge with God. (He also thought he was a monkey for a while. I’m glad I’m not a prophet.) So as I reconcile myself to the changes that motherhood has brought, I find myself looking more to the Hindu goddesses for identification. In the West, female archetypes are very strictly broken up into Maiden, Mother, or Crone. They tend not to share traits – you are in one phase or the other. Remember when Hillary Clinton got all that flack for not wanting to “stay home and bake cookies”? Our society is not so great at accepting that a powerful, intellectual woman can also be a nurturing, devoted mother.

Saraswati

Saraswati, Goddess of Knowledge, Wisdom, and Music

The Hindu goddesses are much more complex. When I contemplate Kali, Durga, or Saraswati, I feel more at peace with the multiplicity of my own experience as a woman. I also have taken some inspiration from the Princesses and spent more time communing with my grandmother who passed away shortly after I was married. I’m learning that fluidity and flexibility are traits of the Goddesses, and my birthright as a woman. I find the fullness of contemplation is as useful as the spaciousness of meditation, and I can pass between them as I wish. Goddesses are all about transformation, and I am starting to allow myself to transform.

I will enter yet another phase of my life in the coming year – I am starting a Doctoral program. And while I can’t always look into the sky and see God, certain things resonate in my body and heart in an unmistakable way. This path, the path of the scholar, feels incredibly right to me. Looking into my daughter’s eyes or holding her hand feels as if a hot, beautiful, painful beam of light is penetrating my heart and connecting me to all the mothers and daughters before me. Meditation soothes my soul helps me be more compassionate.

The emptiness of Shambala doesn’t resonate with me as much as the fullness of Vedanta, although the practice of Shamatha meditation is still a good exercise for my busy mind. The Mother phase of my life seems the most tied to gender. I think God is still speaking to me, but that voice is now more female and urges me to embrace my own womanhood fully. Her voice sounds a lot more like my own. In Hinduism, there is a branch called Shaktism, where the highest form of Brahman stems from the feminine instead of the masculine. It is still practiced widely in India and elsewhere, and I find this idea entrancing. In the end, I hope I can be a little like Ramakrishna – that I can find Spirit through many different paths, depending on where I am in my life. That I can be a little less rigid, and a little more fluid with how I connect to my source, and to the people I love.

Heroic Harry

David and I read the last Harry Potter book on Saturday. I’m a HUGE Harry Potter fan. I’ve always loved fantasy and sci fi, and the HP books are up there for me with Lord of the Rings, the Oz books, and more recently the His Dark Materials trilogy by Phillip Pullman.

There’s been lots of yammering lately about the quality of Rowling’s prose, but I’m going to sit that one out. I really enjoy the books, and I love the cleverness and imagination in them. But I read something really silly today in the Wall Street Journal.

The reviewer points out that the final book solidifies Rowling’s intentions to create a Christian allegory, much in the spirit of Tolkien and Lewis. Okay. Rewind. Tolkien – not a Christian allegory. Big, epic hero story, with roots in a whole bunch of different traditions. The dude created an entire genesis and mythology and multiple languages. He created actual languages. His work transcends one particular religion. Lewis, on the other hand, big Christian allegory. And, might I add, fairly one dimensional. I find his stories to be simplistic (and sometimes quite bigoted – see the later books in the Narnia series) morality plays. For a far more sophisticated Christian allegory, check out the Ender stories by Orson Scott Card. Again, it’s the hero story, but from a Christian perspective.

So let’s take a quick look at the themes underlying HP (avoid this if you haven’t read the last book yet and don’t want spoilers). Harry is raised in physical and spiritual poverty, discovers secrets of his birth, goes on a long, difficult journey where he faces many tasks, is guided by a wise man who subsequently dies, faces loss, doubt and disillusionment, sacrifices himself, visits the underworld/afterlife, returns, and defeats the current embodiment of evil. This is not a uniquely Christian allegory. This is the hero’s story, which has been told since the dawn of man, and exists in every culture in some form, and in every era. Parsifal, Jesus, the Buddha, Luke Skywalker, Dorothy… this is the monomyth. News flash – the redemptive power of love and forgiveness is a universal concept that is not tethered to one religion, race, or culture. Sheesh.

/end rant

I really enjoyed the last book, and the series as a whole. I’m looking forward to seeing what Rowling dreams up next. In the mean time, let me know if you’ve read any good books lately!