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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, 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.

Coming Out

I’ve been experiencing something very new recently, and I’ve been unsure about whether or not to discuss it/blog about it. Spirituality is controversial at best, and people tend to have very powerful feelings about it, for good or ill.

I find that I’ve always linked spirituality and religion, and assumed that if I believed in God, I would be joining the unenlightened masses that believe in a male, humanoid, capricious, cruel, often discriminatory, and all-powerful deity (this secular perspective of religion, while terribly reductionist and judgmental, is not uncommon). In spite of this, I have been spiritually seeking for a long time, for the last ten years or so at least.

What have I been seeking? Insight, truth, some sense of belonging, justice, kindness, peace. It is a very long list. But I have never felt the presence of God, nor have I felt any real connection to most of the religious texts I’ve read or rituals I’ve witnessed. I often experienced it as empty, cryptic, contradictory, and conformist. My belief system has been largely agnostic, humanistic, and rationalistic. While I’ve felt some sense of resonance with the work of Jung and Campbell on archetypes, myths, and the collective unconscious, and an affinity for Buddhist practices and principals, I have always felt very much cosmically alone.

As I’ve gotten older, that sense of being alone has become harder to ignore, and harder to tolerate. As we age, the inevitability of our own death (scary) and of those we love (scarier) becomes inescapable. Buddhist principals say we should neither cling to pleasure or run from pain, but this is incredibly difficult when what lies beneath the clinging and running is emptiness, fear, and often in my case, despair. Easier to be caught in the karmic wheel than face the abyss. Anxiety and depression have been the periodic result of this struggle.

Recently my perspective has shifted dramatically. I have experienced a spiritual awakening. I don’t know a better way to describe it. I have become aware, from deep in my being, that we are not alone. I have begun to experience God or Atman/Self or God-Consciousness (call it what you want) in a way that is very immediate and tangible. It is a mental, emotional, and physical experience.

I’ve been reading a whole lot of stuff to try and help me understand what I’m experiencing. Deepak Chopra, The Upanishads (pre-Hindu texts), Rumi, Hildegard von Bingen, the Thomas Gospel (this is one of the Gnostic texts – concurrent with the bible but not associated with the church), and a stack of other books. I’ve had to re-evaluate my fairly ignorant opinions of people with religious or spiritual beliefs. I’m realizing that strict rationalism or humanism that excludes the validity of others’ spiritual experiences is just as dogmatic as any religion that does not allow for a personal experience of God.

My beliefs are no longer secular, but they are also not strictly religious either. I think that all of the universe and what lies beyond is some form of consciousness, and that I am part of that consciousness. It feels as if I am a cell in a body that exists to experience itself – my life is a vital part of that consciousness’ awareness. This leads me to feel as if the difference between myself and other beings is not as substantial as it once seemed. It also gives me a profound sense of the ecstatic quality of life, something I have had difficulty accessing in the past. I find it easier to forgive myself and others, and easier to let go of fear and shame, emotions that have been very difficult to release in the past.

Strangely, I have been drawing mandalas for years, mostly because I thought they looked cool. Now I think perhaps my higher conciousness was struggling to express itself.

I decided to write about this because I really like to blog about my thoughts and feelings, what I’ve been reading, and my personal reflections. This is a big shift, and has brought on quite a bit of obsessive book reading, so I’m sure there will be more about it in the future. I am a little worried about the reaction of some of the people I know read this blog, but I think it’s worth it to stay authentic in a forum where that’s kind of the point, you know?