I suffered a mild epiphany last Saturday while waiting for lunch. It has faded since though, and there lies the real suffering. I can't seem to retain entirely the enlightenment of the moment. But it's there enough to build from and explore.
My epiphanito had to do with my spirituality. Again. I mean, I could say that the majority of my actions are driven by an unspoken spirituality, without an exact diety, if we had to label it. But aside from this general underlying that seems innate and amplifies with time, there have been very clear cut milestones of searching for religious belonging throughout my entire life.
Like when I tried to convince myself as a young kid that my Four Square Pentecostal grandmother really could rebuke the devil. I remember thinking, How is she so sure? Why can she profess so faithfully? What am I not getting? When I was six years old, she and I sat on a lacquered bench in front of her fantastic three-tiered organ that fixturized her living room. She wore a set-and-curl hair do and a flowered polyester dress with a cow-neck collar. She had me for the weekend or the week or however long my mother needed me to be there, and since she had me alone she knew it was a perfect opportunity to save me. "Do you except Jesus as your personal savior?" I remember so clearly the strong knots that formed in my stomach from her pressure. I nodded. There would be no end to it if I didn't. Later that afternoon, I contracted a stomach bug or a case of fanatical nausea and I puked. I hugged her dusty rose porcelain toilet and threw up until I was dry heaving so loudly it echoed off the bowl. Between heaves, I saw my grandmother stiffly sitting on her plastic-covered couch wringing her hands unsure how to comfort a sick six year old, but still probably satisfied that she had saved me. And I didn't like her church or religion or her personal savior after that.
Or the time that I tried to be a really good catholic in elementary school. I loved La Virgin statues. I thought She spoke to me; I still do. But in catholic school, I would argue about abortion and women’s rights because I was living with a crazy artist feminist and those were the things I heard most. I believed in those things too, which caused the nuns and priests to whisper about me. Our class would line up for mass and my teacher would say things like, "No hanging from the chandeliers, Madness." And I, flushed, would think, What the fuck? I felt so ill-fitted. I didn't like catholics then, anymore, but I still felt a love from the statues and the candles and the pews and the incense and the ceremony of it all. I loved all the symbols. I still do.
When I unintentionally studied the Buddhist Lam Rim teachings in junior high school, I didn't know this would stay with me for so long, to this day. I store these things in the not-so-far corners and contemplate them often. I might've understood then that this could be something lifelong, but I couldn't wrap my mind fully around the complex simplicity. Pure buddhism is mad hard.
Or how about when in high school I wondered if Haile Selassie really was the second coming. I read Rasta poets and philosophers and I dug it, but I couldn't yell JAH! without major twinges of embarrassment.
Then I became a Seventh Day Adventist. And even after the emersion, even while hearing the choir, the words Jesus is My Savior and He Died For My Sins got caught on my tongue. The rhetoric sputtered unconvincingly out of my mouth. I was baffled by what those things meant. I had simply latched on to the philosophy that this gospel gave hope to the hopeless, which was me at the time.
In my early twenties, I was formally and fully introduced to the santos of Santaria. This is a powerful and chilling religion and I had convinced myself that this was more culturally personal and this is how I should interpret my religion. The idea that natural forces WERE God is something I still believe. In Santeria, these gods have names and characteristics that are playful, destructive, powerful. They have a million symbols attached to them. They have favorite numbers and colors and food; they are wildly energetic. I was initiated at the first level by a padrino, and two sister goddesses attached themselves to me and haven't left since. Yemaya, the goddess of the ocean and motherliness, and Ochun, the goddess of rivers and love & passion. But here's the thing about Santeria, the practitioners are caught up in the manipulation of these natural forces to get what they want, which is usually to maginify their own personal power. And that rubbed against most every spiritual seed that had already been planted in me. I have never sought power and I didn't see any emphasis on becoming a better person or contributing towards the greater good of others. From what I witnessed, all of the ceremonial gas and protocol was less about honoring nature and more about selfishly bending power. That power is real --there is nothing fake to me about Santaria-- but manipulating God whether by santeros or Christians or any other religion seems to always, in the end, burn someone. I keep my five beaded necklaces neatly stored in my closet. I don't dare toss them. I'm still close to Yemaya & Ochun; I feel them hover sometimes.
Then I just denounced structured religion. I curled my lip at any kind of religious pitching/pushing. I called The Church the Devil. I was sick of the many forms of god-proclaimed bullshit especially hypocrisy. I tried to reject most forms of symbolism no matter how drawn to it I was. I decided to work on cherry-picked philosophies of buddhist teachings; compassion, kindness, conscientiousness, patience. These alone were enough.
And then last Saturday, I was sitting in Cafe Gratitude in Berkeley. Cafe Gratitude is a raw-food restaurant that swirls with an undeniable energy. The charge is palpable, and it seems to strip away my embarrassment about still secretly wanting well-rounded spirituality. On the table were meditation cards that are part of a board game created by the cafe. I picked one up. It quoted Epicurus: "Nothing is enough to a person that thinks enough is too little." It moved me to write the quote on the back of a receipt from my wallet. I don't feel the same impact I did the moment I read it on Saturday, but I'm holding on to the quote. I know it's important to me now. I know how applicable it is. I picked up another card. It said, "I Am Grateful." And that was enough to send me into some soul-searching abyss.
I still think Buddhism is too hard for me. I still can't fathom doing things goallessly. And I'm not sure I want to live my life without high and low spikes. But I am willing to meditate. That was a promise I made to myself over the weekend; meditation. Will I be able to empty myself? Float away from possession and judgment and thinking too much? I'm not sure. I may just sit there and think “I Am Grateful” for fifteen minutes. Mostly, I feel energized by actively wanting to renew my spirituality. I don't think this side of me wanted to be ignored any more. Time to try something new, again. Something more tailor-made from the building blocks of realizations I've had over the last thirty years.
7 hours ago