Peace Begins with Me

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Unless you’ve been living in a cave (or on silent meditation retreat) you know about the chaos (an understatement) that has been happening this past week in America.

An attack on our environment, our agencies meant to protect us (EPA, scientific community, The National Park Service) by stopping their free speech; removing environmental protection acts, banning Muslims from certain countries from entering the United States. There is more but it would take all afternoon to list them all.

What I want to write about is the Muslim ban and the reaction from individuals, mainly one, who considers herself a spiritual teacher and teaches classes on spiritual development. I understand how someone can get caught up in the fear mongering but someone who sees herself as an enlightened being?

Not so much.

I will not mention her name or the spiritual group she manages; there is enough hate speech going on and for me to “out” her makes me just as bad as the next hater. She is already vocal about her political views on her radio show and Face Book page. She is “outing” herself.

The way I see it, living an authentic spiritual life means questioning what is going on around me and especially questioning my response to it. There was a time (not that long ago) I lived in the same world that so many call, “the true reality.” I reacted to every thing I saw and read. I didn’t question the news or government leaders. I never thought to ask if there were ulterior motives by any of them.

Then I had a huge “aha” moment and my world perspective changed. There were mini “aha” moments through out my adult life but it was a cancer diagnosis in 2010 that changed everything. For the next year I learned a great deal about my body, how I probably got sick and about the people (agencies) who I thought were protecting us… and that led to my spiritual awakening.

It was the Buddhist teachings that spoke to me, along with other nature based spiritual teachings.

Over the next few years I questioned everything and everyone; especially my own behavior.

I know now, I am part of this Universe and every sentient being who is a part of it.

That being said. I am also aware there must be a way to help those in need in an orderly way. I do not think open borders is a good idea. Our social structure would surely collapse. I am a woman who is walking my own spiritual path, using the teachings I’ve learned so far to light my way. I certainly don’t have the answer, but there must be sane people who can come up with a compassionate solution that will benefit all.

When I started writing this, I wanted to write about how disappointed I am with this woman spiritual teacher, but as I write, I am reminded that I cannot control the behavior of others. Even this woman’s. I did send her a private message expressing my thoughts and she defended herself (of course), sending me political commentary from news sources that she believed were correct. In her mind, she is correct and I am the one who is misled. We will never come to an understanding and that’s okay. It has to be. Like I said, I am in control of my behavior, no one else’s.

All I can do is remain true to my beliefs and be compassionate to all sentient beings, including this woman. I will remain positive and hopeful for our future, including Mother Earth and the animal kingdom. There are so many who will come to her defense.

I truly believe that LOVE will win… no matter what.

Namaste,

ingebird

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How I Got into Buddhism and a Spiritual Life

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We all have a story about how we took our spiritual path seriously, whether it’s traditional Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Hindu, Wicca or whatever. Sure, there are plenty of us walking around going through the motions and celebrating holidays of religions that were passed down to us by our parents and even society. I grew up in a household that never mentioned religion. We never went to church. I was around nine years old when I decided to go to church a few times, to see what went on inside. Seen through the eyes of a nine-year old girl, I can say, not much was happening. It was boring.

Off and on from my teenage years through my adult life, I dabbled in astrology and read spiritual writings from authors I can’t remember. I never took my spiritual life seriously…until I was diagnosed with stage four cancer. That day my life changed forever. It wasn’t that I thought I was going to die, I never believed that. Something deep inside me said, I would survive. I just knew there was something more than the day-to-day bullshit, I called my life.

While I was looking up other cancer survivors on the Internet, I ran across many who wrote about spirituality and suggested books to help other cancer patients get through their ordeal. Louise Hay seemed to be a favorite, so I found her books in the library and started reading. Hay is a cancer survivor and lives a rich spiritual life, dedicated to helping others. I wanted to be like her (and Oprah)spiritual life. Her books led me to other writers and eventually to Buddhist teachings.

I don’t call myself a Buddhist but I strive to be Buddha like, or at least not to be an asshole. I don’t like labels, especially religious ones; there’s too many problems that come from saying, “I believe this or I believe that.” There are too many people who like to argue that your belief is wrong and theirs is right. If you ask me, we’re all right. Even atheists. We all believe in something that resonates with us. There might be some who say, I can’t follow Buddhism AND some other spiritual belief. That’s their opinion.

I read that the Dali Lama and Thich Nhat Hanh both say Buddhism doesn’t care if one follows another religion as well. Buddhism is not jealous of other religious beliefs. Thich Nhat Hanh said Buddha and Jesus said the same thing… “don’t be an asshole”. OK, they didn’t say that but they did say to get along with each other.

I was watching Davidji give an interview on You Tube about stress management the other day and he mentioned how he found his spiritual life. He was working in “mergers and acquisitions” in New York for many years and then…911 happened. His life changed drastically after that and he quit his lucrative job… I suggest watching his interview to find out more. It’s really good and he’s a funny guy!

After watching the video, I got to thinking how many others have a similar story, maybe not as drastic as Davidji’s and mine but something that happened in their lives that made them “examine” their life choices? According to Abraham Maslow, only 3% of the population ever look at their life critically and wonder why they made the choices they did, or as he puts it, “become self-actualized”.

I am far from being self-actualized. I still have too many knee jerk reactions to situations. I still put my foot in my mouth and I allow my buttons to get pushed. I am working on it though and Buddhist teachings, along with other spiritual practices help me. I’m definitely much better than before cancer.

I know you, dear reader have a story to tell and feel free to share it by leaving a comment. I enjoy hearing people’s stories, not only about spiritual things but their lives in general. We are all on our personal journeys but we also share space on a huge rock spinning thousands of miles an hour through space. Now that’s some mind-blowing shit!

Namaste,

ingebird

 

Religion vs. Religion

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Several years ago I worked as a waitress in a local coffee shop (the old school kind which actually served food). One afternoon my coworker asked me if she could leave for an hour so she could go to afternoon mass at the church down the street. I said “sure” since there were only a few customers in the restaurant. As soon as she left, a  female sitting at the counter snidely remarked, “Catholics aren’t real Christians.” Getting into a religious debate with this woman probably wasn’t in my best interest so I decided to keep my mouth shut.

Back then, I hadn’t study Buddhism yet and my experience with anything spiritual was limited, although I have given her words more thought over the past few months and think her attitude (belief) is exactly why I stay away from organized religion, especially what is considered mainstream in America. Too many people with fundamental religious beliefs aren’t willing to accept there are other religious and spiritual points of view. None is right or wrong, only different. There is no religious superiority over another, but there are people who feel superior in general and use religion to justify their bad behavior.

An extreme example is the self-proclaimed Islamic (religious) group, ISIS. Their members believe their God instructs them to kill anyone who doesn’t believe their dogma. Their mantra is, “Its God’s will.” (Actually, its something different but similar. I choose to paraphrase their words). This group is at the very least a cult, like the Manson followers — on steroids. Their whole dogma is seeped in hate, something none of the major religions I studied in college, teach. I don’t know exactly why anyone would join such a group, no matter how loving and supportive they may seem in the beginning. Then again, I’ve never been a “joiner” of anything. I ask too many questions. That’s why Buddhism is a good fit for me.

ISIS is the extreme but there are individuals who base their hatred on verses in other holy books who can be just as dangerous, albeit on a smaller scale. Religious wars have been around since forever. You would think we have evolved since then but I guess not. The other day I heard a Jesuit priest tell a reporter,” All religious books should come with a warning label, much like the ones found on a pack of cigarettes.” If you think about it, it’s true. They all seem to contain words hazardous to our health. The Christian bible has so many different versions, how do we know which one is correct? I say it’s the one we probably feel most comfortable with and reflects our own thinking. If someone fears homosexuals (as an example) he or she will follow a Christian belief that reinforces that fear (belief). If someone is more open to other lifestyles they may follow Unitarian teachings.

Lately, what I find odd (and disappointing) is there seems to be a rift developing between religions. Or it could seem that way because the news media reports it so much. It’s especially noticeable this time of year when (I thought) we consider ourselves more charitable. The fight is over political correctness.

A week ago, one parent successfully stopped a field trip to see Santa during school hours. She wanted a separation between Church and State. I didn’t know Santa represented any church, in fact I knew a Christian who thought Santa should be banned altogether because he was too “secular.” Anyway this woman’s actions started yet another religious debate.

When I was a kid in the sixties, we celebrated Christmas at school. One year my classmate, who was Jewish did a report in front of the class about his religion and what it meant to him. It was a great learning experience. What we seem to be missing now a days are the opportunities for more learning experiences. Instead of separating ourselves and closing our ears and minds, we could embrace our differences and learn from each other. It’s really a shame when we allow our egos to get the best of us. Our ego is the one who says we should fear anything or anyone who seems different.

Hopefully this fear “of the other” is a passing phase. Maybe its part of our spiritual growth as a nation. God knows, none of these religions, spiritual beliefs and non-religious beliefs are going away soon. I hope we keep talking and yes, arguing because that’s how we will figure this stuff out.

Namaste,

ingebird

Religious Freedom

Earlier today I refilled my water bottles at the Glacier water machine outside Ralph’s grocery store. The past few days have been muggy so I wore one of my summer tops and a pair of jeans. The top was loose fitting, sort of bohemian hippie style. I was filling my second bottle when I saw a woman come out of the store. She stopped to look at the outdoor plants a few feet away from where I was standing. I don’t know if she noticed me but I noticed her.

She wore an abaya and hijab, similar to the one pictured below, minus the fancy brooch.

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I got to thinking about how fortunate I am to live in the United States where 2 women dressed so opposite can walk around in public without being harassed, and for the most part, there is religious tolerance, at least in Southern California anyway. I believe anyone should be able to worship whatever god or entity they choose and if there is a dress code that goes along with it, that’s ok too.

When I was in college I took a class on the world’s great religions and one of my assignments was to research one of them and write a paper on it. I chose the Hare Krishnas because they have always interested me. Too often they are perceived as weird or a cult and someone to be made fun of. I learned a great deal about them when I hung out at their Berkeley temple. Two things stood out; 1. They might be ridiculed in the United States but in India they are a legitimate religion, an offshoot of Hinduism. 2. When a devotee leaves the temple to venture out in public he cannot wear his robes. He wears western clothes instead to blend in. Why? Because too many have been beaten by outsiders who think its ok to hurt someone who looks different than them. I was really sad and angry to hear that.

At the same time I find it interesting that what one sees as a normal part of their religion (like wearing a hijab), I see as oppressive. I am too stubborn and opinionated to follow any religion that requires me to dress a certain way, or be told I can’t do something because I’m a woman. My credo is “You ain’t the boss of me.”  That’s the number one reason I don’t like mainstream churches. There is too much dogma and I can’t question what the guy in the pulpit is saying. In my opinion, just because someone wrote something in a book (like the Bible) doesn’t make it true, not to mention how many times the original text has been rewritten. King James was clearly a paranoid psycho and he has his own version of the Bible.

Buddhism on the other hand welcomes questions and doesn’t poo poo other religions. There is no, I’m right! and all those other guys are wrong!  There are some who think their interpretation of Buddhism is the only correct way (like the argument; is it a religion or a philosophy?) but I choose to follow the middle way, mentioned in the 8 Fold Path.  Some like to argue that a certain quote didn’t come from Buddha. There are even a few websites devoted to debunking Buddha quotes. To them I say, “Who cares if Buddha really said that or not? None of us were there to find out for sure.” I am more interested in the message than the messenger and there are some good messages coming from many religions, not just Buddhism. Its the bigots who hide behind their religion who get all the media attention. They love to cherry pick passages to justify their bad behavior. The media is just as bad for giving them so much airtime. Then again, hate and drama sells newspapers and that’s what really counts. The bottom line.  I seriously doubt we’ll ever get breaking news telling us “To love one another.”

I guess for now, I will be grateful I live in a country where I can write and speak my mind without fear of getting smacked in the head. There are so many women in the world who don’t have that luxury.

hindu proverb. all paths are correct

Namaste,

ingebird

Weird

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For nearly two years I have been going to a writing class at a senior center. The majority of students in my class are over the age of 65 and a few are 90 years young. The majority of them are writing their life story to pass along to their family, but there are a couple women who write fiction. I call it mystery, creepy fiction. The interesting thing is, both of them are retired nurses.

I’m taking the class because I’m writing a self-help/memoir about my cancer journey. Each week I turn in something to my teacher that might end up in the book. She corrects my grammar and my classmates give me feedback. I am so lucky to have found these people. They come from all walks of life and of course different life experiences, so I get a lot of suggestions how to make my book better. Many of the students have been coming nearly 15 years and are avid readers.

A new student joined our group a couple of months ago. He is a retired prison chaplain. He is a black male, about 70 years old from Mississippi. He writes fictional stories based on his experiences counseling prisoners and living in the south. Since he is a chaplain, it makes sense that all his stories reflect his belief in God, but he doesn’t write to convert anyone. He is just telling a story.

Last week our teacher asked us where we go to write. The actual topic that day was “Overcoming Writer’s Block.” The preacher raised his hand and said, “I go to a coffee shop close to where I live. I get my inspiration from some of the customers who are there, especially if it’s someone weird.”

What caught my attention was the word weird. I pretty much tuned out the rest of what he was saying and began thinking about the meaning of that word. Exactly what does weird mean? What is considered weird? Who decides what is weird?

Today, I was still thinking about it and looked at online dictionaries to find out what they had to say. Many of them said it relates to an occult. Something supernatural. Merriam-Webster’s full definition is:

of, relating to, or caused by witchcraft or the supernatural : magical ; of strange or extraordinary character.

The Urban Dictionary, which is not a formal dictionary by any means because people like you and me can throw in our two-cents as to what we think that word means. They  define weird as: Interesting or strange; out of the ordinary… and my favorite; another synonym for awesome.

One of the commenters who goes by the online name of Fishbap and Cheese wrote; First off no one can really say something is weird because one’s own personal definition of weird could be totally different from someone else. Someone who is called “weird” by their peers in one place, might be called a conformist somewhere else, so really the terms “weird” and “normal” are nothing more than words to describe someone or something different from themselves.

Batwoman la Sarah wrote; A word used by many people who is usually meant to be negative. If someone calls you weird it’s usually because you’re saying something or acting different from another person would. People don’t know how to handle this so than they just respond by saying “You’re so weird!!!!”

In what context was the preacher using the word weird? Since I didn’t ask, I don’t know.

When I say someone is weird, it is not a compliment. It’s a negative judgment. Actually everything we think is based on a judgment, whether its good or bad. I can think That person looks weird or that person looks interesting . Either way it’s my perspective of how I choose to see that person. Maybe it has to do with us being visual creatures. Judging someone by the way they look though, can get us into a lot of trouble. There are plenty of people who wear nice clothes who are dishonest. You cannot judge a book, by it’s cover.

According to A Guide to Buddhism A-Z:

Making judgments about the people we come into contact with is usually done within the privacy of our own minds. However, it will influence how we think about them – whether with respect or contempt, trust or suspicion, like, dislike or indifference. And, of course, the opinion we form about them from our judgments will in turn influence how we treat them. This being the case, we should be careful in making judgments about others, particularly critical ones.

My son is covered in tattoos. He moved to central California a couple years ago from the Bay Area. He still gets strange looks when he is in public because it’s a small town environment. There aren’t many people walking around with visible tattoos, so he could be considered weird. When he lived in Berkeley, no one noticed. Tattoos are more common there.

When I was in college, I took a class on the Great Religions. I decided to spend the day at the Hara Krishna Temple in Berkeley and write about my experience. I chose the Hara Krishna’s because they were always a mystery to me; dancing and chanting, wearing white robes with shaved heads. They seemed silly. Some call them a cult. What I found out was, they may look weird to us in the United States, but in India, they are a respected religion. According to Wikipedia,The Hare Krishna mantra, also referred to reverentially as the Maha Mantra (“Great Mantra”), is a 16 word Vaishnava mantra, which is mentioned in the Kali-Santarana Upanishad. In the15th century it rose to importance in the Bhakti movement, following the teachings of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu.

I was working as a waitress in a coffee shop in San Francisco, when one morning a priest from the Catholic Church across the street, stopped in for coffee. He was agitated. He had just had a conversation with some Buddhist monks visiting from another country, who stopped in to see the inside of the church. They thought they were having a nice conversation with a priest and he was thinking they belonged to a satanic cult. In his perspective, they weren’t just weird — they were evil. How many people believe that any religion other than their own is weird or evil? A lot of problems in the world are started because of that judgment.

Weird is purely subjective. The picture of me and my Chihuahua, Olive (she has since crossed the Rainbow Bridge) might look weird to some. We actually had matching leopard coats and went out in public wearing them. Sometimes we got some strange looks, but for the most part, people got a kick out of us.

I still like dressing in what I consider fun outfits. I don’t care about fashion trends. I wear what I like. Some may think that’s weird. I know I dress differently than most women my age and that’s ok. If someone calls me weird, I will take it as a compliment because what they are really saying is, I’m awesome!

Namaste,

ingebird

Spiritual Awakening

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For the past week I have been listening to interviews on the Sounds True Series. I got through eighty-percent of them and finally called it quits. What I ended up doing (and this is a bad habit of mine) was listen to a speaker define what his “awakening” was like (all the speakers were asked that same question) and then I looked up their website, blog or Facebook page to learn more about them. Each one’s experience, ranged from a huge satori-like awakening to a gradual one. There were even a couple who were so “out there” I had no idea what they were talking about.

I wrote about my awakenings in an earlier post but now I’m not even sure if I can call them that. No one came to me in a dream. I wasn’t struck by lightning. Although the last time I got serious about a spiritual path was after my cancer diagnosis, but even then, it was more of a curiosity. I just started asking myself questions… what about this? What about that? What is this thing called “life” really about? The standard answers from mainstream religions just didn’t make sense to me, but eastern religious thought did.

Did I mention in any of my posts that I am an empath? Well, I am… so throw that in the spiritual mix and I have quite a “soup” of ideas. I was always able to feel the energy in the environment I was in, whether it is a room or city. Sometimes it’s a gift and other times it wears me out. There isn’t a whole lot of writing in any of the spiritual teachings about that subject.

I’ve had several paranormal experiences throughout my life, so I know there is a lot more going on than just the physical plane. Trying to mesh all this into a single spiritual practice is impossible, at least so far it is. Having different spiritual beliefs seems normal for me, but according to some of the teachers I listened to, these beliefs are wrong. Some went on to say, “If you didn’t have a major life changing awakening you are not really awake.”

This way of thinking leads me to believe that spiritual awakening is subjective. Just because my experience isn’t like yours doesn’t make one of us right and the other wrong. The spiritual path is part of our own unique life journey and that includes those who don’t believe in anything. There is no right or wrong… there just “is.”

Spirituality and religious beliefs are deeply personal. That’s probably why many people get upset if their beliefs are challenged and don’t get me started about all the “killing” done in the name of religion.

From now on, I will listen to other points of view and teachings but I won’t race over to their social media site and cram in as much information as I can. It’s too overwhelming and I forget half of what they said anyway. I think it would be more helpful if I just picked a teacher who I never heard of and read their perspective and moved on when I was ready to learn from another.

How about you? How do you sort all of this out?

Namaste,

ingebird

Conversations With God… Continued

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You have probably been wondering where I’ve been the past week.

Ok, realistically, you probably weren’t, but that won’t stop me from telling you anyway. On April 2nd I wrote about a book, I just started reading called Conversations With God (If you didn’t read that post and want to know what I’m talking about, click here.

One of the last things I wrote was, “I will keep an open mind” and I did. In fact I was so interested in what Neale Donald Walsch wrote in Book Two, I found Book One and read that too.

I mentioned before that I have trouble with the name “God.” I picture a bearded guy judging us and sending some to Hell and others to Heaven, depending on if we answered a question correctly; the question being, “Do you accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior?” That question never sat well with me and I just couldn’t get into the whole Christian dogma either. It didn’t sound right to me and I don’t do well being told what to do, especially if there is an ultimatum.

After reading both of NDW’s books, I can honestly say, I resonated with this because it confirms what I thought before and that is — we got it all wrong!

There is no actual Heaven or Hell and the rules (dogma) we are told in many churches are there because many of us want to be told what to do, and to know that if we don’t do as we are told, there will be dire consequences that await us after we die.

Conversations with God is one of the first books, besides Buddhism thought that don’t contain a bunch of  commandments. There is no angry or vengeful God.

Was the book channeled by God like the author claims? I don’t know for sure and I don’t care. I don’t care about the messenger, I care about the message. Although it does seem unlikely that any one person, like NDW, to come up with the ideas and explanations in the book. There is a lot of information packed in those pages.

There are websites devoted to debunking what he wrote, but there are also those sites who debunk quotes from Buddha. People love to create drama and criticize, instead of focusing on getting along and leaving the planet in fairly decent shape for our kids. I don’t care who said what. I care about the message.

His book also reminded me of Eastern philosophy (reincarnation, personal responsibility; are you coming from love or fear?) and The Law of Attraction books (you create your own experience by your thoughts), that are written by Esther Hicks, who channels the teachings of Abraham. I also watched several videos about him.  Again, I don’t care if Esther is channeling Abraham or not, I care about the message, which is similar to Conversations with God and Buddhism.

The take away message I got from his books is; we are responsible for our own actions.

There is a lot I want to think about now that I read two of his books in one week!  I still have trouble with the name God, but that’s my hang up, but I am ok calling it Source or Spirit or Energy.

If you haven’t read his books or know who he is (apparently he’s been around since the 90s), Google him. You can probably find his books in your library (that’s where I got mine) and you can also read it online via PDF.

One of the things God mentioned is that people will criticize what he wrote, saying he blasphemes and that the Bible is the only true word of God. To them I say, how do you know for sure? Is it because it is something you have been told since you were young or that it is accepted by western society and that makes it so? Question your beliefs and see if they are truly yours, or were they given to you…  and if they are yours, then hold them tight. As for me, they were never my truths and to go along with the “crowd” would be living a lie and I just cannot do that. Your truth might not be my truth and that’s ok.

Namaste,

Ingebird