Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Christian or Buddhist

Fourth day without a shower. Don't care. Supposed to go to water aerobics tonight. Will take soapy shower after that.

Woke up this morning saying "Karen, Karen!" and hiding my face in the pillow. So ashamed of how things went last night at church. I spoke up and just felt like an idiot after. So went home and ate to much and had a stomach ache this morning. Yes, I tried to drown my sorrows in potato tater tots and ketchup.

I have been reading the most Buddhist book I've ever read, "LovingKindness" by Sharon Salzberg. Oh, I've read a book by a Buddhist monk, and a Buddhist nun, but this one really sucked me in the most. In the introduction is a kind of prose poem. As I was reading the prose poem I thought to myself, "This author is fantastic! So wise!" and then I turned the page and found out that everything I was reading was attributed to Buddha. I don't read Jesus quotes and get the same passionate response.

Part of my basic problem in life is that I don't like myself very much. I didn't like myself before the illness, and now that I've got schizophrenia, there seems to be so much more instances of flaws, lacks, failures and general mediocrity. In the Buddhist book the author starts out with meditation exercises that generate self-love. Exactly what I need. It seems pretty clear to me that in order to practice Buddhism you have to meditate. And to practice Christianity you have to read the Bible and pray. I don't do either. But I need to start doing something. I've pledged a tithe till the end of the year to the Church, so every week, I'm paying money to the Church. Makes me want to stick with the Church for a little longer.

Last night we learned about the fallacy of the virgin birth. Yes, it was pretty much mocked by my progressive Congregationalist church. It is a myth that I've painted two paintings about and that I can't seem to ever get behind positively. Both paintings, inexplicably, are full of horror at the immaculate conception. In order to understand the bible you need to know so much history, and meanings of words in Greek, and general knowledge to understand meanings, not the surface meanings but what people actually thought about the scriptures as they were historically writing them. I see Christianity distorting so much and turning so many myths into concrete facts that I'm turned off. I'm a scientist's daughter. I know scholarly research illuminates. But my sect of Christianity is so progressive that the message I'm getting is disbelieve what you read, or else, read it with a higher knowledge of its historical source. Buddhism seems to be about transforming the mind - you are your thoughts. And so much of my thinking is garbage. I know it has to do with being emotionally abused as a kid. I almost never think about my childhood but it is producing self hating self doubting thoughts in myself that I would prefer to get rid of. Buddhism promises to get rid of the thought junk. Very appealing to me.

I like the myths and parables of the Buddhist religion. To me, they teach more. There is, after reading them, more of an "ah, ha" moment of thought. As a kid my first reaction to my children's bible of Old Testament stories was "God is so cruel". I couldn't believe all the wanton killing. Ultimately of course there was the sacrifice of Jesus. Never could wrap my mind around the need to to do that. It seemed a tragedy, nothing more. Never believed he rose from the dead. Now, according to my church, you don't need to believe that. Christian education is a big myth buster. All these myths to prove the glory, to prove that this is what you should be impressed by. Jesus impresses me. I don't need the magic. I don't need to eat his body and drink his blood to honor him and make him part of my own body. Communion. It doesn't strike that much of a chord with me. But when I take it, I try to feel its holiness. I really do try.

Yesterday my husband and I were going for a walk. We had discovered, mid way through the walk, that I had done something with my computer that was very bad for the computer. The question my husband and I asked ourselves, as we walked, was would the computer work when we got home or would its insides be fried? This was a depressing thought. I was unhappy and probably looking down at the ground. Then my husband said, "Look at the clouds, they are purple and pink and orange" and I looked and saw that they were beautiful. Then my husband said, "Look at that tree. It has been cut funny to avoid the power lines, but isn't it a beautiful tree?" The leaves on it had all turned red and it was very tall. I wondered to myself which of the many trees on the street were the most beautiful, and if indeed my husband had chosen the best. Couldn't agree with him, but it got me looking and comparing the majesty of nature.

So that night at church in our education class I described what had happened and said, "I think my husband's inner divinity showed itself, and then transferred itself to me. Humanity and divinity is really on a continuum. I'm not saying that my husband is divine, but I think that something divine moved through him, allowing us both to lift our spirits and appreciate the nature that surrounded us and to forget our troubles." And nobody commented on what I said. It sank like a lead weight. Are you not supposed to think this way religiously in my church? Was what I was pointing out too mundane? Nobody sees God in sunsets and trees? I would have thought that that was a basic place to find God.

Last week I woke one morning and had a thought in my head. I woke angry. My father invited my brother for an all expense paid trip to California to see my sister and her new born baby. Just another example of how my father discounts me from family gatherings. Perhaps he thought it would have been too much work to bring a mentally ill daughter with him, even though I have flown out to my sister's and back by myself successfully. I guess, in the end, it wouldn't have been as much fun with me. He knew that if I went he would have had to witness mental illness symptoms, and he doesn't like seeing anything irregular. Now I have a choice. Do I let my anger influence my behavior and skip Thanksgiving with my father, to prove a point? Do I write a card to show him how he makes me feel by omitting me and favoring my brother? This is not the first time that he has invited my brother and sister to a gathering and not invited me.

So I was feelings these feelings and reading my Buddhist book and suddenly, quietly, something died. The anger just melted away. I was very quiet inside and accepting. I can't change my father or ask him to be burdened by a mentally ill daughter, a burden that he seems to want to avoid. Why indeed, I asked myself, do I even bother to try to change him? I have my husband who loves me and wishes to be with me. Not everyone can be as nurturing and accepting as my husband. My father would have been satisfied if I had been locked up in a mental institution forever. My father who screamed at me over the phone that I must never, ever call him and tell him that I feel suicidal. And to think that there is the fundamental truth that I love my father and look forward to seeing him at Thanksgiving. If I concentrate on how much I love my father all the bad feelings, all the past goes away and I find myself in the present. The way my father has treated me is wrong, but I don't need to punish him. It is tempting to punish him but I know that that path will probably not end in his remorse, it will end in his anger. Punishment results in retaliatory punishment, it just goes on and on. I'm my father's daughter, but I've stopped being like him a long time ago. At least I hope so.

If I meditate, and learn more about Buddhism, I will be less and less like my father. This is a good thing. The more I go to Christian education the less I understand Christianity. This is a puzzling thing. Now I am afraid to read the Bible because I don't know what is straight talk and what is myth and history and anti Roman sentiment. I am game to believe in myth, but it helps when the myth is prefaced with the general knowledge that what is being stated is myth. I don't know if I'm sophisticated enough to learn from the myth of the virgin birth. Christian education just deflated Christmas. This is what my minister felt too, and it bothered her mightily. She said she really enjoyed Christmas and didn't want to stop enjoying Christmas.

It just seems like you have to fake more being a Christian and fake less being Buddhist. Pray or meditate. It seems like I have to do something. I don't want to be self-destructive and self-lacerating. Religion should help me with this burden. I don't seem to be that swayed by the promise that a Christian God loves me. I'm too far out in the wilderness for this sentiment to reach me.

I'm going to continue reading Buddhist books and going to Church. I feel like a fraud. But I'm searching. It really is o.k. to be lost. I'll permit myself the luxury of feeling totally confused and not make that a subject of self critique. When I say I lack faith, I don't mean that I don't feel that there is something out there that is larger than me, because I do. I believe in my own attachment to the divine. I just don't know yet how I'm going to define this connection, or what steps I will take to make it stronger.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Karen,

    Oh, what a relief to read your blog tonight! I wasn't sure if you had gotten my package because you've been so quiet. I was worried about you and thought maybe my gifts had upset you in some way. Now I see that, in a way, the book I sent has challenged you to look more closely at your beliefs. That's a good thing. Also, I think it is very possible to be a Christian Buddhist or a Buddhist Christian. I see myself as a sort of Christian Buddhist because I have a lot of respect for the Jesus who said "Love your enemies." I still think that he came in contact with a Buddhist in his short lifetime.

    To love your enemies or those that have hurt you deeply, like your father, is Christian AND Buddhist. A lot of people have a great deal of trouble with this, hence painful relationships on one end of the spectrum and war on the other. Pema Chodron has taught on this a lot. She says that the reason people become so hateful and hurtful is because they are trying to protect their own heart or "soft spot". So something hurts them and they lash out and hurt others in turn. They put hard walls between their soft heart and the people who have touched their heart and numb out. This is really very sad. The good news is that Buddhists believe that all of us in our essential natures are good. It is our habitual reactive patterns that cause so much suffering for ourselves and others. Seeing this is a very important first step.

    I am sad that you do not like yourself because I think you are a wonderful person and that's one reason why I gave you the Salzberg book. I struggle with loving myself too sometimes. I find it easier to send metta (lovingkindness) out to others than to myself. But this pattern can be overcome if we practice. So may we find happiness and the root of happiness. May all beings find happiness and the root of happiness. It sounds almost corny, but it's not. Opening your heart and wishing everyone well is a deeply spiritual practice. We are all in the same boat.

    My love to you,

    Kate : )


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