For a while–right after I moved to the Central Time Zone–I was obsessed with Buddhism. I read every single book penned by the Dalai Lama. For good measure, I devoured a few other drippy tomes printed on rice paper. I developed a vested interest in Tibet. And I researched temples in the Greater Chicago area.
Embracing the tenets of compassion and thoughtfulness was easy. The required vegetarianism was obviously a non-issue. Even the sacrifice of boozy nights at the Rainbo seemed like a reasonable tradeoff for the sense of calm and confidence granted by belief in something higher. Happiness would finally be mine.
But the idea of reincarnation posed a challenge. Sure, I loved the idea of the suffering cancer patient revisiting the earth in the form of a hummingbird. The angry child abuser became a housefly. It certainly made life–and all of its trials and tribulations–seem more fair. Fair! Maybe with enough care and faith, I could be reborn as a cat. Imagine the comfort to be found in truly, truly believing in samsara! I would no longer wake in the middle of the night, my heart pounding and my head aching…all because I remembered once again that someday I would no longer exist.
Oh, if only I could suspend my disbelief. Toss my skepticism over my shoulder like grains of spilled salt. Or at least, don a pair of spiritual blinders. They certainly trick horses into a sense of well-being.
I think I believed in God as a small child. Somehow a wise, omnipotent being seemed more plausible than Santa or the Tooth Fairy. Jesus was a kindly young man with long hair and a penchant for sandals. Heaven was a fuzzy garden inhabited by all of the lost kittens and puppies. Coconut cake and ice cream sundaes were consumed with abandon.
My mom thought she was doing me a favor when she called me into the living room that day in third grade. She invitingly patted the seat next to her on the beige couch. She loved neutral furniture.
“I’m going to tell you something very important. You will be glad that I told you this, I promise.”
I nodded my head. I suspected that she was going to tell me about periods. I had recently read Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. I decided to feign surprise. I didn’t want to her to get the impression that I was obsessed with menstruation.
She took a deep breath. “There is no such thing as God or Heaven. These are stories we tell ourselves to make us feel less afraid. When we die, we are buried in the ground and our bodies are decomposed by bacteria and worms. A lot of people are going to try to convince your otherwise, but don’t give them a chance to trick you. ”
She waited for me to respond. I couldn’t think of anything to say. I decided that a vigorous head-nodding would do the trick.
“Yes, yes. Thank you for telling me about this.” And then I returned to my bedroom for a few hours of intense Barbie time.
Ironically, she never felt compelled to explain the proverbial “facts of life.” She left that task for the public school system.
Perhaps faith is learned through constant practice. Maybe I should have been jealous of all my friends forced to crawl out of bed at the crack of dawn every Sunday for hours of church and catechism. My fractured family spent the sabbath cleaning bedrooms and drinking microwaved cocoa.
Faith, confidence, conviction. I just haven’t experienced any of these nouns.
“I just haven’t found the right belief system yet” and “When I find it, believing will be natural, easy as pie.”
I tell myself this regularly.
Right now I’m reading a lot of astrology books. It’s so easily digested. And it explains everything so plainly. As a bonus, it’s a guaranteed party conversation starter.
“Oh, well, I’m this way because I was born in August. That’s why I own so many clothes and shower compulsively.”
“He was destined for self-destruction because he was a Cancer, with a Gemini rising. Total recipe for disaster.”
My best friend is a Taurus…and so is my grandma. Tell me that doesn’t seem tidy…downright believable.
Mercury in retrograde, cusps, and moons. Yeah, it’s all nonsense. But I believe in planets, even if I’ve never seen them.