Friday, May 25, 2012

Bagels, Birds and Buddhism

Freshly grilled and filled with a thick slab of cream cheese, I purchased the most memorable bagel of my life from a street vendor in New York City. An iced mocha accompanied it. The vendor added sugar by the tablespoon, and it grated my tongue as I slurped my drink down. While I have tried many interesting foods, this gritty sensory explosion remains one of my favorite gastronomical experiences.

The bagel and iced mocha I purchased today paled by comparison. However, I enjoyed the crisp yet chewy consistency of the bagel, made gooey by the slathering of melting cream cheese. I relished the bittersweet mocha as I watched birds bicker over crumbs. I enjoyed the shade, the light breeze, and all the passersby oblivious to my attention. I was participating fully in the moment.

It is no secret I have been having a tough time in the aftermath of the death of my Aunt Vickie. This unexpected, untimely death has drudged up so many fears and questions. One thing that has made this season of grief, anxiety and upsetting thoughts more bearable has been the knowledge that all my grief symptoms are completely normal. I am not doing anything unique. The true godsend, though, has been my discovery of a mindfulness meditation group. Years ago, I meditated often on my own as part of my yoga practice. It made me feel calm, attentive, and connected to a reality larger than myself and this existence. For me, it was a form of prayer, and I felt enlivened by the practice. Over time, though, I fell away from meditation, prayer, or anything of the like.

Recently, I began attending group meditation sessions. Before my aunt died, I had been searching for that spiritual connectedness I used to have, but afterward I was hoping it would help me heal. Through searching, I found out about these nondenominational meditation sessions and decided to attend one. I am so glad I did. It has really opened a doorway for me. So far, the benefits have been enormous. These meditation sessions give me the opportunity to slough away my thoughts and be completely in the moment, which reduces my anxiety tremendously. I can also employ these freeing techniques outside of class when I really need them. In addition to the meditation itself, the acquaintances I sit with in silence are becoming the spiritual community I have been missing as of late. We all think and know differently, but we support each other along our parallel paths. 

Before one of my first meditation sessions, I told the meditation leader I really gained a lot from chanting as a form of meditation. You cannot help but be present when your whole body and mind are activated through the spoken word. She told me she would be chanting for a whole hour after our group meditation. I said, "I'm in." I stuck around while some people left and other people joined the group. It turns out I had joined in on what I think of as a Buddhist prayer service. We chanted prayer mantras and contemplated compassion and loving-kindness. During that first session, I was completely focused on the sound of the words as they flowed from my gut through my mouth, and, out of the ether, I had a bit of an epiphany: I am a religious mutt, just as I am a Euro-mutt. At that point, I shrugged away my embarrassment about not actually being Buddhist. The people who know me and my spiritual ups and downs, will not be surprised by this huge announcement-to-self. I do not know if I am going through a phase, or if I am at the beginning of a new focus. At this point, I don't know if I will ever become a Buddhist, if I will return to attending the Christian church of my childhood, or if I will seek out an entirely different church community. All I can say is that I like the Buddhists. I find sense in their philosophies and sensibility in their practices. Maybe I can't ultimately have it all ways, but this is where I am right now: label free and loving it.

If you would like to share, I would love to hear your stories of religious/spiritual awakenings, or even the complete opposite.

Alison :)


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