I’ve been wrestling with some fairly tough thinking lately (well, throughout this entire process), mainly what is cultural and what is spiritual tradition.
It’s been a huge challenge. My family, historically, has been very religious, in a Christian sense. My great-grandfather founded an Episcopal church in south Florida. My uncle is an archpriest in the American Orthodox tradition. My mother was briefly a novice in the Maryknoll order.
So I’ve got a lot of ingrained tradition. Christmas. Easter. Lent. Communion. The whole experience of church. Only problem? There is a lot of the core philosophy that I don’t believe. Like Jesus is the only way to salvation. Or that we’re only born once on this planet and after we die, we go to heaven or hell, depending on how we’ve lived our lives. Or that God is separate from all of us, forever. That’s pretty basic, fundamental stuff.
So finding sanatana dharma and following it as a philosophy should be a no-brainer, right?
Well, no. It’s very difficult. On one hand, I am excited every morning when I get up, wash my face, get dressed and go to my prayer room to start my day. I get excited thinking about temple. I like listening to devotional music. Meditating on God helps me get through my day with less anxiety. It feels right.
On the other hand, I find my mind wandering back to what’s familiar. I think about today, Fat Tuesday, and all those people indulging before 40 days of fasting. And while I never really felt deeply about Lent, I am feeling a little nostalgic for Easter and the hymns, and the core message behind the whole thing.
Then I become very confused, because I don’t know what to do next. Do I keep following a tradition that speaks to me culturally, but philosophically isn’t me anymore? Or do I persevere with what speaks to me philosophically but is culturally unfamiliar? How much of what I’m missing about the Episcopal church is spiritual? Or am I just nostalgic for the cultural parts – Christmas traditions, Easter traditions, the music and the atmosphere? At the core, each religion teaches the same message – do good things and be a nice person, don’t be selfish and greedy, and you will be happy.
I know this is part of what everybody who changes philosophies wrestles with. I’m also an impatient perfectionist, and I want to know, for certain, right now (which, I realize, is foolish and something I shouldn’t be terribly concerned about at this point; I have a lot of growing and learning left to do). Would it be easier if I had a guru? How would I even know if a guru was right for me? I look to Sri Rama when I pray to God, but is that right? Should it be Siva? Venkateswara? Other people have talked about profound spiritual experiences that border on out-of-body, but what if I don’t ever feel that? Does that mean I’ve been fooling myself all along?
The answer to all those questions will come to me eventually. Periodically I get reassurances that I am in fact doing things correctly. I’m calmer and much better at handling stressful situations with grace and poise. I do get a sort of warm, peaceful feeling when I think about the Gods and Goddesses I pray to on a regular basis. And I know that I’m so new to this. I’ll learn more about myself and figure things out as they go.
First task, though, is to master patience.