Spirituality seems to be a hot topic around these parts. I thought I’d weigh in on the matter.In my college years, I dabbled with atheism. I’d flirted with the major, Western religions throughout my childhood and adolescence. But I couldn’t find a fit.
I liked most of the ideas. I found profound, enlightening notions in all of the Western religions. But I was thrown by the dogmatic approach I saw constantly by the religious people around me. I strongly believed that people should worship however they feel best.
Therefore, I couldn’t assume a role as a dogmatic converter. When a large group of people gather to rigorously follow a dogmatic cause, it can produce tribal factions, and, worse, violence.
So, like I said, I went to college and decided to be an atheist. I remained comfortable with the idea for several years. Then again, I mostly just thought about my band and girls. Philosophical notions only occasionally tumbled across the barren landscape of mind in those days of skipping class to practice playing my guitar.
When they did, I ignored them.
Then, I came home to Cookeville and started working on my Masters degree. As part of the program, I was going to have to teach classes.
My acceptance into grad school marked the beginning of my professional life. The work I would soon be doing would impact the lives of others.
Suddenly, I felt an emptiness, an absence in my life. Atheism wasn’t working anymore.
At the request of a friend, I read a book. I’d told her about my predicament, and she thought it might help.
So, I read the book, and it changed my life.
The Dummies Guide to Rock Climbing.
Just kidding. I’m scared of heights.
I read Being Peace by Thich Nhat Hanh.
I suppose I could call it an introduction to Buddhism, but it is more than that. Hanh describes a way to change your life immediately, whereas full-fledged Buddhism takes quite some time to get down.
How did the book change my life? Well, I would recommend reading it, as the work isn’t easy to explain.
Nevertheless, I’ll give it a shot.
By reading Being Peace, I learned how to stop viewing myself as the entirety of my existence.
Of course, that notion sounds similar to the teachings of most major religions. Still, there is a chief difference: instead of viewing my life as the service of an omniscient God, I learned to see myself as part of a chain, a single link.
This realization of chain of existence became my connection with the spiritual plane. I learned to believe in something I could see, touch, or hear.
My parents, my dentist, you-you’re all links on the chain.
I learned to stop looking at another person as being “different” than me.
If you and I are the same, then everything I do should be advantageous to both of us.
Let’s take that idea a bit further. If everything you and I do is advantageous to us both, then both of our lives will improve equally.
If everything we do, and everything my cousin Steve does, and everything the girl that sits next to you in class does is advantageous to the four of us, then all of our lives improve equally.
Far out, right?
Granted, my cousin Steve and the girl who sits by you in class probably don’t know each other. It doesn’t matter.
Why? I should define what I mean by “everything we do.”
Our thoughts are actions. So, I should think nice things about the girl who sits next to you in class, even though I don’t know her.
How? Well, I can assume that there is a young woman who regularly sits next to whoever may be reading this right now. I can hope that she has a nice day, and think that her smile probably looks pretty.
Beyond thoughts, I can be nice to people. I can say friendly things to strangers, and open doors for people, and pick up unsightly litter on the sidewalk so others don’t have to look at it and it doesn’t harm any small animals, etc.
I’ve gone on to study Buddhism, and I’ll admit that my progress has been leisurely. I read books when I get a chance, and go to the occasional meditation group meeting at New Century books by the Depot.
But this idea that changed my life, the idea that Hanh describes in Being Peace, doesn’t require studying or joining groups
As this belief lacks dogma, and consists only of cultivating positive thoughts and actions, it is not contradictory to the practice of any faith or philosophy.
So, I’d recommend reading the book. Especially if you feel an absence in your life. If your read Hanh’s words and try, even in a small way, to let them affect a change in your life, you’ll stop feeling any absence.
If you aren’t interested in reading the book, or don’t get the chance for whatever reason, remember that we are all in this thing together. Every little thing you do or think can make this experience a little better for everyone.
I’m not attempting to convert anyone to Buddhism or anything else. I still believe that everyone should believe what suits them best. I just want to ask you to think and act positively, for both of us.
I hope that you have a nice day, and that your smile looks pretty.
See you next time.