I prefer not to use the term ‘spiritual journey’. This is more like a book with different chapters, each one building upon those it follows.
Looking for a spiritual home - Chapter One
There was always something calling me, some inner spiritual yearning, some mystery which I didn’t really understand. During my teens, I attended a local church - deeply discouraged by my parents, I would attend an early service and then make them breakfast in bed, to deflect any criticism. Later, I attended meetings and services with the evangelical Christian Union students at the hospital where I was training. I went, with them, to a Billy Graham rally in London where, pulled by his charismatic approach, I nearly walked to the front. But a countering influence within stopped me. My Christian friends were disappointed and lost interest in me. I had turned down the offer to join their club. I realised that I was only acceptable if I was willing to be ‘saved’. My spiritual search was put on hold. At that point, before the mid 60s, I wasn’t aware of any other possibilities.
A few years later, going through a bit of a crisis - small children, marital difficulties, exhaustion, depression - I was struck by the turn-around a meditation practice had made in the lives of a couple of close friends. Although I felt deeply sceptical, I thought I’d give it a go. I felt comfortable with the teacher who gave the introductory talks, which seemed to make sense. So early August 2001 found me in central London, with my flowers and fruit, arriving to be taught the technique. Despite my anxiety and negative inner dialogue, the meditation had an immediate effect of relief washing over me. When I arrived home I smiled broadly at my children and realised that I hadn't smiled for many weeks. Six weeks later not only did I not need the medication I’d been using to help me stop crying all the time, which I’d discontinued a couple of days before learning, but I was together enough to have applied to college to re-train as a teacher and, in spite of stiff competition for the few places, been accepted on the course.
A few months later I heard that a musician friend was studying wth a Tibetan Lama, Chime, in another part of London. My immediate reaction was, “Oh, I’m supposed to be a Buddhist!” But I didn’t act on this impulse - time was filled with college, studying every evening, looking after the children, growing vegetables and the 1001 things of a busy young mum. And, besides, I was enjoying my morning and evening practice and feeling the benefits.
Interestingly, Dharmavidya was living less than half a mile away at the time, though somehow we never met.
Time went by, I qualified as a teacher, my family grew and left home and I taught in schools in London, Reading, NE Essex and, finally, Lancashire, where I arrived in the late 80s, moving to live as part of a community of some 400 meditators and to teach the Reception Class in their small school, which I loved. The adults meditated together - usually between 70 - 200 of us, morning and evening - though we could do so in our own homes if we preferred. It felt wonderful to practice, surrounded by parents of the children I taught.
Not long after my move, I became ill with some recurring flu-like virus from which it took many weeks to recover (probably Glandular Fever). Periodically I continued to be struck down, struggling to teach when I was able but spending periods of weeks in bed with extreme exhaustion, muscular pain, inability to think straight, even to find ordinary words. Never feeling well. After some years, all other possible conditions having been ruled out, I was diagnosed with M.E. (Myalgic Encephalomyelitis). I did the best I could and often struggled in to school when I should have been abed, not wanting to let my colleagues or my class down. But, eventually, seven years after I had arrived, my job had to go. Understandable, but I was told and treated in extremely unfortunate ways. I felt shattered, disillusioned, unsure of my own judgement, estranged from the community and deeply grieved by this and by losing both a vocation and a usefulness.
So, after some time, I was off on my spiritual exploration again. There was still something whispering. I dipped into many groups and techniques that friends were involved in - nothing really struck a chord, although I loved singing bhajans and being hugged by Mata Amritanandamayi (Amma), the Hindu spiritual leader. In Autumn 1998 I heard that one of her swamis was coming to lead an evening of bhajan chanting close to my home. Off I set, little knowing that I was going to make a serendipitous reconnection and a new connection that was surprising and uncontrived.
That evening, across the room, I spied S, who had lived with me in my Lancashire home some years previously. At the end of the evening we gravitated together and did a million-miles-an-hour catch-up on each others’ lives. I told her that I had started reading a Buddhist book, lent to me by a relative. ‘We are studying that book on Tuesday evenings at my house’, she told me. I started attending. She told me about Amida Trust and Dharmavidya, though I couldn’t quite grasp what at she was saying. Then she told me that Dharmavidya was to visit, a few weeks later, to give a talk.
I sat at the side of the room, wondering how this would be. Not in a very trusting frame of mind of myself or others, but interested as to what I would hear. The talk was based on his recent book, The Feeling Buddha. This was a revelation to me. The misfortune, loss and illness were not punishment or down to stupidity, something to be ashamed of. That double-whammy of bad things happening and it’s all your fault, down to foolishness, not being ‘spiritually evolved’, not being devoted, which had led me to hide away from people who were judging me and leading me to deep mistrust. Wow - Dukkha happens to everyone! Dukkha is a Noble Truth, a Truth for Noble Ones! It hurts, deeply, viscerally, it’s natural and this reaction comes up spontaneously!
Of course, he went on to tell us that there is a process and choices of further reaction to be made, following these first and second truths. Ways to not remain trapped, with the potential for a good, wise, productive future. But it was the first part of the talk that cracked open my poor, battered, defended heart.
I found tears coursing down my cheeks. In my mind’s eye, I saw that the Buddha had stretched out his hand and I had fallen, like a ripe fruit, into it. This was the mystery that had been whispering throughout my life. The evening changed my life forever.
A deep bow to the Buddhas and all who pass down their teaching. And, of course, to my own teacher who led me to hear the Buddha’s call - there are no words.
Namo Amida Bu
Me, too, dear sister
Modgala Louise Duguid said:
I will always remember the next chapter, the step you took into Amida's arms when we first met some 18 years ago at the kitchen table in Amida Newcastle soon after I returned from Amida Zambia. So glad to have a Dharma sister accompanying me on this journey (and sharing many struggles). much love modgala
Thank you, Carol, yes, I will, as will my Dharma sister, Modgala.
Dharmavidya has written about 'grit' within the Buddhist sangha. I find that, in ordinary life, our grit, our challenges, can be a great impetus for change. So they are blessings, or can be - depending on how we react. They've certainly impelled me in positive directions, even if it's taken me some time! Sometimes with a sigh - Namo Amida Bu
Warmest of thoughts from Scotland to Canada.