Well, you’ll all be wondering what exactly went on at this mother’s retreat I went to on Saturday, and you’re in luck, because I shall tell you all about it.  Sidle up a little closer, friend, because I’m ready to dish all.  And every mistake I make in explaining it (because really, it’s unexplainable!) is entirely my fault.  I can only give you my “take” or perspective on what occurred.  My apologies to Karen, in advance.

First, I’ll let you in on a little secret.  [And this is not to disparage my friends, but to point out how preposterous it was that I went to the retreat.]  In the beginning, I knew full well most of my Christian friends wouldn’t even respond to my e-mail invitation to join me at this retreat, but I asked anyway.  I knew that the fact that a Buddhist priest (!) was speaking at the retreat would frighten the heebie-jeebies out of them.  I knew the fact that I could actually sit and listen to this stuff was a red flag concerning me.  I knew that I had already lost them as friends because of this event.  You might even say it was the nail in our friendship coffin, considering all the other stuff I’ve been questioning right here in my blog.  In fact, I’ll use the exact words of someone I’m convinced will never read my blog.  “It sounds like Elissa is confused.”

That’s her take on me.  I won’t comment, because I can’t change someone else’s view of me.  That’s not my job, nor my concern.  I can only take into consideration me and what to do with me. I’m not here to change anyone’s faith or to tell you what you believe.  I’m only here to raise the questions, and to take you on my journey, so you can see how flexible this thing called faith can be.

So, knowing all of this, I still went to the retreat (in fact, I hosted the speaker!), for it is what I do.  I take in everything, then process it–with the mind that God gave me–and come up with my own opinion.  I’d prefer not to have blinders on when it comes to faith, and the more I know, the less I really know for sure.  Does that make sense?

This does not mean I’m wishy-washy, although in today’s world, where everyone wants to know What You Believe Right Now, it seems that way.  Because heaven forbid you should believe something today that’s different from what you believe tomorrow.  How can you possibly live your life if your beliefs aren’t Set In Stone?

If you follow this blog, you’ll know that Karen Maezen Miller–the author of this event…and a Buddhist priest–wrote a book called Momma Zen: Walking the Crooked Path of Motherhood.  It is the one thing I can point to that allowed me to think I could be a mother.  I don’t have enough space here, nor the time, to explain all my neuroses about having children, but it’s true.  I did not, nor did I think I could, have children, and I’m not speaking biologically.  I’m speaking psychologically and emotionally.  Then I read Karen’s book, which was different from any other parenting book.  In fact, I’d go so far as to say that it’s not only a parenting book.  It’s a living book.  It would mean something to anyone.

So, the fact that I could be so moved by someone practicing a way of life other than my way of life at the time was astonishing to me.  Who knew I could learn something from someone different from me?  I’m being facetious, but only partly, because that’s how insular I was then.

Now.  To the retreat.  Are you ready?

Do you remember the Rumi quote I posted once on my blog?

Here it is: Beyond our ideas of right-doing and wrong-doing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there. When the soul lies down in that grass, the world is too full to talk about. Ideas, language, even the phrase ‘each other’ doesn’t make any sense anymore.

Where is this field?

Do something for me.  Stretch your arms out in front of you, as though you’re reaching straight ahead.  Wiggle your fingers.

Guess what?  That field is right here, in front of you.  Everything you need to concern yourself with is right there.

Your mind is the thing that hinders you.  It is a running commentary, a constant judgment factory.  It won’t stop.  It considers the what-ifs of the future, the how-comes of the past.  It never ceases to create problems, then create possible solutions, then worry about the outcomes. It says, “You should do this, You always do that.”  It comes with dogma and preconceived notions and prejudices.  It comes with all the baggage you’ve been taught to believe is literal truth.

But how can you know the truth?  If you’ve done any Discover Magazine or quantum physics reading, you’ll know that reality, as you know it, is not reality.  Emotions and memories are made up of chemicals.  Solid things like furniture and body parts are not solid.  They’re mostly air or water.  They’re not what you see.  [And somehow with all the scientists AGREEING they don’t understand these things, we’ve announced that we understand all there is to know about God.  Go figure.]

So, take this space in front of you.  Wiggle those fingers again.  Enter this space with no judgment.  Enter it with no thoughts of the past or future.  Enter it with no dogma.  Enter it with patience and compassion, both for yourself and your fellow person. Enter it with gratitude.

If you do this, you will be practicing zen.  You will be giving attention to what is before you.  You will be meditating on the miraculous–your breath, your life.  You will be living in the moment.

The amazing thing is: isn’t this what Jesus taught?  Love your neighbor as yourself.  Turn your cheek.  Judge not, that you might not be judged.  Do not be anxious, saying, “What shall we eat?  What shall we drink?  What shall we wear?”

And this was my aha moment.  There are many things to learn from various practices, and I want to be living my life now.  I want to be awed with every breathe, every moment.  It sounds exhausting, doesn’t it, if you extrapolate out all the years you’ll be continually startled with life?  But you only have to live every second as it comes to you.  You will always have enough strength and peace and wisdom for that moment.

That’s what I learned at the retreat.

And if you were there, you might have learned something completely different.  That’s how it works.  Faith is an individual thing.  Faith is not trying to explain the unexplainable…which I’ve just tried to do.

[Post image: “Sun in an Empty Room” by Edward Hopper]

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The quote I live by

Have patience with everything that remains unsolved in your heart. Try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books written in a foreign language. Do not now look for the answers. They cannot now be given to you because you could not live them. It is a question of experiencing everything. At present you need to live the question. Perhaps you will gradually, without even noticing it, find yourself experiencing the answer, some distant day.
--Rainer Maria Rilke in Letters to a Young Poet

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