I’ve been thinking about my journey into Buddhism more often in recent days, reflecting on the path and how far I’ve come.
Throughout my life, I’ve had an interesting relationship with religion. I grew up with Catholicism and attended church often as a child, but always felt out of place.
It’s never been like me to call on a higher power. The closest I ever came was in the fifth grade when I shouted up at the sky angrily, “If you are real, now would be a GREAT TIME to do something!” I wanted to believe but it all felt like a fairy tale to me. For many years I was very conflicted over this, but as I grew up the feelings faded.
Always walking to the beat of a different drum, although not intentionally, in middle school I discovered Wicca (a form of modern paganism). Finally, something self-empowering!
I stuck to a regular Wiccan practice for several years, until my late teens. There were so many things I loved about Wicca, the rituals, the connection with nature, the routine. The mantra, “If it harm none, do what ye will,” freed me from the guilt I had for being a non-believer in my previous church. I loved my new religion, it helped me to make sense of the world, gave me clarity.
My mother, on the other hand, was concerned for my mortal soul. She called me a “devil worshiper” and told me she “didn’t want me to go to hell.” My mother went to church several times a week and dragged me along, moaning and groaning all the way.
Through the years I’ve been called many things but rebellious and difficult are probably the two I hear the most. “You HAVE to be a rebel don’t you?” “Why are you SO rebellious?” “Can’t you just do it like everyone else?” “Why do you have to be difficult?”
People accused me of becoming a Pagan just to tick off my mom. “Here is Christa being difficult again!” I was never trying to be difficult, all I wanted was to be myself.
In my early twenties, I studied all religions from a very high level. The similarities and parallels between all religions, things people seek and learn, were becoming more obvious to me.
For a while, I had no religion, but took up yoga and then meditation. These things created temporary pauses to the suffering didn’t know I had. I wanted to hang in the stillness, that perfect feeling when a yoga sequence becomes so effortless that all my worries and troubles stopped. I was addicted to the feeling and wanted to do yoga everywhere I went.
Many people don’t realize yoga is more than just body postures and sequences. Even fewer people dig into the history of yoga, but when I love something I have a deep need to know everything about it.
I became particularly fixated on chakra balancing and was convinced my Throat Chakra, the one in charge of communication, was off balance. I even went so far as to wear the color blue, a color I generally dislike, around my throat.
My exposure to yoga and yoga culture brought me into contact with Buddhism and its practical mind shaping wisdom. Buddhism acknowledged that life is full of near constant suffering. This was something I could relate to. I was suffering from something I could not name. Buddhism also promised a way to end ones suffering, so I was on board.
Buddhism is a very practical religion full of lists. I love it! There is no sin, the rules are clear, and you are encouraged to take responsibility for your own actions – every single thing you say or do. There is no threat of heaven or hell in the end, and because the historical Buddha was not a god, the only person you have to answer to is yourself.
The first step was to follow the Noble Eightfold Path, a list of things I needed to work on to reach mental freedom on earth. Right Speech seemed to give me the most trouble so I focused extra attention in this area, sometimes writing reminders in pen on my arms & hands.
Years later, I no longer need the reminders. Finally, I’ve got everything memorized and know how I should be acting. I’m practicing, getting better every day.
Nobody’s perfect. I am a work in progress. Each day is an opportunity to start over when we make mistakes. Every minute a chance to learn something new. It’s great to look back at the long and winding road, seeing how far I’ve come.