Buddhism, Spirituality

Hello!

This is difficult to write, primarily because spirituality is deeply personal and I don’t want to offend, alienate, or cause discomfort for anyone. Additionally, it has never been a major part of my life and it’s strange to write about something without much experience. However, I do believe that mental and emotional health is an important aspect of healthy living blogs and, for that reason, I wanted to share some of my recent explorations. It’s a long haul, so I sprinkled in pictures of my cat and island. Please feel free to scroll to the bottom where there’s a little summary ;)

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While I was a teenager, I became disillusioned with the religion that I had grown up with. I don’t want to name it, but I was uncomfortable with its violent history, use of punishment to influence behavior, reliance on faith, and strict, male-dominated hierarchy. Religion wasn’t a big part of my adult life.
However, Chris and I visited Singapore recently, where I encountered Buddhist temples for the first time. I learned that Buddhism is a very large, very old tradition (here’s a nice, quick intro). Instead, I want to talk more about why I like it and what I have taken from it so far.

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Respect for the Well-Being of All Life

I love this idea. Of course, when it says “life,” it obviously means that you shouldn’t harm other people. But it goes further to include animals, the environment, and yourself. It argues that you can’t possibly begin to have compassion for others if you don’t first have it for yourself. I really believe this is at the root of so many problems in our lives (more).

Egalitarianism

The Buddha believed that women were just as capable as men in regard to their spirituality. This is upheld to various degrees based on different traditions. For example, in some schools, senior nuns must defer to novice monks. In others, men and women practice side by side and are afforded equal opportunities to contribute (more).

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Meditation

You guys know that I struggled with this in the past because there are always other things I should be doing – cleaning, studying, cooking, ad nauseam. This drive to stay busy gave me huge anxiety while meditating. Buddhism argues that this anxiety is the strongest argument for meditation. Without concentrated effort and practice, our mind will never stop this perpetual mind vomit of to do lists. Realizing that I was literally unable to turn this off, calm down, and stop obsessing…was a little scary (more).

Mindfulness

Studying Buddhism has definitely made me more mindful in little ways. While meditating, I’m more aware of sounds, smells, and sensations. While eating, I focus more on the tastes and textures of my food. While speaking, I often question if I truly believe my words or if I’m simply parroting something that I heard once (more).

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Gratitude

This one is hy-ooge. Buddhism really encourages you to examine your life and realize that it’s pretty rad. Consider how many gazillions of life forms exist in the world, from movie stars to cats to little tiny phytoplankton floating in the ocean. Isn’t it fucking amazing that we happened to be born as humans? Not just humans, but humans in a safe country, with shelter and food and education. What are the odds of that, really? Pretty cool (more).

One Last Thing

I didn’t write this because I think Buddhism is superior. Rather, I wanted to share something that, until recently, I had very little exposure to and I believe that it’s relevant to the physical and emotional well-being that I often discuss. In fact, Buddhism argues that people of different spiritualties can easily coexist, so long as we’re nice to each other :)

TL;DR – The Cliff’s Notes Version

  • I was unhappy with aspects of my birth religion.
  • What I like about Buddhism: It encourages compassion for all creatures, including yourself. It often treats men and women as equals. It encourages meditation. It does not proselytize.
  • What I have gained so far: Increased mindfulness and gratitude.

Spirituality – yay or nay?

18 thoughts on “Buddhism, Spirituality

  1. Buddhism is a path of practice and spiritual development leading to insight into the true nature of life. Spirituality provides us the tool to connect to the Divine in the way that fits us best just like religion but without the need for an intermediary.

  2. Hi Alex!

    A few years back, you and I were MyFitnessPal friends (2010? 2011? my name was Amyhollar on there) and somehow I ended up finding your blog after that (I can’t remember now). I pop in here and there just to read what you are up to but this is my first time commenting.

    I loved studying buddhism in a college course many years ago but unfortunately I haven’t kept up with it- I’ve found due to time constraints it’s hard to keep up with everything so ultimately science won and I decided I didn’t have time for religion. This is a good fit for me, practical and logical as I am, but I always enjoyed learning about the Eastern religions like buddhism, taoism, etc. Such a different point of view, so much more accepting and compassionate. I really do find them fascinating and I am glad to see you are interested in Buddhism. It sounds like a much better fit than what you grew up with (I grew up with an oppressive religion as well and have no desire to ever go back there).

    I guess this is kind of personal, and please know I’m not trying to cast judgement, but I remember back on MyFitnessPal you were a vegetarian, and I believe contemplating going vegan, at least transiently. I see now that you eat meat, but you also mention how Buddhism is teaching you compassion. You say “But it goes further to include animals, the environment, and yourself. It argues that you can’t possibly begin to have compassion for others if you don’t first have it for yourself. I really believe this is at the root of so many problems in our lives”.

    I am curious- do you think if you are able to reconcile this belief and find compassion for yourself, you might then consider extending it to all living beings? Do you sense a disconnect between what Buddhism is teaching you about compassion and what you put on your plate? I’m just curious because you seem like a thoughtful person and I have always wondered how people form the divides that they do. I’m sure you have thought about this.

    Anyway, sorry this is so long, and personal, and a little weird. I am glad you are doing so well on this new adventure of yours and I’ll continue to pop in from time to time to see what you are up to. I’ve always thought about starting a blog, but I fear I wouldn’t have anything to say that someone else isn’t already saying I guess. But every once and a while I still think about it.

    Amy

  3. Spirituality is definitely something I’m working on. I stepped away from the religion I grew up with for some of the reasons you mentioned, along with the fact that it wasn’t very complimentary to some of my best friends, but I do find myself missing the presence of faith in my life.

    I say you should never apologize for sharing your interests/beliefs here, it is your space after all :) on the other hand I’m never going to complain about extra pictures of your beautiful kitty!

  4. I love your presentation of this post. You’re not offensive in the slightest, rather insightful and informative. In any case, I love that you are studying something you can relate more to than what you grew up with. I’m a bit of a lost cause when it comes to spirituality. I grew up with nothing. No exaggeration – nothing. No church, nothing. Just the celebration of Christmas and Easter without knowing how those holidays came to be (and honestly, I’m not sure I fully understand them still to this day). Because of my lack of religion, I have found peace by being an honestly good person. I dig deep to decide what the right thing to do is in every situation and I make sure I’m just being not only a decent human being, but a good one. I try and do a random act of kindness as much as possible (paying for Starbucks for the car behind me, paying the toll for people behind me, etc.). It’s kind of my own form of spirituality. I believe that humans can be as good as they want to be and I strive to do that everyday, without religion in my life. Living in the South, it’s terribly difficult to get through life without explaining why you don’t go to church every Sunday but I’ve luckily navigated my way around life and surrounded myself with people who accept it and allow me to be me. Anyway, I love this discussion. <3

  5. Ah meditation. My enemy and my salvation, for my ever running mind. I can relate to having difficulty silencing your mind, but also understanding it’s exactly why you need to silence your mind.
    I enjoyed hearing about Buddhism and I’m glad it’s giving you comfort and peace. Sounds like you’re starting to find yourself in Saipan. It’s like your own version of Eat, Pray, Love. You’ve talked about food, spirituality, so love is up next. Can’t wait to hear more; keep it coming.

  6. I have been pretty satisfied with my upbringing in the church overall. I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. Going to school though away from home it’s hard to make time to attend services but I do whenever I get a chance.

    Even with that said though and being Christian, I find other religions very interesting! I’m not a very “religious” person in the sense that I don’t think the symbolism and sometimes strict rules are all that necessary or even desirous. I feel that attaching all of those things sometimes overclouds the most important pieces. Being away from all of that at school actually has helped me in that I’ve been reading the Bible more.

    A little off topic… But back on topic ;) … I like reading about other religions because I always can find great principles to practice in my own life! The meditation in particular.

    Have you ever read Life of Pi? I haven’t, but I’ve read some summaries and I think the main character does exactly what you are talking about- combining multiple aspects of various religions to create a type of personalized one.

  7. I love the idea in Tibetan Buddhism that the bodhisattvas will continue to help until all sentient beings are enlightened. So inclusive. And you mentioned (in an oblique way) the meditation on precious human life, another idea that I love, stopping to appreciate that we have this human life with so many capabilities, and a human life with enough security and resources to be able to have the time and energy to develop spiritually.

  8. Isn’t it so cool to learn new things? I love that you’re sharing what’s shaping and affecting your life! That’s always interesting, not offensive! I go to a Catholic school (though I’m not Catholic), and sometimes I’ve also come to love spiritual aspects of Buddhism and certain aspects of other faiths. Focusing on the beauty in the world and being grateful and genuinely good is SO important. Because of out of town cross country and swim meets, I’m ashamed to say I haven’t been to church in a few weeks. During these weeks, I’ve really focused on the ideas of Buddhism and being spiritual. Though I’m not Buddhist, I think some of the ideas and beliefs are absolutely lovely!

  9. I love this post!! I think it is wonderful you are learning about new things! Spirituality is so important and even if you don’t want to become Buddhist or are of another faith it doesn’t mean you can’t learn or apply some of the wonderful principals! My life would be better if I applied those principals to it regularly.

  10. I think spirituality can come from so many things – church, religion, people you surround yourself with. And one size does not fit all – I love that you are finding what works for you to make you happy! And if this helps you slow down and smell the roses, all the better. Hugs!

  11. ohh beautiful post! i too sort of turned my back on religion when i was young but have grown to embrace it much more recently. i believe that all religions have a foundation to be thankful, peaceful and to help others as well as oneself through meditation/prayer. the rest is politics. i loved this post.

  12. One of my goals I wrote down recently was “be more grateful and show more gratitude”, soooo this is right up my alley. Glad you found aspects you like about it. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with sharing something that’s shaping your life.

  13. I actually really, really loved this post!! One of the things that turn me off most from the religion I was on raised on that it discriminates against women hard-core. I had no idea that buddhism has an egalitarian mindset when it comes to women. Love, love love! And I heard someone else say the other day that it’s a miracle that we are born as humans in this country- I love how you put it too. It is pretty fucking awesome!

  14. This is a great post, Alex–it sounds like you’ve reflected and worked through a lot, which is awesome. (Woohoo for personal growth!) My family is Roman Catholic, and I grew up going to church every week. I feel out of the habit in college, although I would always go with my family when I went home for the weekend or holidays. Since moving to NYC one year ago, I haven’t been to church once. Whoops! I partly blame my crazy schedule (I’ve been working both Saturdays and Sundays), and the other part has to do with my experience growing up: during my First Communion, Confirmation, etc., we had the best priest. Like truly kicka$$. He was awesome. Anyway, he left shortly after I graduated high school (theu rotate every 4-8 years), and I never found someone who drew me into the faith like he did. I know it’s unrealistic to be on the search for a priest like him (he was truly one of a kind), but I do need someone who makes the religion accessible in the 21st century.

  15. I don’t belong to any religion, but I’m open to learning more about them. It is my belief that every religion has its merits and there are aspects that everyone can learn from, regardless of one’s religion. Thanks for sharing your take on Buddhism and good luck on your spiritual journey.

  16. I’m definitely more of a spiritual person than a religious one, and I too was disenchanted with my religious upbringing (and subsequently suspended it to search for one that fit). I don’t go to a typical “church”, it’s one that accepts all faiths. I identify a lot with Buddhism, especially since it was part of a type of therapy I used to do that helped me overcome a lot of things. I also love that it increases mindfulness and gratitude, which always make me feel happier!

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