Zen, Solitude, and Seeking More

As mentioned previously, I went into traditional talk-therapy in the summer of 2004.

In keeping with the general trend toward serendipity in my life, I had my first session with my therapist one week before my father had a massive stroke.

My guardian angels, as it were, had clearly lined things up for me so that I would have a solid support system in place during that crucial, challenging time.

After a little while, knowing how lonely I was, my therapist encouraged me to look for a spiritual community to join. I knew it would be good for me but was nervous, as I always am, about throwing myself into a new system where I didn’t yet know the ropes.

I attended a Science of Mind service in a conference room in a chain hotel here in Chicago, and just . . . no. It was totally not the kind of place I needed to be.

Living northward on the brown line, I could see from the train a building that had a giant sign painted on the side advertising meditation classes. I couldn’t read all the text, but with some creative Googling, I eventually found the website for the place.

They were starting one of their five-week introduction to meditation courses that following week, so I signed myself up for the session. After the five weeks were up, I remember thinking to myself with almost a shrug, “well, I guess I’m just going to start going there on Sundays now.” And, I did.

Jizo, the Bodhisattva of the Earth Matrix

Slowly integrating myself into the membership of the temple, I started showing up regularly for Sunday services, and sometimes for their special Wednesday night meditation sittings as well. I even signed up for two days of my first-ever silent retreat later that winter, which was an exercise in fortitude like nothing I’d intentionally put myself through before.

Basically, a silent retreat is just hours and hours of meditation every day, with breaks here and there for food, stretching, walking meditation, and work practice—aka, chores—all done in complete silence with extremely minimal eye contact among the practitioners. My brain felt like it started to eat itself at some point, and I remember thinking, “well, it’s too bad I can never come back here ever again after this is all over.”

But, of course, I made it through the rest of the retreat, and of course I came back to the temple again. In fact, I felt more part of the community than ever after that.

Within the next year I was asked to be on the temple’s advisory council, which meant that I would help out with extra chores around the building, help with fundraising efforts, stand at the door as a greeter before Sunday services, and generally be closer to the heart of the regular goings-on of the community. As an editor, I was even pressed into service to help assemble their periodic newsletter.

As I bonded with my fellow advisory council members, it felt like I was Doing a Good Thing for myself spiritually, even though I also learned to swallow the anxiety that resulted from knowing I’d inevitably be corrected by the temple priest for doing something wrong—putting the dishes in the wrong place in the kitchen, arranging the meditation mats and cushions out of their proper order, calculating tax incorrectly on the haphazardly priced items available for sale in the bookstore.

I wanted so badly to prove to myself that, yes, it was good for me to be part of this community, that I assented to being on the advisory council for a second year in a row. But, about halfway through my second term, I started a yearlong training program to develop my clairvoyant reading abilities. I was able to juggle both the temple and psychic school for a while, but as my commitment to the advisory council started winding down, I found that I was getting crabbier and more lackadaisical about my remaining commitments there.

I just had too many things going on in my life—this was all in addition to a 40-hour-a-week job, band practice, and making time for my then-boyfriend—and something had to give. I needed at least one morning a week to sleep in and relax, and since I was usually scheduled for practice readings at psychic school on Saturday mornings, that meant Sundays at the temple got jettisoned.

I’d given so much to it and wasn’t sure what I’d gotten in return. I didn’t want to be mercenary about it, of course, but the more I felt sucked dry by their expectations for generous donations of time and attention, the more I was feeling myself sliding into a familiarity-breeds-contempt kind of attitude. I wasn’t too sorry to let it go.

I was also ready to take a break from the hovering cloud of judgment that always made me feel like I was doing something wrong (or worse, like I wasn’t doing enough). And, it was a relief to disengage myself from the subtle sense of competition that always seemed to arise among the other members—sly jockeying over who could sit longer or do more prostrations or who was having a more pure and transcendent feeling of oneness during meditation.

I attended a few more services here and there, but ultimately just stopped going altogether late in the spring of 2011.

I completed my year of clairvoyant training just a few months after that and then rolled into two more consecutive six-month-long programs at psychic school, which pulled me further and further away from not only the temple’s Sunday services but their whole philosophy as well.

In the summer of 2013, finished with all my clairvoyant schooling for the time being, I thought it might be a good time to dip my toes back in the waters of Zen meditation. I decided to visit a different community one Sunday morning and was startled by how viscerally I ended up hating it.

I wrote in my journal later that night:

I think I’m done with Zen-style meditation for a while. Aside from all the bullshit, California-macho male energy and my complete lack of interest in hearing anything an old white guy has to say about anything spiritual anymore, and aside from the total lack of joy in the way the discipline is being practiced, I think the thing that became most apparent to me is that I’m no longer interested in a spirituality that makes me smaller. I don’t need any help forbearing unpleasant circumstances. I am a maestro at sitting patiently and quietly until something that I hate finally comes to a conclusion. I’ve lost more than enough time to that kind of behavior, and I don’t need a spiritual discipline that’s telling me to do that on a regular basis.

That was several months ago at this point, and I’m nowhere near having any kind of answers or any better sense of where I want to go, spiritually, next. I’d like to be giving professional psychic readings on a more regular basis, and I’ve developed my sub-site here in order to start to attract more readees. But, that clearly will still be a solitary pursuit, even when I do get it up and running.

Psychic moon

I’m still, as I noted last week, looking for my sublime tribe.

I’ve been noticing more and more lately that the answer to so many problems in my life is that I just need more of me, of my own life force and energy back in the mix. So, I’m fully open to the idea that instead of looking for a tribe, I should instead be looking for ways that I can show up for myself more powerfully.

And maybe that’s the wisdom I was attracted to in the Zen center in the first place—having the time and space to sit quietly in the fullness of myself, surrounded by dozens of other people doing the same.