I’m on Facebook with almost 700 friends, the great bulk of whom are totally new in my life.
Most are from the three-gem world of Buddhism, some are from the multi-faceted world of Hinduism, some are from the ecstatic world of Sufism, some are from the non-sectarian world of New Age spirituality. I’m starting to find friends from the Astrology world, as well. About 30 are actual met-in-the-flesh friends and family, some of whom knew me when I was not an Ecstatic Buddhist….
…Which is to say, they knew me when I cared more about what band was playing at the Fox Theater on a given night than I cared about sleep. They knew me when I drank a lot, partied hard and suffered many a day-after hangover. They knew me when I played all night and slept all day.
Some even knew me when I was a preacher’s kid going to church several days and nights a week. They knew me in Fresno, California, an agricultural city filled with wannabe cowboys, Bible-thumping preachers, outlaw bikers and Black Sabbath-listening Stoners selling LSD on concert night outside McLane High School. This was my Fresno, anyway. It would’ve been different on the African American West Side or the Hispanic south end of town — but not that different. I understand that gangs are far more of an issue now than when I was coming up in the 70’s, but it was always a tough place to live.
There was no Buddhism, Hinduism, Sufism or Sikhism there — or if any of it was, I certainly didn’t know about it.
I’m thinking about all this because, as I get closer to my Facebook friends, I’m finding that I’m not the only one. There are others whose backgrounds are gritty and un-glamorous. There are others who appreciate the music I listened to growing up, who still have a beer now and then, who secretly love their local sports teams. I look at their photos and see jeans and t-shirts, flannels and worn-out sneakers. They throw big barbecues in the back yard and attend baby showers at the grange hall. They go camping.
And, yet, they have been attracted to a more “holy life,” to something that offers meaning and hope for deeper transformation. What they couldn’t find at the local church they are finding on the meditation cushion. What is lacking at the neighborhood bar is found at Tuesday night Sangha. Instead of planning vacations to Puerto Vallarta, they spin the globe to point a finger at India. Instead of roadtrips to Las Vegas, they attend 10-day meditation retreats led by ochre-robed monks. Nowadays, they plan their days around a meditation practice.
At 46 and swiftly approaching 50, I admit to still feeling like a fish out of water. The realm of Buddhism, Hinduism, Sufism and Sikhism are associated with far off Eastern lands where people dress differently, eat differently and walk to a different rhythm. And yet, I’ve wandered so far off the Reservation that there’s no going back — I’m not a church boy any more, nor am I a keg-party fiend riding a chopper. I now live my whole life around the bliss, joy and ecstasy that arise from absorption-inducing meditation, and I end up talking about it through my online communications. This is all very disorienting, but at this stage of the game I should probably just accept the outsider’s role, relying on the fact that my life to this point has been one long Outsider’s boot camp.
Again, I’m noticing that I’m not alone. I’m not the only local yokel to stumble into an Eastern tradition, to find spiritual answers… and to still be there year after year, hovering between this world and that, wondering whether, if we all hang in there long enough, we’ll perhaps evolve an expression of these exotic traditions that feels like home.
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For now my approach is to just accept the situation, knowing that it all comes down to one’s personal practice. Spending time with new spiritual friends is exciting and fulfilling up to a point… but really, it’s all about supporting each other in our practice. Doctrinal arguments and differences will come and go, but the bottom line is that the cushion awaits, as does moment-to-moment mindfulness, remembrance, saturation and study. This is where we belong now, no matter how disorienting the rest of it feels. Ten, twenty and thirty years from now, having maintained a rigorous and skillful meditation practice throughout, we will come to see that the practice was all-important — and what it looked like on the outside took care of itself all along.