Religion is to do right. It is to love, it is to serve, it is to think, it is to be humble.
-Ralph Waldo Emerson
Today (June 3rd) is my 6th wedding anniversary. We ended up sharing our special day with Buddhists who were celebrating Visakha Puja Day, or the Buddha’s trilogy. According to Buddhist teachings, on the full moon of the sixth month in the sixth century, Buddha was born. He achieved enlightenment at age 39 and he died at age 80 all on this same day. We were there at the insistence of our foodie friends who raved about the Thai food feast, but I couldn’t help but think that I should look a little deeper at the coincidences that led me to being in such a foreign place on this particular Sunday, particularly with my zenophobic husband.
First I should give you a little background. Today was also our first visit back to church after a two month hiatus. We had a ceiling collapse near miss and than minutes later a mentally ill homeless woman accosted us inside our church. I just didn’t feel safe there any more. I tried to look at those frightening experiences as a message that we were meant to explore other churches. Maybe we were needed elsewhere or meant to meet someone important in our lives. It ended up that we just stopped going to church. But today, I wanted to hear my friend speak about surviving leukemia and I wanted to hear her lovely daughter sing. It seemed like a good reason to return.
Sarah spoke about being focused for a long time on “Why me”. She was young (in her thirties), she was an avid runner and there was no family history of cancer. For 18 months, she fought for her life through a bone marrow transplant, chemo, infections and probably worst of all, living away from her family in a hospital. She is cancer free for now, something no doctor predicted. The mother of two concluded that she will never be able to answer why it happened to her. But she now cherishes every day she can wake up in her own bed or hear her daughters sing or being able to drive them to school. The simple things that she once took for granted.
Sarah’s husband, Jack, added that they don’t believe it is a cause and effect thing. In other words, it wasn’t something Sarah did or didn’t do. They choose to see the good that came out of the ordeal such as a closer family, deeper friendships and the miracle of surviving a death sentence.
I agree with Jack and Freud on this one. The mommy obsessed psycho analyst rejected the notion that God could act as punisher in times of illness or that wellness is a divine gift for good deeds. But if sin can’t make you sick, can sadness?
There has always been debate on the significance of the mind body connection. Psychologist Martin Seligman, who wrote the book I am reading right now called Learned Optimism, concluded in his many studies that optimism is a precursor to good health as well as an ounce of prevention against illness. While most medical doctors agree a good attitude helps, most dispute that there is tangible evidence that negative thoughts or unresolved emotional conflicts can physically manifest into disease.
Whether there is proof or not, I have always believed it. Which brings me back to the Buddhist Temple and my anniversary. Recently I have become aware that I am carrying around a lot of guilt and that has led me to view the world more pessimistically than I would prefer. I don’t want to get sick. I don’t want to suffer through a horrendous illness like my friend to learn to cherish the simple pleasures of daily life, my children, my marriage.
I read a little about Buddhism after our visit. Did you know there is not a word for guilt in the Tibetan language? Buddhist focus instead on repentance and restitution. Don’t repeat the action that led you to feel guilty and make amends when possible. The author of www.viewonbuddhism.org describes guilt as “a negative, paralyzing emotion, based on non-acceptance of oneself or the situation, that leads to depression and frustration rather than change or improvement.” What spoke to me specifically about his post was the example he used in defining the Buddhist approach. “Sometimes some tangible restitution is possible; for example, you can pay for damages or stolen property. But if you misuse time itself, no matter how much you regret doing so, you can not return it.”
I wrote a post on my grattitude blog, http://50000thoughts.blogspot.com/, several weeks ago called “Good for One Play” about the topic of time misspent. I have wasted a lot of time worrying about being a stay at home mom and not a writer, which was my profession prior to choosing this current path. Through all that internal conflict, I have not fully embraced this fleeting opportunity to watch my children grow.
I can’t return my misspent time. But I can stop misspending it. I hope this blog is a step in that direction. I hope being more consciously aware of the lessons I can learn from my children while nurturing them as a patient teacher is another step toward repentance.
Meanwhile, there is still a source of guilt when it comes to my marriage and our spiritual journey as a couple. His one and only stated deal breaker in our relationship is if I step away from Christianity. It is not that I would ever consider doing that, but even learning about other faiths makes him uncomfortable. My husband went to a Southern Baptist school and church growing up. We have vastly different world views. Getting him to go to a Buddhist temple, even just to eat a meal, is like getting me to voluntarily watch Fox news. It doesn’t happen often. As we were leaving the parking lot where monks were directing traffic, I noticed the Temple is across the street from a Baptist Church. As I was asking my husband what the neighbors thought of each other, I witnessed an odd sight. Two middle aged, extremely overweight identical twin sisters walked out of the church, dressed identically. What does it all mean?
I leave you with one question for the day:
Is there something that you regret that you can change?