Baby Dust Diaries

A Life Less Ordinary

Tag: spirituality

Matisyahu to Krishnamurti

The past decade has been a real spiritual journey for me. I moved through several Christian sects before finally moving beyond Christianity as most people know it. At the same time I began studying Buddhism. For a long time I was both: A Christian Buddhist. Not really impossible and many people (including prominent Christian clergymen and women) practice Buddhism and Christianity. Buddhism is non-theistic and non-dogmatic. The Buddha is neither god nor final decider of the rules. He tells his followers to ignore what he says and find out for themselves.

After I moved out of Christianity (I don’t like to say I “left” or “turned away” or “renounced” because I really feel like Christianity was part of my path and that it was the thing that pointed me to my current place. I didn’t “Leave”; I followed where it led) I called myself a Buddhist and an atheist. I thought it was important to differentiate myself from people who believe in god, especially the christian “Father”-type god. I was still practicing Buddhism so that title seemed fit.

I still use Buddhism in many setting because it quickly gives an overview of some of my core values. But it isn’t really true. Buddhism isn’t a fit label for me and the concept of the labeling is itself damaging. This is the journey I’d like to describe for you.

Do you know this song? 

I first heard this song in 2006. This was before kids. Before my worst bout of depression (2007). Before I moved out of Christianity but just shortly after I began actively studying Buddhism.

I LOVE this song. From the very first time I heard it there was something so compelling about it. I used to listen to it multiple times a day or even have it on a loop in the background while I worked. The words moved me. The music was both soothing and rousing. It never got old for me. I felt the same powerful emotion each time I heard it. No matter how many times I heard it.

I bought the rest of Matisyahu’s songs (and still do). He is really talented mixing beatbox with reggae beats and soaring, passionate lyrics. I shouldn’t really need a reason to like his music. But my friends considered it weird that I was so moved by the lyrics when it is so overtly Jewish. I tried to put it into words: When he says,

What’s this feeling?
My love will rip a hole in the ceiling
Givin’ myself to you from the essence of my being

You really BELIEVE he means it. If I put the passion of every Brittany Spears song together it wouldn’t equal the raw passion of his words.

The song moved me they way my religion moved me. Not all the time, of course, but when I wasn’t defending the faith to the world against those twisting it to sanction hate, I really felt my religion. The words Matisyahu spoke were how religion was supposed to feel,

You’re like water for my soul when it gets thirsty
Without you there’s no me
You’re the air that I breathe

Religion, when it felt right to me, was like air and water – everything I needed for perfect contentment. Peace.

When I look to the sky where my help come from
And I’ve seen it circling around from the mountain
You feel it in your chest

Yes! You feel it in your chest. A brief moment, in the words of the Christian bible, of a “peace that surpasses all understanding.”

That’s the Thing. The single anchor of desire that kept me searching. Seeking for answers to spiritual questions. Or, rather, THE spiritual question: Who Am I?

The answers Christianity gave me: I am a child of god, a sinner in need of a savior, on trial for my every behavior with punishment expected for behavior deemed bad were becoming incompatible with my inner “truth” meter.

If you’ve known me at all you know that, as a parent educator, I point out not only the benefits of non-punitive, gentle parenting but I also share what science is learning about the human design for non-punitive, gentle parenting. We are literally biologically-primed for freedom and choice and to resist coercion or control. Like a plant deprived light, humans deprived of freedom and choice wilt. Plants need water to thrive and humans need to be free.

In the public sphere of my life this looked like my talking about feminism (the right of women to thrive without the control of patriarchy), racism and colonialism (the right of brown people to thrive without the control of white colonists) and parenting (the right of children to thrive without the control of their parents).

What I had was cognitive dissonance – discomfort experienced by an individual who holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values at the same time, or is confronted by new information that conflicts with existing beliefs, ideas, or values (source:wikipedia). Everything I believed about secular life – freedom, choice, absence of violence was in direct opposition to everything I believed about my spiritual life – that I was constrained by rules, my choices could be judged “evil”, and a religion both founded on and perpetuated by indescribably horrific violence and genocide.

Cognitive dissonance must always be reconciled. It isn’t possible to live in your mind with two opposing views. You can read on wikipedia if you want to read some of the ways people resolve cognitive dissonance (trigger warning: their examples are fat phobic) but I believe this is what kept me searching. I knew where I was wasn’t comfortable. I had to keep looking.

Of course by this time I’m learning more about Buddhism and experiencing the amazing affect of meditation and particularly, metta meditation which is like body building for your compassion muscles. I had experienced that my mind wasn’t me and was, in fact, kind of a pain in my ass. Telling my brain to shut up became a new mantra. (Now I love my mind even when I tell it to shush. I say, “old friend, you aren’t trying to pull that again are you?”).

The Buddha said,

We are shaped by our thoughts; we become what we think. When the mind is pure, joy follows like a shadow that never leaves.

This began to coalesce with my studies of feminism in the context of cultural/social constructs. In my book, Gender Neutral Parenting, I spend some time explaining how to step outside our cultural constructs like “gender” by thinking of the compass. There is no objectively described “north” or “south”. We collectively decide to label these places with these words to helps us communicate about our environment. There is no north (or spoon, ha!).

In The Teaching of Buddha by the Japanese Buddhist organization, Bukkyo Dendo Kyokai, it says,

In the sky there is no distinction of east and west; people create the distinctions out of their own minds and then believe them to be true.

Here the beliefs of my secular life combined with the beliefs of my spiritual life. I will probably write much more about spirituality and feminism since this is an area that I’ve received much push back from other feminists. For now though I’m going to focus on my journey.

So one day, I’m listening to King Without a Crown again and I notice this line,

Strip away the layers and reveal your soul
Got to give yourself up and then you become whole
You’re a slave to yourself and you don’t even know
You want to live the fast life but your brain moves slow

This captures the practice of Buddhism well: pick through all these thoughts. Quiet them and see who you are underneath all of your cultural constructs and conditioning.

Looking up to the sky and searchin’ beneath the ground
Like a King without his Crown
Yes, you keep fallin’ down
You really want to live but can’t get rid of your frown
Tried to reach unto the heights and wound bound down on the ground

And how hard it is. From the moment of our birth we begin to layer ourselves with words. Words aren’t all bad – they help us know each other, love each other – but without understanding that they aren’t you, words can be dangerous.

We say I’m Paige.

I’m a girl.

I’m intelligent.

I’m an American.

I’m white.

And we forget who we really are without all the words.

For me, Buddhism is a great practice for removing the words. It isn’t religion. I don’t “believe” in Buddhism. I practice it. I find the suggestions that are credited to that ancient Hindu man name Siddhartha Gautama really work for me when I practice them each day. I do metta meditation and I see tangible results in myself. I see a grouchy bank teller and I feel love not annoyance.

I know there are people who have taken the words credited to the Jewish man named Jesus and interpreted them in a much different way than the mainstream Christians and they use them to practice what Jesus taught. The same is true for nearly every mainstream religion. It is a thread connecting all religions and it is spiritual not religious.

When the philosopher, Jiddu Krishnamurti, broke away from the Theosophical society of white colonizers he said,

I maintain that Truth is a pathless land, and you cannot approach it by any path whatsoever, by any religion, by any sect. Truth, being limitless, unconditioned, unapproachable by any path whatsoever, cannot be organized; nor should any organization be formed to lead or to coerce people along any particular path. You must climb towards the Truth. It cannot be ‘stepped down’ or organized for you.

This was even stronger than what the Buddha said. There is no way to go, no directions to find bliss. Which, let’s face it is the primary purpose of all religion. Buddha said to find out for yourself. Krishnamurti expounded that finding out for yourself is the only way. There is no path but the one you are on.

bella RIPThe problem is that we have all these ideas. Religion gives us ideas. Buddhism is an idea for how to find bliss. It has worked for me but it also tethers me. If Buddhism is a label I wear that creates an anchor to my thoughts then I’m not really free to move past the circle of my beliefs.

Like a dog on a chain is “free” only in the circle allowed by his chain (please don’t do this). When we label ourselves as Buddhist or Christian we drive a tether into the ground and cut ourselves off from understanding.

Matisyahu says this too,

You want God but you can’t deflate your ego
If you’re already there then there’s nowhere to go
If you’re cup’s already full then its bound to overflow

If you are identifying with a religion, or any label, then your are filling yourself (your cup) and it is no long open to receive new understanding. Krishnamurti again,

Psychologically I think it is true, because self-discipline implies a mind that is tethered to a particular thought or belief or ideal, a mind that is held by a condition; and as an animal that is tethered to a post can only wander within the distance of its rope, so does the mind which is tethered to a belief, which is perverted through self-discipline, wander only within the limitation of that condition. Therefore such a mind is not mind at all, it is incapable of thought. It may be capable of adjustment between the limitations of the post and the farthest point of its reach; but such a mind, such a heart cannot really think and feel.

EmilysQuotes.Com-nationality-violent-reason-separating-mankind-belief-tradition-violence-understanding-religion-politics-wisdom-amazing-great-intelligent-Jiddu-Krishnamurti-500x323If you can completely untether yourself from all thoughts and identifications (Buddha calls them distinctions), you will know the real you, which Buddhists call enlightenment. Although I think it is a horrible thing to focus on. Spirituality shouldn’t be goal oriented. That’s what religion does. It says do xyz and avoid jkl and you will receive bliss.

It isn’t about the answer or the goal. It isn’t about rules or a path. It is about questioning, seeking, and remaining open.

And see, I lift up [in] my eyes where my help come from
And I seen it circling around from the mountain
You feel it in your chest
You keep my mind at ease and my soul at rest

Read more: Matisyahu – King Without A Crown Lyrics | MetroLyrics



Whiteness, Cultural Appropriation, and Spiritual Power

Powerful point. Did you know Nelson Mandela has said he never felt powerlessness in all his years behind bars. Where is this deep rooted resilience and power? Why don’t white people have it?

(I think the rest of this requires you to know that race is a social construct and thus “white” isn’t a thing. It is a lie we’ve been blanketed in.)

I do think white people are drowning in meaninglessness which is the strongest definition of powerlessness. We all inherit a legacy of intense evil. Millennia of rape of the land, peoples, and personhood of millions. Then we are raised with the lie both that we are good for the world (manifest destiny) and that our social structures are good for all. The lie that our culture allows anyone to rise to the top, that we have a mobile culture where initiative and hard work are all it takes to rise up. It is cognitive dissonance from the moment we are born.

We feel a phantom pain because these lies are impossible for a soul to pretend is true. So, in order to keep this social stricture in place we’ve also had our souls suppressed. We have an empty, third-person religion dominating us. A religious tradition (Christian, Jewish, and Islamic – basically this is a “feature” of monotheistic religions) that tells us we are sinners in need of a savior, that this world is just a test and thus not inherently important (manifest destiny again), and that “others” are our enemy. We are discouraged from knowing ourselves, our souls, we are punished for finding personal empowerment.

I think every single white person in the US (perhaps all western cultures) knows a deep rooted but un identifiable malaise that comes from the disconnection we are forced to believe in order to maintain the status quo. We manifest this in mental illness, violence, and a cult of busy-ness that keeps us from hearing the truth that our souls are crying out to us to discover. That we are one with every other being on the planet and with the planet itself.

To understand cultural appropriation we have to unveil the lies. To recognize that we are *continuing* to rape people’s cultures (instead of the lie that these things happened “before”) requires awareness that we are empty and powerless and disconnected. This is painful and many people can’t tolerate the soul pain caused by seeing without blinders on what it means to be white.

I encounter these white people in my work everyday. They can’t even swallow the fact that they have privilege. It is too painful and they’ve been taught that self reflection or listening to the voices of their soul is a sin (religiously) or condemned (socially). They are powerless and trapped in their whiteness. Cut off from their own source of power.

How could such a person understand cultural appropriation? They will always use the scripts of white culture they’ve been taught: we share culture, these people are better off with our culture because we bring them medicine and salvation. What we do is benevolent. They have to believe this or face the fact that they are part of a system of demonstrable evil.

I think when white people are able to break through their conditioning – and it is a break: painful rending of our white facades to expose our souls who’ve been neglected and forgotten – they then feel lost. When everything you know and everything you’ve done and had done to you was damaging your soul and (since we are all one) every single other person and living thing on the planet it can be easier to hide. Get busy again so you don’t have to think or feel.

Some social justice minds call this the colonized mind. We (white people) colonize indigenous peoples taking their culture and language but we never take their souls because they know their power. They know they are one. But, in order to make us docile accomplices to white colonization we also had our minds colonized. We operate and are victims of racism too. Racism takes our power by disconnecting us from our souls.

The spiritual traditions of indigenous people all have the same root. The way the “major” “religions” of the western world have the same base – literally the same “god” – indigenous belief systems, from Tibet to the Yucatan, share the common thread of flowing from personal power instead of personal submission.

When we first hear a spiritual tradition that wakes up our dormant souls we don’t know how to make it our own. How could we? We’ve been told to look outside ourselves for spirit since birth. So, we drape ourselves in the outward appearance of the tradition. We wear saris and bindis or start smudging everything with sage. I’m not saying those things are necessarily bad but they are the empty shell of the spiritual tradition and veer toward cultural appropriation.

This is why social justice work is so important to spiritual development. They can’t happen in a vacuum. Without understanding how to decolonize our minds we will continue to “adopt” native cultural traditions in a way that continues to demean and harm said culture. But, with the hard work of dismantling our colonized attitudes and beliefs we can reclaim our power. Our power that we are all one and that any harm to the least of us harms us all.

This is the way we find our own spirituality. I don’t think it can be done without the examples of native cultures. We need a lighthouse to help us navigate in the dark until we can shed the layers of lies that are “white culture”, find our own power and then turn it back on the white culture that sought to harm us in the first place.

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