How Online Dating Turned Into a Spiritual Awakening:
Raised to be a Christian I had one orthodoxy to choose from as a child. That of the concept of heaven, hell, and the life that delivers you to either destination. Needless to say I found the fear of God early on, and treated the concept of sin as critical. None of this was forced upon me. It was as much familial as it was cultural indoctrination.
I can credit my father for instilling in me the importance of self introspection. He knew that to be faithful to any code you had to believe it. He took this trepidatious path himself when he abdicated from the Catholic church. Like Luther he knew that Purgatory was a disingenuous money making scheme. He wanted no part of it. Naturally he adopted Lutheranism and in turn was disowned by his father.
Having been educated with a semblance of secularism and a healthy dose of skepticism I chose the Agnostic path. The rise of Christian Fundamentalism took away Christianity’s poetic agency. It became useless to me. Then a chance relationship introduced me to the Tao Te Ching. This philosophical, poetic tome had little to say about God, but did point the way towards a more comfortable life.
Twenty some years later I was fortunate to enter into an eye opening exchange with a romantic prospect on OKCupid. (Stop it. I can feel that side eye.) We found each other to be inquisitive enough, and quirky enough to break the fourth wall of online dating. We messaged instead of winking from a distance.
Her stand-out feature was spiritual seeking, it fueled our exchanges. I asked her to give me a list of books she would recommend to anyone wanting to know her better. Not living in the same state made it easy to delve into archaic subjects. The list forced open a closed door. I had shut out all other literature as a source of spiritual inspiration. I only had the one book, and that became a personal failing.
I began buying stacks of books. Reading across the breadth of Eastern philosophy and religious writings eventually picking up one of the thinnest books on the shelf, Thich Nhat Hahn’s The Heart of Understanding: Commentaries on the Prajnaparamita Heart Sutra. Line by line he opens up one of Mahayana Buddism’s most popular scriptures. Prajanaparamita means “the perfection of wisdom.” The extant scriptures are estimated to have started in the first century BCE and continuing into the seventh century CE. They span about forty texts and at their core expound on the concept of shunyata (emptiness.)
Prior to picking The Heart of Understanding out of the stack she abruptly, and with little explanation, cut off communication. It was a huge blow to me and as a result I dove deeper into the books she had recommended. When I opened The Heart of Understanding I had been in a terrible funk. I was reading to forget. I desperately needed cheering up and somehow life coughed it up.
Trapped in amber the color of the resin has altered the hue of the events.
With trepidation I offer up the story the wise keep to themselves.
The paradox of death haunts every one of us. For forty years of my life I was unsettled by the mirage on the horizon. I could link it to anxiety, and panic disorder. It held sway in the way that only death can.
What do you say when death turns into a mirage? What do you say when you know the destination on the horizon is not real? It’s the subject of all lives. Belief in what comes after the body ceases is a hotly contested issue. Reincarnation, how it operates, and what the endless cycle of births and deaths means can even cause heated debate amongst Buddhists.
My personal story begins on page twenty-six of Thich Nhat Hahn’s commentary. Here is where I step through the looking glass, where black and white leaps into technicolor, where I can tell you I am not the person I once was. The point of no return. That page contains the best explanation of reincarnation I have ever read. There are two sentences in particular that stick out.
“I am the whole tree. I know that I am already inside the tree, and when I go back to the soil, I will continue to nourish the tree.”
Shortly after comprehending the teaching contained in the book I entered into the bliss that everyone is hoping for. It lasted between three to five days. Because I had smoked pot in the past I had a good measuring stick to compare this feeling to. It was like being high except it was better, and it didn’t have any of the annoying issues that accompany a marijuana high. No paranoia, no munchies, no odd body sensations, there was a clarity in this bliss I never experienced in a drug high. This experience was amazing because I started to see who I really was. I broke free from depression and anxiety. This state of bliss allowed me to question myself without fear. I started to understand equanimity, mindfulness, and meditation.
It ended when a recurring question came to the surface. I kept asking myself about finding a romantic relationship. Who needs that “trouble” when you have stumbled into a state of being that shows the outline of attachment? The question kept tugging at my sleeve. I looked at it head on, and through the naïve fog understood for the first time, that for all my reading on love, I truly did not understand love. I made the decision to begin again.
The bliss halted immediately. Joint pain and the wear and tear of ageing came back, but the residual calm lingered. This is where my study of Buddhism picked up in earnest, where one book leads to another, where the study and practice merge. Where I understood how lucky I had been to have an electrifying spiritual awakening. One so decisive that I no longer worry for happiness, or sadness, because I have willingly picked the middle way.