Reflections on My Spiritual Journey
I grew up as an only child playing and dreaming on the rocky shorelines of Maine. I moved to Boulder, Colorado in 1996 with my two children, Elijah and Bethany, to pursue studies in Transpersonal Psychology at Naropa University. Naropa is a leader in contemplative education. My journey began there.
Falling In Love with Buddhism
Upon starting school at Naropa, I immediately fell in love with Buddhism and decided to take my Refuge and Bodhisattva Vows. During this time, I worked closely with my dear teacher and meditation instructor, Dale Asrael. Dale is an archarya (spiritual teacher) within Shambhala Buddhism.
My first time at Naropa was cut short when I experienced a grand mal seizure driving home one afternoon. I made the difficult decision to leave school at that time in order to concentrate raising my kids and tending to my health. Dale continued to be an amazing support for me, though, especially later on when I was being treated for breast cancer. You can read more about my journey with breast cancer on Mindful.org.
Coming Home to Christian Mysticism
I continued to study and practice Buddhism for about five years, but then began to feel like something was missing. I didn't know where God was in all of it. My deep connection to the Divine had been instilled in me as a child by my grandparents. I went to talk with Dale about my distress.
She recommended I read Thomas Keating's book, Open Mind, Open Heart. I was immediately drawn to Centering Prayer - a receptive method of silent prayer that prepares us for the gift of contemplation (the experience of God's presence within). I received direct instruction in Centering Prayer from David Frenette when I eventually returned to Naropa to earn my M.A. in Religious Studies. The focus of my studies was Jewish and Christian mysticism.
Waking Up by Practicing Dzogchen
As I was completing my master's program, however, an interest in Dzogchen - the most highly revered system of thought and meditation among the ancient Bon and Buddhist lineages of Tibet - developed.
In order to fulfill the requirements of my degree, I needed to complete a two-week at home meditation retreat. Honestly, it was all quite frustrating. I felt a lot of tension and pain. I remember feeling extremely defeated one afternoon and deciding to take a break. I pulled out a book by Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche and turned to the final section on Dzogchen.
Experiencing an Awakening
Suddenly, the issue was clear. I was trying too hard! I needed to relax. I thought I would take the rest of the day off, but then had a change of heart later that evening. Once again, I took my meditation seat. It was different now though. I didn't feel like I had to prove or achieve anything. I simply rested in pure awareness. During what felt like about ten minutes, two hours went by.
For several weeks after that, I felt vibrantly awake and completely at peace. Eventually, as is apt to happen, I began to grapple with my neurotic tendencies once again. Ego is, after all, incredibly tenacious. Nonetheless, for a little while, I had tasted real freedom and this left a huge imprint on my soul. I quickly became a student of Tenzin Wangyal.
Clarifying Truth in A Course in Miracles
For the next few year, I found myself bouncing back and forth between Christian Mysticism and Dzogchen. It felt like being inside a revolving door, except I never knew which side it was going to pop me out. Though confusing and sometimes downright frustrating, I do believe this was necessary for my spiritual growth.
One place where I often found spiritual comfort and nourishment was Unity of Boulder. I began my studies in A Course in Miracles with this community and continue to be greatly influenced by this system of thought today. The Course helps us correct the misperception that we are separate from God. Just for the record, I'm a huge Marianne Williamson fan.
Learning to Be Kind to Myself with Mindfulness
Most recently, I became a Certified Mindfulness Meditation Teacher under the guidance of my personal mentor, Sean Fargo. Mindfulness is a practice of bringing nonjudgmental attention to everything occurring in the present moment. I believe that bringing mindful attention to our life and practice is appropriate no matter what tradition we call home.
Needless to say, I have practiced within many traditions. Yet, what I've learned can be summed up in a few simple words:
Our true essence is loving presence. We are here to be just that.
“And this is the secret: Christ lives in you.”
Colossians 1:27 New Living Translation