I’ve been attending a Shambhala meditation center here in Fort Collins, where they teach tenets of Tibetan Buddhism philosophy and practice. My attendance is pretty sporadic, but I’m trying to get into the routine of waking up and getting dressed and driving downtown, so I can sit still for an hour or so and stop spazzing out all the time.
Going to a Buddhist center was the only thing that felt honest to me. We tried going to Christian churches, and we tried the Unitarian congregation, and nothing quite fit. The Unitarians were frankly boring, not what I had hoped for at all. I thought to myself, “You have generations of beauty and wisdom to choose from! We could be reading Rumi, Anne Sexton, Salman Rushdie. Why are you telling me about your trip to England?” It just felt dry and overbaked and blah.
Then we found a liberal Christian church where the people were very friendly and welcoming, the community vibrant and lively. But I couldn’t get past the Jesus stuff. Can you believe I used to be the Director of Christian Education at a church? I used to want to be an Episcopal priest. But the reason I never went to seminary is the same thing that has turned me off of Christian doctrine. Women seem marginalized, even in the best of circumstances. No matter how liberal your interpretation, you can’t change the fact that in a Christian church, you’re working with male-dominated literature from a male-dominated culture. And I’ve done enough research about the ancient Goddess religions to have even less favorable opinions about the Judeo-Christian track record with regard to the treatment of women and the demonization of the Divine Feminine.
But I digress. My whole point in starting this was to share a recent experience at what seems to be my new spiritual home. (That’s a phrase I haven’t used in a while!) During the discussion portion of our Sunday morning meditation session, the time-keeper/leader of our little group brought up the topic of gentleness. “What does gentleness look like when focused on ourselves?” she asked. She mentioned that in her experience, it seemed only to be an absence of self-abuse and criticism that she usually heaped on herself. It led to an interesting discussion.
I’ll say here that the word gentleness didn’t and doesn’t sit well with me. I’ve long equated the idea of gentleness with timidity and even weakness. I’m sure that says a lot more about me (and my upbringing) than it does about gentleness itself. But for the sake of our discussion, I substituted the word kindness. It feels stronger and less passive to me, somehow. And it works well enough for my purposes here, as well. The consensus of the group was that gentleness/kindness can take many forms, and that it doesn’t only entail not doing something. For instance, if you’re feeling exhausted, the kind thing to do for yourself may be to rest. But sometimes the kind thing isn’t about rest. It’s actually about effort. Getting up and getting dressed and driving downtown and parking and walking on a Sunday morning so I can attend group meditation practice is a kind thing to do for myself. I need that stillness, and I need the community. I also need the break from our daily routine at home, which can be anything but still. But it takes effort to get there. Likewise, the kind thing is often to take a walk, rather than a nap. My body needs that movement and fresh air. These are kind things. Not always easy things.
I may have mentioned before that Brian’s had some health problems. An odd, indefinite fatigue that seems to have vague causes that seem more mild than the symptoms would lead us to believe. Meanwhile, we’ve begun private speech therapy with Jack, and his therapist is sending home weekly assignments for us to work on between sessions. At the same time, I’ve been trying and failing to get back to a writing project very close to my heart. All of these things demand of me great kindness — and yes, gentleness — to myself and my family. But none of it is weak or timid. Not one bit of it. These are daily efforts that I don’t always feel like dealing with, but which will help each of us separately and all of us together feel more whole.
Wish me luck. And kindness. Amen.