“Resolve to be thyself. She who finds herself loses her misery.”
— Matthew Arnold
— Matthew Arnold
I’m over forty years old (yikes!) and I am finally coming out of the closet – the spiritual closet, that is. Funny how I feel almost as vulnerable talking about my spiritual beliefs as I do about revealing my (almost) age. But like my career path, I’ve spent tremendous time and effort exploring different philosophies and spiritual beliefs. I’ve also explored how those beliefs might support and integrate with my career, my being a wife, a mother and my life as a Western woman overall.
Few people know that I was born the youngest of seven children into a devout family of the Mormon Church. My mother was the youngest daughter of seven and each of her siblings had five to seven kids each, creating a large Mormon clan. My mother even went on a two-year mission for the church, highly unusual for women these days but even more so in the late forties. That’s when she met my father. Twenty years later, my father’s work transferred him – and us – to Honolulu. Why is this significant for my spiritual path? Because in Honolulu – far from our Mormon clan – my father discovered marathon running and my mom became inspired by Sonia Johnson. (She was a leading feminist in the 70s who was Mormon and since those two things cannot go together, the church excommunicated Ms. Johnson.)
This happened when I was about twelve years old. My parents stopped going to church and told me that I could decide if I wanted to keep attending or stop as well. I decided that since one’s belief in a higher power is one of the most important and personal decisions one can make, one should make that decision for themselves – not just believe what their parents told them to believe. So, I decided to leave the church and explore other religions and spiritual philosophies. I told myself that if I discovered that Mormonism was my truth, then I would re-embrace it as my own. As my mom says, “Resolve to be thyself. She who finds herself loses her misery.” (paraphrasing Matthew Arnold.)
For the next fifteen years, I identified with agnosticism. Then in 1992 I discovered Buddhism and meditation, but I only explored it as one would take a semester course, without truly abandoning my agnosticism. Then, around the time of my 28th birthday, I was feeling that agnosticism wasn’t truly serving me. I was sitting on a fence, not committing to anything. And I thought, well, I’ve spent some time on the side of Christianity and Monotheism, perhaps I should spend some time on the other side of the fence and embrace atheism. As a like-minded colleague told me, “Life isn’t a dress rehearsal, so carpe diem!” Atheism served me well. I quit my studio accounting job and packed my bags for New York City.
Comfortable with my atheist label, I explored spiritual thought with an intellectual curiosity and non-attachment. During this time, I read many amazing books, but two in particular stood out: Riane Eisler’s, “The Chalice and the Blade” and Patricia Lynn Reilly’s “A God That Looks Like Me”. Reilly wrote of her own experience growing up Christian with a male God and how empowering it is for women to imagine the divine in their image and likeness, design their own spirituality and allow it to inform their daily life.
During this period of spiritual study, I also discovered yoga. As my yoga practice developed, yoga became my religion. I loved how calm, present and centered I felt after class. In the yoga classes of the late 90s there wasn’t often time for meditation once we finished our surya namaskar A or B. I began to want more of the meditation. (insert link for “What is meditation” Weekend retreats at Kripalu and books and CDs by Jon Kabat-Zinn, among many others, followed.
My life was working on so many levels: I met my husband, got my MBA, launched the Tribeca Film Festival. (I often credit Charlotte Kasl’s “If the Buddha Dated” as a catalyst for my marriage.) There was, however, a hole that Mormonism left – my need to connect with the divine, a higher power. While I was feeling this hole my friend invited me to her 12-step program. The third step of “Surrender” really struck me like a thunder-bolt: “Turn your will and your life over to the care of God as you understand God.” Wow – what a great discovery – I did not have to be in control – in fact I wasn’t in control. What a concept! What a relief.
Soon thereafter my husband and I spent our honeymoon in China and Vietnam. We visited Thich Nacht Hahn’s monastery in Hue and woke at 5 am to spend several hours meditating with the monks. In the adjacent bookstore, I asked one of the monks what Buddha thought of being born female instead of male. Was one better than the other? Did it have to do with karma? He said that I was welcome to visit the monastery for the female nuns, which I did. There were very few Buddhist nuns and their grounds and home were much more modest than the monastery I had just left.
Once I became pregnant with my daughter, the need to re-establish my connection with a higher power grew more pressing. I tried keeping up my yoga practice well into my fifth month, but I strained my back while in warrior one. A friend recommended Kundalini Yoga and specifically prenatal classes with Gurmukh who had just released her book, “Bountiful, Beautiful, Blissful.” What a blessing to discover her at that amazing time of my life! She taught us to celebrate our feminine power and the mystical, similar to Deborah Anderson’s artistic celebration of the Feminine.
Many years later, I decided to take my yoga practice to a higher level and enrolled in Kundalini teacher training with Gurmukh. During the immersion, my husband had made friends with a Coptic priest and attended a weekend retreat with the desert fathers. I was disappointed that he wasn’t interested in learning more about Kundalini or Sikhism and expressed that disappointment to one of my teachers. But she said, “Well if he becomes a Coptic, may he be a good one.” I had never experienced someone letting go of “having to be in the right religion” and totally encouraging of someone embracing another religion. After that experience I studied more writings of the Founder of Kundalini Yoga, Yogi Bhajan, who taught that all the world’s religions are similar at their core.
With that sentiment, here is one of my favorite films, featuring Jews and Muslims in the West Bank.
Yogi Bhajan taught that God does not have a gender. He said, “If God is male, then he must be in the post office.” God stands for the generating principle, the organizing principle and the destroying principle. Now I can believe in those principles! I am happy that I have found something that works for me: A daily practice, a belief in a higher power and a broadness in spiritual teachings that has room for a god that could look like me or Octavia Spencer or Graham Greene, (referencing “The Shack” here – a must see movie!)
For too long, oh, give or take a couple thousand years, we have honored the masculine at the expense of the feminine and allowed our religions, our spirituality, and our relationship to God to be defined by men. Isn’t it time for a change?
But the big take-away here is that whatever religion you belong to, however you define yourself, be a good one. Conscious Good believes that we all need to be the change we wish to see in the world. Referencing a sign I saw outside of a church recently, “People of all faiths are welcome here, even those with no faith.”
Trina Wyatt is the Founder and CEO of Conscious Good and currently serves as an Evolutionary Leader.
*Conscious Good’s Movie of the Month Program features one amazing film available on a pay per view basis for thirty-days. Half of all proceeds for “A Thousand Mothers” will go to support Buddhist nuns in Myanmar.
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