Thu Apr 19, 2012, 10:01 AM
GliderGuider (19,596 posts)
Memories of a Seeker
Last edited Tue Apr 24, 2012, 11:09 PM - Edit history (2)
I was recently struck by an article on Huffington Post about a young man named Andrew Bowen. He was thrown into a crisis of faith by the death of his unborn daughter, and took a novel approach to resolving his annoyance with God. He decided to spend a full year investigating one religion each month, from agnosticism (?) to Jainism. While I applaud his decision on one level, it still feels like a bit of a touristy thing to do - sort of, "If today is Tuesday, you folks must be Baptists." Andrew got something out of it (including a new career, apparently) but it seems to me that there must be more to the spiritual search than a year's worth of channel-surfing.
That story about Andrew sent me back 40 years to the days of my first marriage. In honour of Seekers everywhere and in honour of the Search itself, I'd like to tell the story of the remarkable woman I married. We weren't married very long - about six years or so - but she left an indelible impression that helped shape much of who I am today.
Her name was Janice, and that's her in the picture above. We were married in 1970 in true hippie style - at sundown on the summer solstice, on a prayer rug beneath a weeping willow on my parents' front lawn. She wore a white lace mini-dress, and I was resplendent in purple lace bell-bottoms. The spiritual content of the ceremony was properly ecumenical - Hindu, Buddhist, Islamic and Christian traditions were all represented, and of course the reading "On Marriage" from Kahlil Gibran's "The Prophet" was de rigeur.
My memories of Janice are not so much of a person, but rather of a force of nature. She was sort of an F5 tornado of a human being. She was utterly uncompromising in every aspect of her life, both good and bad. She was indifferent as to whether her path took her through the darkness or into the light. She lived as much out of her Shadow as out of her Buddha-nature, and gave equal tribute to both.
I'm still not completely sure why she agreed to marry me. I suppose meeting someone who was interested in "chaining myself to the tiger" as I put it, had certain novel possibilities. Hey, it was 1970 forgodsake. To mangle Socrates, we firmly believed that "The unlived life is not worth examining."
Anyway, back to the point. Throughout her life Janice was a seeker after deeper truth. To slake that thirst, she drank from a wide variety of spiritual wells. Over the 35 years of her adult life she explored the following streams, in approximate chronological order.
United Church of Canada: This was the religion of her parents. She left it at age 15 due to a dispute over her fervent support of a minister who was convicted of contributing to juvenile delinquency. She was much in favour of juvenile delinquency, but much less fond of authoritarian religious structures and the sort of people who buttress them.
Baha'i: She said these were the best "religious" people she met, overall. She found them to be kind, empathetic, socially conscious, activist, strong on real family and real community. She was all set to join, but there turned out to be three deal-breaking rules: 1) No drinking; 2) No drugs. 3) No sex before marriage... Oh well, on to the next.
Theosophy: Esoteric as hell, but very inclusive. In retrospect I think that Theosophy was the closest to her core attitude about the Search: look at everything, and find truth wherever it lives. Unfortunately, in staid little London, Ontario in the 1970s there wasn't much of a Theosophical community.
Unitarian: This was my contribution, my birth religion. She attended services (or more properly "panel discussions before coffee") for about a year. She ended up looking around at all these dried-out intellectuals, forever wedded to their thoughts about experience rather than experience itself, and asked perhaps a bit too loudly, "What's the fucking point???"
Zen Buddhism: Alan Watts was one of her main teachers. She was captivated by the innate, unresolvable paradoxes embodied in the ko'an, and venerated the man who brought this stream of non-dualism to popular Western culture.
Rajneesh: Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh (aka Osho), the Indian mystical tiger and spiritual renegade, was her other main influence. If she venerated Watts, she totally adored Rajneesh. She'd been a paraplegic from Multiple Sclerosis since before I met her, but if she'd been able to walk she would have run like the wind to The Ranch (or "Rajneeshpuram") in Oregon to become a neo-sanyassin. She was quite enthusiastic about Bhagwan's idea of enlightenment through orgasm.
In Watts and Osho she found the perfect combination to express her restless, paradoxical spiritual interests.
Quaker: This was her spiritual home for the last 5 years of her life. When she died - a quadriplegic, many years after we split up - her memorial was in the Quaker tradition of silence broken by quiet personal expressions. It was my first experience of a Quaker service, and I was deeply moved. It seemed she had found a resting point in her journey.
Along the way she dipped her toes into a lot of other streams: entheogens (though back then we just called it tripping); the writings of Seth, the grand-daddy of all the channeled reality-explicators; Wicca and shamanism; Sufi, Taoism - the whole nine yards.
None of her searching was about the rituals of religion, let alone about finding "comfort". It was all about discovering the ways people have found to express their personal relationship with things greater than themselves - with transcendent ideas, feelings and experiences - and finding out which of those expressions spoke to her personally.
She died of septicemia from bed-sores in 1996 at the age of 48, completely satisfied that she had wrung every last drop of juice she could out of her life. Her spiritual searching made her a richer, more vibrant, more alive person. Her Search was one essential facet of of the diamond of her being - like her bone-deep anarchism, her openness to all experience, the multiple sclerosis that defined her physical limits, her volcanic Tantric energy (to put it politely), her absolute refusal to compromise with anything or anyone she considered shit, and her overall lust for everything life had to offer.
If you get the impression that I'm still in awe of her 15 years after her death, you'd be right. What a fucking amazing woman.
Afterword: I first met my Twin Flame Kathleen shortly after I married Janice. The three of us were part of the same hippie/art circles and got to know each other quite well. Kath and I speculate that Janice may have taken on an incarnational duty, a "soul contract" agreed among the three of us before we came here. One of Janice's tasks seems to have been to keep Kathleen and me apart, not to let us rejoin prematurely so that the fruits of our union could ripen in their own time. I like to think of Janice now, smiling enigmatically at the miracle that has come into being with her help. This note is my tribute to that incomparable human being, and the part she continues to play in my life.
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