Sunday was the best day! It all started with the Dharma talk at Still Point delivered by Faith Adiele (pronounced Ah dee eh lay) on her recently published memoir Meeting Faith: The Forest Journals of a Black Buddhist Nun.
Reading her book, I was never quite sure where anthropology ended and spirituality began. Faith is clear about the fact that she chose the path of ordination more to resurrect her academic career after a failed semester at Harvard than for any other reason. She mentions that she was raised Unitarian, and that religion was important in her upbringing mainly as cultural information.
It is simply amazing that she moved from being a person who had never meditated before in her life to being planted in the forest practicing in one of the most challenging traditions on the planet for up to fourteen hours a day. It was clear that she took her commitment seriously. She didn't leave or crumble under the pressure whereas other temple visitors did.
Listening to her speak on her life, her family, her work, and this time in her life was a gift and a joy. At the end of her talk we were provided with opportunities to ask questions. I don't know that it would be appropriate for me to transcribe and publish her talk in its entirety. As an alternative, I'm hoping it's okay to share my question and her thoughtful, inspiring response:
Chalip: Through reading your book I was really curious about what you carried from your experience in Thailand into your daily life. Do you still meditate? Are there any parts of the practices that you learned or that you did there that you're still doing? How has it informed who you are right now?
Faith: That again has been a journey as well... Sometimes I go in and out... When I first came back it was very painful for me to meditate because I just wasn't someone who had had a practice here and then had intensified it there... I only knew crazy overachieving multi-tasking American life and then total ordination in an intensive meditation retreat center and so when I came back I didn't know how to put the two together. I was very, very overwhelmed. The best I could do in sitting meditation in America was to maybe not kill my boss that week. That was it in terms of peacefulness. But I would be sad because I knew I could be going so much deeper doing all this other stuff [from] before so I looked for other things... yoga, art work... other things that kind of brought my implements in. I would say the biggest shift for me was how I did my political work. Whereas before I think there had been a sense of urgency and outrage and being wounded and doing it out of "I'm really in pain about the injustices in the world," and "This is why we need to do stuff," and "You're not as committed as I am, there's something wrong with you..." I was just going to burn myself out, so learning to shift and to do that sort of work out of love and out of trying to connect with people who were different from me, trying to find a way to be politically active that's sustaining and so that you are imagining a better world so you're not doing it out of despair but out of love, peace and joy... So that was easier to do, to return to politics but in a mindful way rather than have the focus be on spirituality. And then there was a time when I had to put my art first. Like, was I going to continue to run non-profits and try to write on the weekends, give up all my vacations, get up at 5:00 in the morning and try to write and always feel that I wasn't doing enough for the cause... Or could I trust myself enough to believe that through writing I could be contributing to the world and that that was my political and social mission. So at some point I had to put the writing first, the art first, and then learn how to do that in a mindful way... How can you find spirituality in your artistic work or in how you care for people. There was a a moment then when I had to go through my Rolodex and say "Who feeds me/who doesn't feed me," who do I really want to take care of. Because, as your friends get older they go through harder things with their parents. There was a time earlier this year when I was cooking for five people in my town because they had all lost parents... so I'm rushing home, making casserole... making casserole... driving around town... so you have to decide where you want to put your efforts. it's always ongoing trying to remind myself what I learned, that I do have power, and then where I want to put that energy. Since writing the book, the opportunities for sitting have come back. Again, because there are more people there's not just Tina Turner now there's a whole bunch of us... So I've been able to come back to that which is a really fantastic benefit from the book that I hadn't expected.
I loved this response for several reasons... Hearing Faith speak, you get the sense that her temporary ordination was just something she did a long time ago that was somewhat embarrassing and that she didn't talk about it for a long time. It seems that her current experience (writing the book, speaking about it) is very empowering... at least I hope it is.
I also loved what she said because really we all just need to know that wherever we are with our practice is okay. We might go off for a weekend retreat then find it hard to bring that practice back to our daily lives... But meditation is really only one way to practice... Being Buddhist is not just about sitting in lotus position contemplating breath, mantra, or mindfulness. We can give of ourselves and make a difference in so many ways. It's really true... It's all a matter of where we want to place our focus and where we want to put our energy.