I just realized last night that it’s been ten years now since I first picked up the book that would change my life. No, not the Bible. It was Neale Donald Walsch’s “Conversations With God.” I cringe now with embarrassment, but that time I first read it it really changed my life. It’s true – and I say this with conviction despite my wincing at my use of such a clichéd phrase.
You have to understand that I was a Roman Catholic – born, baptized and confirmed. I didn’t drink the Kool-Aid, I’d been swimming in it ever since I was born. I believed in God. I went to Church. I took Communion, made the Sign of the Cross as I said my prayers, went to confession. I didn’t exactly agree with the Church’s stance on sex, but so what? I admired Pope John Paul II and envied those who were able to see him in person when he last visited the Philippines – so what if I disagreed with him on some things? He was still the Pope. I had zero knowledge of other religions. I’d never heard of the term atheist.
The previous year I had read John Shelby Spong’s “Why Christianity Must Change Or Die”, but somehow it didn’t move me that much (though I found the idea of God being a “Ground of All Being” fascinating). CWG, on the other hand, just blew me away.
Why? Because the idea that “God is so big you can’t miss” was entirely new to me. So was the idea that an unconditionally loving God would never send me to Hell or get pissed off and punish me, or the idea that no church or religion had a monopoly on God. Of course I’d learned about other religions in Social Studies – but in a Jesuit-run school in a predominantly Christian country, they just had no real relevance to me. And I couldn’t grasp the idea of such godless religions like Buddhism and Taoism. And nobody ever mentioned atheism, not so much because it was a taboo word, as it was because it was just unheard of. But I digress. The point is, prior to reading CWG, there was so much I didn’t know about other religions. As far as I was concerned, religion = Christianity. Islam? Well, they were welcome to believe what they wanted. But Christianity was the best. I mean come on! Who died on the cross for the Muslims’ sins? Nope, not Jesus. We got dibs on him.
I say all this to illustrate just how much of a surprise it was for me. All of a sudden, everything I knew to be true seemed to be standing on a foundation of sand instead of rock. And I was happy and excited. For the first time I felt free.
I eagerly devoured the second and third books of the CWG trilogy, and I didn’t stop there. Within a year I dove head first into New Age, the occult, yoga and meditation. Looking back now, I think I was lucky that I didn’t find myself in a cult. Because I just kept searching and searching for God everywhere. I still went to Mass, but it was no longer the same. My view was, what’s the point of going to Mass in a stone building when God is EVERYWHERE? I’d had enough of meeting (or I should say not meeting) God in church. I wanted to meet God everywhere else.
The first meditation group I attended was the local Brahma Kumaris. My teacher was a woman who would later become my first Aikido instructor. I attended a few sessions where I would sit for several minutes staring at a painting on a wall and listening to a guided meditation tape. I learned a little about the ideas of Brahma Kumaris: about positive thinking, chakras (of which the most important was the one on the forehead), the different types of yoga, and other stuff that I can no longer remember clearly. I stopped going after a few sessions. Why? Because I learned something very important: meditation is tough. Not to mention boring for the most part.
My search for the spiritual waxed and waned. And it mimicked the search of the hippies of the 60’s: a mix of yoga, pseudo-science, “Eastern” mysticism, incense, and um…. er… “medication.” We didn’t have LSD here in Davao (which is probably just as well), but we had weed. Lots and lots of weed. So my search for the spiritual high quickly became the search for the next herbal high. The irony here is that around that time, my friends and I had formed a weekly Bible study group. Every Saturday we’d meet at our friend’s house where his mom’s friend would lead the Bible study session. Afterwards, we’d have dinner. Then we’d either stay there after the group leader left or we’d leave for my house. And we’d get high. And drunk. So first we’d get spiritual. Then we’d get psychedelic. For a while, that was my world. From being a vast and mostly unexplored landscape of possibility, it became reduced to a cloud of sweet-smelling smoke.
Within a few years I made some unskillful choices and a lot of stuff happened that I don’t care to go into detail here. Suffice it to say that by the second half of 2004 I was angry, depressed, lonely and weed-less.
Without the ability to get high, I turned once again to the spiritual search. This time, my search took me to paganism and Wicca. I learned about Aleister Crowley, the Wiccan Rede, pentagrams, athames, the significance and difference between deosil and widdershins, how to cast a circle, how to call the corners, etc. Over time however, my interest waned. I felt that I was just substituting one god/dess for another, one religion for another. I didn’t really believe in that stuff. I WANTED to believe, but there’s a difference between wanting to believe and believing.
Eventually my search led me to two godless paths: Taoism and Buddhism. I initially identified more with Taoism. But eventually I began to be more and more drawn towards Buddhism. Something about the Middle Path resonated with me. Maybe it was the moral code that was both strict and yet liberating, or the attitude that this life mattered – that it wasn’t about trying to escape life but living it and thus finding freedom from the very stuff that imprisoned me – or maybe it was both and more. Whatever it was, it hooked me.
And so towards the end of the decade I became a Buddhist. And I eventually and a bit grudgingly admitted to myself that I just could not believe in God anymore. Not only that, but that I couldn’t care less about life after death. It’s not that I’m no longer afraid of dying. It’s just that I no longer see any point in wondering about what happens after I die. Because so long as I’m alive what matters is that I truly live this life. That instead of living my life now as a dubious investment in a future life, I just live.
So is that it? Is that the end? No. The end of my search for a path, perhaps. Certainly the end of running around looking for the next high, the next escape – be it spiritual, chemical, or any other kind. I’m done with looking outside myself. I’m also done with looking inside. I don’t have to look anywhere. I don’t have to go anywhere. I just have to live my life. That’s all. That is my practice. That is my path. After ten years of wandering, I’ve begun to walk the first few steps of my path.