The story I tell myself about my spiritual journey begins with my premature birth. I started my days on the physical plane in an incubator, separated from my mother, and did not have the opportunity to be held, cuddled, loved and bonded to the woman who had brought me to life.
In addition, she was disappointed in me – I was not at all what she expected. We definitely got off on the wrong footing, and by the time I was 3 I became the object of her anger and frustration with her life and with me. She yelled, she shouted, she criticized. With each angry interchange my heart pulled further and further within myself, and I became numb to the outside world. My dad saw what was happening, and did nothing. I felt like I was alone, floating in outer space, totally unprotected.
All I wanted was love and acceptance. When I was about 4, I used to sit in my Grandma’s lap and read Bible stories. I felt her gentleness and love, and the stories about Jesus also evoked love and safety in me. Those times were the most blissful of my childhood.
I began to search the world for love and acceptance. Since this was not easy to find, I began to look for what was wrong instead. “WHY?” became the word that dominated my life. I wanted to ask “Why don’t you love me?” and instead started to ask “Why is the universe the way it is?”
My search evolved towards science and astronomy. I would look out at the stars and sigh in bliss, sensing some infinite unknown power out there that would surely be able to answer “WHY?” Love became a disembodied feeling that I associated with the great unknown.
When I was about 7 my mother forced me to go to the Mormon Church. I hated it. It made me feel like I was weird and even more isolated than I already was from my peers at school. The Mormon Sunday School included having children stand up in front of adults and give short talks. To me this was a form of torture and humiliation and I did anything I could to avoid the experience.
When I turned about 13, I felt like a freak, and I was so lonely that I began to look to the people in the Mormon Church for companionship. The kids my age were more accepting there than the kids at school, so I began to participate more actively. The belief system came with the territory, so I bought it all without question in exchange for love. During this time, I felt great love for God and for Jesus, and wanted to live the lifestyle of the Mormon Church.
As I got more and more into science and logic in my high school years, more and more things about the church just didn’t sit right with me. The clincher was when I fell in love with Dan, and there were endless warnings and recriminations about marrying outside the church. How could a group that believed in the importance of love deny me a chance at what I had lost?
I left the church and married Dan. The missionaries came around from time to time to try to persuade me to go back to church but I never did. They did succeed in making me question my choices and feel guilty each time they came. With time, the visits became fewer and fewer and I felt a great sense of relief.
These were my agnostic years. I had no idea who or what God was, and I was so enmeshed in physics and marriage and raising a child that there was little time to question or even think about it. I sort of floated along on a sea of unknowing. I wasn’t willing to say there was no God, because I could sense the sacredness in nature and the great power inherent in natural forces. But a personal God who was harsh, judgmental, and denied me a chance at love? I didn’t think so.
All was well until I was about 40. At that point life had settled down and I had the time to think about where I was in life. In a sense I had everything I ever thought I wanted – a home, someone who loved me, a beautiful child, interesting work, great adventures. Still, I came face to face with a vast empty hole inside myself. I had no name for it, and asking “Why?” only made it deeper and more painful. I found myself in the middle of an existential crisis, and was so depressed that I wanted to die. At the same time, I read piles of self-help books and took courses and workshops, looking under every pebble and in every crack to figure out what was missing.
During this several year process, periodically I felt that there was some force or unknown power that was moving me in a certain direction that I did not yet recognize. It was the strangest experience – every now and then, something just clicked into place. I met the right person at the right time, or found a book that shed some light on something I was trying to understand. I was very curious about it, yet had no idea where it was headed. At this time, many of my colleagues in the counseling world were talking about spiritual teachers, and I thought it would be really cool if I had one. I began to affirm to myself that such a teacher was going to come into my life. I didn’t really think it would change the emptiness – just that it would be cool to be like everyone else.
Then I stumbled across a meditation class. I walked into the class and surprised myself by announcing to the teacher “I’m not looking for stress management, I’m looking for a spiritual path!” It all seemed pretty weird. We began chanting a mantra, and suddenly I felt the familiarity of the words and the melody. I had never heard them before, and yet they seemed as familiar as my own name. I experienced a peace and comfort in the words and closed my eyes into the experience of beautiful blue light. The emptiness seemed to go away for a time.
I saw a video of an Indian Guru and instantly fell in love with her. This was also a totally new experience, and initially I just thought it was really cool and I wanted more such novel experiences. I told Dan, “I don’t care if it’s true, it’s more interesting than any other way of looking at the universe.”