I’m on the outside looking in when it comes to practicing any religious orthodoxy. I suppose I picked that up from my mother, who once told me—when I asked her why she didn’t come to church services on Sundays with my father, sister and me—that if she wanted to be in touch with her spiritual being she preferred to do it on her own.
One day I awoke to the truth that, on my own, I had no spiritual nourishment in my life. I started going to a local church, which had an appealing balance of eastern and western currents, and discovered that being part of a group resonated in ways that I hadn’t felt before.
Like many North Americans, I believe that when religious leaders claim to have a privileged hold on the truth and an exclusive pass into Paradise, it’s time to take a walk. At the same time, I’m grateful that there are teachers, trained in several traditions, who have worked hard—as practitioners and as teachers—so that their message resonates with the concerns of ordinary people living their daily lives. Now I drink from those wells of understanding and appreciate the care that it took to forge new ways of talking to people like me, living out here in our secular society.
It’s not a coincidence that my willingness to join with others in search of spiritual understanding and self-acceptance came first, before I was able to collaborate with others in my working life.
A few days ago, a memory came back of a weekend in the mid-1990’s when, together with Foster–with whom I co-founded Friends in Time to work with the neuromuscular diseases MS, and ALS—I participated in a Time, Space and Knowledge (TSK) retreat at Odiyan.
The TSK vision is the strongest form I have encountered in which the clarity of living with purpose, awareness and appreciation has been articulated in a form that speaks to our modern western world—where science is considered the pinnacle of knowledge and few of us are looking for a guru.
Several memories rise to the surface when I think of that TSK weekend. Foster’s ALS had by then confined him to a wheelchair and his speech was difficult to understand. Odiyan made the weekend wonderful for both of us, including when four strong people carried Foster in his wheelchair, several times a day, down a steep stairway with no railings into the subterranean level where our TSK classes were held. I think that Foster must have had a vivid experience of the openness of space as he sat in his chair moving through the air, far above the concrete floor below, with nothing but space all around him.
The highlight of that weekend, was when Tarthang Tulku (known as Rinpoche to his students) met with TSK students late that Sunday afternoon. He must have been interested in how Odiyan had managed to make the experience accessible to someone who was physically disabled. He also must have become intrigued with our relationship because he asked Foster and me a stream of questions. I imagine that most of them were addressed to Foster, but, as was frequently the case–at Odiyan as back in Albuquerque–when Foster answered, I would be the only one who could understand his slurred speech. I would then repeat what Foster had said and thereby be included in experiences that I could otherwise not have had.
That meeting gave me one of my most exciting experiences of how time can transform and open its doors to the unexpected. That feeling began during the meeting with Rinpoche because I knew that we were choosing to stay there in order to prolong our contact with him, even though it became less and less likely that we would make our scheduled flight back to Albuquerque.
When Foster and I finally left in our rented car, more than an hour past the scheduled end of the program, we had no ordinary way to make our flight. But I drove the rented car, which had a stick shift, down the winding mountain road as if it was an Astin Martin sports car. We got to the gate, with seconds to spare, at our flight’s scheduled departure time.
That the plane was delayed–so that we could have sauntered back to the city in no rush–doesn’t alter the fact that this experience remains my most intimate encounter with another kind of time.
I am indebted to the people living at Odiyan who have been teaching classes based on a recent book by Tarthang Tulku, Caring. It’s his most accessible attempt to reach our floundering society in order to help us heal ourselves as individuals and to better care for our world. These on-line classes gave me the support I needed in the past few years. I am grateful that the people who live and work at Odiyan are dedicated to helping people like me keep my head above water and my heart afloat in this troubled world.
Perhaps you feel a bit curious about this warm-hearted and accessible book?