This morning my dear friend, Heather texted a photo from a book she’s reading about the intersection of Buddhism and Christianity. In it, she found the term ‘dana’ which is the word for the Buddhist pillar of generosity. My imagination piqued, I did a bit more research: Dana is a Sanskrit and Pali term meaning “generosity” or “giving”. In Buddhism, it also refers to the practice of cultivating generosity. Ultimately, the practice culminates in one of the Perfections (paramitas): the Perfection of Giving (dana paramita). This is characterized by unattached and unconditional generosity, giving and letting go.
I love Heather for her gift of thoughtfulness. (I love her for more reasons than this, but they are too many to list here). She frequently sends little notes or texts or postcards when she encounters something that reminds her of me. She does this with all her friends, but knowing this makes it no less special when she does it for me. Every time she does, it’s nearly as good as a face-to-face hug. Nearly. Not quite, though.
Heather is also special to me because she and I stumble through this whole deconstruction thing together. We share questions and scars; we wondering pastor’s wives. Never quite fitting in anywhere, we lean on each other from time to time. It’s important to have people like this. They help you feel less alone.
Remember earlier this week, when I shared about a podcast that had me running and crying? Since listening to it, three other friends have brought it to my attention. ‘Have you listened? it sounds like you. That could be you.’ I felt this when I heard it, but it’s affirming to hear others say it as well. I hope to one day be as wise and generous as the woman who shared her story. She, too, helps me know I am not alone.
In the podcast, she speaks of looking forward rather than getting trapped by looking back (she even mentions Lot’s wife in her story.) She, like me, is a questioner, a closet mystic, a system skeptic. We share a kind of grief for the system we relied on which fell apart when we looked too closely. What was supposed to be secure and welcoming instead became a weapon used to beat us into submission. Conform or leave were our only choices.
So we left. We all three left.
I can only speak for myself about moving forward, but, until now, I haven’t done it very well. I’ve clung to how things should be, or how I should be. I’ve blamed and avoided and tried to make myself disappear. Moving forward seems so difficult when everything you’ve ever been told screams, run back to what you know!
Known equals safety. Unknown is dangerous; the slippery slope looms.
I stalled, stagnated, looked back. For too long. I hurt myself more than I’d already experienced and damaged those around me with my sharp edges and bitterness. I regret that now, but I cannot change it. The only thing to do is make amends and move forward, into the mystic as the song goes.
Which brings us back around to generosity, the dana paramita. One of the most amazing gifts of this hundred day journey is finding permission within myself to move ahead. Unlocking this generosity towards myself empowers me to release it to everyone, to release the institutions and people which have caused me such harm. Not only to let go and look forward, but to feel generous benevolence for who they are and what they do. Perhaps that path isn’t for me anymore, but it’s not a bad path. For many, it’s a path towards healing and belonging as it one time was for me. The time I spent there wasn’t wasted, only limited.
So now I move ahead. Because it’s okay. Because everything belongs. My path doesn’t depend on norms someone else designates. There’s room for all our paths in this vast and beautiful universe, “Sometimes the moment at which it appears to the system that you have most checked out, you actually might be checked in more than ever before.”
That’s me. Checked in. Letting go. Practicing dana for myself and everyone else (most of the time – I AM a work in progress). Maybe my companions have changed from who they used to be, but I am not alone.