Love and demons
A checkered past; a hopeful future?
A year ago, I stood on a rock high on Mt. Shasta and sobbed my way through the realization that being alone in the world actually means being all one. Never again, I thought, will fear of solitude be the driving force behind my relationships.
Of course, there’s the transcendent clarity of the epiphany, and then there’s the diligence required to live it.
Over my time as a “monkette,” I’ve gotten plenty of lessons about what I don’t want in a relationship. Now, I’m feeling the urge to merge. And who better than a group of Eastern and Western faith leaders to guide me through the finding-someone-to-merge-with process?
For the purposes of our roundtable discussion—because I love to see those pious collars sweat—I spiced up the clichéd question “How do I find The One?” with the tale of a sordid past (not mine, of course) and a conflicted present.
I’m a woman in my late 20s looking for a meaningful relationship. I’m through with the bar and club scene, ready to commit myself to a partner spiritually, physically and emotionally. The problem is, I have a checkered history: I worked as an exotic dancer for a few years and was addicted to drugs and alcohol. Now the men I find are one extreme or the other: straight-laced and judgmental of my past or guys who just want to party. How do I find the right person?
Having met his wife at age 15, Brian Baker of Trinity Episcopal Cathedral knows “more about the interior life than I know about how to meet someone.” He can trace his entire religious and vocational path to this early love. His wife always knew she wanted to go to West Point, so he went along with her and began attending non-Roman Catholic Christian church for the first time.
Since the cadets were in “perpetual existential crisis, coming together on Wednesday nights to sing and pray was like a sanctuary, an oasis,” said Baker.
Loving the ritual of Catholicism but desiring a more progressive theology, Baker landed in the Episcopal Church. He completed seminary and served as a priest in Hawaii, Idaho, and now “ready for something grittier than Camelot” downtown Sacramento. His congregation at Trinity Cathedral embraces people who, like the reformed wild child in question, haven’t always walked the straight and narrow.
“We have a very active NA and AA population,” Baker said. “And it’s a congregation that’s very welcome of sexual minorities—people who are gay and lesbian and transgendered. It’s not like people aren’t struggling with their addictions, but they can be a community in support of one another to stay sober and make good choices.”
Lama Yeshe Jinpa, a Buddhist teacher at the Universal Compassion Center and a licensed therapist, gave us the psychological lowdown.
“We generally attract the kind of person we are,” he said.
He also advises people to “look at what we have to offer in the relationship, instead of just making a list of what we need. When you look at your positive qualities, then you’re more likely to attract those qualities.”
Bud Locke, pastor at the community-oriented River Life Church, introduced another player to the table: Christ.
“In my tradition, it’s, ‘Who are you in Christ? Do you have the confidence that you’re forgiven, that your checkered past is over and you don’t carry along that guilt?’ And the next step is talking about what you mean by ‘right person.’”
Like Baker, Locke began dating his wife in high school. While attending a Mexico mission trip, the rebellious kid “witnessed the love of God at work” and realized this was how he wanted to live his life.
“I don’t want to downplay the social impact that a religious group or a community can have,” said Baker, “but I think we need to emphasize why you’re a part of that community in the first place. And the reason you would be a part of River Life is to connect with the triune God and who you are in Christ, not necessarily to find a mate—although that could be a benefit.”
Jinpa related to the issue of church and meditation centers as places to hook up. Even in a small “sangha” (community) of 30 members, he said he deals with lots of cloudy motivations.
“I don’t think being Buddhist guarantees any smoother relationship than others,” he said.
Raised in a “wonderful” Presbyterian church in New York, Jinpa developed an interest in Buddha Dharma as an extension of his faith interests. He was asked to teach in Sacramento in 1995 by his teacher, a lama who came out of Tibet in 1959. Jinpa’s current focus is to bring the Dalai Lama to Sacramento in 2009 and create what he tentatively titles the Dalai Lama Peace Center, a place for different religious groups to come together with food and music.
Michael Halfhill, a friend of Jinpa’s working to bring the Dalai Lama here, is a founding member of the Dalai Lama Foundation, a secular grassroots organization dedicated to bringing the Dalai Lama’s message of religious harmony and human values to the world. A world-traveling audio-visual artist, Halfhill is helping to develop a school curriculum based on nonviolence, compassion and conflict resolution.
When discussing relationships, Halfhill dropped some pearls of wisdom.
“People are like water,” he said. “We seek out our own level.
“In religious traditions, there tend to be tensions between different lifestyles, and sometimes as religious leaders we try to make them very homogenized,” said Jinpa. “Everything’s laid out. Well, I don’t think it’s that easy. So I try as a therapist and as a lama to not be judgmental about people’s ins and outs.
“I often will tell married couples that this relationship is their path to salvation,” said Baker. “And by that I mean this is going to be the hardest thing you do. Someone is committing to you to not run out of the room screaming when your stuff comes up, and that’s a real blessing. But, also, all of your demons are going to come up in this relationship, and you get to confront who you are in a way that you wouldn’t get a chance to if you don’t open your heart to someone.”
Toward the end of the discussion, Halfhill offered a nugget of truth that brought me right back up to the mountain, rejoicing in my awareness that what I’m really seeing, always, is my own reflection.
“Relationships are just a great roadmap to myself.”