Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Spiritual Support

Where does the seriously chemically-sensitive spiritual seeker turn in a religious landscape chock-a-block with incense worshippers? Whether you used to be a Chanel No. 5 Episcopalian or in with the patchouli oil pagans, you may now find yourself driven into the desert for 40 days and 40 nights. This may be good for the sinuses as well as the soul; however, I've been trying to come up with some other options.

I used to make my spiritual home at Spirit Rock Meditation Center, which offers meditation classes and retreats "in the Buddhist tradition." It's not a venue that works for me anymore, but I don't think accommodation of the environmentally ill gets much better at the institutional level. The center doesn't burn incense (although I was recently shocked to see--actually smell--it being sold at the bookstore). A well-publicized, if unexplicated, policy requests that people voluntarily refrain from using fragranced personal products. Most impressively, one dormitory was built with minimally-toxic materials, including wood floors instead of carpets. Fragrance-free products stock its showers.

Despite these measures, I have been unable to sit inside the meditation hall on my last visits, as scents continue to abound. Instead I have taken a chair outside, by a bank of windows, listening to the teachers by broadcast on a device designed for the hard of hearing. This is a workable arrangement in the summer, but this past year a good bit of California went up in flames and smoke was still swirling while I was on retreat. So, a mask had to compete for space on my head with a hat, a pair of glasses and the earpiece for the listening device. Folks, I'm not that devout.

As a first attempt at an alternative I've tried to form a fragrance-free meditation group. We've been a community of two for the better part of a year. The other member has been a blessing in my life, but still it's a little lonely. Lately, a few more souls have come out of the woodwork. This week a dear heart asked if she could join me for a retreat day in my apartment.

I've been thinking of organizing a weekly conference call for Buddhist study. This after being inspired by phone meetings of a new group, Chronic Illness and Disability Anonymous, which adapts the Alcoholics Anonymous program (in the Judeo-Christian tradition). "But how does that fit?" you might ask. I understand the goal to be the cessation of suffering--in a Buddhist formulation--despite illness and disability. And I say if physical healing flows from spiritual healing, I'll take it. To check it out call in either Sunday at 7:00 pm (EST) or 3:30 pm (EST). The conference call number is (702)851-4044 and the access code you'll be prompted to enter is 2432#.

Initially, there is the solace and inspiration to be discovered in literature. I've been finding Rilke good for redefining a life you might consider lost by conventional standards as prime ground for spiritual development. Hey, look at things a little differently and failure becomes a lucky escape from stultifying middle-class comfort. From "The Man Watching" ("Der Schauende") as translated by Robert Bly:

. . . What we choose to fight is so tiny!
What fights with us is so great!
If only we would let ourselves be dominated
as things do by some immense storm,
we would become strong too, and not need names.

When we win it's with small things,
and the triumph makes us small.
What is extraordinary and eternal
does not want to be bent by us . . .

The poem ends with the suggestion that one grows

. . . by being defeated, decisively,
by constantly greater beings.


Susie Collins said...

Your blog is looking really nice! Your resource list is great, I might snitch some links for The Canary Report. Plums. Thanks for listing Canary. Your favorite MCS book is $92! Used at $50. I'll have to save up.

I had to give up visiting my favorite Buddhist temple for teachings and retreats. The folks there were so nice and let me sleep in a separate one-room structure with bed and table and all screened in. But eventually I couldn't take the incense and mosquito punk. :-( Sad. I saw the Dalai Lama there and have had many teachings there, too.

I hope you can find a few more peeps to join you for meditation.

I love Rilke. Rumi, too, has saved my life on more than one occasion.

Be well.


VardoForTwo said...

I am so happy to see your newest post, and not surprised at all that I am commenting after Susie Collins.

Spiritual support means everything to me. MCS has been my greatest challenge, and just as the poem you site suggests this challenge has leveled me, flattened me and then I am so much more than I could have imagined.

Books and 12-Step (in person) groups were my major source of community for decades ... together they have been my support all my adult life. MCS life today puts print of any kind out of reach for me, and my 12-step programs have become one on one (HP and ME).

I have not used the phone support group option, yet. Your decision may inspire me to try it. Thanks so much for your blog, community is spelled so many different ways.


Anna's Spot said...

Hi, I just found your blog today. I feel like I am following Susie around :) I am really not trying to but I felt like really taken a look out there for people with MCS. I really like your blog and your links too.
Have a beautiful evening.

Ruth R. said...

I appreciate your dilemma....I've been trying to visit my old church that I grew up in years ago...and had done pretty well with it. The new building is another story...it is obviously off gassing from all the new carpeting and wood. This past sunday I had to leave due to the woman in front of me, hair products and perfumes. I called the minister this week and told him...he hates strong perfumes, too and offered to bring it up at the next board meeting...perhaps put an announcement in the bulletin to tone down the frags.
It's a start, anyway. I have a strong spiritual practice without being in the building...but I do enjoy sharing the time with my sisters who attend there...it is the closest family time I have with them. This is a problem that is being faced by all the MCSers in the world....regrettably.
Thanks for bringing up this topic of spiritual practice and best to you with your blog!