The rift between the Catholic Church and my family happened one Saturday afternoon, when my 8-year-old sister came home in tears from Sunday school, after having heard the priest describe to the class what hell and the devil were all about. My mother took matters into her own hands and, after yelling at the stunned prelate, things were never the same. Not that church was ever a staple in my family, more of a twice a year affair, Christmas and Easter, with some social occasions in between. But as far as I was concerned, the “devil incident” gave me a permanent pass to stay away from anything Catholic.
At college I came into contact with a group of budding Buddhists who practiced a branch of Japanese Buddhism with very practical applications. At my first indoctrinating session I was given a booklet of prayers in Japanese – with a legend on how to pronounce them – and was told that if I prayed hard and often enough, all my material desires would be satisfied, putting me then on a plane to seek spiritual fulfillment. On hindsight, it was no doubt a ploy to catch gullible and young minds but it was all the rage at the time – even Tina Turner was a devotee! – and reaching tangible results without having to wait for kingdom come seemed a reasonable assumption. I could start working on the guy I fancied and take it from there. None of my wishes were ever fulfilled though – when the leader of the gang took to calling me at home whenever I missed a meeting, I felt like being stalked and made myself even more scarce. Thank god caller id has since been invented…at the time my mother would just hand me the phone and proclaim that a young man was on the line for me, setting me up for many a disappointment.
Hinduism was somehow next on the list of spiritual explorations, mainly because I found a religion with multi-limbed goddesses, elephant headed gods and monkeys whose legs can stretch between continents irresistible. Whomever had such a wild and colorful imagination demanded my respect if not my life long devotion.
My spiritual life took a long holiday after that – rock and roll was no milieu for anything spiritual and neither was single life. I had an immense amount of fun totally guilt free. It wasn’t until I moved to Los Angeles, in the land of the kooks as New Yorkers think of Angelenos – that the well-being of my soul came a bit more into focus. Yoga provided the platform for a more in-depth exploration of Eastern philosophy which I found profoundly interesting – its theories of non attachment and separation between object and mind provide a multitude of practical tools with no particular benefit for the afterlife but useful to navigate this particular life.
I eventually came to embrace Judaism through marriage and, to this day, those are the festivities I celebrate, honor and find more meaningful. But I still haven’t devoted myself, heart and soul, to a single faith. Today I attended a fundraiser for an Indian Guru – such happenings are commonplace in the land of the kooks – and I felt a certain envy for the throngs of men and women moving around the room with a blissful look on their faces, their stories of repeated visits to the Guru’s ashram and how the experience changed their lives. I am not a New Yorker so I wouldn’t presume to make fun of their beliefs – on the contrary, I wish I could commit so wholeheartedly. Instead, I have to reconcile my skepticism with the self-taught moral compass that guides my life. Sometimes I borrow rules here and there but, by and large, my spiritual life has been made up of all the experiences and the teachings that various religions and philosophies I came across left me with.
I prefer reincarnation over eternal damnation or endless paradise but who really knows? In the end, what matters is going to sleep knowing we have done right by ourselves and others. And when we know we haven’t, vowing to get up in the morning and trying harder.