There were no big “Aha’s” during the recent retreat though I was certainly open for one to come along. I had gone with one intention: to connect more deeply. If that happened, I would get what I came for. In the back of my mind, of course, there were other desires: to learn the nature of my Higher Power, to have a tangible connection with whoever or whatever that is. To learn if my life direction needs to shift. To understand myself better. To have all manner of things made clear and definite. Forever and ever. Amen.
When I first got sober, I let the AA group and its program be my Higher Power for a long time. What we could do together, I could not do alone: stay sober and change my life. Then I began to explore Buddhism, and its wonderful moral and ethical teachings seemed a good fit for my values and beliefs as I moved into long-term sobriety and a more conscious spirituality. And it still does.
Both Thich Nhat Hanh and the Dalai Lama have urged Westerners like me to return to the religions of our upbringing, but Christianity as an institution is not for me. I saw that very clearly in the Catholic services at the retreat and at the Presbyterian memorial service I attended last week in the church of my adolescence.
Yet I cannot seem to make a full-on commitment to Buddhism or, rather, to a Buddhist community or teacher, one of the essential principles. (I started to write “hard as I’ve tried” but the truth is I haven’t tried that hard.) I do meditate, and I belonged to a sangha for a while but it was rather conveniently far away and I stopped going when the weather got bad or I was out of town. The truth is AA seems a sufficient community for me to belong to. I support it with time and money. I offer my services freely. I believe in it. I do not seem to need another church.
At the same time, I need—and want—a Higher Power beyond the group. Buddhism’s idea of the Universal Mind, the Great Whatever, is too vague for me, too impersonal, while Christianity’s God the Father in his wrath and judgment and focus on sin does not speak to me. I am looking for a Mother/Father God, an androgynous god, an entwined spirit of loving kindness and gentle strength. I want to be part of that, now and when I die. And while I did not find it while I was on retreat, my longing for it became clear.