Exploring a personal, eclectic path by looking at the intersection of three great traditions.
I’ve always wanted to be consistent. Walk one path with loyal dedication. But it was not to be.
Born with a perverse need to be both sceptical and spiritual, I have a checkered religious history. I’ve been a Jehovah Witness, Anglican altar girl, and agnostic (a few times). Twenty years ago though, I found Paganism. Instead of dogma and moralizing, it offered me a celebration of life and a treasure trove of symbols and traditions to explore.
In my darkest hours however, I was still plagued by a nostalgia for something I’d never really had. This was a deeper consolation of the kind promised by more mainstream faiths. I secretly longed to be saved, forgiven, healed, and taken care of completely. But I could never give in to “accepting a saviour”—even the soft-eyed Jesus I remembered from childhood—because that came at too high a price: obsession with sin and guilt, denial of the “the flesh”, and the requirement of literal belief.
So I got into yoga instead. This reliably raised energy that soothed and enlivened me, helping me see beyond fear and self-doubt. Of course so did a rousing Pagan ritual, but those came around less often than I liked. Yoga was something I could do every day to escape my psychic cage.
And then, when suffering arose that even yoga couldn’t cure, I stumbled onto “mindfulness”: a version of Buddhism. Paganism had been my escape from negativity into joyful affirmation. Yoga was my way of living that joy through raising bodily energy. Both had made me ready to face something it took mindfulness to really uncover. This was a bone-deep belief that there was something wrong with me, and that I would never be enough.
Through mindfulness, I learned not to fight or ignore this belief, but simply to observe it without judgment. The space and freedom this simple step afforded can’t be overstated. In mindfulness, there is nothing to achieve and nothing to evaluate—there is only the practice (over and over) of just being there, a witness and not a judge in one’s own life. In the absence of that imperative to judge, to correct and control, my soul could finally relax.
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
--Mary Oliver “Wild Geese”
It was from this place that my Paganism became less of an escape into ecstasy, and more of complete practice. Over time, mindfulness techniques gave me ways to have faith in my own worth. And so I could have a deeper, truer love for the world, for life, and for others. I came to believe in a healing compassion because I found it in myself—and it answered that old need for consolation, redemption. It was my own compassion that saved me, or rather, made me feel saved.
Being a Buddhist, being a Yogini, made me a better Pagan. And, in turn, being a Pagan has helped me connect with the earth-honouring strands in Buddhism and Yoga, practices can seem austere or even repressive without that emphasis.
I know there must be others out there walking an eclectic path, driven by needs both open and unacknowledged. As I continue to triangulate traditions, I hope to share some of what works for me.
Even the Buddha touched the earth. And, sometimes, even Pagans need to be saved.
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