“Don’t mistake the finger pointing to the moon for the moon.”- Zen teaching
If you would have told me, say, 12 years ago, that today I would be helping people with spirituality, that staunch atheist, hopped up on a cocktail of antidepressants, would have spit out her vodka tonic, laughed hysterically, and then promptly descend into an existential malaise. That occasionally suicidal, often anxious, mostly self-loathing woman could barely imagine a life without the nagging feeling of hopelessness, let alone helping anyone with anything ever.
Acting was my thing. That was it. A way to channel my fucked-up-edness.
But looking back now, no wonder I kept stopping. No wonder I’d throw myself into my acting, only to put the brakes on a few years in. I’d rev up again and launch myself into the fore once more, only to…eventually…stop again.
Yet when I first found acting and singing and performing in my teens, I was on a non-stop bullet train to finding the next stage, and the next, and the next.
That train took me right into a college for the arts, where I enunciated and analyzed scripts and modulated my emotions and my voice and my body and spoke in iambic pentameter and crawled on the floor pretending to be a lion and yelled out tongue twisters and improvised and rehearsed and dated fellow actors. I was doing everything prescribed for a career as an actor!
Then graduation hit. We were released from the nest. Or rather, the womb. All of us bright, shiny actors set forth into the world. And we were going to change the world with our art! Express ourselves! Make a difference with our talent and our multiple Oscars!
But right after our shifts at the coffeehouse. Or the restaurant. Or the bar. Or the dog-walking job. Or the temp shift. Art and expression became commerce.
Fear stopped me. Doubt. Difficulties. None of this is new to a young, promising artist. Yet it stopped me.
But something else was operating within. Something other than self-sabotage, wounding, and insecurity. Something that was veiled, obscured, yet to be realized, and very much making itself known over and over again. A force – a wisdom, if you will – that whispered:
“Getting what you think you want won’t give you what you truly long for.”
I somehow knew this. And so I wasn’t fully committed.
Yet I could commit while on stage, and in front of the camera. So present, so “in the moment”, as they say, while performing. Whenever I would step on set or on stage and begin performing, my whole body would sigh and say “Yes — this is home”. I’d go deep into absorption with the role I was playing and the unified connection with the other actors, and that was my home.
But what was that “home” feeling? I knew I had felt it before.
I felt at home when I first began singing in my room around age 13, connecting with Barbra Streisand and Judy Garland as I belted out torch songs loud enough and sassy enough to make any gay man proud.
Performing was less about “look at me!” and more about dissolving “me” into the creative expression: into the character I played, the song I sang; being one with the mysterious inner force that sought release.
So back then, there was that “home” feeling. But I knew that prior to this I had felt it.
Because before that, at age 9, home was staring at the bunk bed above me, focusing on a knot of wood, as well as my breathing, until I disappeared into a bank of white clouds. Peace, equanimity. I’d emerge wondering where “I” had gone. It was a state unlike my ordinary daily life, and my way there was though my breath, through unwavering concentration, like a Tibetan monk.
And home was tasted even before that, at age 4 and 5, not within the four walls of my family’s dysfunctional dwelling on Revelstoke Way, but on the playground at school. I’d stand on the wood chips amongst the swing sets and slides, and with eyes open, gaze at the space in front of me until I was the space. Vast, tranquil, nothingness and everything-ness; it was all around me and I was it. Aaaah. Home.
Kids stared. Teachers wondered if I was a little weird. And the playground meditation sessions didn’t last long, as I learned that not every kid was doing this by the monkey bars.
But I’d sneak off at recess, tap into a place of joy and freedom and expansion, and return to the classroom, only to get smaller and smaller until I fit in again.
I was always looking for a way to fit in, to belong. My whole life I became an accordion, expanding and contracting to please. And so the home I truly sought got further and further away.
It wasn’t until I was on my first meditation retreat that I met up with home again. A reason-less, circumstance-less joy began welling in my chest, and I actually heard the words echoing within: “Welcome home”.
And I finally understood what it was always pointing toward. Divine nature. True nature. Pure consciousness. The Self. What we all are and what we are seeking to return to.
And I instantly saw that it was never about the singing or the performing or even the meditation. None of these things. I’d stop and start all the things I loved because I knew the thing wasn’t the whole enchilada. I had been seeking more and it had been way too much pressure to put on one’s creative expression. It was what the thing pointed toward that was the whole glorious enchilada. It was always about coming home. And these things were simply the doorways in.
I’m home now. The years that followed this connect-the-dots moment would hold glimpses, insights, and realizations that set me free and brought me home to what I truly am, abiding there.
Look, I didn’t sign up for this. I’m just as surprised as you are. I mean, I just wanted to meditate a little and sleep better at night. But I’ve got to say, that Buddha guy was onto something.
So what’s your thing? What are your doorways in? They’re waiting for you.
Because you see, it’s not really the prayer, or the mantra, or the marathon run, or the dance, or the knitting, or the incense on the altar, or the words on the page. It’s not the partner with whom you have amazing, spiritually mind-blowing sex that fills you with a moment of oneness.
It’s the vast Oneness itself, revealing itself to you, over and over, waiting for you, patiently, like a faithful, quietly confident and committed lover, if only you will see it.
“We’re all just walking each other home…” – Ram Dass