I also know, in my capacity as a therapist, a Buddhist and a human being, that these steps do not exist.
Or rather, they do, but they are not so easy.
- Take refuge in something bigger than yourself.
- Be curious about yourself, others and the world.
- Love everything that you find.
Then repeat six million times, and you’ll be on the way to happiness (I’m afraid I can’t guarantee the wealth or fame bits, but they will matter less and less as time goes on – trust me).
This first step, taking refuge, has only recently become important to me.
I grew up as a proud atheist, although I always liked the ideas behind Buddhist philosophies. I started noticing quotes on the internet by Pema Chödrön, which seemed to make a great deal of sense. I discovered she was a Buddhist nun.
Soon afterwards, a spiritually-advanced friend suggested I read Suzuki Shunryu’s ‘Beginner’s Mind’. I identified as a Zen Buddhist for a number of years, loving the minimalist aesthetic and the simplicity of the practice, but I never felt quite at home. I was very grateful to find this home in Pureland Buddhism a few years ago.
Pureland Buddhism emphases the importance of faith. I began to experiment with acting as if everything was going to be alright (even the stuff that isn’t alright). It’s a difficult thing to explain. But as time went on, it began to work for me. I started feeling more settled, and less disturbed by the usual ups and downs in life.
For Pureland Buddhists, this faith involves having a relationship with Amida Buddha. It’s a bit like being in relationship with an infinitely patient, infinitely wise, infinitely loving husband. Of course, my actual husband is like this too (!). But in this relationship with Amida Buddha (even if I’m not quite sure how I conceptualise Amida Buddha) these qualities begin to rub off on me. I’m inspired to be the best I can be. And I also feel completely accepted as a fallible human being.
This faith holds me, and enables me to be curious about myself, others and the world. I’m always finding out things I don’t want to know. But held by my faith in Buddha, and in the Dharma (Buddhist teachings), and in my Sangha (my community of Pureland Buddhists), I can just about manage to see these things clearly. I can allow myself to feel lovable, exactly as I am. Warts and all. I have many, many warts, and my guess is that you do too.
Feeling loveable just as I am enables me to love these warty parts of myself, and others, and the world. When I can love this ugly, difficult stuff (and of course I don’t always manage it as I’m not a Buddha, quite yet), then all is well with my world.
I don’t think you have to be a Pureland Buddhist to experience this faith. You could be an Episcopalian, or a Sufi. You might not have a religious faith at all, but a faith in humanity or in nature.
The trick is to allow yourself to gradually lean into this ‘thing’ that is bigger than you, and that knows better than you. To trust it, even when it seems like everything is going wrong. To continue moving forwards, even though it’s too dark to see your hands in front of you.
If you’re all out of faith, you can borrow some of mine.
Just keep following the steps. One, two, three. Infinitely difficult. And also, as simple as pie.