I’ve been saying that I’m going offline in October. Now is the day to tell you what I’m doing.
I’m going to Nova Scotia to do a 10 month Buddhist monastic residency at Pema Chödrön’s abbey.
In other words, I’m going to temporarily ordain as a novice Buddhist nun, living, practicing, and studying in a small Buddhist monastic community in a very cold, windy, secluded, beautiful place.
I’ve been getting a lot of people asking me why. It makes sense -- it’s not exactly the norm to go off to a secluded place to devote one’s life to spiritual practice, at least in my social circles in the the US.
When we follow mainstream paths, we're not often questioned for our choices.
When we deviate, we are often questioned. And/or looked at with confusion. It can get tiring.
Even though I understand why people are asking and most don’t have any ill will, I have felt tired in the last few weeks, answering the question of "why" over and over again.
I’m sure you can relate to the feeling of tiredness of explaining yourself -- your identities, your values, your choices, and simply who you are. Especially when the person asking doesn't share underlying world views.
And, even though I’ve felt tired, I’ve also felt clear, grounded and supported.
How did I come to this decision that in some ways deviates so far from the norm in a relatively easeful way?
I’m clear within myself about this decision because I took my time getting here, it feels deeply aligned, and I’ve had support.
My life fell apart in the last year. To be real with you, in some ways I'm still resisting and grieving the loss of so much. I didn't want to leave my collective/home of the last six years in a trauma state. I didn't want my partner to break up with me. And, these things happened. And they created the space for me to ask myself what I really wanted and to follow my path in this way.
Following what Ani Pema Chödrön teaches in her book When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times, I tried to stay with the groundlessness that emerged.
Through the challenges, I stayed committed to staying open and listening, step by step, as many of my anchors fell away.
I have cried so much in the last year. Sometimes it feels like it will never stop. My heart has been broken. I've suffered. And, I've also found so much beauty in the cracks. In the rawness. In the vulnerability. In all of the ways I've received support from others. In the connection -- with myself and others.
So, emerging from the most tumultuous years of my life, I've chosen to make the leap into monastic life. Not because I'm particularly brave or strong -- quite the contrary -- I have felt humbled and brought to my knees in the last year.
I'm still grieving, and I'm also grateful.
I’m grateful because I have the opportunity to pursue a dream.
The question “why?”, particularly when coming from somebody who doesn’t understand or share values aligned with that dream, can sometimes weaken my connection from this truth.
In coach training with CTI, they trained us to not ask our clients why, because it can feel antagonistic and trigger doubt. (And I know some coach / personal development methodologies teach asking why as a way to continue to get deeper -- I think that is possible, and takes a strong container and trust.)
Instead of asking why, they suggested asking the question: "what's important about that to you?"
In other words, when doubt comes up, instead of feeding it, recenter in your values.
What's important about this decision to me?
Simply put, I long to practice the dharma in a more intensive and supported way. I long to put wakefulness, gentleness and kindness at the forefront of my mind and life. I long to further develop my capacities to skillfully contribute to this world.
I'm going to the abbey not because I'm a great meditator or Buddhist. I'm going precisely because I feel like I need the supportive community to really orient towards the path and practice as much as I'd like to.
I get totally caught in self-judgment (and have become increasingly aware of that habit in the last year) and dualistic thinking. So one of my main intentions in practice is to lean into more loving-kindness and spaciousness, which are some of the themes that Pema Chödrön specifically teaches about again and again.
I’m going because I want more support on my path. I want a community that aligns with my Buddhist orientation to support the flourishing of that aspect of myself.
We all need support and community. Especially when we live on the margins in one way or another, support and community is vital.
I’m so looking forward to being in a Buddhist community and container which will support me in integrating intellectual lessons into embodied practice.
Ultimately, my hope is that my practice will benefit others.
My grandfather jokes that I don’t just have a bleeding heart -- that I bleed from every pore of my body. In other words, I feel deeply, and am quite empathetic. I long to be of service to the world, and to help make it a more liberatory place for all beings. I really resonate with what Gampo Abbey shares about their residency:
“You come to a residency not to escape the world, but to open your heart to it.”
I want to learn how to more skillfully open my heart and be of service to the world. In some ways coming back to the “regular world” after the one-month meditation retreat I did in January I have felt like nothing has shifted in me, and in fact I feel even more caught in my suffering. At the same time, slowly but surely I am sensing what may have shifted, or at least glimmers of how to be in the world differently. I would like to deepen that ground of practice so that I can more skillfully be part of bringing about change that I believe is sorely needed in the world.
We need different support to nourish different parts of ourselves at different moments. For me, now is the moment for the path of awakening to take center stage.
What this means for Queer Body Love
I will be basically offline, and not working for pay after I get there. I will miss doing Queer Body Love work. There will of course still be the website and some of the resources that exist there, like the Queer Body Love Speaker Series, the SOFTEN meditation, and a new resources page that I've been working on.
Sending so much love to each and every one of you and your paths,