Mar 05, 2012
Discovering the four noble truths
I was brought up in Essex in an orphanage run by Church of England Christians. Many of them had given up their lives in the material world, to work for the Lord, and looked after poor orphans. There, I learned several Christian truths, including the following three:
- There is a heaven, and if I am “good” I will end up there.
- There is a hell, and if I “mess up” I will end up there.
- I can repent, and the Lord will forgive me.
Reflecting on these three truths, coupled with praying to a God that never came to my rescue when I needed Him, initiated a spiritual crisis within me.
By the time I was 19, I had broken six of the ten commandments. I had killed insects, stolen, committed adultery, worked on the Sabbath, taken the name of the Lord in vain, dishonoured my parents by hating them, and had considered — for a fleeting moment — Hari Krishna to be a god. I had no idea how to repent, and I did not have the desire to repent, either.
I found myself in the Holy Land a year later, where I parted for once and for all with my childhood savior, Jesus Christ, in Bethlehem. I had hoped to receive a sign that I was on the right path. The bible was my savior during the time I lived with my biological mother between the age of 11 and 12 and half. I had grown up in foster homes and orphanages until the age of 11. Then came a new culture of thinking. Children should not grow up in institutions all their life, if they were babies they should be adopted out. If they were old like me and already living in an institutions social workers tried to track their parents down and place children back with their families.
Needless to say it was a disaster for many, I saw many leave with their single parent mother, and return in months. When my turn came I expected the same. My mother had been tempted with a two bedroom apartment. They would give her this if she took her daughter back. Of course she didn’t want to raise me, she had given her first two children away to grand parents in Africa, put me in an orphanage and the youngest was adopted.
How could she refuse such an offer? An immigrant from Africa living in awful accommodation for eleven years; she accepted. From day one I was abused, and am lucky to be alive to tell my story. I prayed every night to God to take me away from her awful place. I read the bible daily and found solace in the stories, while living a tormented and tortured life. Finally one day I believed God had answered my prayers. 18 months later I was met by the police and social workers at school, and removed, and she was taken to court. However God had come to late, I was already damaged. I had lost faith in humans.
I was angry. Why had Christ allowed so much suffering during my childhood? Surely, if he cared, he would have come to my rescue? Why hadn’t he come to the rescue of the people of Israel, Palestine?
I was disgusted with what I saw in Bethlehem. It was as if I was witnessing Jesus entering the temple courts, driving out all who were buying and selling there. I, too, wanted to overturn the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling candles and tack. I did not want a cross; I wanted Jesus’ love and compassion. Yet, I could not feel it. I returned home bereft, went off the rails for a while, and fell into spiritual drought.
Night clubbing, intoxicants and sex became my spiritual path. Through intoxicants I experienced states of being that transformed me momentarily, but blew holes in my brain. Through sex I experienced a surrender I was unable to do in any other part of my life, but that was because I was always under the influence of something. Dancing saved my life, I lived for night clubbing, it was through the freedom of dance without intoxicants that I experienced something greater than me, I glimpsed integration……..
The lesbian, black, and dance communities filled the void. I sought refuge in each of these communities, placing them at the centre of my life. I chose my friends and social life from this pool of people and activities, but still, there was something missing.
Feminism, Womanism, Leftism, Separatism, Pan-Africanism, and Afro-centrism clearly were not the answer. While aspects of the theories and lifestyle spoke to me, I still found myself alienated from my spirit. I had become emotionally impoverished as a black lesbian, because the world in which I grew up denied my existence. Black people weren’t queer, neither were we feminists or separatists, that was what white people did. It did not exist in African/Caribbean communities, that was the claim. And so I could not bring all of myself into black political organizations, through fear of being physically attacked. This was the early 80s Britain.
However neither the communities in which I found myself, nor the theories I studied, spoke to every part of who I was. The black lesbian community chastised me for having white lovers, because it was considered sleeping with the enemy. The black heterosexual community were in denial about homosexuality. The white feminist and lesbian communities often denied the black experience. We were even denied entrance to some night clubs because of our skin colour.
I knew I needed to heal, but I did not know how. I knew I needed something that could make sense of the life I was living, and why I was living it. Banishing people from my life because of their sexuality, gender, race, or class was not the answer. Separate spaces where I could be all black, all lesbian, or all woman helped me to heal some of my wounds, but I needed more. I wanted to go out into the world and be all of me at the same time.
I was fortunate to have friends who meditated with the Triratna Buddhist Order, formerly known as the Friends of the Western Buddhist Order. And within this sangha, or spiritual community, I found I could attend separate retreats for women or lesbians, and people of colour. I’m not sure I would have come across the four noble truths if I had not discovered the sangha. Unconsciously, I was an angry black lesbian woman, and I needed a safe space where I could take off some of my armour. These retreats for different aspects of me allowed me to heal, but I needed to integrate myself take of my armour full of labels and learn to trust.
When I first heard the four noble truths, tears came to my eyes. They resonated within me and presented me with the opportunity to work with my life differently. The truths and meditation also changed my life profoundly. They shook me awake. They were the most exciting things I had learned in all my years of education. The four noble truths turned everything around in my psyche. They made sense of my life. The truths taught me that I was interconnected with all beings, not much different from anyone else. I was no longer alone with my labels that I had become so attached to, that had become my fixed false self. I realized that although I had experienced my fare share of suffering from the reality of the conditions I was born into, I had also piled a whole lot more suffering into my life, from the choices I had made. The truths presented a freedom from that suffering. For the first time in my life, I could see a way out of my suffering. I could step onto the eight fold path.