We asked two questions recently: what motivated you to follow a spiritual life? And how do you measure the benefits of practice? Here, Celia Bryan responds:
What motivated me to follow a spiritual life?
My mother….and Joanna Lumley. My mother has been my greatest inspiration and motivation…..because I don’t want to be like her. And in one of my most angry, cruel moments I told her so. She is a deeply troubled person and the suffering she has caused my father and her offspring is immeasurable. Realising that I have ‘inherited’ many aspects of her personality I determined that I am not going to be the same. If, god-willing, I live to a ripe old age, I do not want the story of my life to be the same as hers. I want to overcome the emotional and behavioural patterns that can cause so much damage. Various ‘therapies’ did not do the trick, so I found myself looking for other ‘solutions’.
I was brought up within an Anglican heritage; my maternal grandfather was a vicar and I had an uncle on my father’s side who was also a vicar. However, my parents gave up on Christianity in my middle childhood, and neither has any spiritual life that I can discern. As they approach the end of their lives (89 and 87 this year) I can see that there is something missing.
In 1997, I watched a TV programme made by Joanna Lumley called ‘Kingdom of the Thunder Dragon’ in which she retraced the steps of her grandparents who, in the 1930s, as British diplomats, trekked across the mountains of Bhutan to honour the King. At the end of the programme I turned to my husband and said “I’ve got to go there”. So we did, in October 2000.
The museum in Paro has a mind-boggling, gaudy display of Buddha’s in various guises, past, present and future. It’s enough to put one off Buddhism for life! But the monasteries were intriguing. In the capital, Thimpu, (which in 2000 had about 20 cars!) we spent some time exploring the only book shop and I came across a book called ‘The Good Heart: a Buddhist Perspective on the Teachings of Jesus’ by the Dalai Lama. I bought it and this was the start of a fifteen year (so far) journey of exploration.
I am a Psychologist (or rather used to be) by profession, and like many psychologists found that the discipline quite simply does not give all the ‘answers’. There is something missing. And it is this ‘something’ which motivates me. Well, so far so good.
How do I measure whether this practice is beneficial for me?
I don’t. It’s an act of faith. Am I changing? Yes. For the better? Yes. Would this be happening without this practice? I don’t know. But it’s a bit like having a torch in a dark tunnel. Or a map on a long journey. And more recently, I have been feeling the benefits of being part of a community. I certainly feel quite ‘hooked’. It’s an integral part of my life now. And if I don’t do time on the cushion, I feel that something is missing. And I read – almost every day. Contemplation is very important to me.
My husband says I’m nicer (even nicer?!) – less ‘edgy’. And I’ve come off anti-depressants. So that’s all good. But maybe that’s just being post menopause! My mother has reached the ‘twilight zone’. We are beginning to ‘lose’ her. If I live to 87, what will I be like? I have given a personal commitment not to behave in damaging ways, although I haven’t taken the Buddhist precepts (yet?). And that’s it – I can only do my best. But at least I’ve got off the starting block, whereas I don’t think my mother ever did. Which is sad. But maybe there are things inside her that I don’t see?
And Joanna Lumley? Not a spiritual role-model, but an otherwise, all-round Good Egg and if I look as good as her at age 70 I’ll be well pleased, Zen or no Zen.
Celia Bryan – Monmouthshire