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My sister in law is a true hippie. We have this in common. In fact, we have a lot of common traits and coincidental life experiences. We are both six foot-tall dreadlocked, Texans who married brothers from New England. We spent our youth touring Europe, learning foreign languages and earning college degrees. We come from troubled and addicted backgrounds, but broke generational curses for our own children. To make our husbands’ choice in mates all the creepier, we decided to be born on the same day. But what makes us such good friends is our thirst to experience life to the fullest. I love an adventure and the more unusual or uncomfortable the situation, the more I want to partake. So when my sister in law asked me to accompany her to her Buddhist meditation, my response was “hell yeah!”
A Muslim walks into a Buddhist Temple…sounds like the beginning of a tasteless joke, but it was more like the awkward start to a beautiful experience. In keeping with my religious dictates, I covered my head with a scarf, but opted to tie it behind my head instead of the traditional style. Why? Because everything looks suspicious in Hijab. I am not ashamed of my religion, but I like to give others a chance to see me as a human before they start limiting their own experience of me.
My sister in law introduced me to Karen, the instructor who taught me the Buddhist way of meditation. Aside- there was nothing haram (forbidden for a Muslim) in this practice. She taught me the difference between breathing meditation and walking meditation, showed me the most comfortable way to sit on the cushions and answered any questions I had. Then I “came out” to Karen as a Muslim. To date I have not seen a worse attempt to cover shock and suspicion, but I believe in humanity so I kept working with her. As we shared our histories I watch her become more comfortable and then she opened up and we chatted like BFFs. Karen is a lovely woman. I left the training room for the inner chamber where I was about to slaughter some sacred cows (that’s Hinduism-I know).
There is a chasm between went and sent. I went to the Buddhists as a tourist, but I believe Allah sent me there to get healed from some deep emotional trauma and old ways of thinking. We began with walking meditation which was to me the Buddhist version of a sobriety test…and I failed! After a few turns around the room, the leader rang the gong, signaling the start of seated meditation. We were given a simple exercise. We went around the room and took requests for healing and then sat quietly focusing on our breath. On the inhalation we were instructed to take in the pain, sorrow, addiction or disease of another person known or unknown and then exhale joy, peace, comfort and healing.
After about 3 cycles, relaxation took over and it became easier to stay focused. That’s how they get you. It’s called disarming. I began to feel. I hate feelings. Until I became a mother, I was the most stoic person I knew. But human connection is undeniably powerful.
The concept that we are all connected may sound hokey, but it is true. You are me. I am you. (Hey that rhymed). I felt truly deep compassion and love for people I had never met. I put myself in hospital beds, cried the tears of the divorcing parents and abused children, felt the sickness of bodies in detox and the shame of addicts starting over again in life. There is no way to stabilize against the jolt of being guided to a higher level of being.
My thoughts were now being steered to where my intention was most needed- the long overdue showdown between my need for justice and my ability to let go of wrongs. I inhaled the betrayal of my best friend whom I had loved (who am I kidding? I still love her.) and exhaled mercy for a woman so afraid of rejection that she sabotages all the love in her life just so she can say she left first. I inhaled the abusive leanings of my ex-husband and exhaled compassion for the little boy in him who doesn’t feel worthy of love. I breathed in the judgments of onlookers in my life and breathed out acceptance for where they are on their spiritual path. Finally I inhaled my many short-comings and breathed out forgiveness and acceptance for myself.
Gong! The exercise was over and I was wrecked. I have never been more grateful for the absence of mirrors- no one could see my snot-slathered face. I was officially doing the ugly cry, but the peace was overwhelming. I felt light and had no malice toward anyone. I could not think of a single person I wished ill against and I wanted everyone released from suffering. Now I know where the Buddha got that. He was a wise man. When we see ourselves in other people and understand that what hurts them hurts us, we want that suffering to end immediately. We become emancipators of ourselves and our fellow travelers.
May all beings be released from suffering.

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2 thoughts on “A Muslimah meets the Buddha

  1. Beautiful, Jamilah!! I love hearing about your experience, not only from a Muslim perspective, but from a human perspective. You inspire me regularly with all that open-mindedness. 🙂 Love and peace!!

  2. This is awesome. Recognizing ourselves in others is a huge step toward personal fulfillment and knowing the God Source which permeates everything we see or think we see. Bravo!

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