I went on pilgrimage last year, a week that would be one of the most astonishingly painful in my short life. My heart-gut was so filled up with sadness and fear and pain, that it literally felt heavy, a draining kind of weight. I walked and stood slumped over, my shoulders weighted and strained, the entire trip, wanting really to just lie down anywhere I could and sink into the ground.
I didn’t believe anymore, and there I was at the holiest spot where Buddha was supposed to have gained enlightenment. Thousands of people thronged the site, thousands more prayers whispered around a sacred tree. But I stood there, peering through the gaps in the protective fence around the tree and feeling like it was nothing but bark.
How is it, I wondered, that I was here in the throbbing, chanting, enlightened field of Buddha’s heart and I felt like he wasn’t there? How is it, that after so many years of thinking myself a daughter of Buddha, I felt like he had pretty much gotten up off his seat under that tree and left?
The loss, dropping away, of anything should make you lighter, shouldn’t it? But realising that I had lost almost all my faith—in the Buddhas, in daily goodness, in the truths I’d so ardently believed in—was an unbearable stone-cold, stone-heavy weight.
I was here in one of the world’s most worshipped places and I did not know anymore what it meant to pray.
But I did anyway. I wished from as far down in my heart-gut as I could reach. Most of me didn’t believe the Buddha even listened anymore, or that anyone did. I didn’t even know what to pray for anymore. I just put it out, to whoever or whatever might be listening, the only thing I could muster up of whatever tiny vestige of faith I still had.
“Please let things be okay”.
I didn’t have the energy or the tears left to wish for anything more than those six words.
At every new special site we visited, where the Buddha did this, or that; where this miracle happened or that story would arise to inspire the faith of millions of seekers, I would try to buoy myself above that sinking heavy loss of faith by just repeating those words, again and again and again:
“Please just let things be okay.”
When I came home, I stopped praying. I could only look at them and think, “Come on guys, how did you let it come to this?”
So I began to think maybe none of them were really there after all; they’d all gotten up off their seats and left. I put my Buddhas into boxes and gave them all away.
That was a year ago.
Since then, since giving up a life-long heart connection with Buddha, I left behind other painful things. I lived with a nothing-faith for a year.
I started everything from scratch again. In fact, I’m still learning to start many things from scratch. I rebuilt and put one block back upon another. I didn’t wish for anything anymore, I didn’t pray. I just went from one day to another, one jenga block at a time.
A few nights ago, I remembered sitting in front of that tree and thinking it was nothing but an empty, gnarled pillar of soil and bark. As I did, I also saw, with a little surprise, how big my own tower of jenga blocks had become now. I’d rebuilt and rebuilt and rebuilt and here I was again, stronger, stronger, stronger.
I realised, with a start, that things were okay after all, just as I’d wished for.
So I guess maybe Buddha, or someone, heard me through all that clutter and disbelief and the momentary anger. I guess he hadn’t left that spot tucked under the tree after all. I guess maybe he’d seen me through the gaps in the fence as I stared in at that empty seat, as I struggled and lost myself and pushed my sadness back by just breathing and breathing and breathing.
Because here I am now and I’m okay after all.
It feels different and strange and new; it’s unexpected and surprising and adventurous and sometimes frightening, sometimes thrilling.
But they’re okay. Things are okay again.