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let the woo in


This was the prayer written on a piece of fabric at Land of the Medicine Buddha, a retreat center nestled in the Soquel mountains in the heart of Santa Cruz County, California. To get there you must exit the freeway and pass neighborhoods of multimillion-dollar homes and farm to table restaurants. I went there with my partner last summer, a few months after moving back to this beautiful area of the world, and area that can also make my eyes roll in its righteousness meets subtle classism and clueless privilege. 

The prayer flag was deep in the woods behind the retreat center, within a fairy circle of redwoods transformed into a makeshift memorial site for old framed photos, shoes and torn pieces of flannel and seashells. There were dozens of flags displaying dozens of ideas, but this one was the flag I happened to pull toward me and read out loud. 

I scoffed. Soooo very Santa Cruz. Let the whales have their vote! Stop discriminating against insects, they deserve equal pay! My mind went straight to sarcasm, dismissal, and ultimately annoyance. We have enough “real” issues in today’s world, I thought, this feels like fluff.  

But the thing about a walk in the woods with no cell service is that there is time to think something over, again and again, to go further and deeper. So I questioned why I felt annoyed. End speciesism: I sat with it again. This is a perfect idea, I admitted to msyelf. The idea that no one being is superior to any other actually fits with my belief in nondomination, a more holistic and egalitarian view of the world, one that would surely function better if we treated all sentient beings as worthy of respect, love, care, freedom. Ok, so I agreed with the flag. Why was I so defensive against it from the start? 

Sure, I could still reason that there are endless other problems to be solved, but that didn’t feel like the answer. Step by step crunching through redwood branches back toward civilization, I relaxed further into the possibility that my reaction was the product of a broken heart. Meaning, I used to believe in such beautiful and pure ideas, but too many times over the world had destroyed me, humanity had shown me the opposite and demonstrated raging speciesism: I loved animals, I was fascinated by plants but over and over I watched races toward money and power trample them. My body knew better these days than to be connected to spirit, to source: it wasn't worth it, wasn't worth getting my hopes up because these were clearly impossible ideas.

I was also on the defensive after having been sold spirituality my entire life. Growing up in Santa Cruz county, I had witnessed a relatively early proliferation of '90s yoga and mindfulness and teas and vibes, the eastern philosophy migration of the '60s having settled in places like Santa Cruz and taken hold. Some of the practices were relatively pure, like Land of Medicine Buddha, but there was plenty of capitalist detritus too: t-shirts and candles and framed mantras, some days seemingly everywhere I looked. Spirituality had been packaged up and commercialized just like everything else in our capitalistic economy: of course I would dismiss a mantra like “end speciesism.” I’d practically been sold it on a t-shirt, and in the course of this commercialization of spirituality ideas like this had lost their truth. 

Coming home has in so many ways become a practice of rediscovering my own truth: who am I now and what do I stand for, how is this the same or different than 20 years ago when I moved away? Is there space to repair a spiritual broken heart, to believe in these spiritual concepts again — ones that are truer than ever in a broken society — and reaquaint myself with my own brand of it? Could I relax my defenses and let in the "woo," entertain the possibility that today when my yoga teacher called in the higher self, divine aspect, cosmic channel — she might be actually doing just that? And I am allowed to open my own self to the cosmic channel again, to find god and see synchronicity and exist in the cosmos as much as on earth? 

At the end of the day, the Buddhist tenets are still some of the truest ideas I’ve ever found. This year I plan to let them back in and see if I can believe again, even though without a doubt humanity will continue to break my heart. There is one thing I know for sure: a world without the presence of these ideas is not a world I want to live in. 

“May all sentient beings be free from suffering." Buddhist prayer  


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