Sreejit’s directions for this week’s Dungeon Prompt were:
If the journey of your life could be boiled down to a particular mission, what would it be? What has been the primary focus or purpose of your particular birth? You may believe that all of life is on a big picture path, but I’m asking about your particular journey. Is there any lesson or goal that has defined the majority of your life? What is your life’s mission?
I once used the process that Stephen Covey described in his book First Things First to develop a personal mission statement. The document I created that day is as relevant and alive for me now as it was on the day I created it. (My mission statement can be found in this blog post: Living with Purpose.)
For this prompt, I decided to look at my life’s mission from a different angle. Throughout my adolescence and young adult years I believed that I didn’t “belong” anywhere. That belief developed, at least in part, because I grew up as an army brat. I generally moved every three years, and if I wasn’t leaving then my friends were. No place or group felt like “home,” I always believed I was an outsider.
During junior high school, I rebelled against my parents by becoming a conservative Christian. When my parents retired, they moved to Florida and I attended my mother’s liberal church. After graduating from high school, I moved to Seattle to study at a very conservative Christian College. I didn’t feel like I belonged in any of these places. I was more conservative than the liberals and more liberal than the conservatives. I became so disillusioned with religion that by the time I left college, I considered myself somewhere between an agnostic and atheist. I didn’t want anything to do with spirituality.
When I met Amma another “belonging” problem emerged. Both Amma’s California and India ashrams felt like “Home” to me, yet my children were in Seattle. It was not the time in my life for me to be moving into an ashram. I felt trapped between two worlds, not fully belonging to either of them.
Many years later, I realized that it was unlikely that any of the people who had been in my life had thought that I didn’t belong. My sense of not belonging was a belief that I had created. At that point, I was able to re-frame my thinking to “I have had many ‘homes’ and I belonged in all of them.” I have been able to maintain that life position since then.
There was a point in the 90’s when it occurred to me that a major part of my life’s purpose was to serve as a bridge between worlds and that my early life experiences had prepared me for that “mission.” This was not a mission I had consciously taken on, but rather something that evolved naturally.
In one of my last posts, Where the Wild Things Are, I described meeting Amma and attending Power House, a black Pentecostal church. With my prior antipathy towards spirituality, it was amazing to me that I could be in either of those places and feel at home.
As friends and colleagues saw me changing, they wanted to check out some of the things I was doing. Many came to meet Amma. I started traveling to India six months after I met Amma and two years later took a group of Seattle devotees there for the first time. In addition, people have met Amma as the result of reading my books and through this blog. So in these cases I was an east/west bridge.
The same thing happened when I started attending Power House Church of God in Christ (COGIC). Many of my white friends asked to go to services with me, especially on Easter Sunday. Some even came with me to Memphis when I attended that church’s national convocation. While the Amma people (including me) may have had different beliefs from the COGIC people, the gospel music touched us all to the core. In these instances I served as a bridge between black/white and conservative/liberal communities.
All of these elements came together in the summers of 1995 and 1996. In 1995, I asked the minister’s wife, Mrs. Jenkins to sing at one of Amma’s Seattle programs. After singing, Mrs. Jenkins watched the people who were sitting quietly in the program hall. She asked me what they were doing. I told her they were meditating. She said, “Next year I will come back and we will get these people moving!” I laughed inside. It meant so much to me to have two worlds that were so important to me come together in this way.
The next year, I invited the church choir to sing at the program. Later, I wrote this description of that experience
On the day they were to perform, I stood outside the program hall waiting for the choir to arrive. As the appointed time came and went, I wondered what had happened. Were they lost? All of a sudden, I noticed a large caravan of cars coming towards the building. I had thought, in all likelihood, four or five people from the choir would sing. When I saw the procession of cars, however, I realized most of the choir had come!
They sang song after song. The choir members were having such a good time, they asked to sing even more songs than I had requested. As I was very focused on the choir, I did not notice what was happening around me. I could hear people clapping, so I knew the choir was being well received, but I had no idea how thoroughly people were appreciating the music. During the last song, I turned around and saw that all over the auditorium people were dancing. I learned later that the swamis were in the balcony thoroughly enjoying themselves. Mrs. Jenkins goal of “getting these people moving” had certainly been realized. Truly the church had come to Amma. I felt so blessed and grateful.
I have had numerous bridging experiences since that time. The ones that come to my mind now are Taize music in Seattle and in France; a Benedictine monastery in New Mexico; craft projects such as crocheting afghans for people moving from the streets to apartments and making hats and scarves for the homeless; creating bags and baskets from waste plastic; and more recently my ever-increasing involvement with nature.
I love introducing people to new experiences and to new worlds and still think that is a major part of my life’s mission.