Connections Will Find You:
A Dialogue with Christine Fowle
(Note: This newest addition to the Dialogue series is not done in interview format; it’s a piece co-written with Christine, as it emerging through a dialogue between her and I in India and Japan, respectively).
We met last year. Two women from North America who travelled halfway around the world and landed in India for a chance encounter and unlikely kinship. Our karmic collision transpired throughout a 10-day course called “What is the Mind?”, taught by Geshe Kelsang Wangmo, the first and currently only, Buddhist nun to hold this “Geshe” title, the PhD of the monastic world.
Against the backdrop of the Himalayas, the seeds of our personal friendship were planted; and also represent the culmination of the individual journeys presented here. The search for higher meaning often sparks the impetus for dramatic life-change. Maneuvering out of the self-limiting chains that bind us, is a trait shared by many of us on this path. Confusing, powerful and very, very personal, each of us has a tale to tell.
It is our hope that by sharing ours, those with similar aspirations will see themselves woven throughout the stories represented by these words.
It can be safely attested, that up until seven years ago I was running an undeviating path towards far more conventional pursuits. Until this time, both the freedom of expression and any spiritual inklings were deeply buried within the same seed. Scrappy and disjointed, both emerged, seemingly on cue, from the grit beneath the city streets of Paris.
It was 2006 and I’d stepped into a fairytale designed by Salvadore Dali.
From the moment the airplane touched ground, every cell in my body vibrated in anticipation. An irresistible job opportunity and subsequent relocation, it was a decision that would radically alter the trajectory of my future. Never having written anything personal before, ideas, instantly morphing into shapes, started composing what would later form a memoir.
However, enchantment had its limits and as soon was discovered, so did I. As the façade dropped, both the job and city began taking relentless whacks at my psyche. Darkness covered light and repeated with intensity more of the same, until suffocating, I was shoved toward the answers.
It was at this time I began to meditate. From where the idea first originated will forever remain a mystery, but it was in this space that I was led to Buddhism and Yoga — and the air to breathe was found.
As the shadows began to dissipate the determination to write grew more urgent. Direction unknown, the only certainty held was that I had something to say. The need to release the words finally overwhelmed my desire for safety and security; against the advice of many, I ended my career. However, months flew past and still, I had not yet discovered my voice.
In my search, the continuum of past and present exposed a gallery of raw imagery, fusing a fading history with recent impressions. Separated from the chain, these individual links revealed the pieces of a long-obscured puzzle. Established values, ethics and beliefs were challenged, dissected and smacked against the wall. Penetrating the layers of emotion — desire for validation and inhibiting judgment were slowly scraped away until all that was left was a naked reflection.
It was in this moment I realized precisely what Paris had lured me there to discover; I wasn’t proud of the woman I’d become.
So, I sat on the floor of my little Parisian flat and I cried. Not because I was upset or even sad. The overwhelming sea of tears was because I was so profoundly grateful. I’d finally figured it out. I could stop pretending — pretending that I was a sum of all the things I’d surrounded myself with. For in fact, I was none of these. But buried far beneath this truth, I discovered something even more precious; it was my voice.
After falling back into the arms of a patiently waiting career, two years passed and in a twisted déjà vu, it was the call of Mother India who beckoned. In the space between Salvadore Dali and the plinking of sitars, rhythms of the universe provided nourishment to the seeds planted in the City of Light. Mantra and muse, Yoga and Buddhism provide both direction for my work and the beacon by which to guide.
What I’m working towards:
Ultimately, the desire for fulfillment isn’t spiritual. It’s human.
The Western labyrinth of behaviors and societal conditioning provides a complex playground, which we must all navigate. Each of us individually however, is responsible for discovering the way to self-fulfillment. It is my aim, through personal essay, to translate a very small portion of wisdom, developed by those who have long since made this journey.
I am fascinated by what is referred to in Zen Buddhism as “beginners’ mind.” As a cerebral young person who loved literature and the arts, I first came to into this idea with the French Impressionist painters’ “innocent eye” approach. They often developed their painting styles based on capturing objects, not as we are conditioned to see them, but as they are — out there, on that particular day, in that particular light. What they were meeting was new, and now.
Someplace deep inside, I instinctually possessed the dark feeling of being loaded down by an inordinate burden. From where this ancient depth of clutter, sadness and confusion originated is a mystery, but it fuelled a desire. I longed to experience the world unhinged from this weight and totally free.
The discord running through me was strong; my inner world was gulfed in and self-contained, devoid of harmonious ties with the outer. I felt alone and isolated despite fortunate life circumstances and a fountain of love surrounding me. I dreamed of things I didn’t or couldn’t know; these visions remained privately locked inside because I didn’t know they could be shared, that it was possible to engage in a world of genuine communion.
With maturity brings lucidity, and it is clear to me now I was begging to be connected to something larger than myself. Alluring and impossible, the deep-seated knowledge that there was something bigger emerged as something of an alien wisdom. The result was a deepening of the schism within, because my rational mind could only negate the wisdom confronting it.
During this time, several events I regard as synchronicities pointed me to the life-direction I would eventually take. A book about Buddha’s four noble truths, for example, made its way into my hands and I devoured it; this was one of many guideposts I met with curiosity. A movement was starting to unfurl, which would eventually lead to leaving behind a career and boarding a plane heading East.
I met a grandfatherly Indian man on that flight and we talked for hours. Close to landing, he told me we’d met before, that he was sent to ensure I was going to be alright. Upon hearing I was on my way to Southeast Asia and India to study yoga and mediation, he smiled and said he could see I’d averted a path full of pitfalls and was exactly where I needed to be.
Life flows in unexpected ways and our work is to observe, accept and receive the lessons offered. My desire to stop feeding old inhibiting patterns had started to subdue all resistance toward embracing a new way of being. It was shockingly easy, in the end, to begin the process of allowing intuition in. The prospect of harmonizing the rhythms of body and mind became an exciting challenge, profoundly changing my approach to life and wellbeing. Most importantly, I learned to follow the path of the heart.
I will fall often as I face the edifice of old habits. This is a natural and beautiful aspect of growth. Working with the tools of meditation, mindfulness and yoga to access my inner wisdom and achieve integration — of self with self, self with world – is allowing me to approach my “beginner’s mind,” every moment of every day. For this I will remain ever grateful.
What I’m working towards:
In three words, to be present.
The only way to access truth, and share what I learn through creative expression, is to be here and not a billion miles away on the joyride of my thoughts.
The mind is a powerful filter determined to keep me exactly where I am; this is no longer acceptable. Through the grace of amazing teachings and the gritty, gorgeous work of meditation, the process of discovery has ensued. I have a body; emotions are written on it; long-held beliefs are mere illusions. This process is the catalyst to let go of the iron-grip I have on my own, very limited perceptions and begin embracing the wisdom that sees that most mysterious endless space: the heart.
Sangha — Our story:
In Buddhism there is a concept called Sangha. Considered one of the three jewels, the term is loosely translated as spiritual friends. Not merely two individual stories, this piece is in intended to represent a living embodiment of Sangha.
Out of the innumerable beings interwoven throughout our lives, only a few are invited to remain. These are indeed precious jewels. Our shared paths revealed the potential of friendship only at the apex in which we met, with a mutual desire to understand the seemingly impossible to understand — the mind.
Breaking from the mainstream and embarking on, what is on many levels, an inward journey, takes courage. To support others finding their way is to support oneself. It is only a dualistic standpoint, which perceives that where I end, another begins. From the far broader universal perspective, oneness begins and ends with only one.
We are never truly alone.
Please take a look at Christine’s fascinating writing on her website, Searching For OM.