Award-winning vegetarian cook Rose Elliot was raised in a spiritual community but is now a practising Buddhist. She tells of the importance of breaking away from the tradition that no longer serves you and trusting the heart to know what is right and true for the next stage.
‘Breaking up is hard to do’, goes the song and it is; we all know that. Perhaps less well known, though, is the pain of parting from a group or organisation that has been deeply meaningful to us, particularly if it is of a religious or spiritual nature. Moving away can affect us profoundly and shake us to the core, as I know from personal experience.
In my case the situation was complicated by the fact that the organisation was run by my family and that I had grown up in it and worked there for many years. The basic teaching was sound but there were some aspects of the organisation that I was not happy with. I began to feel increasingly out of kilter with the people, the aims and some of the things that were going on. What started as a vague feeling of uneasiness or irritation progressed to anger and frustration with myself and the people involved.
There were very few people I could talk to. I was afraid that if I expressed my doubts, it could destroy the faith of other people or damage the organisation. Also, I found it difficult to know whether to trust what I was feeling inside or to listen to the organisation’s leaders when they told me it was just my ego that was giving me the doubts and that I needed to do what I was told and be more humble and trusting.
At that time I did not know how to tell the difference between the inner voice of true guidance and the voice of the ego. I now know that you can recognise the voice of the spirit by its characteristics. It is kind, honest, open-minded, calm, quiet and gentle; tolerant, accepting; non-judgmental and patient; loving, generous and forgiving. When you listen to it, you feel a sense of peace and strength; when you close yourself off from it, you feel unhappy, discordant, confused and full of fear, as I did.
In the end I felt such a lack of congruity that I simply could not go on. I moved away which was hard and painful but worth it for the freedom of being able to be true to myself and for the strength and wisdom that I gained.
In my book I Met A Monk, in which I have reflected on many aspects of my spiritual journey, I have described in more detail what happened. The monk, incidentally, only came into my life recently; had I met him before, and known what I know now, I would have had greater understanding of the situation and maybe more wisdom. For instance, I did not know it at the time but practising the simple system of mindfulness meditation that the monk taught would have helped me greatly in finding peace and trusting my own inner guidance.
I am sometimes asked what I would advise anyone else to do in similar circumstances. I would say be open to change; give yourself time to listen to and process your feelings. Meditate. Help the process of letting go and moving on by practising forgiveness daily; forgive yourself, the organisation, the teaching, the people… Keep on until you feel clear, clean and free inside. If you find forgiveness difficult you might like to use the Buddha’s simple practice of metta, or loving kindness, that I have described in the book; you have to persist or, as the Buddha said, ‘just do it’, but it does work, freeing you, freeing others and helping you to move on.
Pray for clarity, that you will be shown what to do. Then surrender the whole situation to the universe, to spirit, to the angels—whatever source resonates for you, trusting that you will receive the help you need and you will; in the words of Dorothea Brande, ‘unseen forces will come to your aid’. Surprising things will happen, people will come into your life, doors will open; as you let go of the past, the future will start to form in front of you, like green shoots coming up on parched ground; all will be well.