Prior to writing, Dying in the Land of Enchantment, I had often been quick to describe myself as a ‘godless westerner’. As an agnostic, I had never gravitated to any religion in particular. Not surprisingly, my time at Upaya’s Being with Dying retreat forced me to revisit my spiritual leanings, and a recent book signing in Detroit this past weekend. Now it’s important for me to point out that I actually don’t consider myself a Buddhist, even after my experience at the New Mexico Monastery. Rather, I feel strongly that certain tenets of Buddhism mesh well with my views on death and dying. Even so, many people are quick to assume that I am, indeed, a Buddhist. As such, I always approach meeting with religious organizations with a little bit of trepidation. I needn’t have worried about that at this last signing at Sacred Heart Catholic Church. There was a pretty good turnout, including two nuns, and honestly those gathered provided on the most stimulating discussions of any of the events I’ve yet attended on this book tour.
Perhaps part of what attracted me to Buddhism is that it doesn’t preclude you from subscribing to other religious beliefs. Indeed, many of the participants I met at the monastery in Sante Fe were, in fact, rooted in the Judeo-Christian culture, and still consider themselves to be part of that belief system (including Roshi Joan Halifax). And what I found particularly interesting in speaking to all these people from disparate religious backgrounds, was how prevalent the practice of storytelling is in each; the idea of allowing individuals to tell their own stories, whether it be at the end of one’s life or at any other point in their journey, seems to me a common thread in most religions. I was heartened to see this come up in our discussions, as embracing storytelling helps everyone, patients included, understand that their life has meaning and grants them the ability to make sense of it all.