My Grandma Kinu called us “lazy Buddhists” – and compared to the stereotypical, minimalist, sober, quiet, Westernized image of a bald-headed Buddhist monk, we are indeed very laid back. She raised me on a random hodgepodge of Jodo Shinshu (Shin/Pure Land) Buddhism and Hawaiian polytheism/animism. Her wisdom was rattled off here and there on a situation-by-situation basis as the need arose.
The summers I spent with my Grandma Kinu in Hawaii, sleeping on the floor of her best friend’s kitchen pantry, are the most formative memories I have with nature. They are the core of my belief in the living, spiritual presence of the earth. She stressed our relationship with the ocean, the ocean’s relationship with the island, and the island’s relationship with us as infinite, as deeper than can be described in words. She told me stories of the wrath of the island gods and taught me to honor and respect the earth as a living being, as the mother of all life.
Back in California we attended Gardena Buddhist Church which calls itself “a uniquely American Buddhism of Japanese origin” that has “blended American culture and customs into” traditionally Buddhist services. I learned of the golden chain of love, of accepting suffering through release, of harnessing self-reflection, of the power of listening to yourself and others. In this type of Buddhism, we do not try to achieve nirvana, our entire goal is to live with the most faith in the Amita Buddha’s teachings to be reborn in the Pure Land. Interestingly now as an adult, it reminds me of many monotheistic religions like Christianity, Judaism, and Islam; the reward for faith and service is a divine afterlife…
I don’t remember a lot from my childhood, but I know I struggled with understanding some pretty basic social constructs. Starting in middle school, I began calling myself an atheist, because I didn’t understand what that meant. A friend’s mom called me an atheist at a funeral for another friend’s father, and it stuck.
“This must be so hard for you as an atheist,” she said, “since you don’t believe in God or Heaven.” I was crying profusely – really ugly, sobbing crying – because my friend was sad and her father had been kind to me. I knew I didn’t believe in her idea of God, so I accepted that she must know more than me. I must be an atheist.
It wasn’t until high school that I learned the term agnostic, and since I definitely believed in a higher power, I accepted that new label. I had no idea that being Buddhist could even be a label that was used in place of “Christian,” “atheist,” or “agnostic” because it wasn’t explained exactly to me that way. I have a more difficult time generalizing knowledge than most people would think. Not that it really matters, because I am not truly all Buddhist.
It took me until well into my mid-twenties during my PhD to reflect upon labeling my spirituality outside of “I don’t know what I am, but I certainly have strong feelings about it.” I began seeking out religious experiences like fasting for Ramadan, attending iftar, practicing lent, observing the differences in various Christian sub-types, learning about the Hindu Vedas, celebrating Rosh Hashanah, practicing Shabbat, and closing with Havdalah. Every one made me feel closer to my own answer and I felt the common thread of love and community twist its way into the center of my belief in the divine.
But I could not feel fully supported in any of these major religions, because I am outside their range of acceptable behavior – in lifestyle, sexuality, gender identity. I also have many tattoos and consider them a central piece of my identity and relationship to my body. Plus the strongest emotional bond to my spirituality is from the time I spent with my Grandma Kinu in Hawaii and about my relationship to nature. I believe everything on earth has a divine connection.
Through deep self-reflection with the assistance of psychedelics and cannabis, I’ve realized that I’m searching for community and belonging. And just as lysergic acid amide (LSA) and cannabis helped me accept my gender identity between binaries, psilocybe mushrooms and cannabis helped me connect to my spiritual identity between categories.
My spirituality is undefined, but not unimportant. And through the exploration of psychedelics and cannabis, I will continue to grow my community and find belonging.
All of my research has been about the scientific evaluation of the therapeutic effects for mental and physical health, which are very real and exist, but neglected to take into account the spiritual and emotional component of that same healing. Now I want to bring the context of pharmaceutical biochemistry into my relationship with these living, giving beings as sacred medicines.