Feature Thursday: “The Benefits of Immersion,” by Niki Whiting
This week’s Feature Thursday comes from Niki Whiting, writer of the blog, My Own Ashram.
“The Benefits of Immersion”
A year and a half ago, in a different country from the one I’m living in now, I discovered Project Conversion. I’m not even sure how I came across it. I think it was when I was Googling Hinduism links. At the time, I was working on my dissertation for my PhD in feminist theology. I was bemused by his blog: how could someone learn all that much from spending just one month on a religion? It felt very “Intro to Religions 101″ to me. But I followed along, reading back through the previous months I’d missed.
That spring I had what I called a ‘come to Jesus’ moment about my own spiritual practices and my theological work. My dissertation was on Marian co-redemption (looking at what that term means, how it’s being used, and what an actual co-redemption involving the Virgin Mary might look like in feminist terms), but I was so weary from working with in a mostly Christian paradigm. I was particularly tired of having to read “dead white men” writing about women as if we were malformed demons come to tempt the more worthy males of the species. My own practice was looking more and more Pagan, and I was getting more and more open about that.
Inspired a great deal by Andrew’s work, I decided to start my own blog, My Own Ashram. I got the title from a question I asked myself: what would my own ashram look like? As a student, as a mother of two young kids, how can I find my own sense of the sacred? I decided that I would break the year into four quarters and immerse myself in the traditions that informed my spirituality. It was time to move away from just reading and learning about and start practicing. I looked at Hinduism, Feri (American traditional witchcraft), Christianity, and Place (more a concept than actual tradition).
While some reading and research was involved, I was taking more of an ‘inside out’ approach (reading from within the tradition) than an ‘outside in’ approach (looking in as an outsider). For example, in Hinduism I eschewed other forms of my practice that were not in keeping with Hinduism. I focused on my lagging yoga practice, I shifted my devotional patterns, I celebrated new holidays and “holy days.” Of course, I was still a white Westerner, living in a rural Western European country, but simply adopting a Hindu perspective as my own, practicing a ‘fake it til you make it’ attitude was eye opening and life changing. I did this with each tradition.
What I learned is that academic understanding, while helpful and important, is no replacement for the lived understanding that one can gain from immersion. Practicing AS IF one has a different faith, assuming AS IF I believed in those gods, living AS IF I embraced a different tradition allowed me to see the world through new eyes. Of course I still had my own background and circumstances which colored my experience – but every convert or practitioner will bring those things to their chosen tradition. I had studied Hinduism at university, I’d been practicing yoga for years, yet practicing as a Hindu offered up fresh insights, things I could never have gleaned from secondary, or even primary, sources.
Andrew’s immersion efforts have been mocked in some Pagan circles, accusing him of spiritual tourism. Sure, he didn’t observe as I would have; sure, each religion was given only a month; sure, I would have chosen some different traditions. But he has gained insights in a way that most people will never experience. He has attempted to look from the inside out, rather than from the outside in. He inspired me to dive deeper into my spiritual influences, to stop focusing on learning, and to begin practicing. My experience of immersion was priceless.
During my year of immersion I decided to quit my PhD program and my family moved from Wales to the United States. It was a BIG year. Now, I’m settled more firmly into my traditions of choice: Tantric Hinduism and Feri/Faery. I’ve made my peace with Christianity. I’ve embraced my new home. I have taken ownership of my journey and practice in a way that I cannot imagine doing had I not embraced the immersive practice.
I can’t recommend immersion enough. I have found my own ashram and I hope you can find yours,too.
Thanks again for stopping by, Niki! You can find out more about Niki’s journey on her blog, My Own Ashram.