I have just been for a run and I am sitting here in a daze, watching the plumes of incense twirl in my living room. Two threads of smoke spiral and dance wherever they please across the room. Carefree and beautiful. I absolutely love the smell of incense, so much so that I have to stop burning it because my eyes burn with the smoke and I now have a headache.
My love of incense is only a recent addition to my world. I love trying new types and burn it whenever I can. I went into a shop at the weekend that I would have avoided if I was still a christian. It was called the Happy Buddha. It was literally full of Buddhas. I have never seen so many and some were really bizarre looking. One was a huggy buddha and that was incredibly creepy…anyway that is not overly important or the point. The point is, that not that long ago, I thought shops like that were evil and I would not have bought incense there. In fact, I wouldn’t have even thought to buy incense, I associated the smell with strange subversive places.
And yes…I said evil.
Shops full of Buddhas were evil. The main reason I thought that about those shops, if I can even call it a reason now, is because a buddha is an idol. God told us not to have any idols (Exodus 20 v 4) and that is what I believed the statues of Buddha to be. I felt anxious around the Buddhas in shops. Anxious about the evil that they would have around them. So, given this anxiety, I was genuinely afraid to have one in my home or near me. If I had an idol in my home or condoned the use of them as decoration in the home, then God would be very angry with me, I would have to repent and maybe I just wouldn’t repent properly and then not go to heaven. I was genuinely worried about having something that could be considered an idol in my home. It was an emotional minefield with anxiety at every turn.
Even now, despite not believing anymore, I find myself feeling uncomfortable around the Buddhas. That uncomfortable feeling makes me feel even more uncomfortable and guilty when I recognise it. It feels rather racist and xenophobic. I not only associated Buddhas with being evil, but I associated anyone who didn’t believe in the christian God to be evil to. In all honesty, I did used to think anyone who worshipped Buddha (I had no real understanding of Buddhism back then) were sinners and that most Asians were evil. It was racist. I was a racist. I am so deeply ashamed of this.
I am also ashamed and disappointed in those who told me that yoga was evil. I have still not taken a yoga class to this day, not because I think it is bad but out of a habit, out of a habit of avoiding it. If you practice yoga, they said, you will clear your mind. Clearing your mind will allow the devil in. The devil will tempt you to go to a class, so he can enter your thoughts when you are relaxed in that downward facing dog position on your pink yoga mat.
Taking a yoga class and practicing mindfulness will lead you down the path to hell. Open your mind and you can’t even imagine what would just creep in. Those Asian practices will lead a good christian girl to backslide or worse.
Perhaps the church, the preachers, the pastors, didn’t mean to send this message of hate. But they did. They taught me to fear other cultures and religions because knowing about them would take me to hell.
Thankfully I taught myself to think differently and I discovered that other cultures are to be discovered. Religions are to be analysed and discussed. Yoga is not evil and neither is incense.