My route to Christianity was a little bit like the commute to my last job: slow and full of detours with occasional moments of hair-raising excitement. I used to work and live on opposite ends of a popular holiday resort on the English coast and there were only two viable routes. Getting to work and back again could be tricky, especially during the holiday season. Add to that the constant road works. . .well, you get the picture.
During high school I got involved in the New Age via meditation and not for the reasons you might think. I suffered terribly from bad skin during my teens. It wasn't your normal spotty skin. According to my doctor I have a medical condition that causes my skin to scar in an odd way. So, whereas your normal teenager would get a small red pimple, I developed these huge red sores. They were quite painful at times. It felt as if someone was digging a needle into my skull. I looked everywhere for a remedy, trying all sorts of weird and wonderful treatments. Everyone I spoke to seemed to have "the cure". They would take one look at my skin and say: "You should try....".
Someone told me that sugar was probably the cause and that I should eradicate it from my diet. I put this to the test by eating a large slab of cooking chocolate every day for a week. I gained five pounds but my skin stayed unchanged. I tried the most powerful cleansers on the market, but the angry welts remained, sometimes growing so large it looked as if someone had punched me in the eye. What I did notice was that my acne would flare up during times of stress and so I decided to look for ways to keep my emotions under control.
I tried meditation and it seemed to help, making me feel quite calm. If anything upset me, my mantra was "it doesn't matter". Before long, my stress levels started to fall. People began commenting on how peaceful I was. My acne even started to fade. Spurred on by this initial success, I began to explore deeper meditation techniques. I learned to focus my thoughts and would practise meditating whenever possible, even while going about my normal daily activities. Then, one night, I had an experience that made me think that perhaps I had gone a little too far in my quest for peace-of-mind.
I remember walking to the shops one evening, meditating deeply on a particular concept, when the world just seemed to go blank. It is hard to describe, but it was as if all the lights in the universe had gone out all at once, or as if someone had hit a universal "pause" button. I stopped in my tracks and thought: "Oh no. Now I've done it. I've lost my mind". But I was fine, if a little dazed. I continued to the shops and bought bread and milk, and returned home.
I described my experience in a letter to a school friend who had recently moved to Australia. He was as mystified by it as I was. Within two weeks, however, I discovered an almost word-for-word copy of my description of that night's event in a book I was reading. The topic of the book? Buddhism.
From what I can gather, my deep meditation had caused me to stumble across what the Zen Buddhists call a "kensho" or "satori" experience. It's a little bit like seeing a familiar object from a profoundly different perspective. The idea of satori is to gain a deeper insight into existence. On the road to what the Buddhists call "enlightenment" or "nirvana", students must learn to experience satori over and over again. To be honest, the whole thing unnerved me a little and I was reluctant to pursue it, although I can see the appeal. It was a powerful experience--possibly even life-changing. At that time I was dabbling in all things New Age, but I did start to think of myself as a Buddhist, not by choice, but by accident.
It was another five or six years (and more spiritual detours) before I walked into a Christian service and immediately knew I was home. I think, deep down inside, I had always known Jesus was the way. I just couldn't seem to find the path to Him. I sometimes wonder why I took the long way around, seemingly taking every route except the straight one. Perhaps I needed to see the lies before being convinced of the truth. In my pre-Christian days, I was drawn to Buddhism because it is such a peaceful religion. Having experienced the religion first-hand, however, I can tell you now that the peace it offers is empty compared to the peace and understanding you gain as a Christian. My mantra of "it doesn't matter" was way off because things do matter.
Perhaps I needed to experience Buddhism for a reason. I don't know. All I do know is, God created the universe, He put the rules in place, and there is no true peace without Him. Everything else is counterfeit.