In 2005, Cindy quit her career when she had the opportunity to move to Thailand with her husband and son. A chance meeting with a Thai Buddhist nun would open her heart and change her life forever. She chronicles her adventures along the spiritual path in her newly released memoir.
Tell us a little about your background.
My life has been a spiritual journey that took on new dimensions when I moved to Bangkok, Thailand with my husband and teenage son for three years in 2005.
I grew up in a Jewish family in Aiken, South Carolina in the 1950s. We were probably the only Jewish family living there. Since we were considered the “outsiders,” I felt empathetic towards black people, who I sensed were also outsiders, although I didn’t understand things like racism, segregation, or poverty; I was too young. I just knew we had a nice maid named Gwen who cooked incredibly delicious Southern soul food like fried chicken and black-eyed peas. When my mom took Gwen home in the car in the evening, we crossed over into another part of town—a mysterious world where all the children were “negro” and talked differently from us.
I was closest to my sister growing up. She was five years older than me and we shared a bedroom. My mother was emotionally neglectful, so my closest connection was with my German Shepherd dog Bonnie. She was like a mother to me. She had a litter of puppies when I was about six and I loved those warm, cuddly little teddy bears. Bonnie and I spent hours together wandering alone in the woods in the back of our house. I didn’t know any better; I grew up alone and lonely, full of longing for my mother’s love. That lingering sense of loneliness and abandonment has stayed with me from an early age.
We left the South when I was ten and moved to Southern California. I was bereft because my mother insisted that we leave my beloved dog behind. I left home at 17 and headed to college. In the early ‘70s, I received my B.A. in Women Studies and went on to graduate with an M.A. in Clinical Psychology. I worked as a counselor for fifteen years until I met my husband and we were married in 1985. In 1992, my son was born; it was around that time that I transitioned out of the field of counseling and became a professional fundraiser—a job I continued until 2005 when we moved to Thailand. I was never very passionate about my career, and always seemed to be searching for something more meaningful to do with my life.
When did you think about making a change?
To be honest, I did not consciously think about making a major life change in midlife; rather, it came about organically when we moved to Thailand. I didn’t have to work since my husband was supporting us and felt lucky to have that opportunity. I finally asked myself, what do I really want to do? It was as if a light went on¾I wanted to be a writer. It wasn’t until I was in midlife, 54, that I found my true calling.
My decision to be a writer coincided with my spiritual awakening. It was about that time, soon after our move to Thailand, that I met my spiritual teacher, Venerable Dhammananda Bhikkhuni, a Thai Buddhist Nun—an encounter that opened my heart and changed my life forever. The old adage is true, when the student is ready, the teacher will appear. So, perhaps I had arrived at a place in my life where I was open and ready to embrace change.
During the three years I lived in Thailand, Dhammananda and I became very close. I felt like her daughter, and she was like my mother. It was very hard for me to leave her when we moved back to California in 2008, but I kept in close contact with her via email and Skype. When I discovered she was going to have an ordination ceremony to celebrate her 70th birthday, I decided to honor my teacher and participate. In 2014, when I was 64, I returned to Thailand to be ordained; it was a transformational experience. Afterwards, I felt stronger, with a new sense of confidence born from my ordination experience, as if I had undergone a ritual rite of passage and emerged a new woman.
Part of my transformation was my realization that my husband and I were drifting apart. I was on a more spiritual path and he was drawn to other interests. After a challenging period in our relationship, we decided to separate. Our divorce happened quite recently, just this past year.
What is your next act?
I am a full-time author. I love writing. I feel most alive when I’m sitting at my desk, typing away. My debut memoir, Finding Venerable Mother: A Daughter’s Spiritual Quest to Thailand was released last month, May 2020, with She Writes Press. It describes my journey of physical, emotional, and spiritual healing through my loving connection with Dhammananda. After a grueling back surgery and period of recovery, I begin to spend more time at the temple with Dhammananda. The theme of the book describes my process of healing my fraught relationship with my mother. Through Dhammananda’s unconditional love and acceptance, I am able to forgive my mother. I begin to appreciate her and, at the same time, learn to love and nurture myself.
How hard was it to take the plunge?
It was not difficult to take the plunge into my next act. However, having said that, I would say, that my whole life has been a steady ascent to reach this point. Since my early twenties, I have done in-depth individual psychotherapy. Therapy is not easy. There are days when I have dreaded going in because I was in so much pain. However, I have found that there is always a way out if I am willing to go inside and experience my feelings. It takes courage to fully embrace one’s pain. However, I have found that experiencing suffering leads to greater contentment, joy, and peace in life. At age 68, I am the happiest I have ever been.
How supportive were your family and friends?
My friends and family have always supported me along the spiritual path. Although I recently divorced my husband of thirty-three years, he always allowed me to pursue my own search for meaning. When Dhammananda Bhikkhuni ordained me in 2014, my husband was proud of me and my connection to my spiritual teacher. Even though we pursued different interests and grew apart over time, we are still good friends and maintain a healthy friendship. I am very happy living on my own in Pt. Richmond. I have a strong circle of women friends, some of whom are also writers, and I am truly grateful.
What challenges did you encounter?
My greatest challenge over the past five years has been separating from my husband. There’s no easy way to get around it. I had to face my fear of being alone in order to leave him. I always imagined that I would be married. When it came time for me to make a decision about whether or not to divorce my husband, I was scared and honestly believed I couldn’t make it on my own.
During my time of personal struggle, I learned several valuable lessons. The first thing I learned was that my fear was not insurmountable. I could survive it, but in order to do that I needed a lot of support and encouragement from close friends, family, and my therapist. I also learned that change is not inevitable; it happens through conscious choice. If I did not have the courage to cross the precipice of my fear and to ask for a divorce, I would never have arrived at the place I am now, content and happy with my life.
What have you learned about yourself?
Through the process of divorce, I learned to love myself in a way I never thought possible. Undoubtedly, what also helped me at the time was my spiritual practice and my writing. I drew daily strength from my teacher’s guidance. She encouraged me to pray to Quan Yin, the Goddess of Compassion, and I did. I still meditate every day for at least fifteen minutes in the morning. I recite this prayer to Quan Yin at the beginning of each meditation. “Quan Yin, dwell in my heart. Have mercy on my soul divine mother.”
After meditating I get my cup of coffee and write for two hours. I wrote my entire memoir in nine months with the help of a brilliant coach and editor, Brooke Warner, publisher of She Writes Press. It was both exhilarating and healing to write it.
What advice do you have for women seeking reinvention in midlife?
My advice is to slow down, follow your heart, and don’t be afraid to explore possible life changes. When our life’s purpose shifts, when our children are grown and leave the nest, or when we retire, we are unsettled. We don’t know what the future holds, who we are, or what we want. Be willing to embrace the unknown and take it slowly. There is no easy path to change, we simply have to walk it one step at a time—heel toe, heel toe.
What about advice to would-be writers?
My advice for people pursuing a possible career in writing is to set aside a time to write every day. Whether you’re a first-time writer or an experienced writer, we all share one thing in common, facing the blank page. The unknown can be intimidating and writing that first word on the page is an act of blind courage in the face of our fear and doubt. We all need encouragement to overcome the critical voices inside. Here are five essential tips to keep in mind to help foster your creativity and strengthen your writing practice.
- Listen to your own voice.
Don’t let other writers and teachers crowd out the essential message you have to share. As individuals, we each have a unique voice and we need to honor that in order to write our essential truths.
- Engage in a grounding or centering exercise.
There are many avenues to quieting our mind. Meditation can happen through quiet sitting. If sitting is hard, take a walk and simply follow your breath. Walking meditation is a great way to let go of mindless chatter. The best writing comes from deep inside, beyond our conscious thinking, from our spiritual center. Writing cannot be forced; it is an act of grace.
- Join a writing group.
Writing is an isolating experience. We need other people to encourage us, respond, and provide feedback so that we can keep moving in a positive direction.
- Silence the inner critic.
This is a killer voice for an author. We all have that inner critic that tries to silence us when we know what we want to say. That’s dumb, that’s stupid, you’re a phony. Be mindful of the inner critic. Tell it to “shut-up!”
- Write from the heart.
When we go forward with an open heart, we invite the reader into a sacred space where they are safe to explore their feelings along with us.
What resources do you recommend for writers who are starting out?
Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Ann Lamont
The Magic of Memoir: Inspiration for the Writing Journey, Edited by Linda Joy Myers, PhD and Brooke Warner
Write On, Sisters!: Voice, Courage, and Claiming Your Place at the Table by Brooke Warner
The Business of Being a Writer by Jane Friedman
Still Writing: The Perils and Pleasures of a Creative Life by Dani Shapiro
Networking and Conferences:
Conferences are a great way to network with other authors, writers, and editors. Here are a few I have attended and recommend.
Kauai Writers Conference
San Francisco Writers Conference
Local Universities and Colleges are a good resource for writing classes through extension or online courses.
UC Berkeley Certificate Creative Program in Writing
What’s next for you?
I am promoting my memoir, Finding Venerable Mother. I am in the early planning stages with my publicist, and will be doing a book tour, interviews, and discussions with book groups to launch my memoir.
I am also in the process of writing my second book, Venerable Dhammananda Bhikkhuni’s biography. I was honored when she asked me to write her life story two years ago, and I have been working on it ever since. This past October, the BBC named her one of the hundred most influential women in the world. Among the recipients were Greta Thunberg and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, just to name a few. I believe many people will be interested in reading about her life. She was the first woman to be ordained in Thailand as a Buddhist nun, since Thailand (still) does not permit the ordination of women. It’s a fascinating story of a woman who divorces her husband in midlife after thirty years of marriage, leaves her three grown sons, resigns her position as a professor for twenty-seven years at a prestigious Thai University—renounces all this—to be ordained. I would love for people to know more about her, and that is why I want to write this book. You can read more about Dhammananda and watch my live interview with her on my website. I am planning to travel to Thailand for a month in the fall and spend concentrated time interviewing Dhammananda for her biography.
Beyond that, I am not sure what my future holds, but I’m sure it will be an adventure!
Connect with Cindy Rasicot:
Book: Finding Venerable Mother: A Daughter’s Spiritual Quest to Thailand