Once or twice a week, junior Cecile Drymalski sits cross-legged on the floor of her bedroom. She taps singing bowls and attempts to keep her eyes open as she slips into a meditative trance. These are rituals of Buddhism, the religion that Drymalski follows. But rather than taking the typical path of following her parents into religion, Drymalski has found a faith all her own in order to fill spaces left by not having a religion.
According to Ariel Glukich, Professor of Psychology and Religion at Georgetown University, religion serves many different roles in society, from explaining the meaning of the world to providing a code of moral conduct. Commonly, children take on the religious practices of their parents, whether they're agnostics, atheists or faithful believers. However, some teens take their spiritual journey into their own hands and seek a religious experience that is theirs alone. This journey is not always an easy one, but is one that has lead to self-discovery among some Blazers.
Though she does not go to temple, Drymalski practices Buddhism in her own home through meditation and the use of singing bowls, which serve as bells. Her affinity for the Buddhist faith, which started a year ago, was not a quick discovery. For a year Drymalski dabbled with paganism. She practiced all the serious pagan traditions and even attempted to worship multiple gods. Before she discovered Buddhism, Drymalski also experimented with Christianity, praying to determine whether she could feel a connection with God. Despite these explorations, Drymalski identified the most with Buddhism because it is the only religion she tried that does not profess a belief in the supernatural.
About a year ago senior Jashua Tilahun experienced a similar change to Drymalski's. When he branched out from his parent's practice of orthodox Christianity, he started practicing Rasta, a movement of Christianity that originated in Jamaica and believes Haile Selassie I, former king of Ethiopia, is the God incarnate. Tilahun sports the dreadlocks adorned by Rastafarians, and he prays and fasts on all the holidays. Rasta has not only given Tilahun a set of religious beliefs, but has also allowed Tilahun to find a lifestyle with which he can identify. "Rasta is more of a way of life. It is more about inner beliefs. I felt Christianity was too applied to the masses and not to the individual,” he says. And unlike Drymalski, who actively searched through multiple religions before finding one that fit, Tilahun's decision to change religion came more as an epiphany. "One day I just decided I wanted something new, something more real than [orthodox Christianity],” says Tilahun.
Unlike Drymalski and Tilahun, who sought out a religion more compatible with their own beliefs, senior Chantel Hernandez found that questioning her beliefs brought her closer to the religion that she grew up with, which has resulted in a renewed and strengthened sense of faith. Hernandez is a practicing Pentecostal Christian who attends church every Sunday, plays gospel music to praise God in her spare time and even says that she is stricter about some religious rules than her parents. However, there was a point when Hernandez was not so in tune with her spiritual life. When Hernandez was younger she sometimes felt as if religion was being imposed upon her by her parents. "I came to a point where I stopped believing. I could have chosen a different religion like my mom's brother, who is agnostic. I could have easily gone the way he did, and though [my parents] had some part in it, I stuck with [Christianity] because I believed in it,” says Hernandez.
These beliefs were put to the test when Hernandez was forced to overcome a serious obstacle in her life. "When I was in ninth grade, I went through a really depressed period. It went as far as me trying to take my own life, but I got scared and I realized that I wasn't created to fail and give up on life. God put me on this earth for a reason and I was born to try and figure out that reason,” says Hernandez. "There are still some days when I feel down, but I know that as long as I stay in relation to [God] I'll be fine.”
Though Hernandez's journey to religion came out of a necessary salvation, an important outcome of her exploration was the realization of her morals. Hernandez goes to church every Sunday, but she believes her Christianity guides her day-to-day life as well. "I couldn't imagine going through a day without thinking of something I learned from Christian teachings. It's where I get my morals. When I notice my opinions I realize I feel that way because I am Christian,” says Hernandez.
Christianity does for Hernandez what Buddhism does for Drymalski. However, Drymalski's journey to seek a religion came from her desire to find a moral code. "It's very hard for people with no religion to find a code of moral conduct. That's the point of religion, to give people a sense of ethics,” she says.
A religious road less traveled
Even though Drymalski believes religion is the best way to seek a moral code, her parents feel quite the opposite. Drymalski's father is agnostic and her mother is atheist. Drymalski's search for a religious identity is in stark contrast with her mother's views. "My mom is anti-religion because she thinks it is the cause of all wars,” says Drymalski. She also says that her mother is actually more supportive of her Buddhist practices than her father. "He doesn't believe that I am serious because I've been experimenting with a lot of different religions,” she says.
Like Drymalski, Tilahun has adopted a different religion and way of life from his parents. Among other things, his beliefs differ from the orthodox Christianity of his parents in that Rastas endorse Afrocentric values and believe that Jesus was black. Tilahun says his parents were okay with the change because they think it's just a phase. Even though Tilahun's parents do not think he is serious about Rasta he still believes it is important to be truthful with them, "If you're open with your parents and if they truly love you they'll let you be what you want to be,” he says.
Despite this belief and his parent's initial acceptance Tilahun's parents have still tried to convince him to convert back to orthodox Christianity. "They've tried to tell me a lot of times [to convert back],” says Tilahun. Regardless of their pleas, he does not plan on converting back any time soon, nor does he view Rasta as just a phase for him. He has finally found a way of life that he can identify with.
Though a change in religion has only caused minor tension for Drymalski and Tilahun, Glukich cites the serious problems that this change could cause for the family. He mentions a loss of cohesiveness and respect, among other important family dynamics, that could occur when family members change religions. "I can't emphasize how hard it is for the family to stay together after something like that happens,” says Glukich.
Even though this journey has the possibility of causing tension in their families, these Blazers have found that it ultimately leads to self-discovery. Since Hernandez's period of depression and questioning of her beliefs, she has come out even stronger in her faith and has made many changes in her life to go along with her renewed sense of spirituality. "After I started taking my religion seriously I became a different person. It's called being saved. I stopped doing petty things, and wishing bad things unto people,” says Hernandez. She also stopped listening to mainstream music because she believes music is highly influential and she does not agree with the negative messages often portrayed.
Hernandez says that making these changes and embodying her religion has triggered a metamorphosis. "I feel different. I can look back on how I used to be, I've grown so much, matured so much,” says Hernandez.
Like Hernandez, Drymalski has also cited a change in herself since she started practicing Buddhism. "It has helped a lot. I used to get really sad and [Buddhism] helps me calm down and see things more fluidly. I am more in control of my own feelings. The meditation helps calm me down and get grounded,” says Drymalski. These Blazers have discovered that experiences show, seeking a spiritual journey one their own is not easy. However, there is a reward for the challenge it creates.
Robert Friedman, a psychologist located in Silver Spring, recognizes the problems seeking out a new religion could have on family members, however, he identifies with these Blazers and still believes that searching for another religion or questioning beliefs as a teenager is an important and useful path to follow. "There are kids that never question anything, but the healthier way is to really sort through your beliefs, sometimes sorting through religious beliefs,” says Friedman. "Unfortunately we never give teens real positions to explore religions in our society. We use religion as a way to control kids.” Friedman believes that this period of questioning is not only important when attempting to find a new religion, but also when questioning the faith one already has.
Religion helped Drymalski relax and find the code or moral conduct she was looking for, helped Tilahun find the new way of life he was looking for and helped Hernandez overcome a great obstacle that gave her the strength to carry on. These religious journeys sprung not only from the adaptation of religion, but also from the questioning of their beliefs. Being a teenager is a time to search for an identity and try new things; some teenagers experiment through a change in clothing, hairstyle and music. These Blazers, however, have taken a road less traveled, which has brought them on a unique spiritual journey.
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