Ingrid Hindell – from Catholic to eclectic
THIS ARTICLE WAS THE RESULT OF A CONVERSATION/INTERVIEW WITH THE PRESIDENT OF THE MELBOURNE CHAPTER OF THE WOMEN’S FEDERATION FOR WORLD PEACE (WFWP) INTERNATIONAL A COUPLE OF YEARS AGO. I JUST RECEIVED IT TWO DAYS AGO:
In 1950, I was born in Sri Lanka in the rural town of Kurunegala, nestled in the foothills of the Central Highlands which is about 75 km from the capital city, Colombo.
When I was five years old, my mother took me to England for seven months. I entered a hospital school where I undertook intensive physiotherapy so that I could hold my head up.
My parents, my two grandmothers, my older brother and I immigrated to Australia when I was ten years old. I already had two aunts who had immigrated to Melbourne.
My parents wanted to give their children a good education, but especially myself, because I was born disabled with cerebral palsy (CP). My parents were told by the Australian government that I would not get a pension until I was 20 years old, whereas my friends at the Marathon Spastic School in Malvern received a pension at 16 years of age.
My parents were extraordinary in that they insisted that I get a good education. To help our family manage, we were supported by friends and relatives, especially my grandmothers. My parents were definitely enlightened people.
I always tell people that I am disabled BY CP and the built environment.
Building environments often do not allow access to my wheelchair. I am a member of my community because I am always in and out of meetings involving my community. But I am not a member of my neighbourhood because most houses are inaccessible to me. This is called the ‘social model of disability.’
I would like to offer a message about becoming empowered. The best way to explain it, is through a story about a support worker who offered to help clean my house. I went to the bathroom and saw her using Ajax cleaner on the bathtub. I explained to my support worker, “Yes, the bath could be cleaner, but my husband and I prefer not to use harsh chemicals.” I repeated this three times until I was heard AND understood.
If a person tries to keep their ground, then repeat your response again, without raising your voice or showing anger or frustration, until your friend complies with your wishes, IF you’re convinced they’re reasonable… The empowerment steps are:
1. Begin your sentence by acknowledging what the other person just said with, “Yes, …”
2. Use ‘I could’ instead of ‘I must’ or ‘I should.’
3. Use ‘I prefer’ instead of ‘I want.’
4. Never raise your voice in frustration.
When I was 16, my very Catholic grandmother who was a lovely, gentle lady passed away. She taught me my catechism before I could hold my own head up, which as I mentioned occurred when I was five years old. She lived with us and helped with cooking in our home.
By the 1970s, I had 17 cousins living in Victoria and most of my cousins had left the church. At 18 years of age, I did year 11 and studied Renaissance and Reformation European history.
Through my studies, I discovered the history and politics of the church.
I learnt, amongst other things, that: priests were not allowed to get married after the 10th century and it seemed to be a purely economic position, because the 3rd and 4th sons of noble men were going into the church and enabled the church to become rich and powerful; French Huguenots and the Lombard’s were massacred, and the pope only became ‘infallible’ in the 1870s when he was forced to give up his princely status of the Papal States when Italy became unified.
Such things put me off the church. My parents were Catholics, but were also scientifically-minded and this had an influence as well. I did not see how to reconcile science and religion within myself.
Like a typical teenager, my studies tended to weaken my link to the church, and I stopped going to church all together.
For some years afterwards in my 20s, I went to the Spiritualist Church near my home and it was then that I became interested in Eastern religion and Eastern philosophy. The Spiritualist Church was very influenced by the philosophy of Annie Besant who was a theosophical leader.
To my delight, I found that the Spiritualist Church was ‘marrying’ Eastern and Western philosophies together, and that really resonated with me.
I read books by Alan Watts, Bishop Shelby Spong and Lyall Watson who as a biologist and spiritualist, wrote ‘Supernature’.
In my early 30s, I started going to the Unity Church and I found to my delight, that the Unity founders (the Fillmores) had direct links to Louisa M. Alcott who wrote Little women and many of my other favorite children’s books.
The Melbourne Unity Church had a very charismatic leader, and he and his wife were very good teachers of Unity metaphysics. To make the Bible come to life and relevant to people’s lives today, Unity teaches the Bible by illuminating the meaning of Hebrew words. For instance, the name ‘Isaac’ means ‘He (God) laughs.’
The MEANING of the Jewish words describe different thoughts, and different thoughts give rise to different emotions. Thus we learnt that the Bible is teaching us how to live in the here and now, minute by minute; the hereafter will then take care of itself.
It was Unity, funnily enough, that taught me to appreciate Catholicism!
In L. M. Alcott’s books, the lead women characters were my friends when I was a teenager and young adult. I did not have many friends outside my family because I was very shy. I also did not go to university because it was too great a jump from my small ‘special school.’ It was too great a shock to my system.
I refused to go to a sheltered workshop. In my 30s I decided to go to university off campus. I did three to four years of religious studies. My Bachelor of Arts major in International Relations took nine years to accomplish because I read widely about spirituality and metaphysics.
I didn’t do a second major in Religious Studies because my professor would not let me do a final essay on the Unity Church and its links to all the major world religions.
One book in my university course was called The world’s religions, by Houston Smith. He is such a brilliant writer that I used this one book as one of the references for all my Religious Studies essays, and after reading each chapter on a specific religion, I wanted to follow that particular ‘wisdom tradition.’
The Unity philosophy is linked with Hinduism, Buddhist concepts, Christianity and Judaism. And as I have Asian roots, the Unity philosophy sits well with me.
I met Robert Hindell (my husband) through an advertisement I placed in the newspaper, The Australian Singles News, in August of 1983. I was as honest as possible and I received 16 replies. I told each of these 16 men that I was disabled, and five people said that they still wanted to meet me. Robert and I both felt comfortable with each other.
This comfortableness that we have for each other is unsurpassed. We lived together for six years and married in March of 1992.
In 1997, in my 40s, my husband (Robert) and I moved to Geelong and I joined the Geelong Interfaith Group.’
I now call myself an eclectic, mainly because of what I learnt at the Unity Church and reading many books, particularly, ‘The pagan Christ’, by Tom Harpur; ‘The Jesus sutras. Rediscovering the lost religion of Taoist Christianity’, by Martin Palmer; ‘The taboo against knowing who you really are’, by Alan Watts, and, of course, ‘The world’s religions’, by Houston Smith.
Finally, if I have any words of wisdom to pass on to people interested in other people, it would be “please read these books with an open mind and open heart”.