I've always been "a spiritual seeker", and simultaneously, I believe we're spiritual beings being human, as they say. This begs the question, if I'm a spiritual being, what is there to seek? I imagine all of us who strive to center ourselves in spiritual pursuits know intuitively that we're spiritual. Yet, we're not dedicated to a particular spiritual path and often shy from the faith of our childhoods, whether we are Christian, Jewish, or another religion. Yet, when I looked deeper, I could not resolve the question that continued asking who am I spiritually?
If you're anything like me, you like the idea of yoga, meditation, attending a sweat lodge or drumming circle, chanting with Guru Maia perhaps, or even taking a class in Shambala Buddhist practices. Whatever it may be, we want to go deeper but the busyness of life and the smorgasbord of spiritual offerings that surrounds us leave us grazing, instead of face down, so to speak, in a practice that is deepening and meaningful.
This was my journey for years.
I think we suffer from a fear of committment, along with our own bigotry or misunderstanding of the faith we're most grounded in because of how we perceive or experience how others interpret - or communicate it.
The most powerful lesson for me has been...
I am not them!
I came to a place in my life when the rubber had to meet the road, and my future depended on asking myself the tough questions. What did I honestly think was true? Is there a God, or isn't there? Am I willing to discover my truth about this God that is, or isn't real? Will I choose a life of avoidance and superficial practice, instead looking at my reactive and rebellious buttons towards religion in the face? Was I willing to push the limits of my capacity for inquiry so far that I would come out the other side and stand in my personal truth?
This required courage. Well aware I might not like the answers the process would reveal, it left me asking what the alternative was. I was between a rock and a hard place. I was about to marry a pastor, and my option at this juncture was to live a disingenous life and hide behind the right words, or find my truth even if it meant having to walk away. I didn't see another option at the time, but my sight was obstructed by my worldview. All I knew for sure at that time was that authenticity had always ruled. Compromising myself for love would not stand - in the long run.
I began reading everything I could find on the major religions. I read scholars and theologians, blogs and editorials, housewives and preachers, conservatives and progressives. And I continued looking within. This was not a crisis of doubt that I was reading so much about. It was a journey of exposing my truth. I was stepping off the path of least resistance and coming out of denial.
The rubber met the road at a fork in the road that asked me to choose between my experiences of spiritual things and if I really believed in a God.
The belief in God had always been easy to dance around in spiritual circles, whether it was church, a drumming circle, meditation, or some other spiritual activity. The only place my feathers were ruffled tended to be in a conservative or evangelical bible study where I often felt my intelligence was insulted, or the underlying messages were intertwined with political rhetoric or an impositional attitude about correct behavior - which occasionally shone a light on how I was living my life. I'd walk away in shame, and resented this because my choices in life, for the most part, were made with my eyes wide open. My sometimes microscopic desire to be honest with myself would use this ruffling as an opportunity for personal reflection. My first assumption tended towards blaming myself because a deeply embedded value was accountability. It must be my issue - otherwise why would I react? I spent years wondering why I reacted to this particular culture of faith when there had been a time that I resonated with it. Even though it was a long time ago. Over time, it became clear that I was simply a bad Christian. I knew in my heart I'd never be what they wanted to be - I'd never be a good Christian. But something always stirred deep within, comforting me with a sense of peace - but I didn't understand it yet.
The reactions I had towards the Christian worldview disturbed me because the most powerful spiritual experience in my life was one of Jesus and the Holy Spirit. It was what some would call a peak experience. It was undeniable. The time that followed is embedded in my memory as the epitome of walking a spiritual path with authenticity. This happened on the heels of the peace movement, during the rise of the feminist movement, and smack in the middle of the 1970's Jesus movment. It changed me. Yet, life as an adult was just beginning and I had a long list of dreams to catch - in Manhattan.
This recent experience was worlds away from the Lutheran religion of my upbringing. The only resemblance they had to one another was some language. Jesus, God, Holy Spirit, for example. Other than that, one was an experience, the other, an orthodoxy. One was a peace, the other a liturgy. One was authentic and raw, the other was dressed in patent leather, white gloves, and yes m'aams.
What I couldn't have understood then was that it was a new movement with the freedom to invent itself...which meant we also had freedom to be ourselves in it.
This is key.
This movement continued on and eventually changed form as most things do when it organizes itself, particularly if men are the sole decision makers. The outcome, in recent history, often tends to take the form of bureaucracy or hierarchies of power. Without the framework in place to protect its spiritual integrity, a movement will adopt the contorted shape of whoever had the strongest lobby and loudest voice or deepest pockets. The unintended consequence is lack of balance and, without intervention, eventual collapse. Some of this served and some didn't.
As I came to the fork, one road asked me to join it in the experience of God as I'd known it. The other asked me to look at my own reflection and state what I really believed about God. Was it an idea that enamoured me? Was it code to be part of certain groups, yet had no substance? Was it a form of denial by giving me a fantasy escape or illusion to turn to when there was nowhere else to go within? Or was there someplace within my experience, consciousness, or that deep place of knowing that actually had an answer already? Was it hidden so far away that it hadn't been uncovered in a long time? Or was it an oasis in the desert of my paradigmatic illusions?
I've always been teased about being a Pollyanna when it comes to people and differing worldviews. This isn't because I'm naive, however. I'm far from that. But I am a believer in the goodness of people in general.
This is true even in the face of having a sister who hated me to the point of wanting to kill me on many occasions. It was often hard to find the goodness in her, even when I wrote part of her behavior off as mental illness, making it not personal to her or me. It did not keep me from being afraid of her though.
People's differing worldviews can appear to be so deeply polarized that each side can only see evil, selfishness, or hate in the opposing party. This isn't their fault, in one sense, because our sight, whether it be worldview or the sense of physical sight itself, is always revealed through contrast. The more attached we are to the opposite, which acts as the stage to reveal the other against, the more it appears to be against us. This is crucial to understand about people and how we come to believe something, or how we see the world.
The only way to have clarity of sight is from a nondualistic frame of mind. For this to be really effective, however, it must include the heart. A nondualistic heart does not presuppose it will be bias towards one side. As a matter of fact, it would not be. It would be clear without prejudice. And without anger or the feeling of love, which are opposing emotions. Pure love, however, the kind we think of as spiritual transcendence is not the love we feel. It is the love we are, probably because we don't have a word for it other than our english word of love. Perhaps it's time to find one.
The big question that arose as I faced this fork in the road is ... if my beliefs as they relate to religion have lost their importance to me, and my feathers stand up when I'm around some Christian people, and more traditional churches barely make sense to me or inspire me at all, why do I still feel so deeply connected to a spiritual flow inside me? And why does this particular flow, that seems to be deep, deep, deep inside below all that is me, feel like its connected to what I'd come to call the Holy Spirit and the Spirit of Christ? What was it if my mind and reason couldn't attach it to what everyone else said it was? Where had I gone wrong?
The first question that got answered was the last one. I had not gone wrong. I knew the answer the moment the words reached my consciousness. Something told me I wasn't wrong, even if my mind's pictures didn't match theirs. I felt like a square peg in a round hole, but I wasn't wrong somehow. I just didn't belong anywhere.
The next question I knew the answer to was a sensation more than an answer. It was a rightness and a validation through a sense of peace and deep, inner calm that said it was ok not to feel like everyone else. I didn't have to understand religion in the same way, even if God and Jesus Christ were my anchors. The cultural agreement was about their story, not them.
Sure, the purpose of Christ's life on earth is very important to religions, but it's not the essence of how we come to our spiritual practice. Not today anyway. And, personally, not how I came to it in the 70;s either.
It was an experience. An unexpected one at that. It had nothing, whatsoever, to do with intellectual knowledge or reasoning.
That said, if it didn't have anything to do wtih knowledge or reasoning, how real can it be? This is the primary argument of the fast growing atheist movement sweeping the world right now.
If you are intutive, you know what I'm talking about here. This has always been one of the most difficult experiences to validate or explain, particularly to be taken seriously. The worst part is we're not always right. It's not uncommon for intuition to be blended in with emotional baggage or experience, clouding its true meaning or message. It requires practice and discernment to learn how to seperate the wheat from the chaff as intuition and our egos are concerned.
How could I explain:
a. the experience I had when I was young as realer than real, while simultaneously claim to experience a connection to Christ but not to how others I knew interpreted and lived their understanding of his message?
I'd be seen as a heretic and a fake, self-willed, imposter. Evil even.
b. my sense of this was so strong, and the experience so real, yet people would give an eye-roll and write it off to imagination. This goes back to the idea of faith. Why is faith so shunned and dismissed? Is it simply because it's not shared faith? Aren't there other things we have faith about that have nothing whatsoever to do with religion or spiritual things?
**Yes, there were. We share a faith in the idea that our team can win. or that a wound will heal. Or that oranges smell the way they do. If you can't smell, do you believe it smells like an orange? Or if we see a majestic landscape or beautiful flower in full bloom, do I believe its beautiful simply because you can see it? What makes us agree on these subjective conclusions?
It's real because we agree on the experience. We agreee we both experience the mountains as majestic. This may sound simplistic, but in scientific terms, it's very sound as well. How do we know if these things are beautiful or, even the color we say they are? Perhaps the 'real' color cannot be perceived by our limited senses, causing us to only see red. Not unlike a computer when not callibrated to our eyes, will show the wrong color. Isn't this possible?
We agree. The same thing goes for language.
Words are simply agreed upon letters and sounds that give us, collectively a shared meaning. That's it. It's bad if we say its bad. If we agree on what bad means, that is.
So, in essence, doesn't the same thing apply to feelings? If someone's child just died, and they tell us they're feeling sad, we believe them, right? As a matter of fact, they don't have to tell us. We know it.
Or assume it to be so.
If we're at the beach, and you went to take a dip in the ocean, and yelled to me, "This water is so wet. And cold," I'd believe you, right?
But, in essence, is this true? Is the water wet? Or cold? I agree because the world agrees that what we see and touch and share in experience is real. What about what we cannot see and touch, but still share in experience?
Can that be real too?
Why does only what is composed of matter count? Is this all we agree upon as real?
You might say that it can be proven scientifically, right? Science will attest to the fact that it exists.
So? Is science measuring absolutes? It's not. It's measuring what we have the capacity to measure with our human limitations. That said, science is our tool to understand who we are. As a matter of fact, without science, we couldn't have this very conversation. We'd still be sun worshippers.
...And depending on how I spell the word son...some are right now. You see?
Having faith in something is a matter of managing expectations. Manage them, and don't throw the baby out with the bathwater.