33 Days of Truth: Day 13
When it comes to God and the nature of reality, I don’t hold any particular beliefs. Or at least, I try not to. Like in the movie Dogma, I’d rather have good ideas. And I think I do. But they’re not really mine either, I’ve just collected what others have been putting down: breadcrumbs of possibility scattered around the cosmos for each of us to pick up on our individual journeys of conscious (or unconscious) growth.
For most of my life, the crumbs I gathered were “spiritual but not religious” in nature. I’m only recently beginning to directly address the vague, amorphous conceptualizations I’ve carried about life, the universe, and everything, and to consider alternative frameworks and different ideas that might in fact be more constructive and effective.
This is a major paradigm shift for me, because I have been exploring spirituality since I was a young girl and it has almost always been a part of my worldview.
I am still entertaining some spiritual concepts, however I’m using them as tools rather than convictions about how things work. And I’m looking at other options. I’m trying different lenses on. I’m considering more possibilities about reality. These may still incorporate spirituality, but I’m finding that for me, it is no longer the height of the ceiling.
So, for Day 13 of my 33 Days of Truth challenge, we’re going on a spiritual journey! Specifically, mine. Obviously. Lol. Hopefully, you enjoy the ride. 😛
In the Beginning…
My introduction to spirituality occurred early on in life, and my personal experience of it has been an ever-evolving and expanding one. Much of my initial progress of spiritual understanding was directly the result of ideas exposed to me by my mom. She never forced her views on me, and was always open-minded. Nevertheless, from a young age I was aware of her changing, growing beliefs and I followed on her coat tails with interest.
Not too long before I was born, my mom had gotten into the Christian church, at a period in her life when she really needed a sense of peace and a means to handle personal anxiety. She found relief in the religious community and in her relationship with God. As a baby, I was prayed for and blessed by the entire congregation (thanks guys!), and as a small child, I went to Sunday school.
The religious part of Sunday school went pretty much over my head, but I enjoyed the parts that involved arts and crafts, singing (“Deep and wide! Deep and wide! There’s a fountain flowing deep and wiiiiide!”), and also the sweeper vacuum they used to clean the classroom floor. That thing was amazing for my kid brain to watch in action. Seriously. No suction? There’s a piece of paper on the floor, the vacuum rolls over it, and the paper’s gone. How. Did. It. Do. That?! *Magic*
By the time I was consciously thinking about god and spirituality, my mom had already left the church. She was following on a more earthy route with the spiritual practices of our Native American heritage (I’m like, 1/128th Cherokee and Choctaw). She resonated with their approach of reaching a higher power through animals and nature. She started working with feathers, smudging with sage, using animal spirit tarot cards, and referring to God as Great Spirit. She would finish her prayers with “Amen, and Aho” (Aho being a Cherokee term for “Yes, I agree” or “I understand”, often used in ceremonies). For a long time, I would pray that way too.
Growing up, animals were to me divine messengers from Spirit. One of my favorite sources of reference for animal messengers was (and still is) the book Animal Speak, by Ted Andrews, about the power and magic of animal totems. I derived meaning from significant animal sightings, such as when I discovered a lynx in our front yard. This was after we had moved from California to Washington state, where we lived on 20 acres of land up in the northeastern mountains.
During those days on the property, I developed a strong bond with nature. Since I was homeschooled, I had more time than most kids my age to spend outside, getting to connect with the natural world, directly witnessing the rhythms and cycles of the earth.
I would go out among the trees, play in the small creek, run to the hilltop every evening for the sunset. I gloried in the arrival of spring flowers and tiny wild strawberries, the snakes and lizards I found underneath rocks, the sound of coyotes howling at the full moon outside the house, and gazing up at the millions of stars in the sky at night. I worshipped it all.
I developed a sort of natural mysticism, through this intimate, one-on-one connection.
Toward the Light
In terms of ethereal concepts, what really kicked things into high gear for me was a memoir called Embraced by the Light, by Betty J. Eadie. It was a recounting of her experience with near-death and the afterlife, and I was absolutely fascinated by her story. I was around 13 years old then, and it set me on a trajectory of deep spiritual exploration, self-discovery and personal growth. My voracious appetite for metaphysical knowledge lead me to read many influential spiritual and self-help books such as:
The Prophet by Khalil Gibran
The Road Less Traveled by M. Scott Peck
Soul Love (and others) by Sanaya Roman
Medicine Woman (and others) by Lynn Hill
Creative Visualization by Shakti Gawain
Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach
…To name just a few. I read also about reincarnation, chakras, and other esoteric subjects. I rediscovered the family bible, which Mom by that point did not much care for, but I poured over eagerly.
My attraction to the book was mostly over the beauty of the writing. I was enamored by its many lovely passages, which sounded like poetry; and I thrilled at the texture of those thin, lightweight pages. The content itself read as anecdotal and metaphorical to me. Religion as an exclusive ideology always felt too limiting. Like swimming in a small pool of belief when there is an entire ocean of truth to be discovered and explored.
Losing My “Religion”
Somewhere in the mix of all this, splashing around the sea of ideas, absorbing books and figuring out what God and the universe was about, I fell into an existential crisis. I wasn’t even in high school yet and I felt depressed, lost, and wanted desperately to connect directly with Spirit. I ached for a truly mystical experience.
One day in early spring, when the sunlight glittered on snow still thickly blanketing the ground, I walked down the hill from our house and climbed up into a big pine tree. I sat up there alone in my snow suit, and proceeded to have a compete meltdown.
I shook with sobs as I prayed with every fiber of my being for God to communicate with me in some way. I reached out my hands desperately, as if God would reach back. I begged God to reach back.
The only thing that happened was that one of my brothers came down the hill looking for me. I held my breath, half wanting him to spot me, half hoping he wouldn’t. For a brief moment I swear he looked right at me. But then he turned around and headed back up the hill. I was in a bright red, white, and blue suit. How could he have not seen me? Had I turned invisible? For whatever reason, I felt embraced by spirit in that moment. My heart lifted.
The recollection kind of makes me smile now. What a gal.
Where the hell all this spiritual fervor and angst came from, I’m not quite sure. But it certainly imbued my public high school experience with an exceptional sense of alienation. I was on a whole other level in terms of my inward development and perspective, and I straight up did not know how to relate to my peers. I couldn’t have cared less about their drinking and partying and dating nonsense; and I definitely could not wrap my head around their petty meanness and judgment of each other. The drama that went on with them! It was gross to watch. I wondered, where was the love?!
Even so, my spiritual development inevitably took a back seat as I grappled with the challenges of high school survival, and afterward when I headed out in the “real world” to get a job and get on through college. Meanwhile, my spiritual curiosity continued to hum in the background.
In the Spiritual Closet
Over the years, I peeked even more into the “wooh wooh” sphere. I had a past life regression done, had multiple psychic readings, talked to spirit guides, created vision boards, repeated affirmations, tested my intuition, and experienced “Law of Attraction” related manifestations. The movie The Secret was a big part of my spiritual development in my twenties.
I did all of this exploration largely in private, sharing with almost nobody except my mom, since we had a shared interest in New Age stuff and enjoyed nerding out on it together. I did not personally know anyone besides her who cared about spiritual ideas beyond the standard religious ideologies. And since I remained closeted about it, nobody knew that about me.
It seemed as if I were always in two worlds, my inner world and the world “out there”; my spiritual ideas and aspects of myself I kept private, and my external public life. And they didn’t seem to mesh together.
Despite my mom’s supportiveness, and the many books I’d read on the subjects that clearly indicated other like-minded people were out there, I kept that part of myself hidden away from public view with a fear that would have rather befitted a prophet stoned to death or a witch burned at the stake. Once again, I don’t know where that came from. Past incarnation, maybe? 😛
Deep down, I wasn’t satisfied with the answers I was getting on either side, the spiritual or the physical. One school of thought said one thing, the other said something else. Everyone acted so sure of their ideas, as if they had discovered the secrets about life. I seriously doubted that.
Existential Crisis 2.0
While attending university, I had yet another collapse of existential proportions; this one slightly less divine in nature than my earlier pine tree meltdown. In my spiritual as well as academic learning, the totality human life gradually began to feel like a lesson in utter futility to me. What was the point of it, of anything?
I looked backward and forward through time, at the vast expanse of human history, and couldn’t see any real progress, any true meaning. It was all the same stuff, repeating itself over and over, forever through eternity. I saw and thought bitterly, what a sad state of affairs we were in. I did not know if I would ever shake the sense of despair.
On the outside, I put up a front of being a normal student with primarily academic concerns and kept myself relatively together. Inside, however, I struggled constantly with the lack of direction and purpose I felt in my own, and in all of, existence.
The tide turned when yet another book entered my life, Way of the Peaceful Warrior by Dan Millman. It provided a renewed sense of personal power. I couldn’t do much about the world and all the people in it, but I could become the kind of person who lived as an example in the world, and develop my own higher consciousness, at least. Self-mastery and love were concepts I could grab onto. I felt it was time to embrace life, find my joy, and become a peaceful warrior; to be the change, as the phrasing goes.
I felt emboldened by a growing inner strength about who I was, and from that place I finally began to open up on social media about my perspective on spiritual matters. Once I revealed my true self out from behind the protective mask, something interesting occurred. Life started to reflect this authentic aspect of myself back to me. Suddenly, I was meeting people who shared similar ideas and values. They spoke my language. It wasn’t such a scary thing to talk about anymore. I lightened up. I felt happier. By integrating some of my inner and outer experience, the world grew more cohesive and life got more fun.
Into the Void
I was riding high for a while. But the crest of the wave eventually gave way, and I downshifted once more, falling into the trough with a growing disillusionment about the “cult of positivity” (as I privately called it) that appeared to be cropping up everywhere: Think positive thoughts. Good vibes only. Follow your bliss!
These self-help, take-the-happy-pill messages, delivered in excess on the heels of The Secret movie, became too much for me to swallow at a time when tragedy struck entirely too close to home.
The death of a friend’s close family member rattled me deeply. At the time, my mom tried to help assuage the devastation I felt by suggesting I not dwell on those feelings, as it could “attract” more of the same negative emotions. She encouraged me to release them and to focus on holding the space of joy for my friend. I understood her good intentions, but it struck a raw nerve.
I wondered, where was the room for heartache and pain in all this? I felt it, my friend felt it, and I didn’t want to detach from everything in the world in order just to feel better or protect myself from further suffering. Those emotions were part of me and part of life. I could not reconcile what happened with the “it’s all good” mentality of the positivity movement. It wasn’t making sense to me when placed against actual experience. I needed a perspective that was more rigorous and inclusive.
I processed and embraced the grief as best I could, while battling an overwhelming uncertainty about the ways of the universe, unsure of how to put a very broken worldview back together. I did not try. Instead, I let it be for a while. And it took some time to even consider anything new.
A thing that helped in the grieving process was getting a tattoo in honor of the person who died. It symbolized the loss for me, shifting it into a more meaningful perspective. It allowed me to clarify my own values and intentions for moving forward in my life.
Fast forward now to the present, where my sense of spirituality is undergoing a major overhaul. Or rather, a refocus…
Let the Mystery Be?
Heading into this year, I decided to lean into evolving the relationship I have with Spirit, to make it deeper and richer; to clarify and redefine what it means to me; to build it some legs and get it walking. And, also, to work on embodying my own true spirit; to be more authentic and real.
Oddly enough, with Spirit as my personal growth theme, I have started feeling drawn to non-spiritual thinking. I find myself intrigued by what it might be like to be an atheist, for example. By putting my spiritual “ideas” about reality up for inquiry, I only recently realized that I’ve never actually looked at the world through a purely objective lens. My brain has pretty much always perceived the world as being matter representing spiritual energy.
Trying to hold the idea that we are purely biological animals, and the universe is made up entirely of physical objects, with no ethereal component whatsoever, gives me a kind of existential vertigo. Total mind bender! I am not opposed to that being the true nature of reality, but it’s so ingrained in me to view us as spiritual beings having a physical experience, and to look for deeper spiritual and metaphorical meaning in everything, that to not do so feels rather like watching a movie without the soundtrack. It feels flat. I find it kind of boring.
That being said, I’m excited and interested in being able to see the world in different ways. Some of those ways I’m playing with include the following concepts:
- We are spiritual beings having a human experience.
- We are biological animals in a world of physical objects.
- We are Consciousness experiencing itself subjectively in a dreamscape.
- We are avatars, playing out our characters and stories in some kind of simulation.
- All of the above are possible lenses and tools that we can use to frame reality.
- Nothing above is true.
- Everything above is true.
- 42. 😉
Rather than looking around at all the varying answers to the mystery of life and trying to piece together a perspective that makes sense to me, I’ve grown increasingly interested in simply exploring questions about what is and what could be.
To paraphrase Rumi, I have been and I still am a seeker, however, after asking a lot of books, I’m turning to my own simple experience. Letting my reality be reality, and testing things against it. (Also continuing to read books, but finally dropping the spiritual agenda.)
Ultimately, there is no undeniable, totally verifiable way to tell what is true. I’m ok with that. It feels good to not feel attached to ideas any which way. But it’s incredibly fun to consider the possibilities. Bearing that in mind, I’m heading into deeper water in the ocean of life than I’ve ever been before, with a sense of curiosity and of play.
What’s out there?!
P.S. Here is a Spiritual Journey music playlist, for funsies! 🙂