I was despairing recently over some of the dumb and boring decisions I made as a teenager and young adult. I suppose everyone has those, but I felt isolated in my history of choices, then I read this for my uni studies and it struck a chord. I am not the only one who has wandered in this wilderness! The decisions I made arose out of a fairly devout Christian faith. One thing I can not condemn myself in is that I thought that I had made all of my decisions in an honesty that was complete and totally in line with my world view – but – now I can say that the world view was wrong.
I am completely at home saying that now, but it has taken me a very long time to extricate myself from a very rigid way of thinking. I would even call many aspects of it brainwashing. In the very least, I definitely relinquished the responsibility to make my own decisions to some external power whether the voices of other people (who seem to be prevalent in such institutions) that were so much stronger than my own, or “the voice of God” which I found so hard to distinguish…I wonder why! At times I was even that person who believed and then preached to others what they should do. This is the training of religion at work.
Funnily, I struggled and kicked at this the whole way along, while also convinced that I had to go along with it. Perhaps this is because I had a brain and I wanted to use it, I just did not know how in the context of life (being a wee thing to just very young). Because I was raised in this tradition, I could say that I was not enabled to hear, let alone follow, my own voice.
This is the predicament of those whose lives are controlled by religion. Where do they start and their religious beliefs take over? It is almost impossible for the religious person to know or dissect this. It is all so warped in a torturous package of beliefs, opinion, ‘shoulds’ and ‘musts’ that what the individual actually wants never, ever comes through and is never enjoyed in its simplicity. I have talked to many people who grew up in a church (including one dear friend in his 50s) who tell me that, to this day, the scars are with them.
I feel more positive than that. I forcefully removed myself from the power of the church, bit by bit. There are still remnants of this old life that will never leave. I married and had children in this state (we have struggled through this together). I chose jobs based on what I thought I should do. There are still lovely, church-going friends who can not understand my position and “encourage” me to go back into “the fold” so that I can be close to “the fire” because otherwise I am just “an ember” off on my own. (This is the vernacular and, actually, it makes me a little sick.)
Now I have a visceral reaction against all and any forms of religiosity, even forms of authoritarianism and institutionalism that are secular, because I know what it can do to persuadable minds.
My strength, however, lies in me utterly claiming this past and knowing that my future path is informed by, but not influenced by, a depth of understanding of my own and humanity’s vulnerability. I know how easily power can be surreptitiously adopted and used to manipulate – even, perhaps, unconsciously.
To be warped but then to set oneself straight – though it takes a giant amount of resolve and persistence and lots of time – is highly empowering and perhaps my greatest achievement so far (though ongoing).
In leaving behind the trappings of church though, where does this leave me and God? Because I did have a genuine love for the mythical set of thoughts and feelings that I called “God”. For a long time I clung to my idea of God, but this was due, considerably, to the deep-rooted fear (of hell, other’s opinions, doing the ‘wrong’ thing, so many things!) that my belief system had worked to build in me. I’m pretty happy to say that that fear is completely non-existent now and I find great pleasure in exploring other concepts of spirituality.
I still feel myself to be ‘deeply spiritual’, but I have allowed the form that this takes to be much more fluid. There are very few certainties. Mostly all that I know now is what I love and that which I love is my guiding star. I love nature. I love stillness. I love to listen to my own inner world, even if that world only reflects loneliness or something else we might think of as negative. I relish it as its small, still voice was quashed in my younger years. I love (but am not good at) connection with loved ones and with others. Religion does not set one up for true connection, it establishes a platform for ‘otherness’, for judgement. Learning to connect honestly and openly with others is something that I am currently practicing.
Not being frightened of an imaginary hell has also freed me up to explore more ancient practices, but the key word is practices. They are not beliefs, they are practices. Meditation, daily exercise, walking, eating in moderation, occasional reiki to bust through meditation ceilings or mind whirlpools – which I am susceptible to, connecting with the natural world and the like all allow me to explore my own inner world, which has become more precious to me than anything and something I can not ever compromise again through submitting myself to another’s power or opinion, or my own fear.
When it comes to the natural world, I came to the understanding that it is elemental to our being. When it comes to certainties, it is certain that without a healthy, functioning ecosystem, but – more than that – a functioning relationship between ourselves and our planet, then we literally are nothing! So strengthening and working for this connection is my numero uno priority in my life. It is a value that I can not compromise because it is foundational to life and because this planet that supports my being is my first love. It is nature that has always been with me through every struggle and it was in nature that I found the stillness and certainty that was lacking in my own inner world and in the world that I was a part of. For others, in the future, to live without this is unconscionable to me.
At the point that our society is now in – it is too dire to operate in opposition to relationship with the natural world.
In the end a life begun under an imbalance of power is continuing within the framework of relationship. Relationship has replaced belief and practice has replaced religiosity. I’m comfortable with that currently. I will say, though, that the thinking ever evolves.