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“You can’t just DO that!”
That’s one of the nicer comments I’ve heard about my spiritual path. I’ve been called a heathen (really?), an atheist (um…no) and a non-believer (well, yeah, I don’t believe in organized religion … for myself). I’ve also been told that I’m “copping out” because I haven’t committed to a mainstream religion and because I’ve taken what I believe is the best of religious, spiritual, and yes, some really “out there” belief systems and made my Path.
You see, all my life I’ve culled through information on God, Spirit, The Afterlife and other concepts that make up other people’s religious belief systems. I deliberately chose what to believe in and I’m still choosing! Still learning, still absorbing, still forming opinions of my own. Everyone has a path, everyone either chooses or they don’t; not choosing is a form of choice. If someone finds meaning and comfort in their religion or belief system they were born into and accepts everything it has to offer whole-heartedly, that’s a choice. There are no bad or good choices. We are all going to get to the same place, the same end so what difference does it make how you get there? The diversity in paths makes this world a way more interesting place.
The world today is chaotic and divided if not along political lines then among religious lines. I’m no closer to a personal answer for all the grief in the world, but my path, my belief system that I’ve created for myself helps me cope with the overwhelm and upset that daily sweeps our world.
Yes, I am a Non-believer
Occasionally someone asks about my religious beliefs. What church do I belong to, what path am I on, and what do I believe. I readily reply that I don’t believe in organized religion. Not in today’s world. Not in yesterday’s world either. My world view doesn’t agree with the basic tenets of most religions and we’re going to leave it at that for this post. Seriously … drop it and back slowly away with your hands up. But even if organized religion is not my thing, I respect those who do follow them.
But, yes I Believe
I believe there’s a cosmic force that created us and guides us on our way and takes us in after we die. I believe that there’s inherent goodness in the world. We just need to search for it. For every terrorist, there’s someone on the front lines helping humanity. For every hate crime, there’s a good deed. This world is all a matter of balance, but sometimes we see and believe only the worst. Having religious faith or a spiritual belief system in place makes us stronger, it makes us believe there’s a place in the world for us. We just need to find our personal Path.
How I Found the Path My Feet Are On and How You Can Find Yours
Finding our paths is a highly personal journey shaped by who we are, how we were raised and how we perceive the world around us. There are as many paths out there as there are human beings. We all answer to or believe in some sort of creator; God, Goddess, Jehovah, Allah, Universal Energy, Spirit, Inner Spark or Flying Spaghetti Monster. What or whomever makes you feel secure in the dark and happy in the light.
Your mission, should you choose to accept it is to find your light, find what resonates to your core, to find what speaks to your soul.
Learning opportunity #1 Evaluate the religion or beliefs of your family
My father was Catholic, my mother Protestant; a Congregationalist. By the time I came along, neither one was regularly attending services. I went to Grace Congregational church with my Grandmother and after she passed, my Grandfather would take me.
I recall very little from those days other than the giant chicken wire cross on palm Sunday; all the Sunday school kids marched up the aisle to put palm fronds on it. This lead to my first internal conflict about religion … I couldn’t have a palm frond because my mom didn’t send me to Sunday school. The second internal conflict came from communion. Every week I got all tweaked out of shape because I couldn’t have the snacks that everyone else had. Congregationalists celebrate communion with real wine and bread, you see. Try explaining that to a hungry twitchy bored rugrat. I also suspected, though incorrectly, that this was part of the Sunday school conspiracy.
These two early conflicts explain why I love any place that has palm trees and my adult red wine habit.
Mostly likely you’re already past this step but it never hurts to review.
Learning opportunity #2 Learn about other religions
With the passing of both grandparents my church going days were at an end. That end happened to coincide with my grandfather’s funeral. There he was in the same church we went to every Sunday in an open casket with everyone in the room crying. That instantly associated church with death in my eight year old head. I remember sitting in a chair in the living room after the service, spinning the chair and crying because I was afraid that I was going to die because you see, I had gone to church with Grandma and then Grandpa … and she died and then he died … then so would I. My number was coming up and I did not want to leave. It took my mother a long time to convince me otherwise.
During this period of my life, I started going to church with my friends and other members of my family. This is how I learned that Catholics also get snacks, but they don’t look as palatable as the Congregationalists. Going to church with my best friend again made me feel left out and that I was lacking something because I couldn’t play in their reindeer games without committing to a lifetime membership.
You can see a pattern here, can’t you?
Learning opportunity #2.5 Learn about other belief systems
My mother started making up for lost time after she totally freaked out that dying frightened me so much. She was also hearing my early dissatisfaction with the church experiences I was having.
She started steering me towards some of the spiritual thought leaders that were prevalent in the 60’s and 70’s; Dick Sutphen, Ruth Montgomery, Jess Stern, Robert Monroe, and Edgar Casey. I voraciously read almost everything that came my way, finding many other books that intrigued me. All these new concepts and thoughts were fascinating and frankly, I wanted more. I was being exposed to ideas that seemed more inclusive than mainstream religion and settled in my soul in a way not much else had.
I didn’t realize until years later that my mother had her own spiritual path that she was following and that the religion of her childhood had fallen by the wayside. She firmly believed that everyone should find their own path and was gently steering me towards knowledge that would help me define mine.
My later beliefs and choices about my path were informed by my mother’s attitudes about spirituality. Thanks Mom!
Learning opportunity #3 Read, Read, Read and Read Some More. If You Tire of Reading, Watch and Listen
Libraries. Bookstores. Amazon. Internet. Hay House. YouTube. Audible. Ted. Medium.com. Resources are vast and plentiful. Find what resonates with you, choose the book that feels good in your hands and tempts you to open and read it on the spot. Pick the book that just flopped off a shelf in front of you, it’s probably the universe nudging you towards the one you need most. Grab a book that calls to you, flip it open and read what’s on that page. If that single page fits in with the Path you’re on or makes you think about things in a new light then you can bet the rest of the book fits your life.
YouTube is a wonderful playground, by the way, if you ignore some of the sheer garbage out there. I’ve stumbled on some really interesting things from lost books of the Bible to a delightful debate between two well-known atheists and two Rabbis about “Is There an Afterlife?”. You’d think that there would be a definite line in the sand for these two opposing factions. But no, at times it was amusing to hear them saying things that supported each other’s stand on the theme.
There’s a metaphysical shop in Denver that has a room that has all four walls covered in used books. They carry the great books along with many, many other belief systems. They seem to have a bit of everything under the sun. I love that room, it vibrates with possibilities and I have never come away from there without a book that instructs or inspires me.
As always; explore, evaluate, and let what you learn create your own way in the world.
Learning opportunity #4 Meditate on What You’re Learning
Meditation can benefit everybody no matter what Path they’re on. Be still and become a Watcher of your own thoughts. Your joys and sorrows, acceptances and rejections, beliefs and feelings all parade through the vastness that is you, your mind and your spirit. It’s how we’re wired, it’s how we recognize where we are and where we’re going. Meditation takes what you’re learning and soothes it into your very cells and makes your path real. It gets your mind out-of-the-way so your soul can assimilate all the information you take in and validates what you believe.
I know taking time every day to sit in silence is daunting. Meditation doesn’t really require a lot of your time, you don’t even need to sit. Take a walk in nature, take 10 minutes and have a cup of tea or coffee but sit and be still! Turn off the electronics, shut down the internal chatter machine and just be.
For myself, meditation is part of my pre-sleep ritual. It’s the very last thing I usually do before going to sleep and sometimes that’s HOW I go to sleep.
Learning opportunity #5 Find People and Groups That Fit With What You’re Learning
They’re out there; at metaphysical fairs, at non-denominational churches, churches and synagogues and mosques. Seek out groups in your community. Find them, visit them and ask questions, always ask questions. I also understand that you’ll run into people who will try to hard sell their personal path. Believe it or not that happens less often than you think. If you feel better in a group join or don’t join if you’d rather keep your path personal.
Keep your eyes open wherever you go. The old saying that “the teacher will appear when the student is ready.” really applies here.
At least once a year, I go on a painting retreat to a monastery in the beautiful Colorado Rocky Mountains. Though not required, it is encouraged that we attend some of the daily religious observances and it is a politeness to the Monastics to attend. The first time I went to mass was out of politeness. The next time I went was because I found it beautiful. Orthodox Christians sing most of their masses and the music goes soul deep. Even when I didn’t attend, I had the great fortune that the room assigned to me was right below the chapel and the sound resonated through the floor. I meditated one night with Vespers permeating the air from above me. It was magical.
Keep your mind and your heart open, you never know where your path will lead you.
Adventures Along the Way
Read the great books of the major religions. Go to places of worship both secular and non-secular. Wherever people gather in praise of something greater than themselves, there are lessons to be learned.
Religions and Spiritual Paths are not mutually exclusive. Religions encompass the spiritual but spirituality doesn’t necessarily involve having a religious affiliation. There is no one-size-fits-all Path in this world. Our faith, our beliefs no matter how diametrically opposed are what should bind us together not divide us. Each of us has a light to shine on the darkness and ease the woes of the world.
It’s yours and it’s personal and now it’s time to go explore and find your light.
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