Spirituality came easy for me, being “normal” was hard. As a child I was allowed to wander alone in the woods, old farm buildings, pasture, and along the creek. We lived in the small house on my grandparent’s farm, while my grandmother and uncle lived in the big house. I would tell my mother I was going over to Grandma’s house and head off exploring. Thinking back on it I realize it was probably odd that a four year old would be allowed to wander alone, especially one who tended to be on the adventurous side.
I remember one beautiful sunny day sitting on the sand along the creek entranced by the sound of flowing water and bird song. I remember being intrigued by the concept of God I’d heard about in church. I was curious about what this God might be. The sunlight was reflecting off the water and it seemed to dance as it sparkled. The longer I watched it the more mesmerizing it was. At some point I began to see the sunlight as simply energy, and then as I shifted my focus I could see the water itself was the same energy. As I continued to shift my focus closer and closer, I could see that everything I looked at was all made up of this same energy. The sand on the beach, my foot, my leg, my body, everything around me, the entire world, was made up of this energy. I thought, “Oh, this is God”.
Right at that moment it was like my mind just opened up. I’ve heard it described as “seeing behind the curtain” and it is probably a good analogy. This chain of simple realizations opened up my mind to a sense of belonging, a full and total acceptance between me and the universe. I was filled with a feeling that for a long time I described as “God smiling” upon me. I felt truly and completely loved, “a child of God”. That realization has never left me.
Over the years I’ve come to describe such moments as “mystical experiences”; things scientists would say are not reproducible. I think everyone has them whether we accept them or not. They can be life changing, but not always in ways we find blissful. Early mystical experiences led to years when I struggled to understand what my life was meant to be, what I should be doing with my life. I’ve gone in many missed directions, and had to retrace my steps. I learned to quiet my mind and strengthen my concentration through the practice of meditation and it helped me calm the storms whirling in my life.
Over time, my understanding of “God” matured and changed.
Theism focuses on an entity labeled God/Allah/Brahma etc. I think we go through a phase of human development, a time when we need to believe in a spiritual “parent” to guide and protect us. This was when I prayed to Heavenly Father/Divine Mother for guidance and support. Non-theist religions look inward at personal development, letting go of ego identity. This was when I worked to understand “who am I?”
I’ve come to believe that at the heart of every religion we are taught to follow moral precepts; how to live a good life, how to treat others decently. Unfortunately, religious beliefs can also be an excuse for intolerance, prejudice, violence, and atrocities. I think of the world’s religions as different paths, like the spokes of a wheel all leading to the center. Life spins around and around at the periphery, where we are searching for meaning and answers. Now and then we reach for the center, the calm where the storm ends or rather a place from which we can view the storm as opposed to be caught up in it.
I think each of us is on a journey, finding our own personal authentic spiritual truth. For me the path I followed explored mysticism from many different religious teachings including Christianity, Hinduism, Jainism, Taoism, Sufism, and Buddhism. For others, one path is sufficient. Every path taught me in some form to have “Reverence for all life”, to respect life, to love ‘other’ as well as ‘self’. For me truth is that life is interconnected and sacred, every person every creature is sacred and spiritual. I think for some it is easier to see the sacred or spiritual in the beauty of the natural world. It is harder to see the sacred in the messy and sometimes painful human world too often filled with greed, anger, hatred, or violence. Seeing the sacred requires that our “eyes and heart” are open.
There is that Zen saying “Before enlightenment, we chop wood and carry water. After enlightenment, we chop wood and carry water”. When we are fortunate enough to see behind the curtain, we come back and the mundane world looks the same, but now we know there is a curtain. Look long enough and the curtain itself is revealed as ephemeral, there is no true separation. It’s all energy, it’s all sacred, it’s all mundane, and it’s all here for us to experience in a myriad of ways, every moment of every day.
Life is a mystery we accept, not explain. Words like spiritual or God are not the whole truth, for “the Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao”… Words and ideas, secular or sacred, will never capture the entire truth, no matter how reproducible nor how much we believe them to be true. They can only ever be stepping stones across a stream.