i was having an interesting conversation with an athiest friend of mine the other day who is struggling with feelings of emptiness and wondering if spirituality of some kind might help him in this. like any person with a brain in his head, he questions the logic of spirituality and religions and has a hard time thinking he'll ever really *believe* in anything he can't see or prove.
now i am a priestess and thus i think that spirituality and religion (not the same thing btw) do a lot of good in the world, along with the stupid and bad they also cause. i'm a pagan which means i don't believe in forcing my opinions on the subject onto other people. i also think that whatever path calls to someone and improves their life is the exact right path for them. i have a fairly eclectic and pragmatic outlook on the whole subject which means i think you should take in whatever makes sense for you, from any info you come across, and discard anything that doesn't work. some might call this cherry-picking. i'm ok with that. religion is a deeply personal and important thing, why on earth shouldn't you pick over it with a fine-tooth comb and make sure you agree with every bit of what you're internalizing? now, since i am, like my friend, a person with a brain in my head, i go through the same struggles of logic vs. leaps of faith that everyone goes through. i think anyone who is examining their beliefs will at some point say "what am i fucking nuts?". this is a good thing! a spirituality which is not examined is one not worth living.
i was never raised with the concept of god(ess) per say. i was raised with social and environmental responsibility and respect for other's religions, but my mother is an athiest and my father changes religions every other week and i never knew what he really believed. in some ways this was a good thing. i had no previous bias to one set of rules over another other then the ever-modern *logic is god*. in other ways this was not so good. if i'd been raised to believe in a god of some kind, maybe i would have an easier time trusting in their existence (or trusting in general? who knows). either way, i'm the kind of person who did not grow up with the notion that god was there so if i wanted that in my life it was something i would have to figure out how to do myself.
now why would i want to believe in something i can't prove? short answer: because it improves my life. it's comfort in bad times, it's a celebration in good times, it's a set of morals to live by, and it's an exercise in trust. belief, by definition, is a trust in something you cannot prove. if you could prove it, it would cease to be belief and become fact. but trust in general can never be proven to be a good idea before it's given, can it? you can trust your friend for years and do well, then they betray you anyways. does that mean that trusting at all was a bad idea? of course not. besides, what is the alternative? trusting in nothing? in no one? that is a slippery slope towards paranoia-ville and depression land.
the other thing about trust and belief that no one likes to talk about is that they are not in-born talents and they are not set in stone by how we were raised. they are skills we can learn. this is an exercise in controlling your thought patterns wherein we consciously and consistently choose the types of thoughts it is a good idea for us to entertain. for religion, at least for me, it starts by making absolutely sure that the things i'm telling my self on purpose make perfect sense to me and will improve my life. i have enough shame tapes and bad plan loops to battle, i don't need to add more while i'm reprogramming myself. that means we start by cherry-picking all the best bits i can find. the other reason behind this is that when i'm saying "what am i fucking nuts?" i need to be able to talk myself into it and say "no, because...." is this self-delusion? well, yes, actually. is it any MORE self-delusion then the shame tapes and low self esteem messages that normally play an annoying loop in my head? not at all. seeing the world as it truly is (the goal of our logic-centered society btw) may be a great idea but it is fundamentally flawed by our lovely little monkey brains (that's the part that throws random weird thoughts at you and never stops chattering). the fact is we ALL have biases, and lots of them. all of our thoughts and opinions and perspectives are coloured by our previous experiences which have built up our monkey brains. what i like to call our core self is the part that has these grand ideas like seeing the world as it really is (it's the part of you that looks at your thoughts or decides you want to control them). if one wants to see the world as it really is, without bias, one would have to learn to shut off ALL ones biases, not just the ones that say that the world is a happy place and god exists and gives a damn. "as it really is", without bias, means without opinion or judgment. you don't get to just toss out the good and think you're stronger for enduring the bad. now the monkey mind a is pretty big part of us, it's been around for a long damn time and it's not going anywhere anytime soon. the good part is that you can hack it and use it to change your life for the better. this is both difficult and terrifying. once you get a good start on it (insert huge internal battles here) you can change things much more quickly (insert terror of fucking it up here).
terry pratchet introduced in his book "small gods" the idea that we create our own gods by what we believe. that our belief calls them into being and when less people believe less strongly a god gets weaker until it eventually dies because no one believes anymore. i find this notion interesting and somewhat logical and disturbing all at the same time but it fits fairly well with my pagany structure that the god and goddess are in everything and everyone and tie us all to everything else. if the god and goddess live inside me then it makes sense that what i do and think and feel shape at least that little piece of them. fun things to think about anyway.
what really amazes me about all of this is how fast our minds really change, not just in the thoughts and opinions and emotions swinging through the trees, but in the landscape of our brains at large. i think most people have had personal epiphanies at some time or another. i don't know how many is common but i've had quite a lot of them. the interesting thing is that now i couldn't even tell you what they are unless i had them written down somewhere. these "ahHA!" moments where something clicks into place and you see the world differently and you know something fundamental about you has changed get absorbed so quickly into who you are that within a few days it's hard to imagine ever thinking something else. that means in times of deep personal change where you're having these moments all the time you could become a totally different person over the course of a few weeks or even days! that's a little scary when you start getting the notion that you (the core you) has control over this process. in actively re-programming the monkey mind i've found that i start having these personal revelations more often, and these are the things that change my core self. the fear that i'll fuck this up makes me examine my thoughts even more carefully and be sure to harbor only notions that i believe (trust?) are healthy for me. of course you can see how the pebble, once kicked, produces the avalanche (not all the time of course, it works in waves). this concept is also very freeing because you start to get the sense that you are in control of more then you thought and do not have to be a slave to the misery or boredom or whatever was caging you before. note that these changes have been happening much faster and more easily for me since hacking my brain chemistry a bit (which is a totally different set of scary) with the use of B12 vitamins. true chemical imbalances make everything much much harder. course then you get into the idea of is my natural state (b12 deficient and a lot more unhappy) more "authentic" then my current state (better brain function through nutrition? or is it really a drug?). oh authenticity. you are a fucked up subject unto yourself but the main conclusion i've come to is we are all constantly creating ourselves and reinventing ourselves whether we are aware of it or not. being aware of it, making decisions about the person i want to create and the life i want to have and the thoughts i allow to take up residence in me, is MORE authentic then not being aware of it and blinding swinging through the monkey mind i created without noticing. in other words the "true authentic me" is exactly who i am right at this moment, no matter how i got here and i CHOOSE to be happy as much as i can. you can choose to have any opinion on that you like.
the decision to change myself in this magnitude came about for me in a time that i was so depressed and self-hating i could not possibly imagine going on with my life as it was. i basically sat down in the road of my life and said "i can't walk another step. cannot. i will stay here until something changes or someone helps me" and the someone who helped me was my core self who gave me a smack upside the head and said "you hate you? then be someone else and stop whining about it". the something that changed was me, getting fed up with my monkey mind enough to tell it to shut up for two min and listen. it's amazing how once you set your mind to something resolutely (or desperately) enough all the info you need is everywhere you turn and the plans start falling into place and the things i wrote down that i wanted to be are starting to become "well, ya, of course" kind of things instead of "oh if only". i think this creative force that's blowing through me IS the little (and some days bigger) piece of my gods that resides in me all the time. so in short, i am a spiritual person because i choose to be, for the sake of my sanity. the trust part comes in the leap of faith that the little piece of my gods inside me will guide me enough to not fuck it all up too badly. i choose to believe that since really, it's too much responability for one little person and i'm not arrogant enough to think i can do this all myself.
and now the lovely elizabeth gilbert ('eat, pray, love' is a GREAT book btw) with more interesting random bits of wisdom: