Spirituality is religion without shame detaching from the dogma to discover the true essence of the soul a soul that's not sinful and soiled but a small part of the grander perfection that swirls throughout the cosmos and stitches the universe into one cohesive cloth deconstructing the hierarchy propped up by people with impure intentions a recognition of my inner light in the eyes of all others a curious innocence allowing everyone to be their own guide, their own fractal of God energy not offering ultimate, immutable answers but instead offering peace and patience in the shared presence of the unknowable the loving awareness of uncertainty merged with a deep, yet inexpressible inner knowing a humble surrender to our own unanswered prayers
silencing the inner chatter to hear the soft hum of celestial wisdom lifting myself above the tumultuous tides of my own mistaken mind finding stillness in the radio static of consciousness to tune in to the salient source of everything surrendering the obsession for contemplating complex patterns in favor of opening to the energy trying to be channeled in life's challenge is a sweet irony a call to remember what we are amidst the chaos of time and space to pause long enough to transcend them humbling ourselves to the unknowable truth to trust in forces we cannot control to be guided by an unseen hand down a foggy, confused path learning to mirror the beauty of faith reflected back in the eyes of the innocent by the joyous confidence of children and small beings with blindly open hearts our trust will not be betrayed only the temptation to doubt will mislead us even so we are never lost only learning new lessons
Have you ever noticed something very particular and seemingly random suddenly coming up again and again in your everyday life? Almost as if the universe is calling you to pay attention to this specific thing? I know some people have this sensation often, even to the extent they start making every little thing extremely meaningful in some way. For me, this hardly ever happens. I have a very weak sense of my intuition. I never really think much of the strange coincidences that happen in my life. That made it all the more poignant to me how much this sign stuck out and refused to be silenced.
Over a month ago, I was in a training and one of the instructors mentioned the book Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl. As she said it, I glanced at my bookshelf and realized, I had that very book! I hadn’t purchased it. I had gotten it secondhand from a psychologist that retired from my last job and left piles of books to give away to whoever was interested. I took a lot of those books, but hadn’t read many of them yet. I decided that I just had to read it now, but I was in the middle of another book so I put it off. Then I heard it mentioned on a few podcasts. One podcast host, just as I was thinking it, made a comment to the effect of “if I was playing sign’s from the universe bingo, two of the squares would have to be Viktor Frankl and neuroplasticity.” Chills immediately ran down my spine. Neuroplasticity was another pivotal concept I’d learned about in school that had changed my life and seemed to be endlessly talked about wherever I went afterward. I knew this book had something for me, maybe exactly what I was needing.
It’s not a very long book so I got through it pretty swiftly. Much to my delight, there were even notes in the margins from the psychologist that I had inherited the copy from. I took my own notes as well, and this is what I’ve taken away from Frankl’s text. What is the meaning of life? Or rather, what things give life meaning? Love, nature, humor, and suffering. These are the things that make life meaningful.
Frankl brought me to tears with his descriptions about how even in the face of the most horrific suffering anyone can imagine, inside the concentration camps of Auschwitz, with seemingly nothing left to live for, the image of his wife’s face in his memory was enough to give him strength and keep him going. It wasn’t necessarily that he felt he had to survive to see her again. He didn’t even know if she was still alive. But it didn’t matter. The love he had for her was real and could not be taken from him. The love itself was enough to keep living. I think we’ve all tasted the incredible power that love gives us, but his descriptions really drove home how inherently meaningful love is, that it truly can conquer all, even our own immense suffering and hopelessness.
He went on to explain, that despite the numbness the prisoners succumbed to after so much time engulfed in pain and suffering, the beauty and majesty of nature was still able to grip them. As they stood in agony in a filthy train car, supposing they were on their way to the gas chambers, they still crowded around the tiny window just to see the breathtaking image of the distant mountains against the horizon. He also recounts the story of one prisoner that tells him before she dies that the scraggly limb of a tree that she could see through the window at camp kept her going. She said the tree spoke to her. It said, “I am here. I am here. I am life, eternal life.”
As morbid as it may seem, Frankl also recounts the humor he and his fellows found even in suffering. Starvation, pain, humiliation, death, and disease were not enough to take away their ability to make light of it all somehow. Regardless of the situation, no matter how dire it may seem, we still have the power of perspective, even if only in fleeting moments. We can find the humor in even our darkest hours. And sometimes that is enough to get us through. No one is demanding we take life so seriously. There is so much power in laughter, especially dark humor and laughter at our own misfortune. The gift of humor is transcendent.
Finally, Frankl explains that there is meaning even in suffering itself. Although we try to find happiness and avoid suffering as all living beings do, there is still inherent value in the suffering that touches each and every one of our lives to some extent. Suffering can be seen as an opportunity. It can be a fortifying fire that turns iron into steel. Sometimes our suffering can be seen as a sacrifice, a way to protect someone else from the fate we now bear. What could be more meaningful than that? Love can make even the most bitter suffering a beautiful gift. While we don’t wish for suffering to stain our lives, it is not an evil if we can transmute it into a source of strength and spiritual transformation.
Near the very end of the book, when I thought I had already seen what the universe had directed me here for, I was moved more deeply still. A concept I had been incubating for a while now was presented to me in the most perfect phrasing, in words I hadn’t quite been able to grasp yet myself. Frankl used the example of a chimp being experimented on for a cure, but as this left a bad taste in my mouth, I thought of a better one. Consider a honeybee and its life’s work. As it flies from flower to flower, the bee is only concerned with collecting pollen to make honey for its hive. It has no hope of becoming privy to the larger significance of its daily labors. The bee will never know that in addition to providing for its fellow bees, it is pollenating the plants it visits. It is making it possible for an unimaginable abundance of life. It is giving life not only to the flowers and vegetation, but also the beings that consume them to survive. The bee is unwittingly the humble servant of all Earth’s life.
Faith for me is learning to trust that this grander scale of significance also exists for human kind, even if I’ll never see it or be able to understand. “What is demanded of man is not, as some existential philosophers teach, to endure the meaninglessness of life; but rather to bear his incapacity to grasp its unconditional meaningfulness in rational terms.” This quote, right here, is the reason I believe the universe directed me to this book. This is the confirmation of the inner truth that I have been searching for. This was the universe patting me on the back and saying, “You finally got it. You’re on the right path.” My task in life is not to understand it all, like I once thought. My task is to keep going despite my lack of understanding, to learn to trust in something beyond myself. When I lost the belief in God, I also thought that I lost this higher purpose. But that isn’t true. I may not see an omnipotent being beyond myself, but there is still something. I don’t need to give it a name to feel the truth behind it. There is peace and beauty and strength in learning to surrender to the unknowable meaningfulness of life.
Focusing on the past and trying to make sense of my previous mistakes and experiences used to be a much bigger part of my mental landscape. I think when I was younger it was easier to line things up in a neat and orderly manner in order to create a story that made sense and gave me a sense of direction. Eventually it seemed like I had created so many memories, lived through so many years, met and lost so many people that I started to lose the plot. There no longer seemed to be a way to make all these seemingly random pieces fit together.
One of the good things about shifting my focus away from the past is that I don’t ever dwell on regrets. Someone asked me the other day what one of my biggest regrets was, and it honestly took me a long time to even come up with any. I’ve certainly made a lot of egregious mistakes throughout my time on this earth, but do I really regret those mistakes? I don’t know. I do regret the way I’ve treated a lot of people in my life. But even then, that’s more because of the way it affected them, not how it’s affected me. Although I feel guilty for being so cruel and selfish when I was younger, I never would have learned what I know now or become the person I am today if I hadn’t behaved that way in the past.
For instance, one of my biggest regrets is probably the way I treated my mother during my late teens. Part of me does wonder how I might be different if I had been willing to accept her support and love during some of my darkest, loneliest times. Still I think I wouldn’t have the perspective to appreciate her the way I do now if I hadn’t rejected and hated her all those years ago. Despite my coldness, I was able to feel just how much she loved me. Even when I basically threw her love away each time, she continued to offer it to me at every opportunity. She never returned my disdain or cruelty. She never left or gave up on me. Because of that time in my life, I now cherish her more than I think I ever could have otherwise. One of my biggest regrets still led to the discovery of truly unconditional love and the unwavering support of a mother for her child. And understanding just how lucky I am to have that.
Lately I have been feeling completely stuck and without direction in life. I keep struggling to move past this uncomfortable stagnation. At the same time I just can’t seem to envision how or when this feeling will change. Looking back at the past, particularly our own mistakes, can be painful, but there is a value to exploring our own story every now and then. There is a lot that we can learn from piecing together the seemingly disconnected parts of our colorful pasts. One of those things is refilling our faith that things might not make sense right now, but one day they will.
No matter how badly we might feel we have failed, or how irredeemable our actions may seem in the moment, you can never be sure the future benefits, knowledge, and value we may gain from them in the future. Just because we can’t see it right now, can’t even conceive how that could be possible, we can at least acknowledge that it’s happened in the past. By reflecting back we can recognize how some of our darkest moments eventually, without our conscious awareness, transformed into some of our greatest strengths, our deepest insights, our most valuable lessons.
Even though things have been confusing, difficult, and unsettling for me for what seems like ages now, it won’t feel like this forever. One of the scariest things is the feeling that I’m wasting time, years of my life, of my youth. But our time can never truly be wasted. No matter what we are doing, whether we want to be, or believe we are, we are always growing, learning, and changing. This time is not being wasted, despite how it feels. Periods of stagnation can just as easily be viewed as periods of incubation. This perspective might not make it go any faster, but it does make it just a little bit easier to keep going, even when you don’t know where you’re going or when it feels like you’re actually going no where at all. One day it’ll all make sense again. You’ll be able to look back and see that it was all necessary, that it was all worth it. An egg just looks like an egg from the moment it’s laid to the moment it hatches. Just because we might not be able to see or understand what’s developing within, doesn’t mean that tomorrow won’t be the day it’s finally revealed.
Pain makes me brave. Pain makes me honest. Pain makes me face the world with everything that I have. Sometimes it takes pain to show me what really matters, what I’ve been missing, what I’ve been taking for granted. When I’m comfortable I get bored. I become afraid to make any change at all. Even when it’s a change that needs to be made. I’m so afraid of shaking up the status quo that I’ve become accustomed to that sometimes “comfort” can be transformed into something worse than pain. Like a frog slowly being cooked alive in a tepid water that gradually begins to boil. I don’t realize how bad I’ve allowed things to get until it’s too late.
When something abruptly smashes into my comfortable complacency, there is fear, there is agony, but there is also opportunity. I am forced to change direction. I am forced to gather up the pieces of my life and create something entirely new. I am forced to be my own ally again. There is a haunting, fierce, indescribable beauty in pain. There is strength and resiliency and the birth of new hope after the fall. There is even a sense of surprise and pride in finding out just how much we are actually able to take without being broken. There is something awe inspiring when we lift our head from our tear-stained hands and realize, “I’m still here. I’m alive. This isn’t the end.”
There is great freedom in the feeling of having nothing to lose. There is a boldness that emerges, a confidence, even an urgency to go after what we truly want. Pain brings clarity and curiosity. Everything feels a little more real, a little more defined. Pain is the springboard for passion and creativity. It is a necessary evil. These are the reasons I find myself having a very complex relationship with pain, grief, and loss. Part of me finds a strange comfort in pain, an odd feeling of safety after losing it all. The burden of trying to hold it all together, the burden of grasping and clinging on to life is lifted for a moment. This brings a twinge of pleasure that blends into the pain. For me, pain is always bittersweet.
I’ve come to realize that the reason communication and confrontation are so hard, is not because I don’t know how to articulate my thoughts and feelings. It’s not that I don’t know what to say or how I feel. I’ve never had any issue explaining myself to a third party. But when I find myself facing the person I really want to talk to, I become so consumed with fear that I can’t focus. My mind becomes clouded with thoughts of what they will think or how they will respond to what I’m saying. Are they going to look at me differently? Are they going to be upset? Will they leave? Will our relationship change? Will they misunderstand me? Will I be able to respond adequately to whatever they say back to me? These concerns are so overwhelming that I tend to stay silent instead of having some of the most important, necessary, and intimate conversations. It is only once I feel as though I’ve already lost someone, that I find the courage to be open and honest with them.
In an instant our most painful experiences can become our greatest sources of strength. I look back on some of the darkest moments in my life with a sense of compassion and a knowing tenderness. It’s only much later that we gain the perspective to see the ways in which the harrowing experiences we go through are the very things that strengthen us, give us courage, and provide the pivot we didn’t even know we needed in life. Yes, pain is hard. Loss is hard. But it’s been said that anything worth doing is hard, and pain is always worth it in the end. Something even more complex and beautiful and real rises from the ashes every time. Be patient.
Childhood and Developmental psychology classes helped me learn and understand the different stages that children pass through as they grow, particularly the stages of awareness and consciousness. Piaget’s 4 stages of cognitive development highlight the ways in which we all expand our perception of ourselves and the world around us as we age.
In the first stage, we gain object permanence, we begin to understand that we are separate entities from others, and that our actions affect the world around us. In the second stage we are largely only focused on ourselves and our own perspective. This stage is also where we first begin to be able to think symbolically, grasping that images can represent ideas and objects. We still think in concrete terms and struggle with abstract concepts. The third stage is where we begin to develop our logic and reasoning skills. The fourth and “final” stage is where we form the ability to think abstractly and contemplate hypothetical situations.
You may notice that I’ve put the word “final” in quotation marks, and I have good reason for that. It occurred to me the other day when I was thinking about the idea of faith and the many aspects of reality and life that we cannot know. I began to wonder why it is that it seems so absurd to consider there being more to reality than we can hope to conceive of in our current human state. Psychology has already laid out the ways that a child’s brain is different than an adult’s and has a more limited ability to process the world. Why do we assume then that a fully formed adult brain necessarily has overcome all of these cognitive limitations? In fact, based on Piaget’s theory, it seems logical to infer we may still not have all the pieces of the puzzle when it comes to perceiving ourselves and the world around us.
It practical terms, it does us no good to try to operate in the world on this premise. All we can do is use the information available to us in order to live. However, this idea that there is potentially much more to this world than we are able to understand is one that brings me comfort. This is my rather garbled attempt to emphasize the fact that faith may not be as groundless as I, myself, once thought. It allows me to more easily surrender to that unknown aspect of this universe and trust that, even when I don’t understand it, there is some higher purpose, or meaning to all of this. There is much more going on than my brain is capable of grasping. Perhaps death is the final stage of cognitive development.
They gather like wolves on the boardwalk below. They’re howling for answers no wolf can know.Mewithoutyou – Fox’s Dream of the Log Flume
I’ve been reading War & Peace these last few weeks. Pretty ironic considering the state of affairs in the world right now. Nonetheless, the passages I read last night were very insightful. One of my favorite characters, Pierre, is talking about God, religion, and spirituality with an old freemason. The conversation goes as follows:
“He is attained not through reason, but through living.”
“I don’t understand,” said Pierre, dismayed at the doubts surging up inside of him. Put off by the vagueness and weakness of the freemason’s arguments, he felt the dread of unbelief. “I don’t understand,” he said, “why human reason cannot attain the knowledge you speak of.”
“The highest wisdom and truth is like unto the purest liquid which we try to absorb into ourselves,” he said. “Can I receive that pure liquid into an impure vessel and judge of its purity? Only through the inner purification of myself can I bring the liquid received within me to some degree of purity.”
While I still don’t believe in the Christian God or the Bible, and have a general distaste for this particular expression of spirituality, I do think these words have a certain truth to them. I may not be religious, but in recent years I have come to consider myself a spiritual person. Hidden inside the horrors of the churches that have cropped up around the world in various forms, is a poignant, important truth. I don’t think it’s merely a coincidence that all forms of religion seem to share very similar threads. There is wisdom to be obtained there. I once held logic and intellect above all else, scoffing at the idea of faith. Now I think there is a place for both.
I used to believe that everything could be understood through science and reason. My experiences with psychedelics, more than anything else, have opened my mind to the idea that there are things our minds are just not capable of grasping. There are states and perspectives we cannot even conceive of. I’ve always been a curious person. As a child I had so many questions that seemed beyond answers. I contented myself on the idea that after I died, I could ask God. Then I would finally know everything and nothing would be a mystery to me. When I lost my faith, I also lost that comforting thought of finding answers one day. Now part of me thinks that far away hope might not be entirely off.
“You’ll die and all will end. You’ll die and know all, or cease asking.”
Will the new view I tentatively hold of death, I think it’s possible I may still have all the answers some day. When this fragmented consciousness disconnects from my mortal form, it will be submerged once again in the larger ocean of all that is. I want to believe that there is peace in that dissolution. That I will once again understand and remember all that I have forgotten in order to take part in this earthly existence. Yet, even this explanation isn’t exactly right. Part of me feels sure that whatever the real answers are, the full truth of reality is something that we simply cannot comprehend or conceptualize in the brains we are currently working with as humans. That is why no answer appears sufficient or correct, testable, or provable. There are no satisfactory answers that we can obtain in this life regarding those large existential questions of who am I, what is this, why am I here.
These questions and our endless, futile search for definitive answers to them have caused suffering throughout all of human history. We wrestle constantly with the gnawing ache to know things that cannot be known. This is were I believe that faith becomes a valuable asset to us. Faith can be twisted and used to manipulate the masses to bow to corrupt authorities, and for most of my life, this seemed like its sole purpose, to trick and take advantage of people. Now I find myself longing for a more abstract and vague faith. Not a faith in some supreme, all-knowing being. Not faith in the institutions of mankind. But a faith in the idea that there are things at work in the universe that I cannot comprehend.
This form of faith is a great comfort. It is a surrender. It is the acknowledgement that I do not understand, that I can never understand, and that that’s okay. I don’t have to keep struggling and suffering for these important answers. I won’t find them. I may not even be asking the right questions. There is such peace in trusting that everything is as it should be. That everything is going to be alright, even if you can’t fathom how. There is a reason, an explanation for all of this seemingly random chaos out there somewhere. We must accept that we are only working off of very limited, myopic understanding. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s all we’ve got to go by and we have to keep going despite not having the full picture.
In this way, faith is a necessary part of life for all of us, it is a constant practice, whether you consider yourself religious/spiritual or not. Faith is that energy inside of us, that yearning, that momentum that keeps us going despite all the pain, the suffering, the confusion, the doubt. It’s scary to relinquish control in favor of faith, but it is what we all must do sooner or later. Logic, reason, knowledge, and intellect can only take us so far. Certainly use them and value them. They are essential, important, wonderful tools. But also know that it’s okay to let go and surrender to the unknown, the unknowable too. It’s going to be okay, even if we can’t understand how. Everything is as it should be.
The other day, I was exposed to Covid and feared I would have to quarantine the very weekend my boyfriend was supposed to come home for a few days. I wrote a post about it earlier in the week, right before I went and got tested. In that post, my focus was on learning to sit with uncertainty. All at once, a four day weekend I had been looking forward to for over a month threatened to disappear in an instant. Not only had I been exposed to Covid, but there was a tornado near where Nate was away at training. Nate was sent home early, with the caveat that he may also have to go back early, spoiling our plans.
That night as I talked with Nate on the phone, I could hear the unrest and discomfort in his voice at all these sudden changes. Neither one of us knew what would happen in a few days time. I tried to remain hopeful while also making peace with the worst case scenario. No matter what the outcome was, I was prepared to stay positive. For the first time in a long time, I had complete faith that the universe would deliver me exactly where I needed to be, even if that wasn’t where I had wanted to go.
When I received my email with a negative test result yesterday evening, I felt overjoyed. At nearly the exact same time, I also got word from Nate that he would still be allowed to keep our plans. Not only that, but now we would have an extra day together. It felt as though the surface tension of uncertainty had finally broken. All was well. I was relieved, grateful, and even felt proud. I was proud of myself for being able to surrender to the unexpected. It felt as though my trust in the universe had resulted in a reward. When all these issues first arose, I told Nate that we had either been blessed or cursed. Only time would tell which. Turns out that we were blessed.
I feel so reassured and even emboldened by the events of the last few days. I had been able to surrender to the universe, to the unknown, and I had been rewarded for my faith. Normally it is quite hard for me to lean into unexpected situations. But this experience has taught me an invaluable lesson: that it is okay to trust. I have everything that I need. I have always had everything that I need. I will always have everything that I need. The universe has and continues to take such excellent care of me. I am so grateful.
Breathing in I taste the thick sweetness of summer air breathing out A shimmer of satisfaction ripples through me Enveloped in a world so miraculous and perfect humbled by the chance to simply be my soul sings sweetly along with the heartbeat of existence So much beauty to behold the many layers of this life an endless spiraling inwards and outwards far past infinity incomprehensible complexity Unfurling like a flower to the sunlight my innermost essence opens to encompass the vast vibrations of this earth Five superpowers called senses ten fingers, ten toes a body that heals and grows a brain that questions and creates at one with all there is but also somehow separate How sublime it is to surrender to the deep knowing in our bones that stardust inside of us that says, "all is well" that tells us, "have faith, and you will find all you seek"
Everything’s a cycle. You’ve gotta let it come to you. And when it does, you will know what to do.– Bright Eyes
Happy spring, everyone! I am so pleased to welcome this most lovely of seasons back again. While I adore the summer months, spring is probably my true favorite. There is nothing quite like the fresh, bright, vibrant energy of this time of year. There is so much beauty in contrast. I’ve always found it funny the way 55-60 degree weather in the fall seems dreadfully cold to me, yet the very same temperature is a godsend in the spring. At the end of the year I’d consider this weather too chilly for a walk, but now I am itching to be outdoors in the sunshine again. I used to dream about moving somewhere south so that I wouldn’t have to experience the snow and bitter cold of winter every year, but as I’ve grown older I’ve developed an attachment to this area of the country. Sometimes we need to face discomfort or adversity in order to fully appreciate and savor the rest of life. There is a lot that the cycling of seasons has to teach us if we are willing to witness their endless unfolding.
There is a strange comfort that repetition brings us. This constant ebb and flow that exists everywhere in this life is truly something beautiful to behold. This constant churning keeps life from becoming stagnant. It really is true that it’s possible to have too much of a good thing. Without the colorless cold, the bitter wind, the once lush trees reduced to creaking black skeletons, we would not be able to fully appreciate watching the landscape come alive again. We wouldn’t be able to experience this bustling, rustling, vibrating energy as the earth comes alive once more. The sensation of new life, of awakening, of hope that spring stirs within us is unparalleled. It never gets old no matter how many years we have had here.
Spring reminds us that we need not fear the winter. It also insinuates that we need not fear even death. Imagine how frightened the first conscious creatures were that lived through winter. Surely with no guarantee, I would have assumed all was ending forever. Just as many of us feel facing death without faith in a god or an afterlife. There are no guarantees. No scientific evidence that we can analyze to suggest that anything exists beyond our final breaths. Still I find my own kind of faith in all of the cycles I see around me every day. Some cycles are as short as the ever-present rhythm of the breath, some are too long for us to comprehend or observe in a single lifetime. But I trust in the cyclical systems that surround us, that are within us, that we are inextricably involved in. While I may not be able to say what the cycle of life and death fully looks like, or even what it means for me, I am confident it is still a cycle all the same. I may not be there to witness the spring that blooms on the other side of my existence on this earth, in this body, in this mind, but I am confident that that spring exists. But for now, while I am still here, I am going to keep trying to learn from these cycles, to be mindful of them, to be grateful for them, to be patient with them, and to honor and accept where I am within them.