Connection and Awe

Growing up in Christian household, I never quite understood the reverence and awe people felt in the presence of religious iconography. My grandmother had crosses, rosaries, and paintings of Jesus all over her house, but I never fully understood why. Even in the Eastern religions which I am now more familiar with, I never quite grasped the purpose of the shrines people make with pictures of their gurus or other’s they admire and aspire to embody.

At the same time, I knew that similar rituals and symbols were very meaningful to all different types of religions all around the world. Many times I have been tempted to make my own little yoga shrine, but never have because I don’t know whose portrait I could possibly add to it. I don’t really have a guru or any particular religious or spiritual figures that inspire strong emotion in me. If anything, anyone that I could imagine adding would just make me feel awkwardness and embarrassment instead of admiration. It always felt like there was something important about this that I was missing out on though.

Finally the other day I was presented with an interesting alternative way to spark feelings of awe, connection, and wonder. The comparison was made between religious feelings and the feelings some of us get when we immerse ourselves in nature. Nature! Why hadn’t I thought of this before? The forest can be my church, the plants and animals my gurus and teachers. Now that creates meaningful emotion for me. Not the image of some imaginary demi-god or revered old man. I can’t believe I didn’t make the connection sooner.

Nature is what humbles me and fills me with wonder and awe, not human beings. Why would I admire a human being when I can admire mother earth instead? I don’t need a religion. I don’t need gods or gurus. All I need is the natural world all around me. Nature is what I honor and respect, what makes me feel connected, not mankind. Especially when all my life, humans have come off as proudly separate from and even above nature. Whereas I have never felt special or superior for being the species of animal that I am. In my eyes humans are more of an abomination than a miracle of nature.

I thought it was a beautiful idea to replace the ritual of church on Sundays with a weekly morning nature walk. I want to make more time for quiet reflection in the woods, alongside the river, or even just in my backyard. I want to meditate on the feelings that fill my heart when I watch the sun setting or listen to the soft cadence of rain. What could be more beautiful? What could be more awe inspiring than the miraculous mystery of this Earth? Instead of placing pictures of spiritual leaders up in my sacred spaces, I can add acorns, rocks, dried flowers, etc. These items fill me with much more joy.

I thought I’d share this idea with anyone that may also be interested in actively incorporating more reverence and awe in their life, but who doesn’t identify with any particular religion. Let me know if you decide to give this a try or if you have any other things you use to stir up feelings of connection and wonder.

Main | Nature NB

Hiding Behind Religion

A few months ago, there was a child that came to my office to be interviewed. She was going to an extremely small private school, like 25 kids total in K-12 small. Like most private schools, this school was centered around a religious group. While she came to disclose sexual abuse, the female PRINCIPLE had grabbed her breasts insisting that she must be stuffing her bra, the other things she told me were just as disturbing, if not more so. This school was simply not a school by any stretch of the word. These kids were not being taught anything besides that everyone in public school was a Satanist and going to hell. This “school” was essentially a little cult. The worst part was that even though CPS reported our concerns to the state board of education, nothing has or will come of it. The school will not be investigated or shut down. The offending principle will not even be removed or prosecuted.

Ever since I met that poor, sweet girl that day, I’ve been thinking about that school. Thinking about it looming on a hillside in my very own town, brainwashing children, robbing them of an education. It makes me sick, but there is nothing that I can do. Even more disturbing, I know that this child’s story is not at all an isolated incident. How many other small private schools like this exist in the country? More than I’d like to know, I’m sure. But not only schools are using this religious excuse to shield them from the consequences they’d otherwise have to face for their atrocious actions.

The past few nights I’ve been watching Cults and Extreme Beliefs on Hulu. Even though I had heard about what goes on inside most of these organizations already, each episode exposed even more horrors I wasn’t aware of. From what I can tell, every single religious organization uses this status to get away with abusing children. Despite the majority of the country as well as local and federal authorities understanding the abuse taking place, nothing is being done about it.

I theorize that this is solely due to the government feeling hesitant to attack any religious sect. They fear negative publicity and the legal battleground that freedom of religion has created. The United States was founded on the idea that our citizens are free to practice any religion that they like. It seems obvious that it would only be a matter of time before people with nefarious motives would take advantage of that. What I once thought was an unfortunate side effect of isolated religious communities is now seeming more and more like the whole point behind them. The focus is child abuse, the method just happens to be through religion. Religion is an afterthought, cleverly used as a shroud to conceal these monsters from the law.

Not only am I becoming more and more informed about the way religion shields sexual predators, we see every day in the news how religion is also used as an excuse to endanger public health. Long before Covid-19 made it’s debut, churches were using their beliefs as a reason to not vaccinate their children. This has led to viruses once thought to have been totally eradicated in the developed world, to raise their ugly heads once again. Children are dying. They are being raped and beaten and brainwashed. All in the name of religious freedom.

At what point will the world start to realize that a parent’s rights cannot and should not overshadow the rights of their children? “Your personal liberty to swing your arm ends where my nose begins.” This has always been one of my favorite quotes. Yet it has never seemed to apply when it comes to children. Despite avowing to “protect our children,” in the eyes of the government, children still seem to be considered property. You’re allowed to hit them, you’re allowed to rob them of an education, and if you’re “religious” enough, you’re also allowed to rape them.

I understand the historical events that have created this fear of targeting different religions, but that fear cannot be allowed to result in religious organizations and leaders acting with impunity. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I don’t believe procreation is a “right.” Especially when you do not have the physical, mental, or emotional competence to raise and protect that child. How can it be your right to create a life of suffering for another who is helpless and at your mercy? I suppose I should be happy about how much progress we have made toward installing protections for children within the law. I realize in the past things were much worse. However, I cannot find any peace when I know that the progress we have made is not nearly enough, that children are still being subjected to unimaginable abuse each and every day.

6 Creepy Cults You Never Knew Existed

Portraits From Social Work – Part 1: David

Even since I lost my last job doing social work with high risk, low income adults out in the community, I have missed the clients I used to see everyday. While I’m not sure if these people ever knew it themselves, the time I spent with them was much more meaningful to me than just trying to get a paycheck. This was the first time in my life that I was really able to get to know some interesting characters and bond with people older than me, with totally different and unique life experiences. Even though I was supposed to keep a professional distance, I simply couldn’t help holding a space for each of my clients in my heart. I believe these people are interesting to learn about in general, but I am also writing about them today to ensure that I can keep them with me even if they eventually fade from my memory. (I obviously won’t use their real names for confidentiality reasons.)

Part 1: David

David was my all time favorite client. I still dream of him often, and I wonder how he is doing on nearly a daily basis. I liked to describe him as my schizophrenic, satanist client. Usually people are shocked to discover that this was the client I became closest to. However, schizophrenia has fascinated me since youth and although I was afraid at first, I was eager to finally get to know a real person with this disorder.

Far from being the violent psychopath that most people picture when I say he’s a satanist suffering from schizophrenia, David was one of the kindest, gentlest people I’ve met. Even though he was in his early 50s, he still had an almost childlike quality about him. He inspired in me a motherly instinct. I recall once even looking up if you are allowed to adopt someone older than you on a whim with him in mind. I also recall discussing with David what kind of pet he might like if he got one. I was expecting a snake or tarantula or something along those lines. I wish I could have hugged him when instead he said he’d always wanted a rabbit. If David had a spirit animal it would definitely have been a rabbit.

One of the many things I learned from David is that Satanists do not believe in a literal Satan. It’s more of a reactionary stance taken against Christianity. It is spitting in the face of these churches, while acknowledging the community that comes with religion is valuable and worthwhile. Satanists are just atheists, and David was so happy that I was an atheist too. Unfortunately most of the people he had encountered in life (including his therapist) were religious nut jobs. His adoptive mother had been Catholic I believe and seemed to have hated him for abandoning his faith. He told me about a few occasions in his youth when she had discovered his Satanic stockpile and threw it all away. (Jokes on her. The house is his now and the walls are covered with pentagrams painted in red.)

David lived all alone in his house. He had no family left to speak of besides a brother that lived in another state and rarely communicated with him. He had no transportation either, besides me. So with nothing to fill his days, David lost himself in books. He loved to read. He lent me lots of his Satanist books along with a few of his favorites by Stephen King. It made me so happy to be able to discuss the contents with him after I was finished.

It truly breaks my heart to know that I will most likely never see or speak to this man again. I never even got to tell him goodbye. Part of me still wished I could write him a letter and at least explain the circumstances of my leaving. However, I have no right to do so. It would be unethical of me to reach out to any of my past clients now that I am not their case worker anymore, no matter how much I may want to do so. I just hope that somehow he knows that the bond we shared was real and it meant a lot to me.

I am happy about all I was able to do for David, primarily being a genuine friend to a lonely, isolated man, but also getting him a laptop and internet access to make him a little less isolated. I also know that I could have done much more. I wish that I had made more of an effort to address his hoarding behaviors. His house was an absolute mess, filled with bits of paper, receipts, scattered DVDs and books, and random garbage. I also wish that I would have fought to get him a different therapist at my work. The one he has been seeing for years was not doing him any favors. In fact, I would go so far as to say he was exacerbating his mental illness, by acting as though his schizophrenic hallucinations may have actually been revelations from God. No joke, he was that bad. Nothing they discussed in his sessions could be considered therapy by even the loosest of definitions. It bordered on criminal.

David had a lot of issues that he struggled with every day. He would tell me about his hallucinations of vengeful angels and violent demons. How the fear of a Hell he didn’t even believe in would sometimes make him try to get back into religion. He was sexually and physically abused as a young child. He was also abandoned and excluded by his peers and eventually even his family growing up. He was so terribly bullied at his school that he once brought a knife to protect himself and was subsequently expelled for it. David also seems to believe that he is a terrible, evil, irredeemable person even though that couldn’t be further from the truth.

Unlike a lot of my clients, David never tried to take advantage of me. He was always extremely polite and considerate. He once got bedbugs and would put his clothes in the dryer on high right before I came to get him to ensure that he wouldn’t transfer any to me. Even though I always said yes, he would still ask me every time before using snuff in my car. He would prefer to suffer in silence rather than inconvenience anyone. Despite all that he had to deal with, he never complained or made himself out to be a victim. He is a truly beautiful, gentle soul. I miss him so much, and I hope that he is doing alright and that he knows I cherish the times we spent together.

Satanism - Founders, Philosophies & Branches - HISTORY

Midnight Mass

Will 'Midnight Mass' Get a Season 2? Plus: Where Was the Show Filmed?

If you haven’t watched the new series, Midnight Mass, on Netflix, I highly recommend that you do so. My coworkers have been recommending it to me all week, and now I’m hooked. No lie, this show is captivating as hell. There are so many layers. My favorite part is the philosophical discussions and sermons that take place in every episode.

I find this show super interesting given my history with religion. And that’s the part I really wanna dig into today. I was raised religious, Methodist to be precise. I always enjoyed religion as a child. I liked singing in church and how nice our original pastor was. I liked believing there was order to the universe and that there was some all-powerful, all-loving God watching over me, taking care of me. However, when I abandoned my religion, I did so violently. I was so angry, at my parents, at churches, at the world, at a God I no longer believed in. I felt betrayed, manipulated, lied to. In the years that followed my transition to atheism, I was quite militantly against all religion. I hoped to destroy it once and for all. I hoped someday humanity would be liberated from these toxic ideas and organizations.

As that fiery passion of youth begins to fade within me, I no longer hold a torch for atheism. I still don’t believe in God, but being atheist isn’t such an important part of my identity anymore. I could care less if other people believe or not. I don’t have any interest or energy left for fighting a futile battle against religions that have existed for far longer than I have. Also, I’m sure that even if they were to disappear tomorrow people would just find new reasons and justifications for the awful things we do to one another, new things to fear, new ways to suffer.

After allowing that rage to cool within me for a few years, I am now able to look at religion through a completely new lens, a lens of fascination. What the hell is all of this? Where did these religions come from? Why do they all say the same things at their core? What core truths may be hidden amongst the convoluted writings of ancient times? How did we come to these truths as a species? So many questions that I no longer feel a visceral repulsion toward. I no longer feel threatened or afraid. I can look at these bizarre beliefs with a calm, open heart and a curious mind, while still standing firm in my own beliefs (which I’m sure are bizarre in their own way.)

There are two important realizations that Midnight Mass has presented me with. The first is what I mentioned earlier, that all religions (even non-religions) seem to believe a lot of the same things when you cut through all of the fluff. Two characters were having a conversation about death in the show, one religious, one an atheist. I was actually brought to tears by the beauty of what each said on the subject. Ultimately both believed the same thing: Death is a union with all there is, a dissolution of the self. Death is peace and love and never being alone again. An end to all suffering. What a beautiful thought. The details may be different, but the essence, the sentiment is the same. For some reason, I was so comforted by this idea. That no matter who you are or what you believe happens after you die, the consensus seems to be that it is nothing bad, nothing to fear. (Not that any of us can really know.)

The second thing Midnight Mass emphasized to me is that you can make religious texts say anything you want them to say. *Spoiler Alert* This show absolutely stunned me by connecting the ideas in the Bible with the mythology of vampires! The stunning part was just how easily these two things were able to be aligned. Drinking blood, eternal life, resurrection, etc. Even direct quotes from the bible can easily be read in this light. I thought this was a brilliant way to show that we can interpret “the word of God” to support whatever we like. But the power of perspective and interpretation are not confined to the pages of religious texts.

We see the same types of wildly different interpretations today in the media and even with scientific research. Regardless of what you set out to prove, you will find “credible” sources to back you up. And your opponents can just as easily find sources that say the opposite. The aspects of reality that once seemed so concrete are now becoming blurred at the edges, abstract, arbitrary, subjective. It’s kind of scary, but it’s also amazing to witness. There is a level of chaos and misunderstanding in our society today that I didn’t think possible.

I’m not quite sure what the overall theme or message of this post is exactly. I suppose I just wanted to share some of what’s been on my mind lately. I am grateful and humbled by the vast changes that have taken place within my own consciousness during the last decade. What a gift it is to be freed from that burden of fear and hatred toward such a huge part of the world around me. What a joy it is to have the peace of mind to explore what was once a trigger for me. I can’t wait to keep changing and exploring and learning and growing. There is never a dull moment in the fantastical, baffling world we live in.

Advocacy vs. Activism

UK boards braced for new 'golden age of activism' in wake of Brexit and  pandemic - Financial News

The word “activism” is described as: the policy or action of using vigorous campaigning to bring about political or social change. “Advocacy” is defined in a slightly different way: public support for or recommendation of a particular cause or policy. While these may seem like the same thing at first, I would argue that they are very different. Here are my definitions:

  • Activism: fighting against policies or practices that one considers harmful or unethical.
  • Advocacy: fighting for individuals or communities affected by harmful policies or practices.

I consider both of these to be valuable, necessary contributions to the betterment of society. However, that doesn’t mean we are all suited for them. Some of us may be more capable of handling the consequences, whether they be physical, emotional, or mental, of activism more so than advocacy or vise versa. For example, maybe someone finds it easier to go to protests and lobby their government than personally supporting victims. Perhaps they have a lot of passion for a given issue, but it is more painful to see the end result of those affected. This would be someone better suited for activism. As an advocate, I find it easier to support and care for the individual than to fight against what has harmed them. Then of course there are those that can’t bear the weight of either one, and that’s perfectly fine too. In order to make the most of our energy and make the biggest impact, I think it’s important that we honor these personal differences.

Today I wanted to take the time to offer some suggestions for those of you, like me, that find your energy is best spent doing advocacy work instead of activism. First, I think it needs to be reiterated that both of these are amazing and much needed. Regardless of what or how often you contribute, know that your efforts matter. I’m only focusing on advocacy because I feel it is the lesser understood of these forms of social justice. For organization sake, I am going to break down my suggestions for advocacy by issue. I also want to stress that whatever you do, no matter how small, is something for the world to be grateful for. Maybe you feel you can’t be vegan yourself, but support the vegan movement. You can still donate to sanctuaries, share information, foster shelter animals, etc. Maybe you’re too afraid to leave a toxic religious organization, but you want to support others who are. You can still help in creative, even clandestine ways. So don’t be discouraged by anyone who says it’s not enough. However much you feel you are able to give is enough. And maybe you don’t feel like you have anything to give at all, even then, you can share these resources with others who might be able to offer more. That too is a great help.

1. Feminism

  1. Volunteer Clinic Escort: I just recently discovered that this is something you can do at Planned Parenthood. Instead of arguing with misogynists online, trying to make a difference in the collective consciousness, why not make a guaranteed difference in at least one woman’s life? Rather than raise your voice to shout down the hateful, ignorant protesters outside these clinics, let your voice be the gentle one at a fearful woman’s side championing her onward and wiping away her tears.
  2. Abortion Fund Donation: If you’re able to more easily give money than time, try donating to the National Network of Abortion Funds. Their mission is “to remove financial and logistical barriers to abortion access by centering people who have abortions and organizing at the intersections of racial, economic, and reproductive justice.” Often the women that most desperately need to terminate a pregnancy are the ones least able to afford or access services. The procedure itself can be expensive, but now with abortion rights being threatened in more and more states, there can be added fees such as out of state travel or hotel stays. Donating to these funds is an excellent way to make sure that we are helping the most vulnerable maintain bodily autonomy and their human rights.

2. Religious Freedom (Freedom from Religion)

  1. Support Recovering From Religion: This organization offers people leaving religion dozens of resources to help them cope in this new phase of their life. It also offers supportive counseling for anyone who would like it. You can help by volunteering your time for this counseling and/or you can offer a monetary donation. Often when one leaves a very toxic religious group, it can be insanely difficult to adjust. Some churches completely cut you off from friends and family still involved with the church, leaving you with no support system at all. This is obviously an intimidation and manipulation tactic that organizations like Recovering From Religion help combat.

* I actually had a much more difficult time finding resources for this section than I imagined. Another great way for you to contribute would be by adding new resources. You might work to start a non profit or make your own fundraiser to support people leaving religion in various ways. Also if you know of any other organizations or sites offering help to people escaping from religious groups, leave them in the comments. I’m happy to update this post as often as needed to incorporate new resources.

3. Racism

  1. Black Lives Matter: At this point, I’m sure I don’t need to explain what this group is to anyone. However, even after hearing so much about this movement in the news, this is the first time I actually went to their website. There are a lot of amazing resources and information on there. You can sign up for their newsletter to stay updated on information and events. You can volunteer your time by helping to report misinformation on social media. And of course you can donate or purchase merchandise to help the group financially.
  2. Educate Yourself: One of the most important things that all of us can do is educate ourselves about the history of racism in our country. I think even one individual making an effort to absorb this knowledge is a step in the right direction. No matter how much I think I know about the oppression of black and brown people, it doesn’t take more than a few minutes of searching to find out about even more horrors. The more we know the better we will be able to support and show respect to our black friends and the black members of our community. Here is a list of resources you might find helpful in your pursuit for understanding. Just make sure that you are doing the work of educating yourself. Don’t burden you black friends/acquaintances with the job of educating you.
  3. Support Black Creators: I learned just the other day about the way social media algorithms actively suppress the voices of black creators. They are less likely to be recommended or broadcasted on the platform, therefor much less likely to be visible. If you use social media, you could make an effort to follow more black and brown accounts. You can also make the conscious choice to seek out movies, shows, books, etc. that were made by black people. In this way, we are not only offering financial support, but broadening our perspectives by exposing ourselves to more diverse content.

4. Veganism

  1. Vegan Outreach: This is one of my favorite vegan organizations. Founded in 1993, Vegan Outreach is a nonprofit organization working to end violence towards animals. They “seek a future when sentient animals are no longer exploited as commodities.” Their website offers a lot of different ways to get involved. You can join their vegan mentor program and give helpful advice to people just starting out of their vegan journey. You can assist them in offering vegan food to local communities during Covid-19. You can even do something as simple as reviewing vegan foods through an app called abillion. In doing so, the app will automatically donate $1 to Vegan Outreach for each review!
  2. Make Vegan Art: What is more prevalent in today’s day and age than memes? Why not try your hand at creating some new catchy vegan slogans or images to share online? Currently this is the route my vegan advocacy is taking. There is no need to share the art you create on your personal accounts if you’re trying to avoid confrontation. You can simply publish them on your blog or even in chatrooms. Who knows? Maybe one will go viral and make a huge impact!
  3. Donate to Sanctuaries: Farm animal sanctuaries are doing the important work of protecting animals that have been rescued. Obviously it takes a lot of money to house, feed, and care for these animals. Donations are a great way to ensure that they can keep doing so. You can even start your own fundraiser or volunteer at a sanctuary near you.
  4. Foster an Animal: Veganism isn’t only about helping farmed animals. It’s just as important to do our part for the various other types of animals in shelters around the world. You can always donate to your local non-kill shelter, or offer to foster animals until they are able to be adopted.
  5. Share Your Food/Recipes: This is a little bit trickier given the pandemic, but as long as you take the proper precautions, sharing your delicious vegan food with non-vegan friends and family can be a great way to bolster the vegan movement. One of the main things people fear about veganism is not knowing what they would be able to eat. Everyone loves good food. Even if sharing your recipes with others doesn’t make them go vegan, it can lessen that fear of the unknown. In addition, it may keep an animal off of their plate for at least one meal, which is a win in my book. Sharing my vegan creamer at work has led to our non-vegan intern switching to it at home!

I hope that you’ve found these suggestions helpful and that you’ll give some of them a try. There are many ways to make a difference, so don’t get discouraged if activism is a bit too damaging for your mental health. You can always find new, creative, peaceful ways to help a cause that you are passionate about. Again, as I stated earlier, please let me know of any other resources you think I should add to any of the sections above. I would love to pack this post with as many options as possible to get people involved.

Wedding Bells

Little girls and young women depicted in movies and TV shows always seem to be planning and romanticizing the day that they will marry their true love. Personally, I’ve never seen this. Weddings were not something that my friends and I ever even mentioned growing up. Maybe they were secretly daydreaming about them, but I certainly never was. I spent most of my life being pretty indifferent to the idea of marriage. It was just something you did. I felt the same way about having children. I never had a longing or desire to have children, but when I was younger it didn’t seem like it was a choice. I assumed I’d have children one day because, once again, that’s just what people did.

As I got older and realized that I was free to craft my own unique life as an adult, I immediately dropped both of those traditional milestones. It was actually quite a relief to realize that I didn’t have to have children if I didn’t want to. Marriage was a bit more complicated though. While I didn’t fantasize about my wedding, I was constantly preoccupied with the thought of finding a loving partner to share my life with. Whether or not we got married didn’t matter. However, once I broke free of the indoctrination of religion, the word marriage left a sour taste in my mouth. It conjured images of a bully of a God, forcing my hand, demanding my life follow a certain order, fit a certain mold. Weddings, in my mind, were inextricably woven together with Christianity. Therefore, I wanted no part of either one. Not getting married became an act of rebellion and defiance that I took pride in.

Now that my passionate disgust with religion has largely subsided, the idea of marriage has once again presented itself to me for consideration. My boyfriend, surprisingly, seems much more intent on being married someday than I ever was. He was even engaged before his ex imploded the relationship. Even though we’ve only been dating for a few months, he’s already brought up song ideas for the first dance at our wedding. In the past, this would have sent me running for the hills. He’s already talking about getting married? Yikes. Strangely, with him, it just fills me with tender feelings and eager anticipation. I would actually love to marry him, if only to make him happy.

I haven’t mentioned any of this to him, mostly because I don’t want him to get too excited and go out and buy a ring. (Which I think he very well might, if he knew it wouldn’t scare me away.) But I have been indulging myself with silly daydreams about our wedding day. I’ve been wanting to explore my inner world and exercise my creativity by allowing myself to daydream more often. This seemed like the perfect, if not cliche, subject to start with. I’ve been having such a fun time looking at pictures of rings I might like. I thought today it might also be fun to collect some pictures of other aspects I’d like to include in my imaginary wedding.

For rings, I’ve always wanted something with rose gold. I also love the ones that fit together with the wedding band as a set, like my mother’s.

I like the look of vintage/boho wedding dresses:

I’d love a messy, braided updo for my hair:

That’s about as far as I’ve gotten. But I’ve been having such a fun time playing around with the idea in my head. Personally, I still don’t care whether or not I ever get married, but it’s still nice to pretend. Plus I’d like to have some ideas in mind, in the event that I do get to make my sweet boyfriend happy with a wedding. Let me know what you think of my selections. Also did you daydream about weddings and marriage as a kid? Did your ideas about marriage change as you got older? I’d love to know what your thoughts on this subject are.

More Than This

Like most people in my area, I was raised Christian, Methodist to be more specific. My family was never super religious or anything, but we did go to church every Sunday when I was little. As soon as I was old enough to question things, I did. When I found that none of the important questions I raised could be answered, I decided to cast aside these religious teachings and become an atheist.

Without really realizing it, I harbored a lot of pain and resentment toward religion after that. I spent a lot of time feeling superior to people that were still religious. I thought they were idiots, brainwashed, or at the very least painfully ignorant. Slowly I began to give up that anger though. While there are plenty of things I disagree with about a lot of religious teachings and organized religions, I don’t feel the need to fight against them or throw them out entirely anymore. I’m content to let others find comfort and meaning in life in whatever way they see fit.

My yoga journey has reawakened my interest in spirituality and the things we still don’t understand about this existence. Recently I’ve been listening to a lot of podcasts addressing these fascinating subjects. I’ve always had a thirst for knowledge and there is simply nothing better than learning something new that completely changes your perspective. I’ve been lucky enough to learn a lot of those kinds of things in the last few days and I’d love to share a few of them with you.

I’ve been thinking a lot about exactly what we are. For most of my life, it seemed obvious. We are these physical bodies. We are matter moving through the world and when we die we’re dead. Our consciousness disappears. These bodies turn back to dust. A few things I’ve heard have led me to challenge that belief though. Did you know that what we consider to be our body is actually made up more of the empty space between/within atoms than the actual atoms? Not only that, when you only consider the cells our bodies are composed of, we are made up practically equally of germ/bacterial cells as we are human cells. How can that be?! It completely changes my conception of what it means to be me.

With those two things in mind, it seems like we should identify more with our consciousness and the energy inside of us than our physical bodies. But what exactly is that energy and where does it come from? I don’t pretend to know. But I have learned that our thoughts, feelings, words, and emotions are not as immaterial as I once thought. I may not have all the answers that I would like to have, and I may not ever have them, but I believe there is much more to existence than can currently be understood or explained by science. I no longer have the arrogance I once did. There is so much I don’t know. There is so much for me to learn and discover. And that’s okay. I am so excited to keep searching.

Photo by Anete Lusina on Pexels.com

Meditation on Death

Due to my morbid obsession with death and dying this past week, I started looking for some books to read in order to better cope with these grim ruminations. After a little searching, I came across a book that seems perfect for me. It’s called Being with Dying: Cultivating Compassion and Fearlessness in the Face of Death by Joan Halifax. I haven’t gotten past the first few chapters yet, but it has already been a great comfort to me.

This book approaches the subject of death from a Buddhist perspective. It highlights the different ways that western and eastern cultures deal with death. It calls attention to the way the fear of death dominates western culture. We do our best to hide it away out of sight. We live most of our lives without ever thinking about the fact that we are all going to die some day. Avoidance seems to be a primary part our lives, especially in America.

The best part about this book is that it is written as a resource for everyone, in any stage of life. It can benefit teenagers, the elderly, caregivers, medical professionals, healthy people, and people that are terminally ill. This book reminds us that death is a natural part of life. It is something that has the potential to bring us all together. It is ultimately the great equalizer. It is a phase of life, a culmination of everything we have experienced here, a right of passage, a necessary darkness we will all pass through one day.

One of the ways I believe this book will help me is by preparing me to be there for my loved ones when they die. I still feel tremendously guilty about how little I was around my grandmother as she was slowly dying from cancer a few years ago. For the most part, I wouldn’t allow myself to think about it. I saw her when we went to my parent’s house on holidays. It was painful just to look at her, to be in that room with her. Even though it was actually the room I grew up in, my childhood bedroom. What a sad, beautiful mixture of things that have gone on within the walls of that room.

When I sat by her bedside those last few times I saw her, I felt paralyzed, petrified. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know what to say. I wanted to hold her. I wanted to cry. I wanted to ask her so many questions. But instead I sat silently at her side, waiting for any opportunity to leave. I still wonder how she must have felt in her final days. Was she afraid? Did she resent us for not being there for her? Did she find peace? Did she have regrets? Were there things she wanted to tell us, but didn’t? Did we leave her feeling alone? Unloved? What is normal, what is acceptable to say or do around a death bed? Is anything? Does it even matter?

I think our society’s fear and avoidance of death leaves a lot of people to regret their incompetence when dealing with the passing of a loved one. When you avoid something all your life, how can you possibly be expected to handle it when it is in front of you? When it can no longer be avoided? When my other grandmother passes, when my parents pass, I want to be ready. I want to be everything I wished I could have been for my dad’s mom. I want to be brave enough and comfortable enough to discuss these difficult topics with them. I want to be prepared to give them everything that they need, even if they are unable to ask for it when the time comes.

Being with Dying provides exercises to help us work through our aversion and fear of death. The first meditation it suggests is to contemplate both the best and the worst case scenarios for your own death, in as much detail as possible. I want to have my grandmother and my mom do these exercises with me at some point. I want to know everything that I can do to make their deaths peaceful and comfortable and meaningful. However, even the thought of writing such a thing down seems terrifying to me. At the same time, that terror is quite fascinating. To confront this reality, the certainty of death, why is it so very painful? Why does my mind want to avoid even the thought of it at any cost? Do people in other cultures feel the same way? Or are they able to embrace this inevitability with grace and humble surrender?

I think my greatest fear surrounding death, is simply not knowing. It is the ultimate loss of control, a nosedive into a vast unknown. Perhaps it is less daunting if you believe in an afterlife of some kind. But it seems impossible that anyone could have total conviction as they are facing down their own end. There must always be some doubt, some uncertainty. It is not only not knowing what happens after we die, but not knowing when or how we will die that is frightening. I suppose a lot of people are also deeply afraid of death being painful. As someone who hasn’t experienced hardly any physical pain yet in my life, I find this hard to imagine well enough to be afraid of. Besides it always seems like pain can be escaped, even if that escape is death itself. However, that not knowing, that final surrender, will always be there.

I am looking forward to reading more of this book. I am hopeful that it will give me the tools I need to prepare myself for this stage of life, this end of life. Not only for myself but for those around me as well. Even if you think I’m nuts for believing the science that says soon the oceans will be dead along with all of us, I would still recommend this book. Regardless of when you imagine death will touch your life, the fact remains that it will, no matter who you are. It’s much easier to avert our eyes as long as possible, but if you are ready to face that fear head on and take the steps you need to in order to be prepared, Living with Dying seems like a great place to start.

Please make the wonderful effort to show up for your life, every moment, this moment – because it is perfect, just as it is.

Being with Dying
Photo by Brett Sayles on Pexels.com

Atheist Easter & Vegan Deviled Eggs

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Even though I’ve been an atheist for over a decade now, I still love, love, LOVE “Christian” holidays. (They are actually kinda Pagan holidays, but I digress.) I view them as an excellent time to enjoy delicious fattening foods without guilt and spread lots of love to my friends and family. In addition to the unorthodox way I already celebrate, my past six years of veganism have made my holidays even more controversial and strange. And I wouldn’t have it any other way!

This year my grandmother that usually makes deviled eggs for my family’s Easter dinner was no longer with us. She passed away a few weeks after the new year began. In loving memory of her and her delicious addition, I decided to make my own version of these delights. I used to absolutely adore deviled eggs and eggs in general. Until now, I was under the assumption that a lot of egg dishes were simply impossible to recreate realistically in a vegan way. However, I recently went to a vegan restaurant in Pittsburgh, PA called The Onion Maiden where they serve vegan deviled eggs! I was overjoyed when I ordered them and discovered they were almost identical to the real deal.

After a quick Google search, I found that the secret ingredients to make a firm egg-like substance were Agar Powder and Black Salt. I was easily able to order both of these on Amazon for less than $10. Once I received these ingredients I was eager to taste the black salt because I had never heard of it before and I was very skeptical that these few ingredients that were called for would be able to produce something as egg-y as what I had sampled at The Onion Maiden. To my surprise, black salt is basically egg as a seasoning. Even by itself, it tastes exactly like a salted boiled egg!!! I am so blown away by this and the fact that I hadn’t known this as a vegan for all these years that I may make a separate post just about this incredible find. All vegans need to be aware of this!

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I used the recipe from BakedIn.com that was simple and took less than an hour. I have included the link to the recipe and a photo of everything I used above. (I didn’t want to buy more almond milk, so I just used what I had even though it was vanilla instead of plain. It didn’t seem to make a huge difference, but I’ll definitely use plain in my next batch.) I was quite pleased with the result. Even my non-vegan family members and friends were surprised at how similar my vegan version was to actual deviled eggs. These are definitely going to be a staple holiday food for me from now on. Let me know if you try them yourselves and what you think. Also THANK THE VEGAN GODS FOR BLACK SALT.

Hope you all had a lovely, cruelty-free holiday. ♥

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What Bindis Really Represent

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Recently, the bindi, traditionally worn in the east in places such as South Africa and India, has become a fashion accessory to young women in the West. This has spurred somewhat of a controversy. I have seen various posts online criticizing “white” girls for wearing bindis. Some people seem to think that this is insulting and disrespectful of the cultural and religious aspects of this symbol.

However, the bindi is not inherently for women of eastern cultures. The bindi can represent various things. Before I began wearing one myself, I looked into the meaning behind it. I found that the bindi was created as a way to worship one’s intellect. It is placed on the forehead, directly over the sixth chakra, the seat of concealed wisdom. The wearer of the bindi wishes to retain energy and strengthen concentration. It is worn as a reminder, in the hopes that one’s thoughts, speech, actions, habits, and character may become pure.

I would never want anyone to be offended or feel disrespected because they see me wearing a bindi. I simply wear it to express to the world and to myself, my wish for peaceful thoughts and a strong intellect. Being an intelligent woman in this world is not generally celebrated. Woman are expected to be passive, pleasant, and quiet. Many girls I know are even embarrassed to be smart and dumb themselves down to attract the interest of men. I wanted to show the world that I will never be ashamed of my intelligence. Knowledge is power, and I am proud of my mind.

Keep learning, ladies. ❤