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.

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Not Knowing

When I was a younger, even friends wouldn’t hesitate to let me know that I was a “know-it-all.” At the time, although I understood this was an insult, I couldn’t really comprehend why. I interpreted it as jealousy or an envious lashing out against my superior intelligence and knowledge base. (Exactly what a know-it-all would think.) What’s wrong with being smart, I often wondered. It wasn’t until many years later that I realized that “know-it-all” wasn’t a comment on how intelligent I was. It was a comment about my attitude.

Being a know-it-all doesn’t mean you know everything or even that you know more than the average person. It simply means that you think you do. Intelligence is curious, open, and observant. A know-it-all is self-assured, closed, and domineering. An intelligent person knows that there is always more to learn and there are always people that know more about something than we do. A know-it-all, well, thinks they already know it all. They have nothing left to learn. There is no one that knows more than they do.

Even though I still fall back into my know-it-all tendencies quite often, I’m learning more and more about just how much I don’t know every day. One of the more important lessons that my experience with LSD has taught me is that I don’t know everything. Not only that, but there are aspects of life, reality, and the universe that I can’t even hope to conceptualize. There is so much knowledge out there that I couldn’t even absorb it all if I lived a thousand lifetimes. Not only is there mountain upon mountain of empirical data, there is also the unlimited ways we can interpret that data. Despite all I pride myself on knowing, somehow I still learn more all the time. I couldn’t be more humbled by or grateful for that fact.

I absolutely love to learn. It is one of my greatest joys to find and spread new information. After learning about the mycelial networks helping trees to communicate and send nutrients to one another, I’ve been telling anyone that will listen. I firmly believe that anxiety is a byproduct of an intelligent, but under stimulated brain. My brain is constantly devoting all it’s unused energy to make predictions about the future based on what I know. It is a great comfort to me when I realize that these predictions are not very likely to be accurate given the amount of unknown factors at play. Reflecting on this leaves me feeling a lot less urgency around tending to my anxious thoughts.

Growing up a Christian, I remember being so pleased that after I died I would finally be able to talk to God. I couldn’t wait to ask him all the endless questions I had. I couldn’t wait to one day learn everything about the universe, how it began, and why. Now an atheist, I’m pretty upset that isn’t going to happen. Then again, I don’t really know what is going to happen. Perhaps my consciousness will meld back into all of existence and in a way I will have access to all the answers I’ve been seeking. Maybe the not knowing, maybe the mystery is part of the fun.

It’s quite a depressing thought actually, to imagine really knowing all there is to know. What a dull life that would be. Curiosity, mystery, discovery, wonder, these are all parts of life that make it worth living. It is such a joy to know these experiences will always be available to me. There will always be surprises awaiting me, new mysteries to puzzle over, new discoveries to be made, breathtaking moments of wonder and awe.

We are especially fortunate to live in the time that we do now. With the internet, we can easily find out more about anything we’d like to know. At any moment there is the potential to learn something that completely changes the way we see, interact with, or understand the world. Isn’t that an incredible notion? We tend to get weighed down by the monotony of day to day life and lose sight of that fact. It’s helpful to remind ourselves every now and then. I find that the concept of not knowing is enough to spark curiosity, creativity, excitement for what’s to come, as well as gratitude for what is.

As you move through your day today, try to take notice of moments that surprise you. Savor any new knowledge you’re able to gain. Contemplate how “not knowing” plays an important role in your life. Reflect on the times in the past when you learned something that completely changed the way you perceive yourself, others, or the world. Let the mantra for today be, “anything could happen.” Then allow yourself to be curious, excited, and open to whatever does.

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