Throughout recorded history, spirituality has been coupled with religion: Religion as an institution, with ceremonies and in-group/out-group mentalities. In many ways the practices of religious traditions have forsaken spirituality, just look around, everywhere we see intolerance of difference. Spirituality can fuel the rituals of religion, or institutionalized religion can suck the spirituality from these practice; Religion without spirituality is like hydrogen without oxygen: no water emerges, thus one’s thirst is not quenched.
Religious institutions pit themselves as adversaries to the other, each claiming superiority over the other, claiming insight into ultimate reality, but being unable to account for too many variables. At the heart, all of the world religions share common themes of love, peace, and compassion. All of these axioms incorporate practices of non-judgement and acceptance, yet so often in our human history it is precisely the difference between individual belief that instigates war.
Fear of difference plagues our planet, whether it be due to gender or lack of it, race, or sexuality, these fears blind us to our webbed existence. Creating an illusion of separation that splits us from one another––but we are woven together in an inextricable of pattern of existence. Our actions and states ripple out as waves of energy, towards those around us, affecting the overall state of the world. A system is made up of parts and we are all apart of the Divine System: as unique-interconnected parts.
With the world as it is, it can be challenging to make sense of such a complexity and our place in that system. In high school, I saw my purpose as being thin, making sure my hip bones protruded, and my lashes were curled. Ironed highlighted blonde hairs framing my face, and always a boyfriend around. But then something started to quell inside of me. The shallow-hearted desires I fostered lost their power, becoming sickly sweet like the artificial flavoring of too many candy-bars. Catapulting into an existential crisis, as the truth about my superficiality bubbled like bile into my consciousness––I realized I couldn’t feel deeper than my own wall. My chest ached with longing for something deeper than what I was...if that was anything.
Attending parochial schools for 14 years of my life, and spending stuffy Saturday afternoons in sullen churches I had developed a general distaste for the Roman Catholic institution. The religion didn’t resonate with me, the empty Our Father’s didn’t satiate my spiritual needs. In my senior year of high school I took a World Religions class, and while reading excerpts from the Tao Te Ching my face broke into an elated smile. Finally, something that made me tingle inside with excitement: that fanned the flame of spirit within; for the first time a conception of something greater that made sense to me. The TAO, The Way, is what Lao Tzu called It; something, and yet everything and nothing. All encompassing.
One of the first pieces I read from the Tao Te Ching was number 75:
“Would you like to liberate yourself from the lower
realms of life?
Would you like to save the world from the degradation
and destruction it seems destined for?
Then step away from shallow mass movements and
quietly go to work on your own self-awareness.
If you want to awaken all of humanity, then awaken
all of yourself.”
The journey comes from within.
In one of my university classes the Professor took a poll of the 35 students before him. He asked “Whom of you here feels and believes that you have a purpose in life?” Two of us raised our hands. My mouth hung on its hinge as I realized how few people, how few people my age (24 at the time), felt that they didn’t possess any purpose.
Seeing the lack of hands in the air frightened me. How does only one other student feel that sense of purpose crackling like a campfire inside?
This kindling sense of purpose still frightens me sometimes, for the weight of responsibility and accountability to accomplish these missions rides on its back. I feel that if I do not at least try my best to be my best self, then I have let a lifetime slip away; not utilizing the unique gifts this particular manifestation of me has to offer. If I spend my time dwelling in my fears I will alway feel incomplete and anxious: So trying is better than never knowing.
WE are “insignificant, but important,” as Ghandi said. Which entails that we are accountable in each moment. This axiom helps me take responsibility for each moment, centering myself in love and proceeding in every encounter from the heart. Not that I always take the lighted way, but I try––then double-back––and try again. And when fears claw at me and anxiety clogs my lungs, I close my eyes and pray for the courage to be rely on Love.
The spiritual journey is a personal journey. Though we meet others along the way that will aid us and teach us, developing one’s own personal loving relationship with Heaven is the foundation of spirituality. For in developing this relationship we become more unified with all around us, and learn to flow as a divine instrument and unique expression of love. Though in this adventure pain and pleasure may occur, with each trial and tribulation new lessons can be harvested, and opportunities for growth are offered. I see the ultimate goal in this journey as becoming more unified in the presence of Love, flowing at ease with its divine course. With this priority always seated at the top, all else flows synchronously.
Although I do not identify with any one religion, I seek all of their help as I walk along my unique spiritual path, following the divine guidance within my heart. Looking for clues along the way for how to listen better, to love better, and be truly my divine self. Pieces of all the various religions resonate with me. Love from Christianity, the all encompassing of the Tao. Sweat lodges taught me how melt into the Presence of Love; Buddhism taught me how to meditate, and Hinduism showed me Bhakti (living out of love for Love), amongst so much more. Each tradition has helped me in developing an ability to listen and connect with Heaven––adding to my spiritual development but not dictating it. For me the ultimate principle is Love, and as I holdfast to this my life unfolds with ease.