I had my first spiritual shift when I was in my early twenties. After receiving some rather devastating news, the person I knew myself to be up to that point in my life simply fell away. It was abrupt, disorienting and disconcerting, like walls crashing down, and me left standing there, defenseless. When I turned out the lights and crawled into bed each night, a single blazing question haunted me: Why am I here on this planet?
I didn’t know. Nothing made sense anymore. The conveyor built of my lift had broken down. While my peers pursued careers, relationships, and began having children, creating families of their own, I would sit tongue-tied among them. Until I stopped sitting among them at all, because it was simply too uncomfortable for all of us.
I was being pulled more and more inward. But I had no idea about how to proceed. Even so, I applied a blunt stubbornness to this seeming anti-drive consuming me. I say anti-drive because it didn’t appear that I was being driven toward anything, I was only being driven away from everything that I’d thought was normal up to that point.
For the person who I’d been, very focused, very linear, the experience was disconcerting. Everything I’d believed myself to be, every image I’d envisioned for my future, the people who’d formed the core of my life, were gone. No longer available to me. Because an inward force was pulling me away from all that, toward what?
I hadn’t a clue.
At that time, I experimented with returning to the religion of my youth. However, once again, it didn’t take. I floundered through 12 step groups, astrology readings, consciousness raising groups, psychotherapy, depth psychology, new age philosophies, yoga, varieties of bodywork … whatever held out some hope of helping me restore a stable center. Because, really, that’s what I was searching for. Born from sheer desperation, rather than any quality of saintliness or desire to be “spiritual”, I was seeking a stabilizing force.
At the core of that journey was a deep grieving for the loss of the relationship with my mother. The woman who’d taught me to pray at night:
Now I lay me down to sleep
I pray the Lord my soul to keep.
If I should die before I wake,
I pray the Lord my soul to take.
My mother and her family were steeped in religion. My father and his family were not. I was always blessed with seeing the merits of both arguments: The one for God; and the one for faith being only a fantastical pursuit which, in the end, would yield nothing.
That inner conflict has always set me at odds with organized religion. On the one hand, I’ve had my own personal experience of the divine (thus, ordinary mystic) but I’ve always found the attitudes of organized religion to be onerous, whether it’s been the use of guilt and/or fear as primary persuaders or the hypocrisy and hunger-for-power of its all-too-human practitioners.
The religious/spiritual landscape more often than not has left me feeling turned-off. Yet I’ve never been able to suppress this yearning, this hunger, completely. And I’m most centered, joyful and productive when I’m engaged with THAT THING, call it whatever you like. In my heart, and in my head, and in my writing, I call it many names: God, the divine, that energy, the infinite, THAT THING.
And yet, I tend to wander off the path.
About five years after my initial shift, I began to re-engage with the external world. The experience of the divine, my connection with THAT THING, eased from the center of my life to the periphery. It never went away completely, but nor did it consume me as it had for those first five years. My life unfolded, and it seemed that the “inner gold” I’d mined in those precious five years, kept me going for over two decades.
I no longer searched for a spiritual home. And since I’ve never had faith in spiritual teachers—there are just too many horror stories of students being led astray and/or abused by all too human gurus and/or priests—I was content to muddle along my way, mostly on my own.
And then … (Come back for The Prayer Cycle on Friday!)